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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Teaching Open Source Civ Pro Part II: The Materials I'm Using

This week I will begin teaching civil procedure without a traditional casebook.  In my last installment, I wrote about why I've decided to "go rogue."  In this post I'll recap the process I used to choose and produce my materials.  My materials for this semester are: (1) A course pack "case book " that I edited; (2) A statutory and rules supplement course pack that I edited; (3) a student treatise; (4) a book of experiential learning exercises.

After the jump, I'll discuss the various methods I considered and why I chose the materials that I did.

Possible Methods for Teaching Open Source

1.  The Bare Bones Method: No Materials But a Syllabus

One possibility is not to give students any materials at all, but simply distribute a syllabus and tell the students to download the relevant cases and statutes from Westlaw or Lexis.  (Derek Tokaz made this suggestion as a comment to an earlier post).  While there is some appeal to this idea, I felt it was not right for this class:  

(a) because I am teaching first semester 1Ls, I do not expect them to enter the class with Westlaw and Lexis skills, even ones that seem easy to us like finding and printing cases.  I also do not want to add extra stress to their lives.

(b) many cases are far too long, or contain extended discussions of irrelevant issues.   I figured that by the time I explain "read this, but don't read that" for each of the cases, much of the simplicity of the "find and print" approach would be gone.  I also didn't want students to "compete" with each other by reading more of each case. 

(c) students would still have to print out the cases, and printing costs money.  So this method is not quite as "free" yet as we would like.  Which brings me to the next point...

2. Edit the Cases and Statutes/Rules and Post Them Online

The advantage of this approach is that it's still completely free, and it solves the problem of unedited cases.  I decided that this would be part of my approach, but was not completely sufficient.  

(a)  First, as I edited the cases, I began to realize that I needed interstitial material.  While I'm moving away from from the extensive "notes and questions" approach of some casebooks, there are situations where it is useful to summarize or introduce material, or expose students to synopses of related cases.  And sometimes I'd just like students to read about an area of law without reading a principal case, such as when I teach about the mechanics of service of process.

(b)  The students would still need to print out the materials themselves.  This point was a difficult decision for me.  When I first thought about using open source materials, I imagined that students could use their tablets or e-readers.  But there are some barriers.  First, I do not permit students to use laptops in the classroom (that's a different debate), and I worried that the tablets could be used for distracting non-case reading purposes.  More importantly, I realized that if I wanted to give an open book exam, I would need to make all of the materials available in print format because the students cannot bring tablets or e-readers to the final exam.  Now, one solution to these problems is to just permit laptops and give a closed-book exam.  These are changes I might consider for future years.  For now, I'm sticking with my no laptop and open-book exam policies because I have had such positive experiences in the past.

(c)  Not all materials are actually open source.  This was not a big issue for civil procedure.  If, however, I used this approach for other classes there could be problems.  For example, when I teach International Business Transactions, some of the materials found in the statutory supplement are not in the public domain (think Incoterms or the UCP, both published by the International Chamber of Commerce).

3.  Create a Course Packet and Post Materials Online

To solve these problems, I compiled the cases into one course packet and the statutes and rules into another.  The students now have a choice: they can buy the packets at the bookstore, or print them at home if that is easier and cheaper for them.  They could even use a tablet for reading and then print the sections with their own annotations.  I have posted the coursepacket as a large pdf file, as well as several smaller files to enable easier printing and downloading.

4.  Use a Student Treatise as a Secondary Text

Here's where I begin to depart from full-fledged adherence to open source.  For reasons described above, I am not yet ready to teach exclusively from principal cases.  So I decided to supplement with a student treatise.  Here are the advantages:

(a) Cost.  Although the students must purchase the book, it is much cheaper than a case book ($79 new, $30-ish used or rented).

(b)  Context.  The student treatise provides the context and summaries of areas that I do not expect students to learn from reading principal cases.

(c) No More Hide the Ball.  I almost always recommend a good treatise or horn book to my students.  I think we have moved past the days in which there is a classroom fiction that the students don't know the law until it is magically revealed to them exclusively through socratic dialogue about principal cases.  I would much rather have them read a comprehensive and comprehensible account of an area of law in a treatise so that classroom discussion can focus on the nuances and difficulties in the caselaw itself.  In this way, I hope that classroom time will be less about the "punchline" of every case because the students have access to thorough discussions of the black letter law in their reading.  I have assigned my students Richard Freer's Introduction to Civil Procedure (Aspen Student Treatise Series), a text with which many former students have had a positive experience.

Perhaps in the future I will begin to write my own summaries and introductions so that I can move away completely from requiring purchased texts.  For now, I am comfortable asking students to purchase a text that is cheaper than a casebook, and one that many students might buy anyway as a study aid.

5.  Use an Exercise for Experiential Learning

This semester I am teaching a small section of procedure.  We have extra time, and I am using that time to teach discovery through a simulation exercise.  While I would love to create my own simulation, I have opted for one that has been "road tested" and will use Michael Vitiello's Bridge to Practice book.  Although it's not completely relevant to the open source problem (as I would only use this for a smaller group), I wanted to fully disclose all of the purchases that my students must make.

So, there you have it -- a complete account of my desire to totally ditch the casebook and the reality that I was not able to get all the way to "free" on the first try.


Posted by Robin Effron on August 20, 2013 at 05:05 PM in Civil Procedure, Teaching Law | Permalink


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Thanks for the shout-out. For anyone interested in using the book, here are a couple of sites created by one of my RAs. The defendant in the book has a website, Gotcha! -- see the website and related site here:



Posted by: Michael Vitiello | Aug 24, 2013 1:11:03 PM

I love the incorporation of the Bridge to Practice. Are there particular exercises that you are using? On a related note, please do keep us abreast of student feedback on the incorporation of practice exercises as a critical component of the course. I'm esp. interested in whether they perceive a duplication of efforts for Civ Pro and for Lawyering/Legal Writing. Thanks, RJE!

Posted by: T. Henderson | Aug 24, 2013 12:48:44 PM

The course packets together are 506 pages, and the total cost is $20.35 from the bookstore. The Freer book is $80 new, $39 rented, and between $29-$35 used based on the reseller. The simulation book is $30 new from the bookstore, $14.99 rented from the bookstore, or $23.96 new from Amazon.

Posted by: Robin Effron | Aug 21, 2013 10:13:50 AM

Can you tell us how much items (1), (2) & (4) on your list of assigned materials cost (assuming (1) and (2) are purchased from the bookstore rather than printed at home)? And how many total pages do (1) and (2) run?

Posted by: Jason Mazzone | Aug 20, 2013 8:56:25 PM

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