Supporting and Enabling Scholarship: Developing and Sharing Expertise in Online Learning and Teaching


  • Fiona Barnes The Open University
  • Sue Cole The Open University
  • Ingrid Nix The Open University; University of West London



supporting scholarship, communities of practice, landscape of practice, staff development, online learning and teaching, brokers


In a highly competitive, rapidly changing higher education market, universities need to be able to generate pedagogical expertise quickly and ensure that it is applied to practice. Since teaching approaches are constantly evolving, partly responding to emerging learning technologies, there is a need to foster ways to keep abreast on an ongoing basis. This paper explores how a small-scale project, the Teaching Online Panel (TOP), used scholarship investigations and a bottom-up approach to enhance one particular aspect of academic practice – online learning and teaching. The experiences of TOP are useful for identifying: 

  • how a scholarship approach can help develop academic expertise
  • its contribution to enhancing understanding of staff’s different roles in the University
  • ways of developing the necessary supportive network for those undertaking such scholarship
  • the effectiveness of staff development which is peer-led rather than imposed from above
  • how practical examples can stimulate practice development
  • the relevance of literature on communities of practice and landscapes of practice for scholarship
  • the important role of ‘brokers’ to facilitate the dissemination of scholarship findings
  • the benefits to the brokers’ own professional roles
  • the challenges of sustaining such an approach and lessons learnt.

This study has relevance for those involved in supporting scholarship or delivering staff development in Higher Education.

Author Biographies

Fiona Barnes, The Open University

Fiona Barnes (Associate Lecturer) has been a tutor with the Open University since 1991, working on modules in Health and Social Care, Social Sciences and Education. She was the Convenor of TOP from 2006 to 2015. She has a background in social policy research, social care and primary education. (

Sue Cole, The Open University

Sue Cole, now retired, has a background in social administration, education and counselling. She worked for the Open University from 1975 to 2017 including as a module tutor and a Staff Tutor in the Faculty of Health & Social Care and was a founder member of the TOP Steering Group.

Ingrid Nix, The Open University; University of West London

Ingrid Nix is an Academic Developer at the University of West London. At the time of writing she was a Lecturer in Learning and Teaching Technologies (2000 to 2017) in the Open University Faculty of Health & Social Care. She was a founder member of the TOP Steering Group which she chaired from 2013 to 2015.


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