Dr Michael Tsang and Dr Catherine Gilbert
School of Modern Languages
Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences
Decolonising Modern Languages and Cultures: A blog
Who is involved?
Dr Michael Tsang
Dr Catherine Gilbert
The Decolonising the Curriculum Working Group of the School of Modern Languages – which includes a large student cohort and other staff, and sits under the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) committee remit
What did you do?
We are using a blog to begin and forge local, national and international dialogues in decolonising and postcolonial research.
How did you do it?
As part of the Decolonising the Curriculum Working Group, we organised a roundtable during Enrichment Week in November 2020 in the School of Modern Languages. Three speakers – Dr Michael Tsang, Dr Catherine Gilbert and Dr Patirica Oliart – shared their perspectives on what is meant by decolonising the curriculum, and how their research approaches that initiative. Undergraduate students were invited, and two shared their experiences and requirements from the curriculum.
The use of the blog format was considered and discussed, including with the EDI lead. It was chosen for its accessible, inclusive and democratic format, and the ease with which students and colleagues locally and globally can showcase research, perspectives and voices of the school community on the subject of decolonising the curriculum.
The blog (Decolonising Modern Languages and Cultures) was then set up over the vacation period in order to retain the momentum from the roundtable event, and capture and share its key messages.
Much thought went into the set-up and visual elements of the blog prior to any posts being published, for example it had to be user-friendly and accessible. The photos that appear on the carousel are different each time you visit, and set the tone for the blog. We developed an editing protocol which included the use of headings, links and images for both accessibility and consistency.
Several posts are lined up for future publishing, from both colleagues and students. External contributors are also being invited to encourage broader decolonising curriculum movements across the UK.
In this way, the blog is hoped to become a large open forum as part of the larger conversation for people to contribute their viewpoints in a semi-academic, semi-formal way. It is anticipated that different contributors will have differing viewpoints and debates will be sparked, sharing suggestions for change and good practice.
Why did you do it?
This work responds to Newcastle’s mission – From Newcastle for the world – by starting locally through the School of Modern Languages and uses the blog to forge dialogues nationally and internationally. It also echoes the work of and collaborates with the existing Newcastle Postcolonial Research Group, which has recently been relaunched in 2019.
As previously noted, the blog was the result of a great deal of reflection, as it offered four main benefits:
1. Visibility – It has greater reach than an academic paper.
2. Impact – As the blog is more spontaneous and informal than a typical academic paper, it has greater impact in terms of generating public engagement.
3. Right of reply – It is easier for people to weave into their daily lives. Unlike an academic paper, it can be accessed and read spontaneously, and embodies the inclusivity messages of EDI. Academic writing can be drier, often with an absence of emotion or one’s own experience.
4. Inclusivity – The blog encourages sharing from an array of stakeholders; from undergraduates, postgraduates, researchers and teaching staff, within and beyond the university.
The final, crucial element of the blog that is not found in academic writing is the call to action. The purpose of the blog is a move toward change, and to encourage deep reflection and rethinking of teaching practice.
Does it work?
Everything is still very new, but high attendance at November’s roundtable was very encouraging, and the blog itself is gaining traction. By avoiding a top-down approach to thinking through how to improve the student experience, it is hoped that change will be effective. We are considering ways to gather more feedback.
Through the blog, students’ voices are being heard in the University, showing that student concerns in their education are being taken seriously and thought through together with colleagues prior to changes being made. Students at different levels of study are writing for the blog, participating in the working group discussions, and sharing their experiences.
Greater attention is now coming to the blog, with the School of Modern Language’s official social media channels highlighting new blog posts when they are released. Senior staff are aware of the blog and the ongoing work, and appreciate its importance.