Reflecting on the contribution educational developers can make to decolonising curricular
Jennie Winter, Rebecca Turner & Oliver Webb
Decolonisation is one of the most talked about social justice agendas in Higher Education (Liyanage, 2020). Decolonisation is a socio-political movement which challenges Eurocentrism and post-colonial notions of power. This has multiple implications for HE institutions, where the content and delivery of curricula are often the products of colonial legacy and therefore legitimise certain world views and social norms over others (Arday et al., 2020). This can result in emphasising European and Caucasian belonging over other groups nationalities and ethnicities, suggesting that some students belong in HE more than others.
Educational Developers have a lot to offer in support of this agenda, we are aware of decolonisation pedagogic literatures, how these processes impact on students, and how academics can struggle to make sense of this and make informed changes to their practice (Liyanage, 2020). In our institution the educational development team were asked to develop and deliver an audit of current practice in (de) colonised curricula as a condition of our Access and Participation Plan. We used this as a mechanism of change across the institution framing it as both supporting the APP, but also to progress the OFS requirement to eliminate attainment gaps by emphasising the links between decolonisation, belonging and attainment.
We wanted to create an initial discussion amongst academics and students about characteristics of a (de) colonised curriculum to help establish what student perceptions of current curriculum practices were, and to understand what a decolonised curriculum might look like. To do this the research team developed a survey, based on existing open access resources, which was completed by 99 staff and 290 students across four schools creating a benchmark of current practice. Our findings suggest differences in how aspects of curricula are perceived by staff and students, and between White and Minority Ethnic (ME) student groups and these are detailed in the publication.
For us as educational developers this provided a valuable evidence base on which we could build and laid the foundations for subsequent work. This evidence base stimulated conversations across academic departments, professional services (including Careers and the Library), and with students and the Student Union, to identify meaningful actions that could be taken to further efforts to decolonise practice. We adopted a multi-pronged approach, both developing resources as well as working with people, dedicating substantial time to sharing ideas and local expertise. We developed a guidance for decolonising assessment and reading lists which could be used independently by staff to reflect on, and enhance that practice. Students were integral to this work; we hosted micro-internships where students undertook discrete pieces of work, capturing local good practice and explore national practice, to ensure the student voice underpinned the changes that were implemented. Taking a systematic approach to decolonisation, by building an evidence base and implementing change in collaboration with staff and students, enabled to provide a cross institutional response. Though this marks the beginning of the journey to decolonise practice at Plymouth, it was a valuable first step on which we continue to build.
Arday, J., Belluigi, D., & Thomas, D. (2020). Attempting to break the chain: Reimaging inclusive pedagogy and decolonising the curriculum within the academy. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 53(3), 298–313.
Liyanage, M. (2020). Miseducation: Decolonising curricula, culture and pedagogy in UK universities (Debate Paper 23). Higher Education Policy Institute.
Jennie Winter is a Professor of Academic Development at Plymouth Marjon University. She is interested in a broad range of academic development themes including education for sustainable development, decolonisation of the curriculum, evaluating teaching development and evaluation methodologies. You can find out more about Jennie’s work here.
Rebecca Turner is an Associate Professor in Educational Development at the University of Plymouth and a Principal Fellow of the HEA. Rebecca’s work addresses areas including widening participation, student voice and curriculum change. Rebecca also is the chair of SEDA Papers Committee.
Oliver Webb is an Educational Developer at the University of Plymouth. He is interested in the intersection between demographic factors, curriculum design, and students’ experiences and outcomes in Higher Education.