Law professor Robin Effron describes using an open source approach to putting together materials for her Civil Procedure class, but I noticed something odd in her account:
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. ...
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.
Let's parse this:
- Open source materials so defined are not "free." Instead, she's shifted the cost from her student's wallet to the law school's RA fund, which presumably is funded at least in part by student tuition.
- Instead of a casebook edited by prominent and professional legal scholars, you get one edited in the first instance by part time, wet behind the ears amateurs.
- If you were a student, wouldn't you rather have texts written by professional scholars as opposed to some bum off the RA list?
- If you were a student, wouldn't you rather have a casebook that has been tweaked and refined over 20 years to make it as teachable as possible instead having somebody throw together "nearly 500 pages of cases and statutes in just one summer"?
- They used the intellectual property of casebook editors and the author of a treatise to guide the RA's editing decisions, thus shifting costs to the students who pay for those books. To be clear, I understand that the casebooks were just used as examples and guides. But if you're going to make a BFD about open source, shouldn't you eschew casebooks altogether and, especially, avoid even the possibility of inadvertent copying?
As a casebook author, of course, I have an economic interest in seeing this open source casebooks nonsense nipped in the bud. But still ....
BTW, I had a great time teaching Mergers & Acquisitions out of my Foundation Press Concepts and Insights text, which sells for $28.29 on Amazon. If you teach M&A and adopt my treatise to do so, I'll be happy to send you the PowerPoint slides, syllabus, and other materials.
In a course where an excellent C&I text is available (modesty prevents me from citing the obvious example), the only reason I can see to use open source casebooks is to allow you teach via the Socratic Method. Which you wouldn't do if you actually cared about educating students.