Harvard Law to offer first free online course

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The higher education system in the United States may be about to transform radically, but don’t expect Harvard Law School to be caught flat-footed.

The prestigious law school is about to launch its first online course, reports National Law Journal. It will be taught as part of edX, a venture led by Harvard, MIT and a handful of other prestigious schools that offers free courses online.

William Fisher III, director of Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, will teach the 12-week copyright course.

Enrollment is limited to 500 students and prospective students have until January 3 to submit applications. The course is slated to begin January 28.

Fisher’s course is not a MOOC, or massive open online course, which offers large-scale instruction but otherwise leaves hundreds or thousands of students essentially on their own.

Instead, the course will be as much like a real (free) Harvard class as the Internet will allow circa 2013. There will be pre-recorded lectures by Fisher. Also, students will be grouped into discussion sections of no more than 25. Fisher’s former and current students will serve as teaching fellows, and lead real-time discussions.

The course, HLS1x, will cover the relationship between copyright law and creative expression in a host of fields including music, film, literature, software, fashion and architecture, according to the course description on the edX website. About two-thirds of the material will pertain to the U.S. copyright system of the United States; the other third will focus on laws in other countries.

Course materials will be available at no charge on Fisher’s website.

Students also get the chance to take a three-hour Harvard Law final exam, to be graded by the teaching fellows. If you pass, you’ll get a certificate of completion.

Applicants must speak decent English and be ready to dedicate eight hours each week to mastering the material. They must also be at least 13 years old. Video chat capability is very helpful, but not mandatory. Otherwise, there are no prerequisites for the course and no legal background whatsoever is required.

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Eric Owens