Tag Archives: decolonising

The application of duct tape

Group working
Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

In writing this blog post, I do recognise that as white middle class male from a Western European background, I know I come from a position of privilege.  I am where I am today because of that privilege. No I wasn’t education at Eton, nor did I go to Oxford, but I recognise my background has given me advantages that others didn’t have. It would also be somewhat arrogant if I was to think that I, in isolation, had any answers to the challenges that others face. However I do feel that I have the opportunity to share the experiences and thoughts of others. I also recognise the need to understand and work together on decolonisation.

I like this definition of decolonising from The University of Essex.

Decolonisation involves identifying colonial systems, structures and relationships, and working to challenge those systems. It is not “integration” or simply the token inclusion of the intellectual achievements of non-white cultures. Rather, it involves a paradigm shift from a culture of exclusion and denial to the making of space for other political philosophies and knowledge systems. It is a culture shift to thinking more widely about why common knowledge is what it is, and in so doing adjusting cultural perceptions and power relations.

In that context I really enjoyed the thought provoking opening keynote at Moving Target: Digitalisation 2022 was a keynote from Taskeen Adam, Designing Justice-oriented Digital Education.

Moving Target Digitalisation 2022, Opening 30.11.2022, Museum für Kommunikation (MfK), Berlin – Credit Stefan Zeitz/DAAD

I thought this was an excellent thoughtful insight into the challenges universities face in reflecting where they are and where they need to be in relation to edtech and digital education.

Moving beyond ‘digital divide’ narratives, this presentation interrogates how the digitalisation of education can embed or promote material injustices, cultural-epistemic injustices and (geo)political injustices. After expanding on calls for ‘decolonising EdTech’, 3 key arguments framing justice-oriented Digital Education are highlighted along with 4 guidelines on how we can strive to design and implement more justice-oriented digital education.

As we move into a century where the technological way of being is the only way of being imaginable, we need to consciously reflect on the impact that technology has on our way of thinking and being, and resultantly how this is embedded into our education. Taking a justice-oriented approach to digitalising education means actively and consciously seeking to address material, cultural-epistemic and political/geopolitical injustices that digitalising education processes and platforms can embed or promote.

This presentation has three main sections.

The first section unpacks ‘decolonising EdTech’ which means dismantling the relations of power and conceptions of knowledge that are reproduced through EdTech in its fundamental assumptions; its content; its pedagogical underpinnings; its design; and its implementation. Here questions about ethics, equity, epistemology and power are raised.

The second section outlines 3 key arguments framing the design of justice-oriented Digital Education 1.) There is no one-size-fits-all framework for creating justice-oriented Digital Education. Justice-as-content, justice-as-pedagogy and justice-as-process are 3 approaches to use at different moments 2.) Designers and implementers need to examine their subjectivities and how these shape the epistemological framings of the course from its conceptualisation. 3.) Greater emphasis is needed on situational factors outside the construction of the digital learning experience, i.e. factors beyond content, outcomes, and assessments.

The third section wraps up by giving four practical guidelines on how we can strive to design and implement more justice-oriented digital education.

Of course it isn’t just about the decolonisation of digital education, there is the shift required in university structures and cultures.

This keynote got me thinking about this.

London Metropolitan University’s Centre for Equity and Inclusion has this to say on the decolonisation of higher education. I think this reflects the challenge in that diversity and inclusion isn’t sufficient, there needs to be more  in order to truly decolonize the curriculum and the university as a whole.

Decolonising education, however, is often understood as the process in which we rethink, reframe and reconstruct the curricula and research that preserve the Europe-centred, colonial lens. It should not be mistaken for “diversification”, as diversity can still exist within this western bias. Decolonisation goes further and deeper in challenging the institutional hierarchy and monopoly on knowledge, moving out of a western framework.

One of the challenges that we face is that we need to decolonise our structural approaches to the way in which we run our universities. Listening to the keynote from Taskeen Adam I was reminded of the struggle this can be, overcoming years, if not decades on entrenched thinking.

One area where I think we have challenges is recruitment and the process of recruitment.

We know from research that a diverse team brings wider benefits than a non-diverse team. 

This Twitter thread explains this better than I can.

To quote from the thread.

Diversity increases innovation: diverse groups are known to produce innovative solutions… 

Demographic diversity is a proxy for diverse thinking.

This is all pretty obvious but as the opening tweet says you often hear the line, “Oh, but we cannot compromise excellence for diversity.”

So I have heard organisations say, yes we have a policy of diversity and inclusion when it comes to recruitment, but we recruit on merit.

However despite the fact that recruitment takes into account diversity, the process of recruitment is flawed and biased. 

Very rarely is a team recruited in one go, generally there is an existing team. We generally recruit individually so as a result we lose the opportunity to have diverse teams that could support decolonisation.

As people leave, new people arrive. We often need those new people to replace the leaver, so we look for skills and background that are similar to the ones that the leaver has. We are looking at the problem from an individual perspective rather than a team perspective. Despite knowing that a diverse team is better, despite having a diversity and inclusion policy, the process of recruitment is biased as it focuses on the gap, the individual skills missing, when someone leaves. Rarely if ever is the holistic picture taken into account.

This process of recruitment can actually reinforce the existing structures and culture, despite the best efforts to decolonise.

This isn’t exclusive to decolonisation, and the talk by Taskeen Adam on this subject reminded me of the challenges that women face in the workplace, disabled people and other groups.

It also reminded me of the challenges in shifting and changing existing cultures and ways of working. Back in the 2000s there was an academic team I was working with who had a very negative culture, one where the students were to blame, they were resistant to change and certainly didn’t embrace digital technologies to support their work. It was quite a toxic culture.

Work was undertaken, probably best described as sticking duct tape to try and fix what was a broken team. It didn’t work. The underlying issues and culture were still there. Solutions that were put in place, were like duct tape, worked for a while, but eventually fell off, as it wasn’t fixing the underlying problems.

Over the years the actual team changed completely, as in people left and new staff were recruited. In none of the original staff were working there, it was a new team, it had changed, however the culture did not. Despite all new people, the culture hadn’t changed, the blaming was still there, as was the resistance to change.

In the end working as a leadership team including myself, with a new  line manager, we started from scratch and completely changed the modus operandi or operating model for the team. The ways in which they worked, the way in which they interacted with students and planning on the embedding of appropriate digital technologies. There was consistency of approaches and methodologies. The team and students were provided with a clear vision and strategic objectives.

There was a massive shift in culture and ways of working, which resulted in better outcomes for students, less complaints, less staff sickness, and better morale. We had to have a holistic approach to the way in which the team worked, but as we had a clear vision of what was expected, they had the clarity as well.

When it comes to decolonisation, this is a huge challenge. Even just looking at one area, the shift required in recruitment, is more than just the application of duct tape to fix the problem. Without thinking strategically and holistically about the challenge, the end result will be a much slower journey to decolonisation.

Maybe today is the day you start wearing your mask again – Weeknote #144 – 3rd December 2021

This was a full week back at work and I was in London for most of the week. Over the summer I had enjoyed working in the London office, a change of pace, location and routine compared to the forced working from home we had endured during the pandemic. Having had a fair amount of time off work, sick with covid, it was nice to be back in the office, talking and chatting to colleagues and similarly to the summer having the change of place and routine. The office was much busier than it had been in the summer. It felt quite normal in some respects, a little quieter than it was pre-pandemic.

However it was only a couple of weeks ago that I wrote about the possibilities of in-person teaching now that 90% of university students had had at least one Covid jab. Last week though we saw a new variant of concern of the coronavirus was identified by South African scientists and labelled by the WHO as Omicron.

On Monday I wrote about the impact Omicron could potentially have on the HE sector though my main messages was that universities should prepare for a possible lockdown.

Hopefully the vaccination rollout and mask wearing will reduce the chance of lockdown, but I would still be preparing for the possibilities of another lockdown regardless.

As we reach the end of the week, there have been some stories on the spread of Omicron, across the world, spreading to Europe, as might be expected with global travel and concerns this variant would have on infection rates (being more transmissible) and the subsequent impact on health resources. There were also some positive stories about the potential of vaccination to reduce the impact of Omicron.

Having said all that I would still be preparing for the possibilities of another lockdown regardless.

As you might expect, I ensured I was wearing my mask on public transport and when entering shops, eating places and as I walked around the office.

We had an HE leadership meeting on Monday and the majority of the meeting was discussing key challenges with our new CEO.

One of the things I reflected on was the success of Learning and Teaching Reimagined (LTR) and what we should do next. In order to build on and support the sector to deliver on the recommendation and work towards the challenges, Jisc working with members produced Higher education strategy 2021-2024: powering UK higher education which outlined how Jisc would support the sector going forward.

However LTR with its focus on teaching and learning leaves the door open to other ideas. There are a range of subjects that Jisc could focus on and undertake a similar range of activities and events as we did with LTR. This, like LTR, could be a sector-wide initiative focused on providing university leaders with inspiration on what the future might hold for higher education and guidance on how to respond and thrive in those environments. We could look at the student experience, leadership, the campus… there are a range of areas in which we could focus on in.

laptop and headphones
Image by Regina Störk from Pixabay

I published a blog post about the pandemic response and what we saw though described as online learning, wasn’t online learning.

One of things I have noticed is how often much of what was done during the numerous lockdowns was described as online learning. Let’s be clear you can describe what was happening as an emergency response to a crisis, even simplistically a pivot, but what was happening across schools, colleges and universities could in no way be described as online learning.

Some of my meetings were cancelled this week, which though freeing up time, can be frustrating.

This week was the Ascilite Conference. I really enjoyed attending and keynoting the conference back in 2009. Back then the UK was in the midst of an outbreak of swine flu. I didn’t go this year, but I may think about attending next year (pandemic permitting). This year it took place online and in-person at University of New England, Armidale NSW in Australia.

Martin Bean was part of a panel session and one comment (well tweet) I saw about the session mentioned the importance of authentic assessment, which made me think.

I think there is a blog post in this.

Was reminded this week that I am rubbish at Twitter.

While eating dinner on Wednesday evening, I participated in the #LTHEChat Twitterchat, Decolonising Learning Technology  led by Professor John Traxler.

I participated and did note that so much educational technology is designed for specific sector and its cultural norms, and then adjusted for other sectors and then other cultures. It was a really interesting debate and I enjoyed the discussion.

As it was December, I started tweeting out my advent calendar posts from a few years back. I really ought to spend some time doing new ones.

At the end of the week we had a HE Team meeting.

My top tweet this week was this one.