Welcome to Issue 4 – Decolonising teaching and assessment

Hello and welcome to this edition of JUICE!

When you’re teaching, it is a privilege and a responsibility when you find yourself guiding your learners into new territories. This was definitely the case when I was lucky enough to explore the complex topic of decolonisation with an inspiring group of students on a PGCert in Creative Education.

Decolonisation is not an easy subject. It provoke strong reactions and debates, and can cause some people to experience a powerful threshold concept. Once you view education through the lens of decolonisation, it is impossible to return to your previously held views about teaching and learning.

Our journey into decolonisation was inspired by the amazing work of a team at the University of the Arts London. Guided by the educator and researcher Lucy Panesar, this team produced a series of podcasts and ‘zines’ that explored the topic from multiple perspectives. We sought to build on the findings of their work and consider decolonisation in relation to assessment and feedback.

This issue of JUICE begins with several articles which provide some context to the topic, before going on to present eight toolkits for decolonising assessment. I encourage you to pick and choose from the wealth of strategies, tips and advice they contain and apply them in your own work. Like inclusivity, decolonising the curriculum is a journey not a destination, and is something we can get better at through iterating our practice.

Let’s take a look at the articles in this issue.

Articles

Our first article provides some orientation by looking at decolonisation in the discipline of English Language Teaching. Author Paula Rice has spent much of her career working in this area, and provides a valuable introduction to the complexities of the English language and its role in reonforcing colonial power and thinking.

Barbara Mueller then connects colonialism with assessment in higher arts education. Having taught at leading London art colleges and universities, Barbara has experienced first hand the tendency for assessment to default to the written essay as a way of evidencing learning. In this article, she considers the potential for more dialogic approaches to assessment as a way tackle the problem of assessment being ‘done to’ students rather than ‘done with’ them.

Next, Al Page reviews the relationship between colonialism and universities to situate the current focus on decolonising the curriculum in a broader historical context. In doing so, he highlights the key roles that universities have played in perpetuating the colonial project. In tracing this relationship through to the present day, Al shows the connection between colonialism and the issue of attainment amongst black and minority ethnic (BAME) students, a term which itself is now recognised as problematic.

Our fourth article is by Ben Minchell, a Contextual Studies lecturer at the University for the Creative Arts. Ben explains how, after engaging with decolonisation, he experienced a shift in his thinking regarding his approach to assessing students’ written work. In describing this shift, Ben gives voice to underlying beliefs and assumptions that often lead tutors to impose a ‘hidden curriculum’ on students regarding academic writing.

We then move on to a piece by music produced and audio technician Liam Harrison. In his article, Liam builds on the findings of the UAL zine to describe how exploring decolonisation enabled him to rethink the design of his sessions and handouts. In doing so, Liam reminds us of the importance of making the most of the aspects of our academic work we can control in order to maximise the chances for student success.

Toolkits for decolonising assessment

The second half of this issue contains eight toolkits for decolonising assessment. Each toolkit was produced by a team of PGCert students, working to apply their new knowledge of decolonising the curriculum to assessment and feedback.

  • Team Mercury’s toolkit includes a helpful flow diagram and a series of practical steps to help readers evaluate their own teaching, and find a way to work ‘through compassion and empathy’;
  • Team Venus explore definitions of decolonisation in education and the implications for international students, before going on to explore the concept through music and the importance of decolonising the supporting resources we provide for students;
  • Team Mars provide some quick tips and for decolonising assessment in creative disciplines;
  • Team Earth present three approaches to decolonising assessment, and examine the implications of bell hooks’ perspetive that ‘the professor must genuinely value everyone’s presence’ before planning assessment;
  • Team Saturn consider the connection between decolonisation and aspets of academic writing in creative disciplines. They examine six areas: : intellectual engagement, supporting materials, reflective writing, literature, English as a second language and support services;
  • Team Neptune’s toolkit begins with an exploration of the impact of the tutor’s identity on their teaching, before going on to consider the role of language in assessment and the need to be mindful of the different ways in which assessment is understood across cultures;
  • Team Jupiter begin their toolkit with a helpful list of 50 culturally diverse artists to highlight the importance in broadening our cultural references. The team then consider the need to include more diverse references and examples in fashion teaching, the use of forum theatre to explore racism and implicit bias, how artefacts can help students develop empathy for different cultures, and the need for us all to develop our feedback literacy;
  • Team Pluto conclude the toolkits with an exploration of five ways of decolonising assessment: offering choice, making space, mapping bias, the shadow of language, and language and feedback.

As always, a huge thank you to all our contributors and reviews for all the hard work they have put into producing the articles and toolkits in this issue. JUICE is a platform for sharing new insights and ideas about creative education, and through the collective effort of everyone involved in this issue I believe we have all learned a great deal about decolonisation in creative disciplines.

As ever, we welcome comments, feedback, suggestions and contibutions. If you would like to produce an article for JUICE, please do send us your thoughts and ideas.

And please do share the articles in this issue with your networks, they are designed to be used and I hope you find them useful.

Until next time,

Tony

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