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Monday, April 29, 2013

Why I Decided to Construct a Free Online Casebook Available to Anyone for Civ Pro Using the H20 Platform

One of the nice things about tenure is that it frees you up to to do things you know are good for the world but may not be adequately valued in the tenure process. This summer I will embark on one such project, building a free online casebook for Civ Pro. I will be using the Harvard Berkman Center H20 "hack the casebook" platform. This great platform allows you to create "playlists" of cases and other materials that can be "remixed" by others, added to, etc. The initial goal of the project is to create a completely free H20 platform casebook for each of the firsy year classes, and I have stepped up to do Civ Pro.

Let me tell you a little bit about why I chose to do this because it may encourage others to join this great project or ones like it.

First, like others, I am shocked at how expensive textbooks have become for doctrinal 1L course. I realized that together my casebook and supplement (including the FRCP, major statutesm, etc) would cost my students $243 a piece and thus providing them with free materials would save at least $19,000 among my own students for next year. When multiplied over several years, as well as the possibility that other faculty would adopt this textbook and save their students money, this just seemed like a value creating proposition.In a time when students across the U.S. are struggling with the high price of legal education, I felt I should do what I could here.

Second, most of the materials I teach in my Civ Pro class are major Supreme Court cases (with a few Circuit and state court cases) that could be easily found and edited in public domain format, which the H20 platform makes easy. Just because of the way I teach my own course and the textbook I was using, I was already not assigning many of the notes that followed the cases and I was supplementing the book with additional materials (some written up by myself) so that the value the casebook was offering to my course that could not be found in the public domain was lessened. To be sure, I will still have to replace introductory sections of various parts of the book with my own write-ups as well as do editing of all the versions of the cases I will still use -- no small amount of effort -- but I might have felt differently about undertaking this if my casebook was doing more original work for me in the way I taught my course.

Third (and here I am purposefully not being specific and naming the casebook in question because, for all I know, all Casebooks in the field are similar in this regard): my casebook is more than 1200 pages long. I estimate that I use only about 300-450 of those pages in a 4 credit introductory course. It does have a compact addition for shorter courses, but unfortunately what it chooses to keep versus discard is not a good fit for what I use from the book. Before I decided to do the H20 version myself, I called the publisher of my casebook to see if I could "buy by the page" for the pages I actually use, a practice that some textbooks allow you to do. I was told I could not. Given that they have gone to the trouble of creating a "condensed" version I do not blame the authors/publishers, but this was the last straw for me in deciding to go it on my own.

This summer, along with my RAs, will be spent doing a beta version of the free H20 Casebook for Civ Pro that I will test out with my incoming 1Ls in the fall. I am incredibly grateful to Harvard Law School for allowing me to use my time (and RA time) for this project whose value will hopefully be externalized. I am particularly grateful to my dean, Martha Minow, since she is herself the co-author of a Civ Pro textbook (not the one I had been using), so she is basically authorizing the law school to fund a project that may cut into her own sales. She's just that kind of classy person! The beta version will be kept internal to my students for the fall, but if all goes well I hope to share it with the world in 2014 and perhaps others will want to adopt it.

- I. Glenn Cohen


Posted by Ivan Cohen on April 29, 2013 at 10:26 AM in Civil Procedure, Culture, Web/Tech | Permalink


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This is your regular friendly reminder that if you are interested in writing (or even experimenting) with free and open course materials, the Center for Computer Assisted Legal Instruction's eLangdell Press is happy to work with you. http://elangdell.cali.org/ If nothing else, we have partnered with the Legal Information Institute to provide free ebook versions of the Federal Rules. e.g FRCP http://elangdell.cali.org/content/federal-rules-civil-procedure

Posted by: Sarah Glassmeyer | Apr 29, 2013 6:06:12 PM

Thanks to both Matt and Howard.
Let me answer Matt first though some of it will answer Howard in the process.
You should browse the online coursebooks already available at H20 and play around to get a feel for it and all it can do here http://h2odev.law.harvard.edu/. I chose the H20 format for several reasons: (1) It is supported by Harvard and our library and they will help me mount the materials and also suggest alternative cases or sources when what i want can't be found in public domain. Also Berkman is behind the project and a leader in open access. (2) It enables really nice collaboration. Essentially I will add materials to a "library" from which I will create a "playlist" (what would have been the headings and sections of my syllabus). Others can then take from my library, add to the common library, annotate or edit or create new versions of my materials, and also "re-mix" my playlist to create new syllabi. I can then track who is using my materials and see second and third generation playlists. Doing so will give me ideas for how to improve my course, bring in new materials, etc.
Howard, it is these features(in particular the collaboration and dissemination), and the fact that I can share this with the world (rather than just my students) as well as the ability to innovate and develop in real time that makes me prefer this to just making photocopies for my students (though students who want it will be able to print the entire set of materials through Harvard as well).

Posted by: I. Glenn Cohen | Apr 29, 2013 3:54:49 PM

In at least one of my courses (not Civ Pro, although I'm close to what you're doing), I assign my students raw cases, statutes, documents, and other things available on-line, which they are responsible for downloading/printing, along with a short treatise to provide the introduction and background you describe. Other than the on-line format, what's the difference? This is not to criticize what you're doing, because it jibes very much with what I'm trying to do in some classes. I genuinely am curious.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Apr 29, 2013 2:13:20 PM

Thanks Matt.
I chose the H20 platform, and you can browse some of the courses already on it, http://h2odev.law.harvard.edu/, for a few reasons: I like its philosophy (very collaborative, more on that in a moment), it is easy to use, and Harvard (as the source of the platform) will support me on it.
In terms of collaboration, as I understand it (and I may think differently once I've used it), it is maximally designed for collaboration and multiple generation of materials. Basically I will do a first pass at "my materials" that will be made publicly available, but others can add to the playlist (new cases or topics I don't cover), remix my playlist, annotate my cases, add comments, etc. The idea is that others can "add", "take from," and "mark-up" the library I initially create all for free. One of the great benefits is that I will be able to also see how other people are using and adding to my materials, which in turn will generate new thoughts for me about how I teach. Like I said the first version I do in the fall will be a beta and not ready for primetimee but part of what excites me about this project is that once it is up and running others will be able to collaborate in real time.

Posted by: I. Glenn Cohen | Apr 29, 2013 1:32:24 PM

I am very excited about this. I teach Torts out of a $200 book that is filled with the same cases in every other $200 book, all of which are available in the public domain. Thanks for leading the innovation!

Posted by: Christine Hurt | Apr 29, 2013 12:56:53 PM

That is very exciting news. Congrats for undertaking such a project. I have a bunch of questions: Why did you choose the H20 platform for your book? Is it easy to work with? Can others join in? I think an online open-source-type casebook would work best with a manager or two or three, along with a group of interested participants who can contribute case edits or overviews, give feedback, and remix the materials into different versions. It sounds like this is more of a solo project for you, but I hope you consider encouraging folks to join with the their own adjacent versions so you have a real community of collaboration. In the meantime, congrats, and well done!

Posted by: Matt Bodie | Apr 29, 2013 11:52:11 AM

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