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Friday, August 30, 2013

Preparing to Teach Open Source Civ Pro Part III: Compiling the Materials (or, Why I Have the Best RAs in the World)

In my previous posts I have explored why I am moving towards an open source casebook for civil procedure and the materials I am using.  In this post, I'll outline the process for editing and compiling nearly 500 pages of cases and statutes in just one summer!  I'll also include my table of contents at the end, for anyone who is interested in seeing what made the final cut.  Next week I'll look at a different model, and spotlight the fabulous playlist that Glenn Cohen has made for his open source civ pro class at Harvard.

How to Put Your Own Materials Together ... And Still Get Your Summer Writing Done!

1.  Have Fabulous Research Assistants

The most important thing to note is that I had four part-time research assistants working with me this summer.  Each of them had full-time summer jobs elsewhere, so I want to give a public shout out to the students who worked incredibly hard with me to make this possible.  I could not have undertaken this project without them.

2.  Compile a List of Cases 

I began with the syllabus I had been using for the past few years. I canvassed other casebooks and syllabi to prune some cases and add others.  I also added a few cases that are not traditionally in casebooks.  For example, I decided to begin my course this year with a fabulous default judgment case in which a trial court entered a $1.26 billion default judgment against Pepsi.  (Joyce v. Pepsico, Inc., 340 Wis.2d 740 (2012)).  

Although the judgment is ultimately vacated, there are some fun personal jurisdiction and statute of limitations issues along the way, and it was a fun intro case for the class.  Well, fun by my standards...

3.  Assign Cases to RAs

Each RA received a portion of the syllabus and a copy of the student treatise.  I had them read the relevant sections and comment on the cases I had added and deleted from previous years.

4.  RAs Preliminary Edit 

Each RA downloaded the text of their assigned cases.  I instructed them to excise superfluous text (syllabus, extended caption, parallel citations, issues not relevant to our course), and then give a shot at their own edit.  I made several casebooks available to the RAs so that they could see how different casebook authors have edited cases.  I indicated which books had longer and shorter edits, and asked them to aim for a middle ground.  Not only did this save me a good deal of time, but I learned a lot from what they chose to include or exclude from the edits.  It was a good window into the minds of my students.  The RAs also found and edited the relevant rules and statutes.

5.  My Edits

The RAs returned the cases to me with all of their edits in "track changes."  I accepted many of their changes and added some of my own, often including short summaries of sections or opinions that I omitted from my edits.

6.  Compiling

I then compiled the final product!   It was printed and available for students to purchase for $20.35 in the bookstore.  Alternatively, they could download the materials from the class web course and print it on their own.

7.  Moving to Other Online Formats

I am slowly moving towards utilizing online formats that will make sharing, editing, and mixing my syllabus easier.  This is Glenn Cohen's approach on the H2O system, and I'll discuss the pros and cons of that method next week.  I hope that by next year I will also have my materials available in this format.

Download 2013 Course Packet Cover Page and Table of Contents

Posted by Robin Effron on August 30, 2013 at 12:12 PM in Civil Procedure, Teaching Law | Permalink


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How much of this is cost shifting? If you have 4 (four!) part time research assistants, assuming they each work 10 hours a week (since they have other full time jobs), for $10 an hour, for 10 weeks in the summer. That's $4000 in research cost. In an earlier post, you mentioned you had a "small section" this year. I don't know the small section size at BLS, but assuming it is 25, which seems reasonable for a small section, that is still $160 per student that needs to be paid for somewhere. Add in the ~80 (used) to ~$150 (new) cost of the supplementary materials, and we seem to have increased the overall cost of materials somehow to ~$240 to ~$310.

Now, some of this has moved from direct out of pocket costs to the students (casebook) to the school research budget (not counting prof time), which basically gets paid for by ... students, through increased tuition.

Posted by: anon | Sep 1, 2013 12:24:42 AM

Here are the numbers: I do not think that each RA worked 100 hours, but I'm willing to work with that as a fair assumption. Also for clarification: our small sections have 40 students a piece. I think there are three responses to this point:

(1) Those costs did in fact come out of a research allocation. I chose to utilize RAs in this manner, but the money is part of the BLS budget either way.

(2) Assuming the $4000 is correct, it is spread out over more than one semester. A project like this required a large upfront investment in time and resources. But in the coming years I will not need the RA help. As cases need to be added or dropped, I will be able to do these edits on my own. Let's say, for the sake of argument, that I will use these materials for four years without a major revision (and I really hope that it's much longer than that!). This brings down the cost to $1000 per year, over 40 students (or 80, in the years that I teach a large section).

(3) All of that being said, anon's points should still be taken seriously. One of the reasons I am blogging about my experience this semester is to take a hard look at the materials we use, how much they cost us, and how much they cost our students. As I mentioned in an earlier post, one of the biggest eye-openers to me was how difficult it has been to get "all the way to free." For example, I hope that within the next few years I will be able to make the student treatise a recommended purchase rather than a mandatory one, but that will take additional time to write and edit quality materials.
The upshot of all of this is that there really is no such thing as free lunch -- "free" materials have to come from somewhere. While I think that I might disagree with anon about the utility of this investment, and whether it has a direct cost-shifting effect, the costs of these materials are at the heart of the issue.

Posted by: Robin Effron | Sep 1, 2013 12:42:47 AM

Robin, thanks for the measured response. It wasn't clear to me from this post and earlier how much this effort was a one time thing, and how much is up front investment. If, as you say, this will last you for many years (and I hope it will), then the cost per student goes down significantly.

It seems, then, that there is another sort of cost shifting that is going on. Essentially, you are creating your own casebook and not charging for it. Having never written one, I am not completely sure of the process, but I would imagine that it is very similar to yours (find cases, get helpers to edit, review edits, compile). Others who have gone through that process have chosen to try to monetize that investment of time and effort by publishing their book, but you have not.

Now, to be sure, yours is more of a "bare bones" casebook, since you are not including end notes, review questions, etc., but some of that has moved to the student treatise. And, by forgoing a publisher (other than whoever prints and binds it for the bookstore), you avoid whatever overhead they would take for profit, and also to make it "pretty" (cover, pictures, etc.) or more adoptable (teaching manual, website, etc).

However, it seems to me, you have still created a new casebook, which you might try to profit from, but choose not to. This is great for your students, of course, as their costs do go down. (It is great assuming that they get the same or better utility out of your new casebook than they would with a more road tested one, but I have no reason to think they would not). Of course, it is "worse" for you, in a sense, in that you have to put in a lot more effort to create it.

One of the advantages to professors of using an existing casebook is that all of the cutting and editing has been done for us, and someone like yourself has done the hard thinking of what to include and what to exclude (and often writing a long teaching manual to guide us through the cases you have chosen). This cost is shifted to the students in the form of a casebook. So, one some sense, the students are paying to make the professors' teaching easier. But, I would imagine, in many situations there is an advantage to the students as well. Having a road tested casebook, especially one that fits with the professor's teaching style, etc., mean that they get a tested road map for a course, with formatting that has been at least minimally vetted by a publisher. If the students are dealing with a professor who is newer to the course, they also benefit heavily from the fact that the professor him or herself has a guide for the class from which to work. As a newer prof myself, I know that while I diligently look at multiple sources to understand, digest, and think through how to present the law to my students, I found using one of the popular texts and the associated teaching guide to be incredibly valuable in presenting the material to my students. It helped me understand why the cases fit together as they did, what to highlight from a particular case, and often anticipated what the students would find difficult and sometimes how to address these issues. While it wasn't perfect, my class would be much worse off without it.

Now, since you have taught civ pro for many years, you may not need to rely on a casebook or teaching manual for any of those advantages. You know your cases and what order you want to cover them and what to highlight from each case. A few questions, then for you after having gone through the process up to this point: Do you think you could have done this earlier in your teaching career, or did you need the years of experience to know what to pull together? Similarly, would you recommend this approach to newer professors as well? Would you be able to try this approach to a class you didn't know well or were teaching for the first time?

Thanks for your thoughts on these questions. This seems like a fascinating experiment. Maybe if you like your new casebook better than existing ones, you can create a guide on why you chose what you did, perhaps charge others a small fee to use the materials ... oh, wait.

Posted by: anon | Sep 1, 2013 6:57:32 AM

Some of these questions I've already planned to address in future posts, especially those about what the world would look like if we only had open source materials and no teacher's manuals.

For now, I'll say that "road testing" is crucial. It's the reason why I've had my students purchase the book for the simulation exercise later in the semester. I didn't want to assign a project that has not been road tested, and definitely not in the same semester that I'm using a new form of casebook!

Posted by: Robin Effron | Sep 1, 2013 9:53:11 AM

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