Toolkit for Decolonising the Curriculum

Man with baseball hat holding sign with End Systemic Racism written on during a demonstrationSome of the guidance relating to decolonising the curriculum is inclusivity practice that you will be familiar with. The toolkit sections below cover:

  • Your Teaching Practice
  • Classroom Activities
  • Your Assessments
  • Your Curriculum

and offer tips, prompts and examples from a range of departments. How these are applied, and the emphasis placed on each of these will depend on your discipline and subject.

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Your Teaching Practice

"Teachers need to engage with the issues, taking the time to understand what this means for their subject, and the potential areas where changes might be needed".
APS Decolonising Group

Your Teaching Practice
  • Raise your awareness - find out about any BAME recruitment/awarding gaps in your department, and any department wide initiatives. Talk to your department or Faculty Equality Diversity and Inclusion Committee about what you can do.
  • Update your skills - Education, Diversity and Inclusion training is available, and is mandatory for all staff.
  • Review your inclusivity practice to ensure that all students feel welcome in your discipline’s community.
  • Reflect on your own instinctive reactions to questions of decolonisation and how this may impact your practice. This conversation with Tony Williams is a useful starting point: Do our biases need to be addressed to tackle racial inequalities?
  • Talk to your students about what they want or need.
    "My decision to decolonise my module was prompted mainly by feedback from students, some of whom commented that the majority of the literary extracts used in lectures and seminars were by white, male authors". Joanna Gavins, English
  • Be sensitive to your students’ cultural and political backgrounds. See this draft guidance on Teaching sensitive or controversial topics.
  • Reflect on your practice and subject
    "The process should be an active reconsideration of not only what we teach but also how we teach.... our thinking as scholars needs to change in order to accommodate a wider look at the world.... First I educated myself...reading a lot on the topic, from writers and theorists that I didn't encounter in my university years, and shaping new ways of thinking that included my specialism but in a different configuration. Dr Carmen Levick, English
Classroom activities
  • How can you promote inclusivity amongst your students?
    • Foster good relations and acknowledge and discuss issues that arise. Make sure you and your students have seen the video 'Racism - we need to think differently'.
    • Provide diverse role modelling - see the Sheffield Wall of BAME and Weaving people and history into STEM education
    • Can you instil inclusive approaches in the way your students study now, which will influence how they work in future?
      "I use examples of where groups have been mis-treated (e.g. Henrietta Lacks and HeLa cells, Tuskegee Study Group and syphilis, Venezuelan kindreds and Huntington's Disease with access to treatments). This extends to concepts of biopiracy and informed consent when bioprospecting. Who decides who benefits? Look at protocols, what they do and who drew them up" - Steve Rolfe APS
  • Can you review the examples you use, making them more diverse where relevant?
  • Can you make use of your students’ diverse experience within the room?
  • Can students help design the content of your module? See this case study by Bev Gibbs and Gary Wood in Engineering.
  • Can you manage collaborative working so it is inclusive?
  • Can you offer students extra support where needed, for example Peer assisted study sessions?
This general guide to Inclusive teaching from UCL offers some good starting points.
Your assessments
  • Allow students to play to their strengths and interests where possible: could you offer choice in the format of the assessment while still meeting learning outcomes?
  • Can you diversify the subjects of the assessment?
  • Can you offer a self-choice project?
      "I developed a student-led, discussion-based approach to critically analysing ideas about the adaptive function of human nature that are rooted in sociobiology/evolutionary psychology. Through this, provided an opportunity for students to explore the politics of science and scientists themselves. This pedagogical approach is important in its own right, since active learning is evidenced to promote a more inclusive learning environment with better outcomes for students from diverse backgrounds". Nicola Hemming APS
  • Can students participate in re-defining ‘the canon’ e.g. by devising alternative reading list/article suggestions?
      In a level 3 Geography module, students were asked to analyse module reading lists in order to understand how knowledge - within the curriculum they are studying - has been (re)produced. Dan Hammett, Geography
  • Can you work with students to design the assessment?


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Skills Development

Work on decolonising the curriculum lends itself to the development of a range of skills and attributes and students can reflect on these using the mySkills portfolio. Skills of particular relevance are among those described in the Sheffield Graduate Attributes:

  • Applying knowledge - translating knowledge
  • Research and critical thinking - Research skills, critical thinking
  • Interpersonal skills - communication, emotional intelligence
  • Equality and inclusion - community engagement
  • Ethics and sustainability - integrity and sustainability
  • Positive wellbeing - self awareness
  • Enterprising - innovation

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Decolonising your curriculum

"One general bit of advice would be to follow on social media scholars of colour and/or scholars involved in decolonising the curriculum because you may encounter different ideas from what you find in your own institution..." -  Tom Rutter - English

While decolonising the curriculum does need to be considered on an individual level, your department should be working at subject level to make this relevant to your discipline. It is recognised that while there are some ‘obvious’ answers in some subjects, for others this presents more of a challenge. It may be worth first considering in the context of the whole programme rather than single module level and incorporating wider historical questions and contextualisation of the subject into some core modules.

What is in your curriculum?

What subjects are included for research and study?

  • Can you diversify the subject matter to include other, more global/diverse subjects or examples?
    I framed climate change in terms of injustice, reminding students that it is primarily caused by the Global North but its impacts are felt most acutely in the Global South. Colin Osborne AP
  • Can you include the historical development of your subject?
    I presented a critical look at the history of animal behaviour. Talked about the political leanings of those who are considered ‘key’ figures (e.g. Konrad Lorenz was a Nazi, whereas Niko Tinbergen was imprisoned for two years for protesting against Nazis). Nicola Hemming APS
  • What topics get represented and what is missing?
    I included examples of how increasing diversity of researchers in the field has led to important paradigm shifts e.g. female bird song (Haines et al 2020). Nicola Hemming APS

How is knowledge conceptualised and valued in your discipline? Whose knowledge counts?

  • Is the viewpoint solely Eurocentric? Are there other viewpoints/representations to consider?
    I recognised that the classic definitions of biomes and narratives about climatic controls over biome distributions are Eurocentric. These are problematic when applied to the tropical savanna biome.
    Colin Osbourne APS
    In Renaissance/early modern studies we have looked at texts that depict characters from Africa, Asia or the Americas; made students aware of the Black presence in early modern England; encouraged students to think about whiteness as a culturally created phenomenon rather than something natural or neutral; and encouraged students to read more secondary texts by scholars of colour. To summarise, this means thinking about what core texts to set; discussing contexts; theorising concepts; and broadening secondary reading. Tom Rutter, English

Are you imposing Western values, priorities and thought styles onto other cultures while supressing local ones?

Are there significant omissions or misrepresentations historically embedded in your subject? How can these be updated or reinterpreted/explained in today's context?

  • I now explain the issues associated with Immanuel Kant and how his views were used to underpin scientific racism. This was something that I didn’t really understand before being prompted by this initiative. Steve Rolfe APS

Is there an alternative perspective to share?

  • I highlighted recent work led by African and Indian authors on the roles of fire and herbivores in controlling savanna distributions. Colin Osbourne APS
Who is in your curriculum?

Which  people are the subject of research/study? Who is missing? Can you diversify this?

How are different groups of people represented? Whose needs are prioritised?

  • I acknowledged the contributions of people whose influence on the study of animal behaviour have been largely overlooked, including Indigenous people whose traditional cultural knowledge has been extracted/exploited by Western researchers without appropriate credit. Nicola Hemming APS

Who are the researchers/writers that you draw on and promote? /How well represented are academics from outside the west in your reading lists ? Is there bias in choice of writers based on the Universities they come from?

  • I systematically audited researchers highlighted in lectures, and ensured gender balance and ethnic diversity. Presented a photograph and affiliations for each researcher that is highlighted to show diverse role models. Nicola Hemming APS
  • The department of sociological studies has produced a Disrupting Coloniality - Core Resource List for Social Work Educators and Social Work Students.

Who gets acknowledged for the great discoveries - is it one person, or the whole team?

  • Also went back beyond the textbook “founders” of the field, to earlier influential thinkers e.g. Charles Henry Turner, an African American who pioneered the study of animal behaviour in early 1900s but didn’t gain recognition (Lee 2020). Reflected on who has/hasn’t been appropriately recognised for their work and why. Nicola Hemming APS

Do you acknowledge that great discoveries are frequently made in the west because of global wealth and status inequalities?

If you have a good practice example you would like to share, please use the Good Practice form:

Directory of Good Practice

Beyond the University

Decolonising the curriculum extends beyond the boundaries of the University, into outreach work with schools and community engagement projects.

"The Faculty needs to take an outreach role too, where it uses its decolonised work to help educate the local community and helps kids who may feel disenfranchised previously, know that the Arts and Humanities are something they can identify with and pursue"- Beth Eyre, History & ex SU President

If you have a good practice example you would like to share, please use the Good Practice form:

Directory of Good Practice

Back to: Decolonising the Curriculum

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Further information

Links and downloads