ITT: We Crowdsource Textbook Design

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Nightrunner
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ITT: We Crowdsource Textbook Design

Postby Nightrunner » Thu Jun 13, 2013 1:26 pm

Let's say (purely hypothetically, of course) that some well-esteemed person is looking into writing a textbook. And let's say that he, being a bit of a boomer, asked a TLSer to help design the thing. Being a resourceful and internet-savvy TLSer, he decided to ask the masses of chill and sociable law students to help him think it through and give recommendations.

What were your favorite textbooks? Why? What were some of the better or more innovative things you read in law school that helped you stay engaged and actually learn shit?

In short: If you were designing a textbook, what would you add/how would you present information that varies from the super-boring "here's a page of narrative, here's five cases, here's a few questions, next chapter" model?

(P.S. I'm temporarily stickying this thread as a clear exploitation of power.)

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JamMasterJ
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Re: ITT: We Crowdsource Textbook Design

Postby JamMasterJ » Thu Jun 13, 2013 1:48 pm

law textbooks, right?

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Nightrunner
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Re: ITT: We Crowdsource Textbook Design

Postby Nightrunner » Thu Jun 13, 2013 1:50 pm

JamMasterJ wrote:law textbooks, right?

I figured that was implied. My bad.

Yes - something one would use to teach, say, a class full of 2Ls.

schweitziro
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Re: ITT: We Crowdsource Textbook Design

Postby schweitziro » Thu Jun 13, 2013 1:55 pm

Nightrunner wrote:
JamMasterJ wrote:law textbooks, right?

I figured that was implied. My bad.

Yes - something one would use to teach, say, a class full of 2Ls.


2Ls don't read.

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Nightrunner
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Re: ITT: We Crowdsource Textbook Design

Postby Nightrunner » Thu Jun 13, 2013 2:06 pm

schweitziro wrote:
Nightrunner wrote:
JamMasterJ wrote:law textbooks, right?

I figured that was implied. My bad.

Yes - something one would use to teach, say, a class full of 2Ls.


2Ls don't read.

You're telling me. Thus the request.

Fine, we'll say 1Ls then.

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Danger Zone
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Re: ITT: We Crowdsource Textbook Design

Postby Danger Zone » Thu Jun 13, 2013 4:48 pm

I would make every book like this one: http://www.amazon.com/Civil-Procedure-C ... 735597898/

Some highlights:
  • It answers every question it asks (how annoying is it when textbooks ask dozens of questions and then leave you hanging)
  • Speaks in English, rather than whatever the fuck language the Dukeminier property text is in
  • Made with good paper and not the usual brown, decaying crap (con: makes the book considerably heavier)
  • Organization makes the material crystal clear, rather than bouncing all over the place
  • Makes forks in the law obvious rather than presenting a case one way and then a case the other without further explanation (the HAHAURFUCKED model)

Just make it easy to understand. I don't know why casebook authors feel like they have to utterly fuck over everyone who attempts to read their book.

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JamMasterJ
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Re: ITT: We Crowdsource Textbook Design

Postby JamMasterJ » Thu Jun 13, 2013 4:55 pm

Danger Zone wrote:[list][*]It answers every question it asks (how annoying is it when textbooks ask dozens of questions and then leave you hanging)

so much this. I was thinking that most stuff has to be pretty much the same across the board, but this is one area where most textbooks suck.

Another thing I was thinking is it would be nice if the textbook, at the end of a unit, did some sort of concepts & insights-esque tie-togetether of the unit. That way you have the author's perspective and it uses the cases you've been studying rather than trying to analogize the random different cases your supplement uses.

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Jsa725
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Re: ITT: We Crowdsource Textbook Design

Postby Jsa725 » Thu Jun 13, 2013 5:00 pm

.
Last edited by Jsa725 on Sun Oct 26, 2014 2:53 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Danger Zone
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Re: ITT: We Crowdsource Textbook Design

Postby Danger Zone » Thu Jun 13, 2013 5:00 pm

JamMasterJ wrote:Another thing I was thinking is it would be nice if the textbook, at the end of a unit, did some sort of concepts & insights-esque tie-togetether of the unit. That way you have the author's perspective and it uses the cases you've been studying rather than trying to analogize the random different cases your supplement uses.

The book I linked to has a summary at the end of every chapter, and it was CLUTCH for making my outline.

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Bronck
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Re: ITT: We Crowdsource Textbook Design

Postby Bronck » Thu Jun 13, 2013 5:07 pm

DZ hit on some of the big ones that popped into my head.

If you want some examples of TERRIBLE CBs: Kadish's Criminal Law; Brest's Processes of Constitutional Decisionmaking; and Fuller's Basic Contract Law.

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Reinhardt
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Re: ITT: We Crowdsource Textbook Design

Postby Reinhardt » Thu Jun 13, 2013 5:12 pm

Best textbook = Stone Con Law. The cases are edited down to be somewhere from half a page to 3 pages, with clear, concise intros telling you what you need to know. If you can do it for Con Law, you can do it for practically any other subject. I seem to be in the minority judging by its Amazon reviews though. Also, my prof didn't really assign much of the non-case material in the book.

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JamMasterJ
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Re: ITT: We Crowdsource Textbook Design

Postby JamMasterJ » Thu Jun 13, 2013 5:16 pm

oh yeah and unless it's Asahi, dissents should not exist or be 2 pages

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stillwater
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Re: ITT: We Crowdsource Textbook Design

Postby stillwater » Thu Jun 13, 2013 5:26 pm

another shitty text: Marty Redish's CivPro. its just an opportunity for him to stroke himself by using the notes as an opportunity to quote at length his own "schoalry" articles. so dont do that.

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Nightrunner
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Re: ITT: We Crowdsource Textbook Design

Postby Nightrunner » Thu Jun 13, 2013 5:32 pm

Thanks for the feedback so far. I dig it. Keep it coming. One pointed question: when dealing with positive vs. normative law (i.e., "is" vs. "aught"), how do you prefer a textbook delineate this?

For example, let's say "Ancient Case" says X, and "Old Case" says Y, despite the fact that reasoning plus ancient case would mean it could (or should) say X. No SCOTUS case has challenged Old Case's holding of Y yet. How would you prefer this fork (or potential fork) be delineated if it were your textbook?

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Danger Zone
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Re: ITT: We Crowdsource Textbook Design

Postby Danger Zone » Thu Jun 13, 2013 6:16 pm

Nightrunner wrote:Thanks for the feedback so far. I dig it. Keep it coming. One pointed question: when dealing with positive vs. normative law (i.e., "is" vs. "aught"), how do you prefer a textbook delineate this?

For example, let's say "Ancient Case" says X, and "Old Case" says Y, despite the fact that reasoning plus ancient case would mean it could (or should) say X. No SCOTUS case has challenged Old Case's holding of Y yet. How would you prefer this fork (or potential fork) be delineated if it were your textbook?

I would say give a brief overview first like you just did, then insert "Old Case," then provide an explanation after the case detailing how Old Case departed from Ancient Case (with selective quoting from Ancient Case to drive the point home) and making it clear that Old Case is currently binding. Then you can go into a policy discussion.

The only reason I don't think Ancient Case needs to be there as a whole case is because old cases (let alone ancient ones) use archaic vernacular. That junk is painful to read.

hlsperson1111
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Re: ITT: We Crowdsource Textbook Design

Postby hlsperson1111 » Fri Jun 14, 2013 12:09 pm

First of all, whoever said that Stone et al. is a great con law casebook must be smoking rocks. It's one of the worst-organized books I had in law school and it was falling apart at the end of the semester. Fallon/Shiffrin/Kamisar/Choper is a much better con law book, although I don't know enough to say whether it's the best.

The best casebook I had in law school was Legislation & Regulation by Manning & Stephenson. It's a great book: it takes a dense subject (admin and statutory interpretation) and breaks it down by selecting appropriate portions of appropriate cases in an appropriate order. The notes are substantive enough to be helpful, but short enough that they don't bore you to tears or confuse you. They are clear and there are an appropriate number of them. It's a physically well-constructed book. I think this is a great model for prospective CB writers to follow.

I also liked Hart & Wechsler a lot, although I don't recommend that new CB writers try to imitate it.

Casebooks that struck me as very bad included:
-Dawson et al, Contracts (horrible book, very badly organized, cases were not edited well, notes just made things more confusing)
-Dukeminier et al, Property (same, with the added bonus of being very poorly constructed).
-Stone et al, Constitutional Law (see above)
-Saltzburg & Capra, American Criminal Procedure (poorly organized, and the cases are in narrow columns which is incredibly annoying to read and take notes on. Very well-constructed, though.)

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jkpolk
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Re: ITT: We Crowdsource Textbook Design

Postby jkpolk » Fri Jun 14, 2013 12:16 pm

Honestly, I think the most important thing in a textbook is the double table of contents- One with a broad overview of issues and one with all the sub-issues broken out, flagging important cases. I can't think of a textbook inclusion that is more helpful for outlining/mentally organizing a course.

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smaug_
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Re: ITT: We Crowdsource Textbook Design

Postby smaug_ » Fri Jun 14, 2013 12:23 pm

I think you have two general theories out there:

One is to put thing together following the narrative with cases that exemplify the evolution of the law so you end up where the doctrine is today.

The other is to put out a bunch of bad cases so that students can see what went wrong and learn the BLL from tearing the opinion to pieces.

I honestly think the second option works better. The historical overview with famous cases is boring. Sure, you'll end up knowing the same names that everyone else does, but it just ends up being a random list of rules you learned. The second way (especially if it still hits the actual good law as well as crappy cases) forces you to think about what you're reading instead of just boiling everything down to "issue, holding, significance."

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Danger Zone
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Re: ITT: We Crowdsource Textbook Design

Postby Danger Zone » Fri Jun 14, 2013 12:25 pm

hibiki wrote:I think you have two general theories out there:

One is to put thing together following the narrative with cases that exemplify the evolution of the law so you end up where the doctrine is today.

The other is to put out a bunch of bad cases so that students can see what went wrong and learn the BLL from tearing the opinion to pieces.

I honestly think the second option works better. The historical overview with famous cases is boring. Sure, you'll end up knowing the same names that everyone else does, but it just ends up being a random list of rules you learned. The second way (especially if it still hits the actual good law as well as crappy cases) forces you to think about what you're reading instead of just boiling everything down to "issue, holding, significance."

This is an interesting way to go, albeit one that I disagree with because it assumes that law students will put any thought into what they're reading. But still, interesting.

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Bronck
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Re: ITT: We Crowdsource Textbook Design

Postby Bronck » Fri Jun 14, 2013 12:31 pm

I don't see any point in including bad cases or the evolution of the law. In my experience, they were entirely useless for learning the law as it stands today. If you want to discuss the evolution, have a quick intro blurb. Then have the core case(s). Then have some notes that discuss exceptions/nuances. And by discuss, I mean tell the student those exceptions and nuances, don't offer 50 straight questions. Nobody thinks about those questions.

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Jsa725
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Re: ITT: We Crowdsource Textbook Design

Postby Jsa725 » Fri Jun 14, 2013 12:47 pm

.
Last edited by Jsa725 on Sun Oct 26, 2014 2:53 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Bronte
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Re: ITT: We Crowdsource Textbook Design

Postby Bronte » Fri Jun 14, 2013 4:24 pm

This is probably not going to be helpful, but I prefer just to read cases and not secondary material written by the casebook author. The kind of law professors that write text books are generally unwilling to "give it to you straight" in the secondary material because they generally believe in the socratic method of legal pedagogy. Thus, the secondary material tends to be elliptical nonsense with annoying unanswered questions, disorganized references to scholarship, and policy drivel designed to further confuse. I always preferred courses where professors just assigned statutes and cases, especially when the materials came in a coursepack so I didn't even have to buy anything.

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Re: ITT: We Crowdsource Textbook Design

Postby philosoraptor » Fri Jun 14, 2013 4:51 pm

I disagree with the above, but the catch is that secondary material must be clear, concise, and uncluttered. My favorite textbooks were those that gave quality introductions and explanations along with heavily edited cases -- just enough for the facts, the procedural history (particularly important for stuff like torts), the law, and the reasoning. One particularly bad textbook from 1L year (Mullenix civ pro) had no explanatory material at all, and the prof treated it as if this were some big breakthrough in legal pedagogy. It wasn't; it sucked and made it harder to learn.

This book (Robertson, Torts) was probably the best casebook I used in all three years. I took several of Robertson's classes at UT, and I always found his writing and organization second to none. His admiralty text is also high quality. Another bonus there is a separate (again, heavily edited) statutory supplement that highlighted the key bits scattered throughout the U.S. Code.

On the other end of the spectrum is this book (Coffee, Securities Reg). Truly a nightmare to read. Cluttered with useless citations to law review articles and other bullshit that we don't care about. Immensely disorganized. Desperately in need of a rewrite, when it was clear that all 12 editions involved adding a bunch of random material when the laws changed, but failing to integrate things properly or look at the big picture.

I'd say the main thing is that the writer try to sound like a teacher, not a scholar.

Oh, and DO NOT scrimp on the editing or the layout. Some books are a pleasure to read because it's clear somebody took the time to catch typos, pick a pleasant typeface, and make sure everything fits well in terms of content and pagination. Others (such as the Coffee book above) make me want to stab my eyeballs out -- line spacing and even letter spacing all over the place, ugly typeface, weird page layouts, typos and citation errors galore, etc. etc.

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JamMasterJ
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Re: ITT: We Crowdsource Textbook Design

Postby JamMasterJ » Fri Jun 14, 2013 7:28 pm

hlsperson1111 wrote:First of all, whoever said that Stone et al. is a great con law casebook must be smoking rocks. It's one of the worst-organized books I had in law school and it was falling apart at the end of the semester. Fallon/Shiffrin/Kamisar/Choper is a much better con law book, although I don't know enough to say whether it's the best.

The best casebook I had in law school was Legislation & Regulation by Manning & Stephenson. It's a great book: it takes a dense subject (admin and statutory interpretation) and breaks it down by selecting appropriate portions of appropriate cases in an appropriate order. The notes are substantive enough to be helpful, but short enough that they don't bore you to tears or confuse you. They are clear and there are an appropriate number of them. It's a physically well-constructed book. I think this is a great model for prospective CB writers to follow.

I also liked Hart & Wechsler a lot, although I don't recommend that new CB writers try to imitate it.

Casebooks that struck me as very bad included:
-Dawson et al, Contracts (horrible book, very badly organized, cases were not edited well, notes just made things more confusing)
-Dukeminier et al, Property (same, with the added bonus of being very poorly constructed).
-Stone et al, Constitutional Law (see above)
-Saltzburg & Capra, American Criminal Procedure (poorly organized, and the cases are in narrow columns which is incredibly annoying to read and take notes on. Very well-constructed, though.)

I was gonna mention that Manning & Stephenson is a really good book.

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Samara
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Re: ITT: We Crowdsource Textbook Design

Postby Samara » Fri Jun 14, 2013 10:57 pm

Bankman's Federal Income Tax is excellent. Shortest textbook of any of my classes, but very efficient in delivering the same amount of material. The cases were well edited, the questions at the end were a good mix of providing the answer and leaving it open ended, and it gave you just enough background to understand the current concept.

The typeface was utilitarian but clear. The tone of the notes was conversational without talking down to you or trying too hard.

I don't personally care, but a lot of my classmates really appreciated the books with wide side margins for note taking. And don't do a bunch of pictures or diagrams unless they are truly helpful, like in Property.




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