Encompass: Decolonising STEM – what is this all about? 

Our STEM topics are built in a culture of collecting and representing scientific knowledge based on clear facts that have emerged from (often) centuries of scientific endeavour. For those designing and delivering University content to students it has become clear that some more focussed discussion around what decolonising is, is required. A question often asked is: How is decolonising relevant to STEM? 

To help address this question, a team at the University of Exeter have investigated this and produced a set of resources – aimed at being useful for module leaders. Working as part of the Exeter Education Incubator, the team is comprised of STEM and History academics, professional services, and student interns. 

The output of the project are four written pieces aimed at empowering module leaders to see how and where decolonising is relevant to them. The reports have been included in the Academic Development SharePoint site, and accessible to all staff members. The link to the page can be found here: 

Report and Resources

The titles of the case studies are:  

(i) Exploring perceptions and understanding: interviewing current staff and students on what decolonising STEM means to them and the modules their studying/delivering; by Zoja Vizinger 

(ii) Ownership and sharing of STEM knowledge, and enabling voices; by Daniela Fernandez 

(iii) Historical explorations and looking beyond history; by Terome Mensah 

(iv) Resource design: looking at how the structure and content of the module material can take decolonisation into consideration; by Hollie Calley 

This work has been produced for you: please do make use of these. Let us know of any additional thoughts and feedback to help further develop the maturity of this discussion in our University . 

A Project Summary

From this work, it has become clear that STEM has a long way to go when it comes to decolonising the curriculum. The practice of doing maths, medicine, IT, physics, and engineering have a long history dating back to the explorations of those less represented in the current STEM world such as from Africa, the Arabs and Persians, East and South-East Asia, and renowned women scientists. Whilst these historical explorations are important, how else can STEM subjects and their deeper context be decolonised? This 2021 series aims to answer this question and to provide context for educational module leaders by looking at four various case studies and exploring these issues in higher education settings. In April-July 2021, an Exeter Education Incubator project was launched aimed at increasing awareness about decolonising STEM. This project was part of the Innovation Lab, and all components of the project were run using the design-thinking approach introduced within the lab.  

This project was led by Dr Layal Hakim (l.hakim@exeter.ac.uk) and Dr John T Bruun (j.bruun@exeter.ac.uk). Initially, project leads gathered a sandpit team of academic and professional services staff all of whom are passionate about decolonisation or who are running projects in a similar field. The team and co-supervisors, providing substantial insights on decolonisation, are Prof. Nandini Chatterjee, Prof. Barrie Cooper, Avalon Cory, Dr Corrina Cory, Dr Safi Darden, Dr Andrew Griffith, Dr Caitlin Kight, Beth Pitcher, Dr Helen Smith, Dr Sharon Strawbridge, and Tina Verhaeghe.  

In April-May, the team met weekly and shared ideas and information on the topic as well as a list of specific topic titles we explored as further case-study research projects. Since there are not many modules that include the explorations of STEM history, we wanted this project to form case studies on the topic that can be explored further and disseminated. One module that currently exists within the Department of Mathematics is MTH3019 – Mathematics: History and Culture lead by Professor Peter Ashwin; as well as another module in the Department of Physics PHL2026 – Philosophy of Science lead by Dr Adam Toon. However, as part of this project, we would like to come up with tips on how we can make our teaching resources more inclusive by considering decolonisation, as well as hear more stories from those underrepresented.  

For the remainder of the project, four student interns were recruited to research one of the case studies in depth. The student co-researchers who researched on the case studies are: UG Mathematics student Hollie Calley, UG Natural Sciences student Terome Mensah, PG Psychology student Daniela Fernandez, and UG History and International Relations student Zoja Vizinger. The students worked under the supervision of members from the sandpit team and updated the rest of the team on how the research is going on a weekly basis throughout the summer of 2021. Zoja, Daniela, Terome, and Hollie will present their work at a mini symposium which will take place in November 2021 targeted to academic staff within STEM subjects.

Decolonising Education Hidden Curriculum Higher Education Incubator Online Learning Project Project Updates Success for All

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The University of Exeter’s Education Incubator scheme. Promoting pedagogic innovation and collaboration with an aim to enhance learning across the University and beyond.

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