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Teacher of the Year 2020: An interview with Sharon Chauhan

Earlier this year, Vice-Chancellor and CEO Professor Andrea Nollent announced Sharon Chauhan as The University of Law Teacher of the Year for 2020. Andrea highlighted her ‘considered use of different learning methodology to differentiate the learning experience for each student was clearly visible in the respectful rapport between tutor and students.’ We caught up with Sharon to discuss what the award means to her and how she has had to adapt her teaching style during the Covid-19 pandemic.

It is a huge honour to have been chosen as Teacher of the Year 2020 and it is wonderful to receive recognition for the effort I put into my teaching. There are so many amazing and dedicated teachers at ULaw. There are many tutors at ULaw equally deserving of the title.  

I joined ULaw in 2013 and teach on the Legal Practice Course (LPC) and the MSc at the Bristol campus. I am module lead for the law and business module (part of the MSc) which is an exciting course because it encourages students to think outside the box and has absolutely no black letter law in it. The course looks at the legal sector and clients from a business point of view, which really helps students to put their legal advice into context.

I have taught Introduction to Professional Practice at ULaw since I joined, this course is varied and covers a range of issues such as tax planning and legal writing. Similarly, I have taught the Banking and Debt Finance elective since the start. I recently taught How to Read Company Accounts and The Skilled Negotiator as part of our PSC programme.

The highlights of my teaching practice are the penny drop moments that I see my students have. Some concepts are initially tricky but I love creating a role-play or events in class to help students understand. I tend to use props so that students can get fully involved. For example, I use gold and silver chocolate coins to illustrate weighted averages; I distribute cash throughout the room and ask students to bid for a company or enter into a synthetic derivative trade.    

I particularly love the fluidity of debate that the workshop space allows. At a recent workshop on strategy, we looked at M&S Food as a case study. While munching through a selection of M&S sweets students had brought in to aid discussions, we managed to progress through the relative merits of Percy the pig and Colin the caterpillar to diversity and inclusion. Students critiqued whether the introduction of Connie the caterpillar was sufficiently inclusive. We easily progressed to a political, economic, social, technological, legal and environmental (PESTLE) analysis of the supermarket industry fuelled by a tangible and edible starting point.

ULaw prepares students for working life by providing them with lectures online and setting reading material in advance of attending a face to face workshop. This teaching method is particularly effective for a career in the law. Students have the peace and quiet of private study time to get to grips with some key areas and then in workshops students roll up their sleeves and actually do tasks that replicate office tasks; whether that is writing to a client, negotiating terms in a contract or presenting a pitch to a client. The highly interactive nature of the workshop tasks ensures that students prepare well in advance, and they then gain an enormous amount from the time with their peers and tutor.

My teaching style did have to change as a result of Covid-19. During lockdown, I was aware that many of my students might feel isolated, so I created time in class to get up to speed with students regarding how they were coping. I learnt about sourdough bread making, yoga and was inspired to take up running again on hearing about what helped keep students going.  

I wanted to ensure students engaged on many levels with the course material and so looked for songs that matched the outcomes of each session. I circulated the songs in advance, asking students to come to the session with their thoughts on why the song matched the outcomes.  We ended up with a playlist on Spotify at the end of the course.

I am currently trialling mobile apps to bring some of the benefits of anonymity that I saw in online classrooms to face to face classes once they start up again. It will be fun to create polls and quizzes for students to take part in during live lessons using their phones. I will design part of our exciting SQE offering.  I am going to help create new MSc modules that will contain the most up to date thinking on innovation in the legal sector which will enhance the employability of our students.

ULaw provided students with a lot of online support from the outset of lockdown in the form of recordings and in addition students were given the full workshop time with their tutor and peers every week using our brilliant interactive online classroom tool. While the online tool allowed me to do all of the things I could do in a classroom, for example, ask students to work on tasks in small groups, draw on a whiteboard and ask questions of students directly, it also allowed me to do things I don’t do in class. I was able to create little quizzes in the lesson which students could answer anonymously, the final tally of answers was revealed to me only. This encouraged quiet students who might have been reluctant to answer in class to contribute. The chatbox had a similar effect; some students felt more confident taking the time to frame their answer in the chatbox and post it there. 

The highlight of teaching at ULaw is the interaction with our brilliant, bright, curious and hard-working students. Students are fun people to be around.

My advice for anyone studying law is to ask questions. Students need to feel confident to ask questions right from the beginning. Sometimes they might lack confidence and think that their question is ‘silly’. I spend a lot of time reassuring students that if they have a question, then at least a third of the class also don’t know the answer, so they are doing everyone a favour by raising it. As tutors, we love answering questions; it shows us that students are awake and engaged.

My mum has been my main career inspiration. I wanted to be a baker when I was at school and my work experience was in a bakery but my mum bought me a book about the power that knowing your rights can have, and I was quickly persuaded that pursuing a career in law would suit me. However, whenever possible, I like to bake and when teaching, I regularly draw analogies to baking.


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