Law School Debuts First Online Course

Harvard Law School’s first ever online course launched Monday, opening up “Copyright,” a class taught by Law School professor William W. Fisher, III, to hundreds of people worldwide.

HLS1x: “Copyright,” which is offered through the Harvard branch of the online learning platform edX, is closely modeled after the Law School course taught by Fisher since 1994.

According to Fisher, 4,100 people applied to take “Copyright,” which is the first and only edX class to have a fixed enrollment. Fisher and his teaching fellows selected 500 students for the 12-week course.

When choosing students, Fisher said, he looked for candidates with ”a certain minimum level of English competence and intelligence.”

“Past that, the process was not like the admissions at a place like Harvard,” Fisher said.

“We were looking for commitment, people who would be engaged and follow through, and diversity in many dimensions, including profession, age, field and geography. We got it,” he added.

Enrollees range in occupation from high school students to professional lawyers.

Fisher said that many of the enrolled students have no formal legal background but work in fields such as music or journalism that touch upon copyright issues

For the online course, Fisher will post 12 pre-recorded lectures, which he described as “not dumbed down at all” from those he gives at the Law School.

In live seminars conducted by video chat, 25 students will discuss the material with a teaching fellow who either has already taken or is currently enrolled in the in-person version of the course taught at Harvard.

Fisher is also hosting six webcast events with outside speakers.

Half of the students enrolled in “Copyright” will study case-law drawn primarily from the United States and the other half will take a global curriculum that uses sources from around the world.

Fisher said he thinks that copyright law, which he views as economically and socially significant, particularly suits the format of an online course “because of its readily grasped cultural importance.”

If this course runs effectively, Fisher said that he expects Harvard to offer more law courses through edX in the future.

Several professors at the Law School have already approached him about starting their own online courses sometime next year, he said.

“My hope is in this course to test and refine some constructive types of information technology and try to avoid malign deployments of information technology in teaching,” Fisher said.

—Staff writer Dev A. Patel can be reached at devpatel@college.harvard.edu.

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