- Sami Safadi
Salford Business School, University of Salford
In 2021, after over a year of looking at decolonising practices and approaches, and delivering some introductory sessions for Salford Business School (SBS) laying the foundations for decolonising work, I decided to create a resource to support the work. Part of my efforts to drive forward decolonising the curriculum work in the institution involved me developing a resource pack, helping to design an internal repository, setting up an institutional informal group, and designing an academic development approach to supporting colleagues through decolonising the curriculum. The academic development approach has been underway since Trimester 2 of 2022/23 and is still ongoing as our primary approach to decolonising pedagogy and practice in SBS.
Decolonising has been happening across the sector for many years, both in UK and across the globe. However, with an increased drive to combat racism in recent years across the HE sector due to optics and social pressures, the decolonising agenda has made its way to the front of the line for many higher education institutions (HEIs). However, this renewed focus has come at a cost as it has been driven through an EDI agenda which often sees decolonising work confused with concepts such as inclusive curricula, internationalisation, and anti-racism. Whilst there is some overlap with these areas, when institutions frame these practices as decolonising, it endangers any form of real educational reform as the foundations of said reform are not solid. HEIs use these terms interchangeably in some cases, and even when designing toolkits which not only confuses anyone wanting to undertake this work, but also means the output will be unrecognisable in terms of decolonising work, as it won’t address core issues.
Due to the aforementioned issues confusing decolonising with inclusive education, and other issues of understanding around what decolonising education is and isn’t, a common issue that arises is a focus on content, from reading lists to guest speakers. Adding more non-White faces to a reading list or guest speaker list may diversify, but it is surface level change and does not mean anything has been decolonised. This means that educators may look into support from library colleagues or speak to students about issues stemming from movements like “Why is my curriculum White?” but missing the point that what was the underlying cause was the practitioner (Nazar et al., 2014; Perry, 2012; Tran, 2021), and the lack of diversity was a symptom, not the illness. By addressing the symptoms only, the root cause never changes which means long term sustainable reform is never undertaken. Another challenge facing educators looking to decolonising practice is a culture of quick wins and ever-changing KPIs which force HE practitioners into a culture of tick-box change. This means colleagues may look for simple changes they can make that will satisfy senior leaders, demonstrate some surface-level change, and allow them to continue with their practice as is. This is not what decolonising is or should be. In an effort to share best practice across the sector, we may be unknowingly harming progress. By this I mean that we have started sharing toolkits and looking to adapt them from institution to institution, or look at roadmaps and how they may work in other places. However, decolonising education means doing the work at practitioner level, through individual reflection and reform, and that is often lost.
In an effort to address my own concerns about how decolonising seemed to be lost in the wilderness of wider inclusive practice and globalisation of education, I decided to act. As educators, we are forces of positive social change, and as such I felt driven to create a way forward that may support decolonising the curriculum at the University of Salford. As such, I prepared and delivered a series of introductory monthly sessions to build a foundation to decolonising within SBS. Additionally, to link up and share practice across the University of Salford, I established an informal institutional group of those leading on decolonising the curriculum in different spaces across the institution. After trying this approach for a few months, I decided that more action was needed and that colleagues often need direction for decolonising.
Building on common methods of educational development through reflection, I decided to create a resource entitled ‘Decolonising the Curriculum through Reflexive Practice’. This resource centres the work of decolonising on the practitioner and the work the practitioner needs to do. There were various influences on the resource being created including the discussion around decolonisation (rebuilding) to decoloniality (liberation) (Walsh and Mignolo, 2018), influences of critical race theory and intersectionality (Delgado and Stefancic, 2017), and overlaps between critical pedagogy and decolonisation. The resource was also influenced by Tran’s (2021) work who developed a TRAAC model which has been incorporated into the pack and underpins some of the sections. The TRAAC model focuses on teaching, relationships, activity and assessment, and content, but has been amended slightly with some questions added and the order changed. The resource also builds in focused reflections and other sections, however the influence of the TRAAC model remains present as it tackles a key issue around decolonising by positioning content as one aspect of a wider piece of work. The resource itself consists of 5 units, an activity sheet to guide reflection, and a checklist to act as a support mechanism as colleagues transition past the resource pack and need some insights into next steps. It’s important to note that the resource is designed to be a starting point and provide the tools for colleagues to incorporate decolonising thought into their pedagogy.
The resource pack was shared with colleagues across the University of Salford through a Sharepoint space I help create dedicated to decolonising the curriculum. Although the resource was designed, and can be used, for individual study and development, after some self-reflection and discussion with colleagues I decided to build it into facilitated academic development. The pack remains available for anyone in the University of Salford to download and engage with, and I have delivered sessions on the pack itself for colleagues’ awareness. However, within SBS I have advocated for, and have been successful, in driving forward a facilitated approach whereby decolonising is undertaken as a form of academic development. I’ve done this by using the pack as the central resource. As there are five units, the academic development approach has 5 facilitated workshops. The workshops have the unit from the resource as the core reading, along with some optional readings prepared for each workshop. The approach is that colleagues are expected to engage in the readings prior to attending the workshop. The workshop is then built around each unit but contains different content and activities for colleagues to engage in, including discussion points and anonymised Padlet spaces. After each workshop, colleagues are expected to engage in individual reflections with the activity sheet guiding those reflections.
By building on the resource pack to make it a form of facilitated academic development, it allows for deeper reflection. Firstly, it allows me to support colleagues through the process by creating a safe space to discuss topics, concerns, and answer questions. It also allows the process of decolonising, and this resource, to become discipline specific as workshop series are delivered to different subject groups. This allows for a peer learning and reflection element as well which is important to unpack ideas and hear different narratives. Additionally, it allows for ideas to be challenged, which is a crucial part of decolonising work and if practitioners don’t challenge themselves, they need others to take up that role. However, this remains a form of academic development as it is reforming pedagogical ideas about our practice, but also challenging what underlies our knowledge, whether it is knowledge of ourselves, our discipline, or our practice.
Another benefit of decolonising as a form of academic development is that facilitated workshops can bring the focus back to decolonising whilst making the links to current practice. It can also help dispel some myths around decolonising that colleagues may have. Additionally, facilitated workshops allow for clarification around terminology and expectations of what decolonising practice entails, whilst keeping the discipline experts central to process to contextualise it for their discipline.
In SBS, we have completed one series of workshops with one subject group and are now onto the second series with another group. The plan will be to continue in this manner until all subject groups have been through the workshop series, then look at ongoing support and how to build in evaluation.
As the facilitated academic development approach is still new, it is difficult to measure impact. However, impact can be measured in various ways such as anecdotal feedback, formal feedback, periodic reviews, and adhering to revised institutional expectations around decolonising programmes and modules.
After running the first series, I received positive feedback from some attendees who reached out. After only the first workshop of the second series, I’ve already received some positive feedback.
Whilst the feedback is great, to evaluate impact we need to understand what academics learnt about themselves and their practice, as well as the influences of colonisation and colonial legacies on their discipline, themselves, and their practice. This may be done by having check ins with colleagues who have been through the workshop series, building in follow up workshops, and auditing materials later on. As there is an institutional expectation around decolonising, this also means that academic colleagues will need to be able to demonstrate what actions they’ve taken as part of the decolonising the curriculum work.
One of the potential criticisms of this approach has been, and will continue to be, the lack of student voice in this work. However, it should be noted that as this is academic development, it centres around the practitioner breaking down long standing ideas around themselves as practitioners and their disciplines. This work around decolonising practice and discipline are not the space for students any more than a PGCAP course would be. However, after colleagues have been through this process as individuals, and/or subject teams, there will be space to involve students more and their voice as to what decolonising may mean for them. Despite this option later, the success of decolonising learning and teaching through academic development rests on practitioner reform and, therefore, students would not be involved at this stage.
In terms of wider impact, I’ve shared the resource and approach outside Salford Business School and all university employees have access. Additionally, I have delivered a session on this work at Birmingham City University and have an upcoming session at the University of Reading which shows the wider impact this work could have across the sector.
In terms of the impact on the award gap, given the nature of this work, it is too early to tell any long term and meaningful impact. However, it may be enough of starting point that this work is happening, and colleagues are engaging with it. One way forward will be to start mapping data of modules and programmes where colleagues from that discipline have engaged with the workshop series to see whether changes in the practitioner have had a manifest impact on student outcomes.
I am keen to develop the resource and approach to decolonising as academic development further and I am looking into different methods to do so.
Delgado, R., and Stefancic, J. (2017). Critical race theory: An introduction (Vol. 20). NyU press.
Nazar, M., Kendall, K., Day, L., & Nazar, H. (2015). Decolonising medical curricula through diversity education: lessons from students. Medical teacher, 37(4), 385-393.
Perry, A.J. (2012). A silent revolution:‘Image theatre’as a system of decolonisation: Research in Drama Education. The Journal of Applied Theatre and Performance, 17(1), 103-119.
Tran, D.. (2021). Decolonizing University Teaching and Learning: An Entry Model for Grappling with Complexities. Bloomsbury Publishing.
Walsh, K. and Mignolo, W. (2018). On Decoloniality Concepts, Analysis, Praxis. Duke University Press.