Decolonising strategies and neoliberal dilemmas in a tertiary institution: Nurturing care-full approaches in a blended learning environment

Author(s): Jessica McLeana, Marnie Graham, Sandie Suchet-Pearson, Helga Simona, Julia Salt, Anupam Parashar
In: Geoforum Volume 101, May 2019, Pages 122-131
Year: 2019
Type: Journal / article
Theme affiliation: Transformations
Full reference: McLeana, J., Graham, M., Suchet-Pearson, S., Simona, H., Salt, J., Parashar, A. 2019. Decolonising strategies and neoliberal dilemmas in a tertiary institution: Nurturing care-full approaches in a blended learning environment. Geoforum Volume 101, May 2019, Pages 122-131


New learning and teaching methods such as 'blended learning' are increasingly promoted within higher education institutions. Such methods – especially those which replace slow scholarship and/or people with digital technologies – run the risk of reinforcing neoliberal learning spaces and perpetuating processes of 'deep colonization' (Rose, 1996). We argue that these new learning and teaching methods must be grounded in critical pedagogies to avoid extending neoliberal agendas in the university context. Furthermore, we propose these methods require careful student and teacher reflection, coupled with conscientious attempts at decolonising existing educational institutions and pedagogies (Radcliffe, 2017). In this article we explore the intersections and disconnections between critical pedagogy, attempts at decolonising the classroom, and flexible learning approaches like blended learning. We draw on our collective experiences as both teachers and students who are continuously learning – learning-teachers and learning-students – within the context of a higher level subject entitled 'Rethinking Resource Management' which is taught at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. A blended learning approach is practiced by the learning-teachers of this course, in an effort to situate their responsibilities and shift their pedagogy towards decolonizing approaches. In this dialogue between learning-teachers and learning-students, we argue that while blended learning can provide opportunities to improve learning experiences and support decolonising pedagogies, constraints that arise from a neoliberal university context, such as the reframing of students as clients and the prioritisation of money-saving approaches, can moderate such promise. Further, decolonising education requires more than what can be delivered by blended learning approaches in isolation. They also fundamentally require a careful reconfiguration of responsibilities in a relational and multidirectional manner, of learning-teachers, learning-students and the broader learning-institution context. So while the learning-teachers' efforts at decolonising the classroom and better engaging with learning-students remain partial, they are deeply valued by many learning-students and are important tentative contributions towards nurturing more 'care-full' decolonising learning spaces. The article offers a critical discussion of the issues raised in a dialogue between learning-teachers and learning-students of Rethinking Resource Management, and considers what we can contribute to broader debates in decolonising learning, the blended learning trend and structural changes in universities. We offer this instance of care-full teaching and learning as a case study that emphasises dialogue, in multiple modes, to renegotiate power relations, and to advocate caution in moves toward top-down entrenchment of digital teaching modes.


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