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The ‘Carousel of Scholarship’: how to ride its ups and downs

The noble pursuit of scholarship adds to academic knowledge, of that there is no doubt (Botnaru et al., 2002). But did you know that it is also closely associated with an improved student experience and the professional development and progression of scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) practitioners (Minocha and Collins, 2023)? With all these benefits, you might wonder why academics do not spend more time on SoTL (Baxter, 2023 a, b). The reality is that for many of us, particularly ‘pracademics’ (Hollweck, et al., 2022), who have entered academia through a non-traditional route, embarking on a scholarship journey (especially the first one) can seem daunting. It can feel a little like being on a carousel, with its ups and downs, our thoughts spinning around in response to new literature and questions.

Our recent research with Student Experience Managers (SEMs), who as regional academic staff at The Open University’s Faculty of Business and Law (FBL), undertake SoTL to enhance the experience of learners, has helped us to understand more about the carousel ride that is scholarship. Read on for some insight into three key themes that emerged from our focus groups: roles, resources, and relationships. 

The role of Student Experience Manager at The Open University is a diverse, academic role that includes contributing to module/programme teaching and learning design, supporting students, managing Associate Lecturers, and engaging in scholarship.

Role as a Scholar (SoTL practitioner)

Given the multifaceted, hybrid role of the ‘pracademic’ (Hollweck et al., 2022), scholarship does not necessarily come naturally to all. There is a need to develop a sense of ‘belonging’ as a scholar (Whitechurch, 2009) and, where it feels unfamiliar at first, greater confidence in the role (Kim, et al., 2020). For some, the boundaries of the role of a scholar can feel blurred, requiring nurturing personally and institutionally (Cornejo Happel and Song, 2020). Just as the carousel can feel markedly different, depending on which horse you have chosen, we found that individual scholars experience this role differently (Raffoul et al., 2021). 

For regional academics, scholarship is contractually part of the role, but developing an increasing sense of it being fundamentally part of who we are, and what we do, can be further nurtured (Mathany et al., 2017) through initial induction into, and active engagement with, the scholarship process. The role naturally leans towards working with other academic groups within an educational setting, and this can also help to sustain and grow confidence in being a SoTL practitioner.

Resources required

Regional academics, including SEMs, have a multifaceted role, often with competing deadlines. While few could argue that scholarship is not important, using the oft-cited time management ‘important versus urgent’ (Eisenhower) matrix, it is rarely seen as urgent, on a day-to-day basis. Therefore, if we do not actively carve out and prioritise time to work on scholarship (Schwartz and Haynie, 2013), it will always get pushed to the bottom of our lists. A good way of engaging with scholarship is to agree and officially book study leave with your line manager and then stick to it.  

You can also help yourself by checking the ‘rules of the ride’ before you get on board. This means understanding the various ethics, funding and data management approval processes that need to be negotiated, before you embark on the scholarship path (Hubball et al., 2010). There is little more disheartening than finding the ride grinding to a halt, when you have only just got going, because you had not factored in waiting for Ethics Committee approval to access a particular staff or student group. Knowing what needs to be done in advance helps reduce the possibility of experiencing obstacles on the way down and maintains enthusiasm while going up again. 

Another way to deploy your scarce resources more effectively is to obtain some scholarship funding to employ a skilled researcher, such as a PhD student, to help on the project. Not only does this mean that you can share the workload, but it also provides your project with access to skills that you do not necessarily have. 

Supportive Relationships

With many academics working remotely, the sense of connectedness and belonging to the scholarship community does not always happen organically. We need to consciously work at building relationships across teams and foster mutually supportive communities. Some ways to expedite the development of these relationships is through informal mentoring of early career academics by more experienced academics, opening doors for others into established scholarship circles (Dewar and Perkins, 2021) and developing communities of practice (McKinney, 2006). Examples of this include an FBL SEMs’ optional weekly ‘Cake and Scholarship’ drop-in, where scholarship projects and issues of interest are discussed in an informal fashion, and the cross-faculty monthly ‘SHARE First Friday’ scholarship events, where scholarship projects that are underway or complete are formally presented to colleagues. 

Our findings also highlighted that where those in line management positions remain active in, and knowledgeable about, scholarship, they are far more able to assist others to develop that part of their role in practical ways (Sgoutas-Emch, et al, 2020).

So, in conclusion, what did we learn?

Well, regional academics are passionate about scholarship but sometimes find the carousel daunting, especially when new to the field. Everything we have learned points toward the need to consciously consider and prioritise scholarship to ensure we can enjoy the ride and maybe the thrill of the experience. Some of the myriad benefits (including the positive impact on student experiences (Minocha and Collins, 2023)) we get from scholarship come through these ups and downs, even if we occasionally get in a spin. So, if you can get comfortable in your role as an academic, gather the necessary resources and nurture those relationships, you’re in for an exciting scholarship ride…


  • Baxter, J. (2023), Using pedagogical research to help develop academic identity. Available at: (Accessed 02 05 24).
  • Baxter, J. (2023), The role of Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in developing practitioner/academic identities. Available at: (Accessed 02 05 24)
  • Botnaru, D., Maurer, T. and Langdon, J. (2022) ‘SoTL at Georgia Southern: perceptions, engagement and impact’, International journal for the scholarship of teaching and learning, 16(1). Available at: 
  • Cornejo Happel, C.A. and Song, X. (2020) ‘Facilitators and Barriers to Engagement and Effective SoTL Research Collaborations in Faculty Learning Communities’, Teaching and learning inquiry, 8(2), pp. 53–72. Available at:
  • Dewar, J.M. and Perkins, K. (2021) ‘Facilitating Faculty Getting Started in SoTL’, The journal of scholarship of teaching and learning, 21(2). Available at:
  • Hollweck, T., D.M. Netolicky, and P. Campbell. 2022. “Defining and Exploring Pracademia: Identity, Community, and Engagement.” Journal of Professional Capital and Community 7 (1): 6–25.
  • Hubball, H., Clarke, A. & Poole, G. (2010) ‘Ten‐year reflections on mentoring SoTL research in a research‐intensive university’, International Journal for Academic Development, 15:2, 117-129, DOI: 10.1080/13601441003737758 
  • Kennedy, D.R. and Porter, A.L. (2022) “The Illusion of Urgency,” American journal of pharmaceutical education, 86(7), pp. 8914–808. Available at:
  • Kim, A. S. N., Popovic, C., Farrugia, L., Saleh, S. A. F., Maheux-Pelletier, G., & Frake-Mistak, M. (2021) ‘On nurturing the emergent SoTL researcher: responding to challenges and opportunities’, The international journal for academic development, 26(2), pp. 163–175. Available at: 
  • Mathany, C., Clow, K.M. and Aspenlieder, E.D. (2017) ‘Exploring the Role of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in the Context of the Professional Identities of Faculty, Graduate Students, and Staff in Higher Education’, The Canadian journal for the scholarship of teaching and learning, 8(3), pp. 1–17. Available at: 
  • McKinney, K. (2006) “Attitudinal and Structural Factors Contributing to Challenges in the Work of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning.” New Directions in Institutional Research 129: 37–50.   
  • Minocha, S. and Collins, T. (2023) Impact of Scholarship of Teaching and Learning: A compendium of case studies. The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK. Available at: 
  • Raffoul, J., Potter, M. and Andrews, D. (2021) ‘The SoTL Body: Identifying and Navigating Points of Entry’, International journal for the scholarship of teaching and learning, 15(1). Available at:
  • Schwartz, Beth M., and Haynie, A. (2013). “Faculty Development Centers and the Role of SoTL.” New Directions for Teaching and Learning 2013, no. 136:  101–11. 
  • Sgoutas-Emch, S., Liu, J., Meyskens, M., Salinas, T. C., Friedman, J., & Myers, P. (2020). Building Faculty SoTL Skills Through a Multi- and Interdisciplinary Writing Community of Practice. In R. Plews & M. Amos (Eds.), Evidence-Based Faculty Development Through the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) (pp. 78-95). IGI Global.  
  • Whitechurch, C.  (2009).  The rise of the blended professional in higher education: A comparison between the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States. Higher Education, 58(3), 407-418.

Authors and project details

This blog is a teaser for the more detailed scholarship outputs to follow from the project entitled “What Regional Academics need as researchers and leaders of Scholarship”. It encapsulates overarching themes from three focus groups held in December 2023 with Regional Academics, focused on interaction with and around scholarship. It provides tips and guidance as to how to balance the ups and downs of scholarship whether you are experienced or new to the field.

The project team is led by Dr Claire Armstrong (Lecturer and Student Experience Manager) and other members are:

Emma Bassett (Lecturer and SEM), Dr Hayley Glover (Senior Lecturer and Assistant Head of Student Experience), Suzanne Corcoran (Lecturer and SEM), Nicola McDowell (Lecturer and SEM), Carol Sherriff (Associate Dean Student Experience), Teresa Sides (Research Student), Rob Tumilty (Lecturer and Assistant Head of Student Experience) and Dr Wannette Van-Eg-Dom-Tuinstra (Lecturer and SEM). 

The blog was written by Nicola McDowell, Wannette Van-Eg-Dom-Tuinstra, Claire Armstrong, Rob Tumilty, Emma Bassett and Suzanne Corcoran.