New Penn MOOC provides intro to American law

It is next to impossible to open a newspaper, browse the web, or watch television without coming across an item of consequence related to the law. Be they criminal laws and civil laws, contracts and expiring contracts, property and deeds, marriages and divorces, or lawsuits and custody disputes, the law is pervasive in American life, even if not always overtly, and decides some of society’s most central issues.

“An Introduction to American Law,” Penn’s new massive open online course (MOOC), offers the public insight into the various types of U.S. law and the complexities that arise from the application of law in different settings. Edward Rock, the Saul A. Fox Distinguished Professor of Business Law at Penn Law School and director of Open Course Initiatives at Penn, says the course “gives a taste of what it would be like to be a first-year law student at Penn.”

Running on Coursera, the free, six-week course operates from Feb. 15 to March 27. Rock says the class is a platform to reach people who have an interest in the law, great or small.

Hosted by Rock, who leads the University’s partnership with Coursera and is also an adviser to Penn President Amy Gutmann and Provost Vincent Price, the course is structured so that six of Penn Law’s leading scholars will review an area of their expertise and what is distinct about the American approach.

The opening week features Vice Provost for Faculty Anita Allen, the Henry R. Silverman Professor of Law and Professor of Philosophy at Penn Law, who will discuss torts.

Week two welcomes Tess Wilkinson-Ryan, an assistant professor of law and psychology, who will cover contracts.

Professor Shyam Balganesh will speak about property law during week three.

For week four, Professor Theodore Ruger, deputy dean of Penn Law, examines constitutional law.

Stephen J. Morse, the Ferdinand Wakeman Hubbell Professor of Law, will discuss criminal law for week five. Morse is also a professor of psychology and law in psychiatry and the associate director of the Center for Neuroscience & Society.

The sixth and final week will star Professor Tobias Barrington Wolff, who will explain civil procedure.

“All of these faculty members teach first-year law students on a regular basis,” Rock says.

Students in the course will view one hour of videos per week on one of the six topics. The videotaped lectures are in 10-15 minute blocks, and the course also includes assignments, assessments, and discussion boards. Enrollees should expect to spend one to two hours per week on coursework.

“An Introduction to American Law” will also pose some of the great philosophical questions about the law, such as, “How is the law used to protect people?,” “How is the law used to help people achieve their goals?,” and “What is the line between conduct that we wish to discourage and conduct that we make criminal?”

Rock says that anyone thinking about law school, stateside or worldwide, will find value in the course material, but the course is designed for anyone interested in American law. Prior knowledge of the law is not required.

“If you’re interested in law but don’t know very much about it, it’s a perfect introduction,” he says.

An Introduction to American Law