Professor Brian Quinn on teaching corporations with H2O
Brian Quinn is a professor at Boston College Law School where he teaches Corporations, Corporate Counsel Seminar, Mergers & Acquisitions, as well as Deals: The Economic Structure of Transactions. Professor Quinn's research focuses on corporate law, mergers & acquisitions, the structuring of transactions, transactional law, and private ordering. We recently spoke about his longtime use of H2O to teach Corporations, and the casebook he is currently developing to teach Venture Capital.
When did you first start using H2O, and what prompted you to transition your course material into H2O?
I first started using H2O in the fall of 2013, so almost 8 years ago. A couple of things prompted me - first, I found myself using a well known casebook that really reflected the author’s idea of the proper sequencing and coverage of materials. So I would be assigning things seemingly randomly throughout the casebook so that students would be reading the sections that reflected what I thought they needed to learn. I found that a little uncomfortable, and students didn’t always understand why I was assigning certain sections and skipping others. Second, the price of the materials available always struck me as outrageous. Given that these are largely public documents that we rely on to build the backbone of the casebooks, it makes no sense for these to cost $200 or $300 per book. It was really a combination of being unhappy with what was on offer and with the price that drove me to buckle down one day over the summer and give H2O a shot.
Since adopting H2O, you’ve expanded to teach more than one course using an H2O casebook that you’ve created. Can you talk a bit about why you decided to expand your use of H2O and how you decided the time was right to create a new book?
I teach a course on venture capital, and I’ve found that there are very few good books for law students on the topic. What I’ve decided to do for the course is to develop my own materials and use H2O as the place to do that. That particular project hasn’t taken its final form. I assign it to students, but I expect it will take a few more years to really be in a place where I’d be comfortable encouraging other people to use it. That actually reflects one of the things I like about H2O, which is that it gives me the ability to create books on the fly so that students need not wait for a two or three year period before they gain access to helpful materials. They can access them right now, and as I teach with the material I can drop, add, and change things while the book continues to take its form. For example, my corporate law casebook looks almost nothing like it did when I first created the book 8 years ago, and I expect that will be the same for venture capital.
How much do you change your books year to year, and what kinds of things are you changing?
I’m always changing the sequence and moving things around so that they’re in a more logical order for my teaching. The nice thing about H2O is that it’s flexible - it’s easy to move things around so that the materials follow a sequence I think is coherent and orderly. Second, I’m constantly editing the cases down, or re-editing the cases. Sometimes I’ll walk out of a class conversation and think, I don’t think the students really got that, or they focused on the wrong thing, and I’ll realize it’s because I had not edited that material out. So I’m always thinking about how to edit the materials down so they’re a little more concise and provide the information that is most relevant to where I want the discussion to go. And then there are always developments in the field. There will be new cases that reflect new parts of the law, or perhaps new cases that have new discussions of old law but within a modern context the students will more readily recognize. I’m always looking for ways to better reach students through new cases.
When you create your books, are you motivated by or considering the fact that others could also use the materials you publish in H2O?
I’m very happy that people would use what I create, but the reason I went to H2O was because I could use the platform to develop materials that really reflected my course. I would hope that somebody else would look at what I did in H2O and say, that’s not what I would do. Maybe they’ll take parts of what I did, and then take parts of what somebody else has done, and then go ahead and add their own spin. I’ll also note that H2O is in a really different place than when I started. By now there are a couple of different corporate law casebooks available on H2O. We’re almost at a stage with the H2O corporate law collection that one could go in, find a series of resources, and then begin to put together a corporate law casebook that reflects what each instructor wants their students to learn. And the additional required work to personalize that casebook and make it their own would be, I think, pretty minimal given the broad base of resources available around corporate law.
You make a print version of your casebook available to your students - was that important to you when you were considering H2O?
I think it is extremely important to have access to a printed version, so I offer students access to the free version online as well as a very inexpensive printed version. The fact that I can transition the online version to a printed version with H2O has been very important for me, as I find that students tend to rely on the printed version. The first time I offered students a printed version I made it available as a pdf and directed them to print it at the library. That turned out to be a mistake since they all went to the library to print this very long book at the same time. So I very quickly transitioned over to third party publishing services like the Kindle Direct Publishing platform with Amazon. And that has turned out to be really positive because students are familiar with Amazon and can easily and quickly get their books from it for a very, very reasonable price.
Do you have any advice for professors or instructors considering open casebooks and H2O?
I would say approach it with a mentality of experimentation and be willing to try and fail with it a bit. Because I think the benefits for students on the other end are really large. Not only will they appreciate that the cost is much lower or free, but you are more able as an experienced instructor to deliver to students the kind of course that you want them to have, rather than relying on someone else’s view of the course or what the material is. Especially since there is now a significant body of work on corporate law in H2O, it’s much easier to make that transition to H2O and tailor your course to what you want.
View Professor Quinn's corporations casebook in H2O.