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Teaching Law Will Never Be the Same

Professor Brian Quinn's technological classroom innovations move the Law School into a new era.

Law Professor Brian Quinn, photographed on May 10, 2016. 

Technology has changed the way law professors approach teaching in the classroom. This was the case in 2013 when BC Law Professor Brian Quinn altered his teaching methods after realizing standard casebooks were inefficient and unreasonably expensive. The answer to his problem came in the form of H2O—an open source platform for creating casebooks developed by the Berkman Klein Center for Law and Society and the Harvard Libraries.

H2O allows faculty, like Quinn, to leverage access to a large database of open source cases with online editing tools to build low cost casebooks. Quinn used H2O to build an open source casebook now in its seventh edition that is available to students in its online form at no cost or, if purchased on Amazon, at a very cost.

“Rather than me having to struggle through using someone else’s ideas, I’m able to crystallize my ideas and my thoughts and what I think is important for students as they learn corporate law through the use of the platform,” said Quinn. “Being unhappy with the casebooks is one thing, but being unhappy and asking students to pay two-hundred plus dollars for a casebook is a completely different matter. With H2O I can give students the opportunity to get the course materials for free or at a very low price.”

What began as an experiment to help improve his corporate law class is now Quinn’s go-to resource when developing course material. In a recent H2O blog post, Quinn said, “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.”

The impetus for Quinn’s reliance on H2O is the fact that his students are the main beneficiaries of the service. “This takes time, none of this happens overnight,” said Quinn when discussing his shift from traditional casebooks to open source material.

“The more that faculty start to focus on affordability as a real problem for students, the more faculty will be looking for solutions, and I think they are going to turn to solutions that offer open source materials at a low cost, and H2O gives them that,” said Quinn. “It also gives them the flexibility to personalize the materials so that it reflects what the faculty wants.”

Using technology to develop low cost casebooks is not only innovation in Quinn’s classroom. Since 2013, Quinn has been using asynchronous online course modules to expand his ability to reach students in his classes. He first developed an asynchronous online course module on the law of agency with the assistance of an academic technology grant from the Provost’s office.

Building on that initial course, he has since built a number of asynchronous online courses covering a mix of subject matters, among them partnership law, LLC law, and nonprofit corporation law. Quinn’s use of asynchronous online course modules allows him to complement and expand the in-class experience for students. With the shift to remote learning due to COVID-19, those early investments in online learning turned out to be very valuable.

Quinn’s knowledge of teaching technology, ability to innovate, and devotion to BC Law students landed him in a leadership role when the Covid-19 health crisis forced schools into the era of online learning. In a time of uncertainty, Boston College needed minds like Quinn’s to help establish an effective plan to transition to online and hybrid models for the 2020-2021 academic year. His contributions were vital to the success of the transition.

Quinn was asked to lead a group of faculty and staff, including professors Joan Blum and Mark Brodin, librarian Mary Ann Neary, and technology specialist Kyle Fidalgo, to help lead conversations with faculty over the summer about what would be possible if they were forced to be online in the fall. He said this involved introducing faculty to the tools that were available and providing access to main campus resources to help them plan and build their courses, primarily using Canvas, a learning management system.

Quinn said that former Dean Vincent Rougeau emphasized the importance of using the summer leading into fall of 2020 to plan for a semester that would undoubtedly be different. “At the time we did not know what the fall semester would look like. We had great hopes, but you have to hope for the best and plan for the worst, and my job was to plan for the worst,” Quinn explained.

“The faculty as a whole did an extraordinary amount of work over the summer to prepare to go online. This was during a time of great uncertainty about the direction of the pandemic and the faculty responded with great unity and a dedication to ensuring the best experience for our students,” said Quinn.

While Quinn has been recognized by the BC Law community for his effective leadership throughout this effort, he is quick to deflect all praise to the rest of his team, and one colleague in particular, for their contributions over the last year and a half.

He said, “The true hero over the course of the past 18 months has been Kyle Fidalgo, the school’s educational technologist. He has been a tremendous resource for the school and the faculty. Not only is he extremely knowledgeable about the technologies available to help the faculty do its work of teaching, he is also unbelievably patient.”