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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Preparing to Teach Open Source Civ Pro Part I: Why I’m Doing It

This semester I will be teaching civil procedure without a casebook and blogging about the trials and tribulations of this approach.  As the semester approaches, I’ll be writing about my preparations.  This post will be about why I’ve decided to take the plunge.  Part II will be about the materials that I’m using, and Part III will be about how I put the materials together.  My reasons for embarking on this project appear after the jump.

1.  Cost

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that this tops the list of reasons to go casebook-less.  As other bloggers have noted, many casebooks have broken the $200 barrier.  Statutory supplements often cost between $35-$40.  Add this to the hornbook and commercial outline or two, and students can easily spend $300-$350 per course on books.  I am mindful of these costs, and to the extent that I can minimize them for my students, I would like to do so.  As I will explain in future posts, I was not able to get all the way down to completely free materials, but the list price for the books (including a course packet) that I have ordered come in at under half the price of the materials I have used in the past.

2.  Many Materials Are Available for Free

This reason is closely related to the cost issue, but it is worth making the separate point: a large chunk of the materials that we assign to our students are public.  So why should students pay for this?  Casebooks do add value (some more than others) in the form of editing, summaries of law, and giving historical context.  If anything, I have an even greater appreciation for this value-added after a summer of editing my own materials.  Still, I am left with the feeling that if my primary text consists of cases, and those cases are freely available, why should we charge so much to read them?

I hope that my work here, along with the work of other such as Glenn Cohen will be the beginning of a collaborative effort to use open source and creative commons to provide our students with high quality materials at a minimal cost.

3.  Flexibility for Students

I have made the cases, rules, and statutes available to my students as PDFs, and have also printed them as a course packet that they can purchase.  I will also begin to make the materials available on Harvard’s H2O platform.  I hope that this will allow some freedom from schlepping the whole book each day, or perhaps the ability to mark up the text online or on a tablet.  (Ultimately, though, the students will need some sort of a hard copy of the materials because I give an open-book exam.  I’ll delve deeper into this problem in a future post).

4.  Flexibility for Me

Putting together my own materials allows me to choose the cases, order them, and present them to students in a streamlined format.  Moreover, I hope that this format will allow me some flexibility within the curriculum.  For example, I might choose to use shorter edits of some material and longer edits of others depending on my focus from year to year.  Swapping cases in and out of the curriculum will be easier than changing casebooks or providing a large number of handouts.

5.  Collaboration and Feedback

My hope is that I will learn from others who are embarking on similar projects, that I can borrow from their materials and edits, and that they will borrow from mine.  I hope that I will learn from my students about what works well and what does not.  In that spirit, one of the reasons that I am blogging about this experience is to get the comments, feedback, and suggestions from prawfs readers!

6.  Over-caffeination

 Because, really, would I have made this decision in any state other than a caffeine-fueled brainstorm?  Probably not.  But I’m glad I’ve chosen this path, and I look forward to seeing how it all turns out.

Posted by Robin Effron on August 14, 2013 at 12:10 PM in Civil Procedure, Teaching Law | Permalink


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Can't wait to hear how this works -- and, if it does work, to follow your lead! Fingers crossed for you, Robin. This is a brave and noble endeavor . . . .

Posted by: SparkleMotion | Aug 14, 2013 12:22:33 PM

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