Learning and Teaching Enhancement Conference | Decolonising the Curriculum

25 October 2021

Access and Participation Development Manager Dr Laura da Costa reflects on the University’s first Learning and Teaching Enhancement Conference on 25 June 2021, for which the theme was Decolonising the Curriculum.

Processes have been in place for some time to develop the inclusivity of our curriculum at Leeds Arts University. This has involved focused work on courses, our internal Higher Education Learning and Teaching Enhancement Plan for 2017-23, the work of the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion committee, and our Access and Participation Plans.

The 2021 Learning and Teaching Enhancement conference explicitly grappled with the University’s activity around decolonisation. Research with our students has highlighted that our curriculum has been Euro- and North America-centric and could reflect a wider range of creative practitioners and practices.

Importantly, decolonising our curriculum includes questioning what we teach but also why and how we teach it. The 2021 conference provided the opportunity for the University to reflect on and discuss these questions, understand how we can develop our curriculum by looking at what works at the University and elsewhere, and set goals to ensure our discussions on the day lead to action following the conference.

The conference began with introductions from Professor Dave Russell, Pro-Vice-Chancellor Student Experience & Resources and myself, setting the institutional, political and personal context and framing decolonisation as a process, as highlighted by Mia Liyanage, who was invited to speak at the Students’ Union Big Talks event in the lead up to the conference.

Image: Title page of stand-alone submission ‘Decolonising our Teaching: Experiments from Fashion Branding with Communication’ by Ana Perez, Eleanor Snare, Thomai Papathanasiou and Duncan Harrison.

Professor Marilyn Holness, OBE gave an inspiring keynote, reflecting in part on Roehampton University’s Reimagining Attainment for All (RAFA2) project, Kingston University’s Inclusive Curriculum Framework, and setting attendees the challenge of thinking about how they may engage in diversifying, decolonising and ‘inclusivising’.

The first session of the day, entitled Where are we now? Problematising the territory, was an opportunity to hear from our students. Alumnus Kariim Case summarised the findings and recommendations of research he was involved in with our ethnic minority students (Bale, Broadhead, Case, Hussain, & Woolley, 2020). Students’ Union President Poppy Belcham reported on a FORUM discussion held with students in the lead up to the conference on experiencing the University as a student of colour and what decolonising our curriculum means to them. Attendees reflected on the keynote and insights into student experience in facilitated discussion groups.

Staff and students had been invited to submit proposals for 10-minute lightning talks that were presented in the afternoon or stand-alone submissions that enabled a wider range of contributions responding to the conference theme. Stand-alone submissions from staff and students were hosted on an internal eStudio multimedia repository that could be accessed in the lead up to the conference, on the day, and beyond.

Image: Snapshot of stand-alone submission ‘Continental Drift: Around the World with Creative Advertising 2020/21’ by Nicholas Young. 

In the afternoon, the focus moved to Where can we go from here, with lightning talks exploring conceptual approaches, practical proposals and solutions. This included discussion of the active paradigm shift needed to understand why ‘common knowledge’ is what it is and the need to move away from setting up decolonial work in opposition to the West, as there is danger this becomes a critique rather than a centring of majority world knowledge. The talks touched on the continuing role of Popular Music in decolonisation more widely, including a case study that highlighted a process of decolonising percussion curriculum in representing Haitian percussion. Talks also highlighted the role that engaging in creative and caring critical thinking clubs or contextual seminars and reimagining bibliographies and creative arts assessment practices can play in supporting staff and students to question curriculum and practice but also enact compassion and enhance student belonging. Following the lightning talks, attendees had a further opportunity to reflect and discuss in facilitated breakout groups. A final panel chaired by Professor Russell and consisting of Academic Directors and the Students’ Union President reflected on the discussions that had taken place during the day and how these could be acted upon, before bringing the day to a close.

All presentations and submissions have been made available on the eStudio resource which continues to be updated with relevant events, articles, videos, and sources. Papers drawing on the themes that emerged during the conference and recommendations for action are currently being considered by the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion committee and the Higher Education Learning and Teaching Enhancement committee, following which, an action plan for decolonising the curriculum at Leeds Arts University will be developed.

Bale, I., Broadhead, S., Case, K., Hussain, M., & Woolley, D. (2020). Exploring the black, Asian and ethnic minority (BAME) student experience using a Community of Inquiry approach. Widening Participation and Lifelong Learning, 22(1), 112-131. https://doi.org/10.5456/WPLL.22.1.112

Liyanage, M. (2020, July 23). Miseducation: decolonising curricula, culture and pedagogy in UK universities. HEPI Debate Paper #23. https://www.hepi.ac.uk/2020/07/23/miseducation-decolonising-curricula-culture-and-pedagogy-in-uk-universities/

Stand-alone submissions were contributed by Dr Karen Tobias-Green; Duncan Harrison; Nicholas Young; Janine Sykes, Natasha Clarke & Beth Raistrick; Freya Kruczenyk; Dr Sean Gregory; Ana Perez, Eleanor Snare, Thomai Papathanasiou & Duncan Harrison; Kahenya Kang’ethe; and Aishah Wahab.

Lightning talks were contributed by Dr Tom Attah, Frances Norton, Jason Huxtable, James Beighton, Dr David Steans, and Professor Sam Broadhead.