Wednesday, July 18, 2012
There are over 140,000 law students in the 201 ABA accredited law schools in the US. According to the Public Interest Research Group (PIRG), higher education students spend an average of $1100 per year on books. Do the math and this comes out to 140,000 x $1100 = $154,000,000.
What if most of the books that students need for law school were free? Well, obviously, this would save students the cost of purchasing $154,000,000 worth of books each and every year.
How can this be done?
What if every law school in the country – all 201 of the ABA accredited law schools – nominated just one faculty at that law school to write a casebook and donated that book, in electronic format, to the commons under a Creative Commons license. The cost to law schools would not be zero, but collectively, the value to law students would be enormous.
The basic plan would be thus…
Every law school puts forth a Fellow who will participate in a team of faculty to write a casebook in a substantive area of law over 12 months.
The law school gives the Fellow leave from teaching a course or an institutional stipend for writing the book. The details are to be worked out between the school and the Fellow.
These 201 Fellows form the first cadre of a three year, 100 casebook effort.
Faculty will form Fellowship Teams to work on a book together to share the workload and provide collaborative feedback and quality control to each other. The assumption here is 3 authors per book, so 201 law schools = 67 books and 50% completion/attrition, so 33-34 new books per year x 3 years = 100 books.
A web-based service to enable Fellows to setup their teams or find others who want to write in the same subject area … a kind of Match.com for casebook authors. CALI could help with this.
Since we need to transition from paper books or “pbooks”, we can use a service like Lulu.com to create hardcover or softcover prints at low cost. CALI’s eLangdell Press offers softcover prints of 500 page books for under $15 (not including shipping) from Lulu.com, so we have some experience with this.
Authors can retain copyright in their own works, but must license the book under a Creative Commons license to allow redistribution, remixing and re-use by anyone else. This is why one of the formats for distribution must be Microsoft Word’s .doc format. This is critical to creating an ecology of course materials that permits improvement and customization for local needs.
The benefits of such a project are considerable:
This sends a message to law students that law schools are doing something innovative, serious and substantive to increase the value and quality of legal education and reduce the cost.
This idea leverages the benefits of electronic books and ubiquitous internet connectivity and exposes law faculty to 21st century technologies that are becoming de rigueur to their students.
The result provides a remixable foundation of electronic course materials that is a starting point for innovation in courses and curriculum design.
(Disclosure: I am Vice-President of the Board of Directors of CALI.)