What is Scholarship? And how does it relate to Open Space?

This post offers a view of scholarship based on the following three literary texts (full references at the bottom) and my own experiences as a vocational educator. The aim is to establish that scholarly activity can take many forms.

Scholarship reconsidered Priorities of the Professoriate – Enerst L. Boyer

The Digital Scholar – How Technology is transforming scholarly practice – Martin Weller

Higher Education in further education: capturing and promoting HEness. Lee and Simmons.

“The term (scholarly) was first used in England in the 1870’s by reformers who wished to make Cambridge and Oxford not just a place of teaching, but a place of learning”.    Boyer (1990) (pg 15) With the current day prestige Oxford and Cambridge possess in the UK, it is hard to imagine a time scholarly activity had to be actively encouraged.

Boyer (1990) identified four distinct (albeit overlapping) areas of scholarship.

Scholarship of Discovery (research) – He states the discovery of new knowledge is “absolutely crucial” to academic life.    Boyer suggests that discovery is “What is to be known, what is to be found?” (pg. 19).   This paints a picture of very traditional research practices, of controlled laboratory experiments or heavily analysed societal studies.

Weller (2011) looks in more detail at Boyer’s definitions and the impact technology may have on them.   In respect of web 2.0 technologies he concludes that in the area of discovery, “…in general, the attitude of the research community is one of caution and even occasional hostility. “ (pg.62) This suggests that discovery is still a relatively closed area and there is some reluctance to openness and the use of technology.

My personal perspective, as a vocational practitioner is that I find it difficult to have the cause or the resources to tap into the research arena.   This is partly because of the FE culture which I am within and also the vocational nature of the subjects.   My role has been to cascade theories and up to date knowledge about my subjects, not necessarily create new knowledge.  The Higher Apprenticeship programmes I have been involved with often involve participants working full time.   They would like to learn new skills and gain knowledge about their profession. Their aim is not to be become an academic researcher but to be better equipped to do their job function.   That isn’t to say that the groups and discussions don’t create new knowledge by the participants sharing their experience. I don’t view this as discovery in line with Boyer’s definitions. However, this is not necessarily applicable to all vocational subjects, this is just my experience with the level 5 groups I have worked with.

Scholarship of Integration – Boyer (1990) (pg 19) describes integration as “making the connections across the disciplines, placing specialties in larger context, illuminating data in a revealing way often educating non-specialists, too. “     Boyer suggests integration is “What do the findings mean?”

Weller (2011) (pg. 75), suggests that the web 2.0 technologies have had a very positive impact on interdisciplinary work as they are “… easy, cheap and (their) unfiltered production of content which can be shared effectively.”

For vocational learners who interact in a group making connections is highly normal.   It is not necessarily across disciplines but often across organisations. A group may consist of people undertaking the same qualification e.g. management but in different organisations.   Participants will integrate their knowledge.

Scholarship of Application – Boyer (1990) (Pg. 21) suggests that the question of application is “How can knowledge be responsibly applied to consequential problems?”

This is where I feel there is overlap between integration and application. The early example of Managers integrating new knowledge could just as easily be labelled as application in Boyer’s definitions.

Weller (2011) (pg 76) suggests there are several practices within the term application. In Higher Education he suggests these include sitting on committees, inputting into policy, advising charities etc.   This, I suggest is where Further Education and Higher Education differ, especially the work-based element of further education.   The Association of Colleges (2015) quote Parry (2009) identifying that “Colleges tend to specialise in flexible and part-time technical and professional education usually focussed on meeting the needs of the local labour markets…”   For these learners they apply their new skills and knowledge routinely as part of their learning.

In terms of the potential the web 2.0 technologies bring to this area, reflective blogging is just one example of a way to capture the skills development which is in essence a record of application.

Cooch (2015) in writing a blog of Top ten things to try in Moodle compares her top ten recommendations to Blooms Taxonomy.   Reflection and debate (of which Blogging is a tool which enables this) appears as number three,   beaten to the top spots by collaboration and peer assessment.   The suggestion being, the top tools mirrors the desirables of Blooms taxonomy namely, analyse, evaluate and create.

I propose that blogs can be an area to analyse, evaluate and possibly create new knowledge.  Therefore they are valid outputs for scholarly activity within the integration and application elements.

Scholarship of Teaching – Boyer quotes Aristotle “Teaching is the highest form of understanding” and he suggests that teachers must be “…well informed, and steeped in knowledge of their fields.” (pg. 23)

This seems to be quite a basic expectation that teachers need to be well informed. However, web 2.0 technologies do bring new possibilities and to some degree make it easier to stay informed.

Lea and Simmons (2012) suggest that due to various agencies such as the Learning and Skills Development Agency, Further Education practitioners have been participating in the ‘Scholarship of Teaching’ for a long time.   Perhaps, more so than Higher Education institutions.   In FE there has been a great deal of emphasis on measurement against externally set criteria.

Weller (2011) suggests that the many approaches to teaching and learning were “…developed in a different age..” and there has been a shift to an abundance of content and the use of networks in learning.   Teaching in the digital age (just as learning) may require different skills.

One very important challenge within the scholarship of teaching is the adoption of the new technology to enhance teaching and learning. I have been surprised by the slow uptake of digital teaching skills over the last decade.   I commenced my Masters in Online and Distance education in 2004 and fully expected that the last decade learning programmes would have been effectively blended with the new technologies as a matter of normality.   However, this does not seem to be the case. It is my opinion that in FE perhaps this is for the same reason that the research agenda has been on the back burner.   The pressures of external measures and the year on year amendments to qualifications funded by the Skills Funding Agency (SFA) have seen some areas having to adopt short term goals.   Priorities have been surviving the year without budget cuts.


Boyer (1990) suggests “….scholars are academics who conduct, publish, and then perhaps convey their knowledge to students or apply what they have learned.”   He discusses that the latter functions don’t necessarily follow from the research activities. Theory can lead to practice, but also practice can lead to theory.   He considered teaching at its best to shape both research and practice. He concludes (pg. 24) that what is needed is “…a more inclusive view of what it means to be a scholar – a recognition that knowledge is acquired through research, through synthesis, through practice, and through teaching. “

Lee and Simmons (2012) conclude “In reconceptualising research to include a much wider range of activities it offers a prospect to FE teachers that they do not have to aspire to be the type of researcher who ploughs an isolated furrow away from the distractions of teaching.”

Weller (2011) (pg 184) concludes “In this period of transition the onus is on us as scholars to understand the possibilities that the intersection of digital, network and open approaches allow. If Boyer’s four main scholarly functions were research, application, integration and teaching, then I would propose that those of the digital scholar are engagement, experimentation, reflection and sharing.”

I conclude digital technologies are paving the way for new forms of scholarship to be considered and valued. This is the ethos behind the Open Space website.   It combines free tools in a way that can be used to stimulate and capture a variety of scholarly activity. It isn’t my suggestion that platforms such as Open Space could represent or replace the academic research stage, however by focussing on Boyer’s other three areas of scholarship I hope it can go someway to demonstrating the value of these areas.

Comparing Open Space to Weller’s proposed aspects of a digital scholar I conclude that it demonstrates engagement (through learning new technical skills and engaging with new developments via twitter feeds), experimentation (the combining of tools is an experiment, measuring impact of activities), reflection (blogging regarding impact of the engagement and experimentation) and sharing (through being in the public domain.)


Boyer, E. (1990) Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate. New York: The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

Cooch M, (2015) Top Ten Things to Try in Moodle, http://www.moodleblog.net/2015/07/07/top-ten-things-to-try-in-moodle/ (last accessed 25th January 2016)

Lee,J. and Simmons, J. (2012) Higher Education in further education:capturing and promoting HEness, Research in Post-Compulsory Education, 17(2), 179-193.

Weller, M. (2011). The Digital Scholar: How Technology Is Transforming Scholarly Practice. London: Bloomsbury Academic. Retrieved November 16, 2015, from http://dx.doi.org/10.5040/9781849666275


One response

  1. […] To read more about how scholarship activity is defined click here. […]


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