Decolonising digital dreams: How can students respond to ways of being and knowing whilst becoming aware of their potential power/authority as designers?

This paper offers an approach of relational, iterative pedagogy with an emphasis on decolonisation.

Learning experiences were captured as part of a novel studio model, which was designed during the first COVID lockdown in Naarm/Melbourne, at RMIT University in 2020. The two design education studios (virtual and blended) within the Communication Design program took place on the unceded lands of Naarm/Melbourne and in Singapore; conducted concurrently and designed with a focus on relational knowledge generation in response to place through iterative, decolonising, material discovery.

What struck the author – and studio facilitator – most, after her recent experience of co-designing and co-facilitating a Reconciliation pilot for corporate businesses, was the way in which the design students were able to explore how they might ‘respond to Indigenous sovereignty’ (Behrendt, 2003; McMillan, 2020; West, 2020) through reflective design practices of ‘being in relation to Indigenous sovereignty’ (West, 2020); redirecting their initial tendencies to ‘otherise’ or ‘Indigenise’ through iterative material designing.

The work of facilitating this studio wasn’t just about shifting the studio lead’s binary likeness of a ‘white-middle-class subject position’ (Morten-Robinson, 2000) out of the corporate environment and into the virtual design student setting. The novel studio model needed to be transformed from a physical study tour of ‘Melbourne—Kulin’ to a virtual experience of place. This paper identifies some of the student learning experiences of developing decolonised narratives and the intercultural design relations that resulted from this novel virtual setting.

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