How does decolonising-the-curriculum look like in practice? In this extra post, Jill and Natalie share their reflections and good practice examples on their journey, embedding inclusive practices within the International Foundation Programme (IFP)↗️ curriculum. Jill Haldane, is a Lecturer and Natalie Murray is a Teaching fellow in English Language Education↗️ in the Centre of Open Learning↗️.
Reflections on Centre for Open Learning (COL) values in learning and teaching
Learning and teaching of pre-undergraduate students on the International Foundation Programme (IFP)↗️ is like a trip of discovery around the world, taking in Argentina and Oman, stopping off in Moldova on the way. This diversity brings with it a wealth of shared cultural stories, national histories, and socio-educational experiences. As practitioners on the programme’s English for Academic Purposes (EAP)↗️ course, we are asking how our learning and teaching practices promote and embed equality, inclusion and diversity (COL Action Plan, 21-24). This is what we have discovered.
Reflection on promoting equality, diversity and inclusivity
When we considered how we were promoting equality, inclusion, and diversity, we could see that having split one course into two to account for the English language level diversity of the cohort, the impact was greater equity of experience on the IFP: effectively, creating a different path to get to the same destination meaning equally achievable progression opportunities.
Reflecting on the achievements to promote inclusivity, we recognised that learning and teaching practices were not only creative and critical in terms of the space students occupied to discuss the task activity, but that inclusive practices like this were also a formative approach to decolonising-the-classroom practices.
These approaches are discussed in Rowena Arshad’s 2021 Teaching Matters blog ‘From inclusion to transformation to decolonisation’, in which Arshad (2021a)↗️ states that the first steps to an inclusive curriculum is to ‘anticipate diversity and avoid making assumptions’. So, our inclusive approaches in the EAP classroom appeared to be on the right lines, whereby students could make links between received opinions and ideas in relation to others, and themselves, in a critical and creative space. Inclusive practices show an awareness and understanding that the ‘production, nature and validity of knowledge is not a neutral project’ (Arshad, 2021b↗️); and spaces in our classrooms put IFP students’ own synthesised understandings of what it is to be a ‘knower’ front and centre of learning and teaching. We observed that our multilingual, multicultural classrooms create an ecology of diversity that is foundational to inclusivity in our curriculum.
Working towards an inclusive curriculum
After reflecting on our inclusive practices, we turned our attention to our course materials, and asked the question – where are assumptions being made about the validity of knowledge in the EAP curriculum?
For example, in a language class with a Philosophy theme – with the caveat that we are English language practitioners, not philosophers – we had selected ‘key’ philosophers to focus on. Now, we recognise that the materials presented our view of who constitutes a ‘key thinker’. Accordingly, we subsequently adapted the materials to be more outward-facing and globally relevant.
Another example is the changes made to the materials in the module on Virtual Reality in Art, where we showcase the transformation of Vincent Van Gogh’s art into virtual reality. Originally, the session had a focus on Van Gogh, but realising this inherent Eurocentricity, we edited the material to encourage personalisation by the students, inviting them to research virtual reality art and artists from their own society. By doing so, we opened up the class for students to relativise the course material so that the session would reflect wider global perspectives.
Having reflected on some student material related to Philosophy and Art, we wanted to capture a snapshot of the student voice on the topic, ‘European Politics: the Great Transformation’, because it makes pejorative assumptions about what has been important in 20th century global Politics. Comments from students included:
‘…knowing about Europe is a good thing, but I do think that I want to know about the whole world, including outside of Europe’.
‘…taking interest in European and non-European countries is important; nowadays, every country has an impact on another; knowing what is going on is important to be able to form your own beliefs, opinions’.
‘I don’t really know my country’s perspectives on the “great transformations”, and likewise I don’t have my position and opinions on such events myself’.
Working towards a transformative curriculum
After working on our inclusive curriculum practices, we moved forward, as Arshad advocates, to consider a transformative approach, ‘from a position of ‘being’ non-racist to a space of ‘doing’ by being anti-racist’ (Arshad, 2021a↗️). An anti-racist approach is defined by Arshad (2021a↗️) as ‘one that understands ‘race’ to be a social construction, challenges the values, structures and behaviours that perpetuate systemic racism […]’. Mindful of this transformative approach, we formulated our summative essay question, asking students to critically evaluate institutional racism in a society; and by using a case study, students considered how racism at a personal, cultural and institutional level might manifest itself in contemporary contexts. The response from students achieved a diverse range of case studies: institutional racism in education, both in curricula and admission practices; policing; the entertainment industry; social work; and literature, but all with the same message: that certain structures and behaviours have and continue to perpetuate institutional racism.
Reflections on our journey
Reflecting on how we promote the COL values, our observations have focussed on our practices, materials, assessment, and our students’ views. 60% of student voice said learning about European Politics was significant in some way. Their responses also suggested there is varying knowledge and drive from our student base to decolonise the curriculum. Questioning institutional norms from within can be a challenge for some students, because as Gebrial (2018)↗️ explains, the university ‘has the power to decide which histories, knowledges and intellectual contributions are considered valuable and worthy of future critical attention and dissemination’. In other words, some students may be more switched on to critical reflection of their curriculum than others.
Where to from here?
So far, on this journey of discovery into promoting and embedding COL values, we see how taking our diverse student group as a starting point, weaves inclusivity and equality into pedagogic practices in EAP. In other words, inclusive classroom practices have become embedded in transformative curricular practices. At this pivot point, we aim to take forward the valuable lessons we have learnt into the upcoming redesign of the IFP.
Arshad, R., 2021a. From inclusion to transformation to decolonisation. Teaching Matters blog. Available at: https://www.teaching-matters-blog.ed.ac.uk/from-inclusion-to-transformation-to-decolonisation/
Arshad, R., 2021b. Decolonising the curriculum – how do I get started?. Times Higher Education. Available at: www.timeshighereducation.com/campus/decolonising-the-curriculum-how-do-i-get-started.
Gebrial, D., 2018. Rhodes Must Fall: Oxford and Movements for Change. In: G. K. Bhambra, D. Gebrial & K. Nişancioğlu, eds. Decolonising the University. London: Pluto Press, pp. 19-37.
Jill is a Lecturer in English Language Education in the Centre of Open Learning↗️ . Jill is the Course Organiser for the Foundation EAP course for the undergraduate International Foundation Programme for the CAHSS↗️ . Jill’s current work extends to the School of SPS↗️ and Edinburgh School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture↗️ in ECA↗️ .
Natalie is a Teaching Fellow in English Language Education in the Centre for Open Learning↗️ . She teaches on the EAP course↗️ as part of the International Foundation Programme. She also course organises English for the LLM on the Summer Pre-Sessional Programme and Speaking at University on the Post-Graduate Pre-Sessional English Programme. Her current scholarship interests are inclusive teaching and learning practices and decolonising the curriculum.