Professor Chris Bavitz on teaching for a decade with H2O
Chris Bavitz is the WilmerHale Clinical Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. He is also Managing Director of HLS’s Cyberlaw Clinic, based at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society. And, he is a Faculty Co-Director of the Berkman Klein Center. Chris teaches the Counseling and Legal Strategy in the Digital Age and Music & Digital Media seminars, and he concentrates his practice activities on intellectual property and media law (particularly in the areas of music, entertainment, and technology). We recently talked about how he approaches the evolution of his course material after a decade of teaching with H2O.
What courses are you currently teaching or preparing to teach?
I work with the team at the Cyberlaw Clinic at Harvard Law School and co-teach the Cyberlaw Clinic Seminar with my colleague, Jess Fjeld. I also teach a couple of other non-clinical courses including one that I’ve taught with H2O for over a decade — a class called Music and Digital Media.
When did you first start using H2O?
The first law school course I ever taught completely on my own was the Music and Digital Media course, and I used H2O for it from the very beginning. The H2O platform was very much in its infancy at the time, but it quickly became apparent that it was going to fulfill a really specific need in terms of annotating and excerpting cases. It would also be a good place to gather readings and links to readings that did not need to be excerpted.
The bread and butter of law school teaching materials are court opinions. Typically, cases include a lot of material beyond what we want to assign a law student to read in a given week. H2O had developed an elegant solution to this problem — I could select a chunk of text and press a button to hide it from view while keeping it available to students to access if they wanted to see it. And, I remember thinking, “why did we not have this before?” It felt like a no-brainer that for cases, statutes, and other primary source legal materials, H2O was the best possible solution.
In addition to primary source legal materials, I also wanted to be able to link to things that were out there on the open web — like a newspaper article or a journal article on SSRN. I could do that easily with H2O. I could also incorporate documents that were not on the open web, like form record industry contracts, by linking to documents behind a login that was only accessible to my students.
What changed, if anything, about your teaching once you started to use H2O?
The thing I like most about H2O for a course that I teach repeatedly is that it allows me to keep the skeleton of a casebook, which doesn’t change radically year to year, while remaining very nimble and responsive to fast-moving current events. In an area like music and media law, the specifics of the field and the course change year to year. So, the modularity of the platform — the ability both to adjust the sequence of readings in a given chapter and to switch the order of chapters between semesters — has been really helpful.
The way I tend to use H2O is, at the beginning of the semester, I’ll open up the full casebook and say, “here’s our roadmap for the semester.” The first two weeks are set. Students can look ahead if they’d like to get a sense of the arc of the entire course. But, I tell them the specifics are going to change. Then, each week, I can dole out the rest of the readings as I finalize them. That consistency in the structure of the course paired with the ability to change things within that structure, almost on the fly every week, has been great.
Can you give an example of something you’ve adapted your book to incorporate or adjust?
In music copyright there was, in 2018, a very significant piece of federal legislation called the Music Modernization Act (MMA). It was a long time coming, and it significantly impacted a lot of licensing regimes for music. Provisions of the MMA permeated many of the class sessions in this course. Over the last couple of years, I have built a stand-alone unit on the Music Modernization Act that includes readings that relate to the Act and commentary from various corners about its pros and cons. Each year it’s easy to change that section on the MMA as things evolve. For example, there was commentary just this year on very significant changes that happened in January 2021, and I was able to incorporate them into the casebook to inform our class discussions in March. Next year, there will be even further developments, and I’ll be able to tweak the casebook again.
I've shared with you that an undergraduate professor adapted your book for his music business course. Are you motivated by or considering the fact that others could re-use or adapt your materials when you create your books?
I love that about H2O. I don’t think I’m motivated by it specifically when I’m choosing my content — I’m mostly thinking about creating a useful course for my students. But, when I thought about teaching Music and Digital Media over a decade ago, the first thing I did was go out to other professors who I knew taught these kinds of classes. And, I asked if I could look at their syllabi to see what materials they covered and how their classes were structured. Then, I did things that ranged from loose inspiration to heavy borrowing of what other people were already doing.
There’s a norm that I really like in the academic world of being very open about how we’ve all found ways to teach difficult concepts to students, all the way down to the specific readings we assign, the cases we choose to address, articles, excerpts, etc. It happens over email, on Twitter, on listservs, and it’s a very regular topic of conversation among law teachers. I think H2O is in some ways the logical next step in that organic process. It allows people to share not only high-level ideas but fully-formed, tailored casebooks. H2O also makes it easy to tear those existing casebooks apart — to copy a casebook, or a chapter, use whatever works for you, and get rid of whatever doesn’t fit with your vision. My class, for example, is very copyright heavy and contract heavy. Other courses focus more on trademark and right of publicity, which I don’t address in much depth. If somebody wanted to take the parts of my book that they liked and then add those other topics, that would be very easy with H2O. It’s something I hope people find useful.
Do you have any advice for professors or instructors considering open casebooks and H2O?
Over time, H2O has become much more user friendly. In the early days it was a clunkier tool that a lot of us had a lot of affection for. But, it really did take time to get it to do what you wanted it to do. Every year, though, it gets faster and better and easier to use. It works particularly well when you’re incorporating primary legal sources directly into the platform, so things like cases, statutes, legislation, and Creative Commons-licensed articles and other materials. Across the board, it’s been getting better and better over the years; if I was starting a new course today, I think it would be an even more logical choice to build the course on H2O.
View Professor Bavitz's casebook in H2O.