Team Open

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Jon Festinger

How a video game lawyer leveled up his teaching methods.

Jon Festinger spent his early career as a newsroom lawyer, fighting for access to court documents. Today, he’s a video game law professor, upholding those ideals by making his course content publicly available online under a Creative Commons license. With a system of public and peer review, Jon generates essential feedback that improves the course.

When he began Video Game Law, Jon couldn’t share the course’s case materials beyond registered students because they weren’t openly licensed. A year later, Jon was able to use all openly licensed case materials, without having to change his syllabus. “Both law and education are remix cultures,” states Jon. By drawing on precedent, each field innovates and builds upon past knowledge.

Jon Festinger is at root a freedom of expression lawyer. He spent years at the beginning of his career as a newsroom lawyer fighting for access to court documents and lobbying for cameras in court.

Jon is not only a lawyer but an author and Faculty of Law Adjunct Professor at the University of British Columbia (UBC) where he teaches Video Game Law. Three years ago, UBC’s Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technologies suggested that Jon add a website to his Video Game Law course. Jon agreed, and with the help of teaching and learning technologies staff, he built a Video Game Law website using open-source tools.

For Jon, maxims like “Ignorance of the law is no excuse” and “Openness is the handmaiden of justice” are not just well-worn sayings but an ethos informing professional practice. So, when asked if he wanted the website licensed with Creative Commons Jon said; “Yes, absolutely.” Video Game Law is licensed with a Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license, making it visible to, and available for reuse by, everyone on the internet. Jon believes that it is incumbent on lawyers and law schools to ensure their work is open. In Jon’s words, “Both law and education are remix cultures.” Legal arguments are crafted by remixing and drawing on precedent. Education builds on and uses collective knowledge.

Creating an open public website made Jon work hard at having it be as complete, accurate, and current as possible. Course content accumulates historically and the CC BY license ensures all content posted over the history of the course is available publicly to existing students, past students, potential new students, and the general public.

For Jon, the course is not closed-ended or bound by time. Instead, “It’s a living entity continuously evolving even when no students are currently enrolled.” The website is like another person or character in the course, a living piece. Semester-based start and stop dates are simply moments of intensive activity, but there is no end. Students know the course existed long before they enrolled and that it will continue to exist long after they are finished. Students continue to have access and can post to the site even after they graduate. The Video Game Law course site looks and functions less like a course and more like a continuing community.

For Jon, one big benefit of having a CC BY–licensed course site is the increased rigor it brought to his teaching. Knowing the course site will be seen and used by others made Jon work and push to a higher standard. A CC BY–licensed course website puts in place an open system of public and peer review and in the process, generates essential feedback that improves the course. In Jon’s view, when courses are closed rather than open, we rob ourselves of riches.

In the first online iteration of the course, with the strong support from the UBC law library, Jon was able to gather and make all the cases associated with the course accessible through the website. But a downside was that the case material was not openly licensed and as a result, could only be made available to registered students. For the most recent version of the course, Jon was able to replace all the closed material, cases, and papers with free or open versions, without any changes or alterations to the syllabus of materials he wanted available. Jon not only makes his own course materials available to others; he’s the beneficiary of others making their materials open to him.

Another benefit of having an open course website came to Jon as a complete surprise. His course site more than quadrupled the speaking invitations he got from people and institutions. The course site serves as a calling card and because it is open, others identify and welcome Jon as someone who isn’t selfish about his knowledge and teaching. When you are willing to share, people reach out to you more.

To Jon, academia is built on an open-source belief system. Belief that we have to cite and build on the work of others. Belief that what we are doing is for the benefit of mankind. Closing that off and making it a restricted form of property, seems to him very strange.

Jon has received tremendous encouragement and support from both administration and colleagues at the Faculty of Law, Allard Hall. In January 2015, Jon will be teaching a new course called Legal Constraints on (Digital) Creativity. This course will track the creative process and examine constraints that affect, limit, or change creativity. As with his Video Game Law course, this new course will be openly licensed and through it Jon will continue his advocacy for, and practice of, freedom of expression.

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Creative Commons License

Jon Festinger (Team Open) was written by Paul Stacey for Creative Commons. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

The illustration of Jon Festinger was created by Luke Surl. To the extent possible under the law, Luke Surl has waived all copyright and related or neighboring rights under the CC0 Public Domain Declaration.