Toolkit for Decolonising the Curriculum

Hints, tips and examples for decolonising your curriculum.Man with baseball hat holding sign with End Systemic Racism written on during a demonstration

Some 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 - watch the student facing video ‘racism, we need to think differently’.
  • Update your skills - Education, Diversity and Inclusion training is available, and is mandatory for all staff. There is also implicit bias training available on the same web page.
  • 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.
  • Review your inclusivity practice to ensure that all students feel welcome in your discipline’s community.
  • Reflect on your own ‘position’ - It is very likely to include a set of very Eurocentric ideas, suppositions and values.
  • 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 See this draft guidance on Teaching sensitive or controversial topics.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?
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 - Biosciences - Animal Behaviour
  • 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?
    We offer an assignment choice on the 'Ethical issues around ensuring diversity in research samples'. Colleague - University of Sheffield
  • Can you offer a self-choice project?
    Students are encouraged to do projects that make use of music in their own culture [if international students] (colleague, Music)
    I encourage and support students who want to select dissertation topics that reflect health and care practices in a country or culture that they identify with (colleague, MDH)
  • 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. Stephen Beck from MEE has produced a blogpost debate between an engineer and a geographer that illustrates this point, while the Information School has produced guidance which includes prompt questions for programme and module review and examples of practice.

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 - Biosciences - Ecosystems and health
  • 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 - Biosciences - Animal Behaviour

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?

  • ... Biodiversity is one area of the curriculum where colonial ideas and concepts are especially relevant, as much of the initial work to collect, classify and name species was carried out as a result (or a focus) of colonial practices. In addition to this, discussing the idea of exploitative, colonialist practice as it applies to biodiversity, not just in the past, but also today, was introduced to the students.
    A key point of this was the idea that Linnaeus not only developed ideas in animal and plant taxonomy but was the first scientist to scientifically legitimise the concept of race. Not only was he racist, but the system that he developed was the first time that racism was given a scientific platform. His legacy in our binomial classification system is far outweighed by the negative impacts of these ideas. Beth Dyson - Biosciences - Biodiversity

Is there an alternative perspective to share?

Who is in your curriculum?

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

“I added a lecture on the history of science that included reference to Egyptian, Babylonian, Indian, Chinese and Mayan Maths, not just the Greek "greats"”. Colleague, Faculty of Science
“In critical analysis of publications. I encourage students to consider ways the data could be skewed. eg, all male, all white, not a diverse age range etc.”. Colleague, Immunity, Infection, Cardiovascular Disease

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?

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?

Research services have produced this guidance on Good practices in collaborative research and innovation.

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