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September 21, 2010
Harvard Trying New Type of Digital Casebook
One more point to add to Joe's post on law eBooks is a story that highlights efforts at Harvard using technology to create an open casebook that can be edited, annotated, and updated on demand. The concept, as described in an article in the Atlantic, uses a tool called Collage which "lets professor cut down and annotate cases." The casebook created with Collage could handle multiple topics and would be available to other faculty who can add their own annotations and entries. I guess it's crowd sourcing case law from a crowd that theoretically knows knows their subjects.
Traditional casebooks at least have editorial control for their content. How that would factor into an open casebook environment is a question. Legal wikis are usually weak for the lack of interest from potential contributors, and from the decentralized editing. The available technology makes an open casebook viable because it would have one feature that commercial publishers dread: it can be copied and reused. Success depends on whether law school faculty would be willing to share expertise without compensation from a publisher or recognition from a tenure committee for the contribution as academic writing. The quality of the contributions is key. Students still have to learn and pass the bar, after all. Even at Harvard.
Something that's free isn't an instant alternative simply for that reason. My feeling is that it has the potential to disrupt parts of the commercial casebook market, depending on the adoption rate. As the article points out, the casebook method developed at Harvard in the 1870s took 20 years for widespread adoption. [MG]