Most of the novel features of CopyrightX seem to have worked well. In several areas, however, there is room for improvement. This section analyzes the separate components of the course—and indicates how we plan to adjust each of them in 2014.

1. Lectures

The edX students were generally enthusiastic about the quality and value of the recorded lectures. They seem to have served their intended function of providing the analytical spine for the course. Participants’ ability to vary the speed with which the lectures were played [10] and to replay them when reviewing material for the exam appears to have increased their utility. The data from the edX course evaluations confirm these reactions:

  • Overall Quality of the Lectures: 4.58
  • How Comprehensible were the Lectures: 4.30

The assessment of the lectures by the HLS students was also favorable, but not quite so enthusiastic. The average score on the pertinent question in the supplementary course evaluation was 4.29. One of the HLS students’ most frequent criticisms was that the YouTube platform on which they (unlike the edX students) watched the lectures did not permit them to vary their speed or to download them. We plan to remedy this in 2014.

The content of the lectures was widely endorsed. The only respect in which we plan to change them is to replace segments that address issues that in the past eight months have undergone significant change with updated segments.

2. Reading Assignments

Overall, the readings also were well received by the course participants. The average assessment of the quality of the readings by the HLS students was 4.23. The HLS students’ assessments of the variety of formats in which the readings were made available were also favorable. They made use of those alternative formats with the following relative frequency:

pie chart

The most frequent criticisms by the HLS students were that (a) the judicial opinions should be more tightly edited; and (b) the total number of assigned opinions should be reduced. In 2014, I do not plan to accommodate the first of these requests. In my judgment, traditional casebooks have led many law students to expect unrealistically abridged versions of cases. However, I do plan to reduce the total number of opinions by approximately 25%—relying more heavily on the recorded lectures to convey basic doctrinal information.

The mean response of the edX students to the question on the “Overall Quality of the Assigned Readings” was 4.11. Their mean response to the question, “How Comprehensible were the Assigned Readings,” was a bit lower—3.61—but that does not seem surprising or troubling, given the technical nature of the material and the lack of specialized training on the part of most of the course participants.

The two edX curricula proved equally effective in teaching students the principles of copyright law; there was no significant difference in the performances on the final exam of the students who used the case-law curriculum and the students who used the global curriculum. [11] However, the edX students preferred the case-law curriculum by a substantial margin. This was true even of the students who resided in countries other than the United States. Evidently, probing deeply the copyright law of a single jurisdiction through close engagement with judicial opinions was more satisfying than surveying the law in a variety of countries. In addition, the teaching fellows were more familiar with the material in the case-law curriculum and thus more comfortable teaching it.

These considerations have prompted me to decide that, in 2014, we will use for the online students a subset of the U.S.-centric case-law curriculum that I use in the HLS Copyright class.

3. Discussions

Almost without exception, the HLS students expressed enthusiasm for the classroom discussions, which consisted of Socratic analyses of case studies. In 2014, I plan to preserve this important dimension of the HLS course—but to adjust it in two ways: (a) provide in advance of each class summaries of the facts of the more complex of the case studies, thereby enabling students to reflect on the problems at greater leisure and prepare their answers; and (b) conclude each Socratic inquiry with a brief summary of the lessons generated by the case study at issue.

Conducting synchronous online discussions of case studies in the edX component of the course proved more difficult than the synchronous face-to-face discussions at HLS, but ultimately was also highly successful. The Adobe Connect software that we employed for the edX seminars initially proved to be a serious distraction. Many edX students and teaching fellows found it difficult or tedious to learn to operate the software, and some students, particularly in developing countries, found that they had insufficient bandwidth to participate in the video-based portions of the discussions. For a few, the impediments proved so formidable that they dropped the course entirely or chose thereafter to participate exclusively through the asynchronous discussions.

Within a few weeks, however, most of these technical difficulties fell away. By disabling some of the features of the software, the teaching fellows reduced the bandwidth demands. And most of the edX students became increasingly adept in using the software.

By the mid-point of the course, many teaching fellows reported that they had found ways in which the technology could enrich rather than inhibit discussion. In particular, their capacity to conduct snap “polls” of their students, to monitor text-based “chats” among the students that paralleled their oral exchanges, and to present case studies efficiently through the use of slides all proved beneficial.

With respect to substance, the discussion sections were a clear success. The edX participants were nearly unanimous that the sections were a crucial feature of the course. To a large extent, this success reflects the skill and commitment of the teaching fellows. Without exception, they threw themselves into the venture. They prepared thoroughly for their seminars, experimented with pedagogies, adjusted to the strengths and weaknesses of their particular students—and taught brilliantly.

Many seem to have benefited from consultation with their peers and with me. Each week, I met with all of the teaching fellows. Early in the semester, the bulk of the time in those meetings focused on logistical issues or adjustments of the course design. By March, however, the meetings had come to focus on the content of the material that was being taught in that particular week and the most effective ways of conveying it. Additionally, the teaching fellows shared their experiences with one another via email. After each seminar, many of the fellows would circulate summaries of their sessions, including assessments of what worked and what did not, enabling their colleagues whose meetings came later in the week to learn from their experiences.

The benefits of these efforts to the edX students were clear from the course evaluations, set forth on the following page.

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A substantial majority of the edX participants described themselves as “extremely satisfied” with their experiences as part of a small section. Typical comments:

  • “This made the difference for me—other online courses with thousands of students and no face time lack focus and students lose commitment. I have tried other courses but dropped off a couple of times. I looked forward to the sections, I prepared for them and appreciated connecting with the teaching fellow and the other students from around the world. It was quite amazing!”
  • “This was probably the single best aspect of the class because it allowed a level of interaction not possible in a large-group setting. Our section grew together during the course, and I will truly miss being a part of that. Ana’s handling of the group was excellent; she encouraged those who were more reticent to speak up, kept the class moving, and answered all questions. The class would not have been nearly as good without this approach.”
  • “It made it much more like a university class than MOOCs I’d taken before; there was a real impetus to make sure the work was done before class and I felt that I understood the material better after the class.”

The benefits to the teaching fellows themselves were also large. All reported (anonymously) that their teaching had deepened their own understanding of copyright law. This benefit did come at a cost: All of the fellows reported that teaching the course had required much more work than they anticipated (and more than was reflected by the two course credits they received for their efforts). However, all indicated that they were nevertheless glad that they had chosen to get involved.

In 2014, we will preserve this feature of the course. However, we will attempt in two ways to address the teaching fellows’ reports of work overload: (a) we will reduce sharply the teaching fellows’ administrative responsibilities, freeing them to focus on teaching their students; and (b) we will increase the course credits available to the teaching fellows from two to three. We estimate that, in this revised format, each teaching fellow will devote to the venture roughly 10 hours per week.

4. Asynchronous Discussions

The asynchronous online discussions represented the only aspect of the course that we seriously misjudged. This component of the HLS course received the lowest evaluations. Some of the HLS students’ criticism concerned technology: they gave the “isites” platform [12] on which the asynchronous discussions were conducted an average rating of only 3.83. But in part their criticisms were substantive; the students felt that the online discussions were insufficiently integrated into the body of the course. Both of these objections must be addressed in 2014.

The edX students’ assessments of the value of the asynchronous discussions were even more critical. The mean responses to the relevant questions were 2.91 and 2.58. We are not yet sure of the causes of the weakness of this dimension of the edX course. One possibility is that the software we employed was not optimal. The participants’ assessments of both the edX discussion tool and NB were lukewarm. A plurality recommended that, in future versions of the course, we should replace both with a different program.

Another possibility is that unreliable bandwidth undermined the ability of some students to engage in the online discussions. This problem affected usage of NB in particular, because students could only employ that system conveniently if they read the course materials online. If, because of bandwidth limitations, they downloaded the assignments and then read them offline, then submission of comments and questions through NB became time-consuming and cumbersome. These problems unfortunately may prevent us from reaching confident conclusions concerning the efficacy of NB.

Another possible cause is that we provided too little structure and supervision for the asynchronous discussions. Not all of the teaching fellows participated actively in the online discussions, and the course team did not provide instructions or advice concerning the most productive ways that participants might use the forums. Some participants found the paucity of guidance disorienting and unhelpful. Typical comments:

  • “I didn’t learn much from the forum, and I didn’t feel compelled to post in the forum very much. I felt that it could have been more structured. For example, I feel that there would have been livelier discussion if some brainstorming questions were provided each week so that students could post more specific ideas about the week’s topic. Perhaps the instructor could post a link to a controversial article regarding the copyright topic of the week, and then ask for students’ opinions on the controversy, based on what they learned from the readings and lectures.”
  • “I haven’t been a fan of the discussion forums in previous online classes that I’ve taken. I did find the discussion forum to be more helpful in this class than in the past. I do wish that it had been used more often though. We brought up a lot of things in class that could/should have been flushed out more in the discussion forum. Also, perhaps a little more oversight by the TF. This not to say anything negative against [my TF] or how she interacted, but if the TF guides the discussion more, more people may participate.”

Another possible cause of the edX students’ dissatisfaction—also suggested by the preceding comments—is that we failed to make sufficiently clear the substantive relationship between the asynchronous discussions and the other components of the course.

A final possible cause is that creating discussion forums that included only members of individual edX sections proved unexpectedly difficult—and was not completed until a few weeks after the course had launched. By then, we may have forfeited our chance to integrate the forums into the culture and operations of the sections.

In 2014, we hope to improve this dimension of the course by making (at least) the following changes:

  • Improve the software we use to host the discussions—and provide all students better instruction concerning how best to use it;
  • Provide each student access to a moderated small discussion group limited to the members of his or her section;
  • Provide each student in addition access to an unsupervised discussion group open to all other students (HLS students; online students; and participants in the satellites).

Together, the moderated small-group discussions might be analogized to a series of “gardens”—closed, cultivated, private, and safe. The unmoderated shared space could be analogized to a “forest”—open, public, riskier. By providing both options to all students, we hope to meet their dissimilar educational needs.

5. Special Events

In contrast to the asynchronous discussions, the six “special events” were generally well regarded. Our hope was that these sessions would provide the students in all three of the audiences for CopyrightX a rich and balanced understanding of the ways in which copyright law affects many fields of art, culture, and industry and of the beliefs of some leaders in those fields. To that end, we tried to recruit a diverse array of experts. The speakers who generously volunteered to make presentations were highly qualified:

The Interests of Authors (February 6):

  • Dale Cendali, Partner in Kirkland & Ellis; head of the Firm’s Copyright, Trademark, Internet and Advertising Practice Group [13]
  • Richard Kelly, professional photographer [14]
  • William Landay, award-winning novelist [15]
  • John Drake, Communications Manager at Harmonix (developer of Rock Band) [16]

Intellectual-Property Protection for Fashion (February 13):

  • Jeannie Suk, Professor of Law, Harvard (advocate of increased protection for innovations in fashion) [17]
  • Chris Sprigman, Professor of Law, University of Virginia (opponent of increased protection for innovations in fashion) [18]

Exra-Legal Norms (February 27):

  • Jim Mendrinos, standup comedian [19]
  • Dotan Oliar, Professor of Law, University of Virginia [20]

Appropriation Art (April 3):

  • Shepard Fairey, graphic artist [21]
  • Marita Sturken, Chair of Media Studies Department, New York University [22]
  • Geoffrey Stewart, Partner in Jones Day [23]

Free Culture (April 17):

  • Larry Lessig, Professor of Law, Harvard; founder of Creative Commons [24]

Digital Libraries (April 24):

  • Robert Darnton, Carl H. Pforzheimer University Professor and University Librarian, Harvard University [25]
  • John Palfrey, Head of School, Phillips Academy [26]

All made serious and thoughtful presentations and responded frankly to students’ questions. [27]

Because these events were unscripted, they were less efficient vehicles for conveying information than either the lectures or the discussion groups. Nevertheless, most of the edX participants seem to have found them illuminating—as is evident from the answers contained in the chart on the following page.

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6. Exam

A copy of the final examination given to the edX students appears in Appendix C. As indicated above, it resembled the examination given to the Harvard Law School students. The first of the three questions, in particular, closely tracked the analogous question in the HLS exam. It differed in only two respects: it provided the edX students (many of whom knew little about U.S. culture) more background information; and it gave the students more guidance concerning the issues that they should address in their answers.

There was near unanimity among the edX students that the exam was difficult. They were given 24 hours to complete their responses. I had estimated that it would take them roughly four hours to finish, but most participants seemed to have devoted at least eight hours to the test. At least a few worked around the clock.

No participant seems to believe that the content of the exam was unfair—in other words, that it did not accurately reflect the content of the course or that it tested skills that the course did not inculcate. However, some participants (particularly those who did not pass) thought the grading criteria were too severe.

My tentative inclination is not to alter the grading system. It is indeed regrettable that roughly 20% of the students who took the exam—some of whom had worked very hard—did not pass. But on balance, the merits of rigor, the cautionary signal sent to future students concerning the nature of the course, and the value of making certificates of completion meaningful seem to warrant incurring that cost.

We made no systematic effort to prevent plagiarism on the exam. When grading the responses, we discovered one instance of plagiarism (and failed the student); most likely, there were at least a few others that we failed to detect. In the future, we may have to consider mechanisms for discouraging cheating, but as yet no reliable system is apparent.

7. The Network

The “satellite” section in Jamaica pioneered in 2013 by Sarah Hsia seems to have worked remarkably well. Sarah assembled each Saturday morning in Kingston an accomplished and diverse group of participants. Together they discussed the issues presented by the week’s lecture and readings—both in general and from the standpoint of Jamaica’s distinctive creative culture.

Encouraged by this example, we hope to catalyze the organization of many comparable satellites in other countries in 2014. The forms that the new satellites take could (and probably should) vary, but our tentative view is that they should have in common the following features:

  • Each should be organized and run by a scholar, teacher, or practitioner who is familiar with the copyright system—and thus can guide, effectively and accurately, the participants’ exploration of that system.
  • Each should be limited to 30 students—a small enough number to facilitate the kinds of discussions that proved so effective in the edX sections and in the Jamaica satellite in 2013.
  • Each should include (at least) one synchronous discussion session (either face-to-face or online) per week.
  • The participants in the satellites should watch each week the recorded lecture (in order to provide them a common set of reference points). However, the reading assignments could be quite different from those employed in the HLS and edX segments of the course. Most obviously, the readings used by a given satellite might highlight the distinctive features of copyright law in the country in which the satellite were located, rather than U.S. copyright law.

In all of the foregoing respects, our hope is that the satellites would follow the pattern already established by Sarah Hsia and the Jamaica group in 2013. In one major respect, however, we hope to change the posture of the satellites in 2014: We would like them to be better integrated into the CopyrightX course as a whole. Among the reforms that would facilitate such integration would be the following:

  • As mentioned above, the participants in the satellites would all have access to the unmoderated online discussion forum, where they could engage in conversations with the HLS and edX students.
  • All of the satellite participants would be invited to participate in the live interactive webcasts of the “special events” offered during the course.
  • The leaders of the satellites would have access to the same basket of case studies that I use when teaching the HLS course and that the teaching fellows use when teaching their online sections.
  • Additionally, each satellite would be invited to contribute to the basket one or more case studies that could then be employed by the other satellite teachers, the teaching fellows, and myself in our own teaching. Most likely, a case study of this sort would involve a copyright-related controversy that arose in the country where the satellite is located—and that turned upon the copyright law of that country. Preparing and contributing such a case study would not be a precondition for participation in CopyrightX, but doing so would both enrich the course as a whole and help to knit it together.

This plan is as yet tentative. The character of the satellites will likely change as we discuss options with the teachers of them.

8. A Permanent Community?

Several of the graduates of the 2013 version of the course expressed interest in continuing to participate in discussions about recent developments in copyright law. Our tentative plan is to try to satisfy their interest in two related ways. First, we plan to invite all alumni of CopyrightX 2013 to engage in the plenary synchronous discussion forum (“the forest”) associated with CopyrightX 2014. Second, if that forum proves vibrant, we plan to continue to host it after the conclusion of the 2014 version of the course.