Welcome to the "Students and Staff as Active Partners" section of the Decolonising the Curriculum web pages. In recent years, there has been a growing awareness and recognition of the need to critically examine the ways in which knowledge is produced, taught, and learned within our educational institutions. This process of decolonising the curriculum involves challenging dominant narratives and perspectives, and actively working towards a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable education for all. Alongside this there has in parallel been a growing awareness of the crucial role students play in shaping and improving the education they receive. That's why we see students as key partners in the successful development and review of all aspect of our curricula.
We recognise that the traditional approach to curriculum design can often be top-down and disconnected from the experiences and perspectives of students. By actively involving students in the process, we can ensure that our curricula are relevant, engaging, and reflective of the diverse backgrounds and interests of our student body. We believe that this collaborative approach to curriculum development is essential to creating an inclusive and high-quality educational experience for all. This approach benefits not only students but also academic staff and the wider university community.
At the University of Aberdeen, we recognise the vital role that students can play as active partners in this decolonisation process. By engaging with students as co-creators and co-researchers, we can foster a more collaborative and democratic approach to teaching and learning. This not only helps to address issues of under-representation and marginalisation within our curricula, but also enriches the educational experience for all students.
In this section, you will find resources and information for students on how you can become an active partner in decolonising the curriculum at the University of Aberdeen. Staff will find resources on how you can engage with students with the work you undertake to decolonise the course and programmes that you deliver. From student-led initiatives and research projects, to opportunities for co-creation and co-design, we invite you to join us in this important and transformative work.
- Creating resilient learning communities
Dr Mubarek Nuru Ahmed, The Institute of Applied Health Sciences
As an intern with the Resilient Learning Communities – Learning Better Together project, I collaborated with both staff and students to explore a topic that aligned with the ideals of Decolonising the Curriculum. Our efforts aimed to enhance connections, foster resilience, and create an inclusive space for cultural dialogue, amplifying diverse narratives within the academic community.
It was crucial to engage in this collaboration to promote an inclusive and equitable learning environment. The traditional curriculum may not always adequately represent the diverse realities and voices of the student body. This necessitated a collective effort to dismantle barriers and centre marginalised experiences, fostering open dialogue and mutual understanding.
Despite my demanding academic schedule, I was deeply motivated to contribute to this endeavour, driven by a passion for promoting inclusion and active participation. Through this collaborative initiative, we laid a foundation for a more inclusive academic community, taking meaningful steps towards broader transformative change.
Value of Activity
The initiative, which is still in progress, is geared towards creating resilient learning communities and is expected to have a significant effect on both teaching and learning. Our initiatives are made with the requirements of postgraduate students in mind, and we especially focus on creating a community that facilitates learning through cooperative communities and discussions. Student participation is crucial to this process since it not only enhances the curriculum but also humanises the learning experience.
We intend to increase the authenticity and depth of the learning process by incorporating the many viewpoints and real-world experiences given by students into a schedule of zero-credit activities. When finished, we anticipate that it will offer practical knowledge on how to improve ties and inclusivity. Our teamwork ultimately attempts to advance a dedication to academic performance and community improvement, highlighting the idea that we learn more effectively as a group.
Impact of Outcome
While our collaboration on the Building Communities project has been incredibly rewarding, I did encounter some challenges. Balancing the demands of my full-time MSc studies and responsibilities as vice president of public health association of students, alongside the project commitments required careful time management. In retrospect, the unfortunate timing and overlapping of my thesis as well as longer than anticipated ethical approval process might have been obstacles to time management and how we carried out our tasks
Nevertheless, these challenges have presented opportunities for growth and learning. Through them, I’ve gained insights into effective project management and interdisciplinary collaboration. Looking ahead, the desired impact on the student experience is two-fold: fostering a stronger sense of belonging and facilitating meaningful engagement. By amplifying diverse voices, breaking down barriers, and cultivating an inclusive environment, we aspire to enhance the overall student experience and contribute to a more united and empowered academic community.
- Encountering ideas that challenge our thinking
Ritu Vij (Senior Lecturer), Politics and International Relations, School of Social Science
I teach a senior honours seminar, ‘Wealth, Poverty and International Order,’ that now begins with a session on the historical formation of global capitalism with a particular focus on debates about the concept of ‘racial capitalism,’ specifically the role of Trans-Atlantic slavery and the Middle Passage. A student highly sceptical of this attempt to decolonize the curriculum on the teaching of International Political Economy decided to do a deep dive into this literature to examine the nexus between slavery and the formation of the modern political economic order. During a close reading of texts and multiple conversations with me, she came to understand and appreciate the decolonising project as central to overcoming what the late scholar Michel Rolph-Trouillot referred to as the ‘silencing of history.’ Teaching ‘good history’ (Dipesh Chakravarty’s term) enables students to begin to apprehend the non-Western word not simply as a site of local vernacular knowledge, the object and target of ‘improvement,’ but as co-contributor to ‘world-making,’ a re-orientation that is a key driver of the project of Decolonising the Curriculum.
Value of Activity
My current work explores the fault-lines in attempts to universalise ‘precarity,’ a concept whose provenance in Christian political-theology, Fordist economic organisation and European welfare-state regimes, carries little analytical traction in post-colonial contexts in the Global South. Reading Afropessimist critiques about precarity’s limited reach (on the grounds that Afro-descendants of slaves cannot achieve the status of a worker, precarious or otherwise) led me to immerse myself in the literature on ‘racial capitalism.’ Some of this work shares problematic assumptions with Afropessimist discourse about the world being inherently anti-Black, a claim I reject. Engaging with this literature, however, was edifying as it allowed me to read the classic texts in political economy (Smith, Hegel, Marx etc.) from the standpoint of the archives of thought foregrounded by the literature on Afropessimism/racial capitalism. Incorporating some of this literature, and my encounter with it, into my undergraduate and postgraduate teaching has enriched the work I do in the classroom.
Impact of Outcome
Teaching the literature on ‘racial capitalism’ to students in my senior honours’ seminar was a challenge since, as I confessed at the outset to my class, I remain agnostic on the question of whether capitalist logics are necessarily and always folded into racialized hierarchies. By sharing both my ambivalence and curiosity about this transdisciplinary field of scholarship, however, I was able to provide, albeit inadvertently, an object-lesson on encountering ideas that challenge our thinking. De-familiarizing history and categories of thought is central to the decolonising project; placing the shared discomfort that de-familiarizing effectuates at the centre of our discussion in class allowed students to engage the material in an open and uninhibited way. I plan to replicate this approach in the next iteration of the course.
Some additional reading that you might find useful:
- International Journal for Students as Partners (IJSaP)
- Student–staff partnerships for diversifying and decolonising the higher education curriculum
- Students as Partners in Decolonising the Curriculum
- Engaging Students as Participants and Partners: An Argument for Partnership with Students in Higher Education Research on Student Success
- Student engagement through partnership in higher education