The principal novel characteristics of the original version of CopyrightX were:

1. Multiple audiences. The course was presented simultaneously to three audiences:

a) 86 students enrolled in the residential course on Copyright Law taught at Harvard Law School;
b) 500 participants (most of them non-lawyers) in an online HarvardX course hosted on the edX platform, divided into twenty 25-person discussion groups, each taught by one of the Harvard Law School teaching fellows; and
c) a “satellite” course taught by Sarah Hsia (a Harvard Law School graduate) to 25 students who met weekly in Jamaica.

2. Hybrid Pedagogy. The course relied on five methods to instruct and engage students:

a) weekly lectures (which presented the main sets of rules and policies pertaining to copyright);
b) reading assignments (which examined in more depth some of the issues addressed in the lectures);
c) synchronous Socratic discussions focused on case studies (intended to refine students’ understanding of the rules and policies by testing their application to real or hypothetical problems);
d) asynchronous online discussions (in which students were encouraged to explore all aspects of the course); and
e) “special events” (in which invited guests [most of them non-lawyers] discussed the impact of copyright law on their fields of endeavor and responded to questions from the audiences).

The course employed various technologies to make these five kinds of materials available to the multiple audiences:

  • All of the lectures were recorded; the recordings were then posted online, so that the members of all three audiences could watch them at their convenience prior to the Socratic discussions and could review them prior to taking exams. The HLS students and the members of the Jamaica satellite watched versions of the lectures posted on YouTube, while the edX students watched versions posted on the edX platform.
  • All of the reading assignments were also posted online. Most were made available in three alternative formats: Adobe PDF; Microsoft Word; and H2O (a Web-based platform, developed by Jonathan Zittrain and the Berkman Center, for creating, editing, organizing, consuming, and sharing course materials). [2]
  • The Socratic discussions for the Harvard Law School students and the members of the Jamaica satellite were conducted in classrooms in traditional face-to-face fashion, whereas the discussions of the 20 edX “sections” were conducted online (at different times to accommodate students in many time zones) using Adobe Connect conferencing software. [3]
  • All of the asynchronous discussions were conducted online.
  • Finally, the HLS students attended the “special events” in person, while the edX and satellite students participated via live interactive webcasts.

Appendix A displays a chart showing the relationships among the audiences and technologies.

3. Experimentation. The course aimed to enhance knowledge concerning online education. Several pedagogic hypotheses (detailed in the following subsections) underlay the course design, and we sought to gather enough data concerning student experience and performance to test those hypotheses. Additionally, in the edX component of the course, we divided the students into four subgroups, which were treated differently along two dimensions:

a) Half of the participants (and half of the sections) used what we called the “case-law curriculum,” which consisted of an abbreviated version of the set of readings assigned in the Harvard Law School course. [4] The other half used what we called the “global curriculum,” which included fewer judicial opinions, relied more on summaries of doctrine, and emphasized copyright law in jurisdictions other than the United States. [5]
b) Half of the participants (and half of the sections) used the conventional online discussion tool included in the edX platform to conduct their asynchronous discussions. The other half used both the edX tool and a collaborative web-based markup tool (called “NB”) that had been created by Professor David Karger and his team at M.I.T. [6] The latter enabled participants to annotate the assigned reading materials and to conduct focused discussions concerning specific aspects of those materials.

Our goal, of course, was to determine which of the alternative approaches in each dimension was more effective.

4. Integration. In two ways, the audiences for the course interlocked. First, students in all three of the groups participated in the live “special events.” Comments and questions from the HLS and edX students were curated (using the Berkman Center’s “Question Tool” software [7]) and then projected onto screens located behind the featured speaker—enabling every student to see the comments submitted by the other students.

Secondly, some of the edX teaching fellows were current students in the Harvard Law School course. One of the principal hypotheses underlying the course was that this would generate pedagogic benefits—most importantly, that the quality and durability of the HLS students’ understanding of copyright law would be enhanced by teaching the material to others.

5. Limited Enrollment. Another hypothesis central to the course design was that engagement in small-group discussions of hard problems, guided by a knowledgeable and skilled teacher, is crucial to learning. To make engagement of this sort possible, we limited enrollment in the edX course to the number of participants who could be accommodated in 20 discussion groups—corresponding to the number of HLS students who volunteered to serve as teaching fellows. We admitted 25 persons to each such group, guessing that each group would shrink during the semester to roughly 15—the number often cited as the optimal size of a seminar. The result: edX enrollment was capped at 500.

To provide us with the information necessary to make admission decisions, we required that applicants complete an extensive application, including three short essays. We received over 4,100 such applications during the three-week window in which applications were being accepted. When evaluating those applications, we looked for manifestations of intelligence, facility with English, and commitment to completing the course—but we did not privilege educational attainment or legal knowledge. Instead, we strove to select a class that would be diverse on many dimensions: gender, country of residence, age, occupation, and interests. We achieved at least the last-mentioned goal. The 500 admitted students included:

  • 53% men; 47% women [8]
  • 29 lawyers; 43 persons with Ph.D.s; 177 persons with Master’s Degrees (not including those with Ph.D.s)
  • a spectrum of ages, from 13 to 83
  • 291 residents of the United States; 203 residents of other countries

The 70 countries from which students participated are shown below:


6. Open Access to “Content.” As indicated above, although access to the course was sharply limited, access to the course materials was not. All of the recorded lectures, all of the reading assignments, and all of the lecture notes (in the form of two interactive maps) were made available to the public under Creative Commons “attribution-noncommercial-sharealike” licenses. [9]

7. Rigor. None of the course materials were simplified or de-tuned to enable the general public to digest them more easily. The recorded lectures were pitched at Harvard Law students, and the case studies were selected and drafted so as to challenge Harvard Law students. Our hope was that they would nevertheless be accessible and engaging for the students in the other audiences.

8. Autonomy of Teachers. The edX teaching fellows and Sarah Hsia, the teacher of the satellitecourse, were given broad discretion when determining what and how to teach. They were not given lesson plans for their discussion sessions. They decided which of the large catalogue of case studies prepared for the course and which pedagogic techniques would be most effective for their students. The edX teaching fellows were told that substantial participation in the seminars was essential to pass the course, but they decided how to interpret and apply that principle for their own groups.

9. Evaluation by Examination. Assessing a student’s understanding of copyright law using a multiple-choice test is infeasible. A traditional examination is far from perfect, but it is better. Working on that assumption, the course made passage of an examination a precondition for receipt of a certificate of completion. The Harvard Law School students were administered a two-part exam: a three-hour in-class closed-book test, designed to determine their ability to apply copyright law to a novel set of facts; and an open-book “take-home” exam, designed to test their critical understanding of copyright theory. The edX students were administered a single 24-hour “take-home” test that integrated the two components of the HLS test but required students to show somewhat more facility with copyright law outside the United States. The participants in the Jamaica satellite course did not take an exam. As a result, they received certificates of participation, but were not eligible to receive certificates of completion.

10. Free. We did not charge for access to the course, access to the course materials, certificates of completion, information concerning performance on the examination, or any ancillary services.