“I remember thinking why learning law was so tiresome and challenging. Then, I thought that if I were given a chance to be a lecturer, I’d want to change the way legal education is delivered.”
Have you ever dreamed about changing the way things are done after experiencing it firsthand? For Senior Law Lecturer and Programme Director at Taylor’s Law School, Puteri Sofia Amirnuddin, it started with a thought while she was studying Property Law in Year 2 of her Bachelor of Laws at the University of Tasmania. With the thought lingering on even until after completing her pupilage, starting her career in academia was natural.
So how did she change the way legal education is presented? Puteri Sofia shares how she revolutionised the way law is taught and her journey getting there.
Q: Law isn’t something easy to read or practise. Could you share with us what led you to study and pursue a career in law?
A: I’ll tell you a secret. When I was a student, I’d memorise a textbook word for word as I found it very challenging to learn certain areas of law.
If the book was 600 pages thick, I could remember every single word in it. But, I realised that learning law shouldn’t be this way. That’s when my desire to make it easier for students to learn law grew. This was one of the reasons why I joined the academic world too.
Q: Speaking of academia, have you always been in it?
A: Well, I joined academia in 2012 after completing my pupillage at Messrs Cheah Teh Su. It wasn’t an easy decision as I also wanted to practice law. But I knew, deep down in my heart, that if I practised, I wouldn’t be able to find the time to teach. I’m glad I joined the academia industry while I was still young because there were many things to learn! I was always under the impression that we’d just come to class and teach but in actual fact, there’s a lot more than just lecturing.
Q: Needless to say, you’ve definitely changed the way law is taught through the introduction of Augmented Reality (AR) in your law classes! What made you decide to research this area?
A: Anyone who has learnt English Land Law can attest to how dry and challenging the subject can be. I’ve been teaching the subject for 8 years and, back in 2017, I decided to try something new. After doing my research on AR, I asked my cubicle-mates back then, Kelly Tee Pei Leng and Dr. Jason Turner, about their thoughts regarding it. After listening to them, I felt that it was difficult for AR to be implemented in my lessons but Dr. Jason assured me, “Never say never until you try.” That gave me the motivation to pursue AR in my English Land Law classes.
Q: How was the journey like when you first started?
A: When I first implemented it, it wasn’t as successful as I expected it to be. But instead of moping around, I collected feedback from the students for areas to improve on. Although it was painful to read the feedback, I decided to tweak the way AR was used to teach law.
In August 2017, everything changed. The feedback paid off! As word started to spread that I was using AR in my law classes, I received encouragement from Dr. Jason, Lim Chee Leong, Enna Ayub, and Hanim Hassan from Taylor’s e-Learning Academy, to write a research paper on AR and to showcase my teaching innovation at different Teaching and Learning Conferences.
Q: Aside from adding a fun element to English Land Law, how does AR help with conducting lessons?
A: There are lecturers who believe that AR is pure gimmick and nothing more than an injection of fun into the lessons. As someone who implements AR to teach law students, its adoption goes beyond just learning law in a fun way. It instils elements of collaboration amongst students, encourages them to embrace a digital mindset, promotes them to learn law outside of their comfort zones, provides avenues for them to challenge themselves and independently learn law outside of physical classes, and to approach the public to educate them about areas of law learnt. Students also learn about time management, thinking on their feet, working under pressure, finding creative solutions to problems, and many more! There are so many soft skills that they can learn from an activity in a span of 1.5 hours.
I hope others are more optimistic about using new novel learning methods. It may not work the first few times but remember that it’s okay to fail and try again because you’ll look back with no regrets. Instead, you’ll feel fulfilled that you’ve endured the challenges of introducing something new for the benefit of your current and future students.
Q: Sounds like you’ve come a long way from first teaching law 8 years ago and even developing AR in your classes. How are you looking to develop this further?
A: When you’re optimistic, people can see and feel that enthusiasm in you. In Dec 2019, Mike Choong from The Design School at Taylor's asked me this same question — how would I like to better the method of teaching using AR?
In January 2020, we came up with a plan to build our own custom-made mobile app embedded with gamification and AR features. He introduced me to Razif Mohamed and all of us worked towards designing the app, successfully launching it in June 2020. All three of us then presented a paper on our new project at Taylor’s Teaching and Learning Conference 2020. We’ve submitted our abstract and are currently working on completing the full paper. Recently, we were also shortlisted for the QS Reimagine Education 2020 for our Lawley Pop App.
Q: Congratulations on getting shortlisted! What are some of the memorable experiences throughout this journey?
A: It has got to be the feeling of excitement that continues to build up!
Razif is the digital guru in charge of designing the app whereas my role is to develop the content. It was an amazing experience to collaborate with Razif as he was very patient listening and adapting to my ever-changing ideas. Little did I know, that one tiny change would take him four hours to design! So thereon, I learned that I needed to properly structure my ideas in order for the design flow to be more seamless.
Q: Aside from the initial challenge of applying AR into your lessons, what were some other difficulties faced when it came to creating the app and how did you overcome it?
A: Given that this was my first time developing a custom-made mobile app, we’ve learnt along the way that we’d require approval from Apple in advance. Although the application was developed for educational purposes, it was rejected when Razif first submitted the applications, causing a delay in the release and the assignment questions for English Legal System and Land Law 1.
Consequently, Razif had to make the necessary changes as advised by Apple and I'd to inform the students about the slight delay in releasing the assignment questions. Thankfully, they were very understanding and it was all worth it despite the assignment questions being released three weeks after the scheduled release date as they really enjoyed learning law and being assessed through the app.
Q: What were some of the milestones you’ve achieved and wish to achieve?
A: Despite the trepidation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, various doors of opportunities have opened up for me to share my experience in teaching law using AR not only to my fellow Taylor’s academics but also to lecturers in Peru, Singapore, Indonesia, Australia, India, and the Philippines. I’ve always wanted to exchange best practices with other academics around the world but I’d never imagined that it’d happened during MCO!
I hope I can continue to empower other educators to keep innovating their teaching pedagogies and go beyond the usual norm of teaching and learning. I really look forward to the day where I’d be able to physically travel overseas and meet new educators around the world, perhaps collaborating on bigger projects.
Q: Final question. What’s your advice for students in making their educational journey a more exciting and meaningful one?
A: I’d encourage students to write their reflections on their LinkedIn platform which is one of the components for the Legal Skills and Methods module. In fact, Dr. Sia Chin Chin, Bhuvanes Veerakumaran, and myself have been encouraging our students to do this. This can aid in lecturers’ projects through their personal reflections making the projects better. This can also encourage students to develop a strong sense of self-awareness and make their learnings at Taylor’s Law School to be more impactful and meaningful.
Students can also organise webinar sessions to share their experiences in studying during the pandemic and exchange views on the teaching methods. This will open their minds, be more receptive towards new methods of learning, and being prepared to learn outside their comfort zones.
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