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Dr Donna Smith

Dr Donna Smith outside the Welsh Parliament/Senedd Cymru

Profile summary

Web links

Professional biography


  • BA (Hons) Film and English Studies
  • MA Politics
  • PhD Politics and Media
  • Postgraduate Certificate in Online and Distance Education
  • Certificate in Management (Level 5)

About me!

Appointed a Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (HEA) in 2023. Winner of the Political Studies Association Jennie Lee Prize 2022, and Political Studies Association Special Recognition Award 2021.

My research and scholarship interests are three-fold. Building on my experience of working in Westminster politics, my research has focused on UK politics and media, as well as active citizenship. As an experienced Higher Education leader, manager, writer and teacher, my focus also includes teaching and learning in the social sciences, politics in particular. 

Working at The Open University gives me a fantastic opportunity to progress both my research and management/leadership interests, to the benefit of students, colleagues, and the wider public.


Research interests

Current interests: politics and media, active citizenship, teaching and learning.

At the moment I am working on a research project called ‘Changemakers’, which explores the societal challenge of young adults’ understanding of how to make political and social change in the UK as active citizens, and how this can be positively impacted through the research, development, piloting and evaluation of interventions post-secondary/compulsory education, using Wales as a case study. As research shows that young people are more likely to be dissatisfied with democracy and less likely to participate in formal politics, this project will help policymakers and educators learn about cost-effective ways to increase understanding of and participation in politics of young adults, which will increase societal cohesion and civic engagement, and enable more representative decision-making. More broadly, the project will enable young adults to better understand how they can become ‘active citizens’ (i.e., active political citizens, actively trying to make change or indeed prevent it). 

This research builds on two connected FREE! resources which explore how people can make change, both of which I developed working with students as partners and UK political institutions. If you are interested in making political and social change, please take a look!

  • A ‘Changemakers’ PDF guide, focused on and created with the UK Parliament (and Political Studies Association)
  • A free online Open Learn course called ‘An introduction to making political and social change’, created with the UK Parliament, Welsh Parliament, Scottish Parliament, and Northern Ireland Assembly, focused on making change in all four UK nations and more widely.

Two other recent and connected research projects are:

  • ‘Migration Reporting Skills for Practicing Journalists’, funded by the ESRC. Migration affects almost every area of British public life, and is a common theme in British news reporting. The complexity of the issue means that journalists can easily fall into avoidable traps - repeating inaccurate tropes, misunderstanding data, failing to recognise important trade-offs or see the whole story. Led by Oxford University and the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ), I contributed to a course which aims to help working and student journalists avoid errors and get right to the heart of stories that deal with migration and its effects, whatever their perspective or area of work. The next stage is to examine the impact of the course on participants and further consider whether it is possible to improve media journalism without taking an advocacy approach
  • ‘Citizens' voices, people's news: making the media work for Wales’. This research was commissioned by The Open University in Wales (OU) and the Institute of Welsh Affairs (IWA), working together with Welsh citizens to explore how access to, and understanding of, the media, news and information in Wales can be improved, especially in an era of ‘fake news’. Our recommendations address approaches to regulation of the media, the advantages of different sorts of education about politics, and the importance that recognising Welshness plays in creating a distinct and fit-for-purpose media landscape that serves citizens of Wales. Look out for a book chapter in the Routledge Handbook of Fake News Discourse coming soon…

Full publications (academic and other):

To be published:

Smith, D. 2023. Various book and VLE chapters as part of D113 module team (to be published).


Smith, D, Moore, D., and Seargeant, P., 2023. Citizens’ perspectives on the news media and democracy: a citizens’ panel case study from Wales. In The Routledge Handbook of Discourse and Disinformation. Routledge.

Smith, D. 2023. Working with Politics ‘students as partners’ to engender student community: opportunities and  challenges. Politics

Smith, D, Moore, D., and Seargeant, P., 2022. Citizens' voices, people's news: making the media work for Wales. An IWA report, in partnership with The Open University in Wales.

Smith, D., and Smith, K., 2021. Tuition attendance and students with mental health disability: does widening tuition options increase access? Open Learning: The Journal of Open, Distance and e-Learning. 

Smith, D., and Smith, K., 2021. Tuition attendance and students with mental health disability: does widening tuition options increase access?’. Access, Participation and Success 6th International Biennial Conference.

Smith, D. 2020. The Covid-19 crisis and academic development: reflections on running a staff development webinar series for Politics/IR academics. International Journal of Multidisciplinary Perspectives in Higher Education, Volume 5, Issue 1, pp.130-135.

Smith, D., and Smith, K., 2020. Understanding student engagement with synchronous and asynchronous online tuition and recordings. International Conference of Education, Research and Innovation (Seville).

Smith, D., 2020. Understanding the influence of demographics on attendance and access of synchronous and asynchronous online tuition. Pan-University Scholarship Event (The Open University).

Smith, D., 2019. Personal liberation: how ideas free people and change social realities. Modern Political Ideas (DD316), Block 4 VLE [online]. Milton Keynes: The Open University.

Smith, D., 2019. Personal liberation: the long road from gay rights to same-sex marriage in the UK and US. In DD316 module team [eds]. Modern Political Ideas [DD316 reader]. Milton Keynes: The Open University.

Smith, D., and Smith, K., 2019. Understanding barriers to participation in online tuition. Advance HE Teaching and Learning Conference: ‘Teaching in the spotlight: Innovation for Teaching Excellence’.

Smith, D., and Blakeley, G., 2019. Teaching political ideas at an online and distance university - an interactive workshop. Poltical Studies Association International Teaching and Learning Conference.

Smith, D., and Manning, R., 2018.  Creating spaces for learning: online forums. In Baxter, J. et al [eds]. Creativity and critique in online learning: exploring and examining innovations in online pedagogy. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Smith, D., and Robson, J., 2018. Recording online tutorials: a consideration of the issues. Widening Participation Conference.

Smith, D., 2017. Participation in online/distance undergraduate politics module forums at The Open University and implications for teaching and learning strategy 2. Political Studies Association Annual Conference – Teaching and Learning Group Panel.

Smith, D., 2016. Looking behind the headlines: participation in assessed collaborative forums and implications for assessment. International Conference of Education, Research and Innovation (Seville).

Smith, D., 2016. Participation in online/distance undergraduate politics module forums at The Open University and implications for teaching and learning strategy. Political Studies Association Annual Conference – Teaching and Learning Group Panel.

Smith, D., and Smith, K., 2015. Understanding Passive Learning in Online Distance Education. International Conference of Education, Research and Innovation (Seville).

Smith, D., and Smith, K., 2014. The Case for 'Passive' Learning – The 'Silent' Community of Online Learners. European Journal of Open, Distance and E-Learning, Volume 17, Issue 2, pp.85-98. 

Smith, D., 2014. Review of ‘The same-sex unions revolution in Western democracies: International norms and domestic policy change’. Political Quarterly, Issue 85, Volume 2, pp.236-238.

Smith, D., and Middleton, D., 2013. 'It needs to be better than face to face': Introducing Elluminate into a social sciences distance learning programme. Enhancing Learning and Teaching in the Social Sciences, Volume 5, Issue 3, pp.3-14.

Smith, D., and Smith, K., 2013. Fifty shades of forums: the trouble with fantasy and dominance in asynchronous teaching and learning. UNISA Cambridge International Conference on Open, Distance and eLearning (University of South Africa).

Knightly, M., and Smith, D., 2013. Different or Difficult? Collaborative Online Learning in Psychology. BPS Qualitative Methods Conference.

Smith, D., 2012 (hardback), 2013 (paperback). Sex, Lies and Politics: Gay Politicians in the Press. Brighton: Sussex Academic Press.

A repository of research publications and other research outputs can be viewed at The Open University's Open Research Online.

Teaching interests

I currently teach/write across a few politics and social science modules, including:

I will soon begin work on D112 (a new year 1 introduction to social sciences module) and D228 (year 2 international relations).

Previously, I was a member of the Module Team for The uses of social science (DD206), Living political ideas (DD306), Modern Political Ideas (DD316), International Relations (DD313), and the new MA in IR (D118).

Building on my membership of the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) - Chartered Member (CMgr MCMI) - I also have a strategic interest in teaching, at a Faculty/Institutional level, as FASS Deputy Associate Dean Teaching and Students, and Director of The Open University Tuition Programme. The Tuition Programme was set up to enhance the tuition experience for both staff and students across the whole University. We aim to develop and implement a long-term vision for tuition delivery, support faculties to be innovative in their practice, gather and share evidence of impactful tuition, inform and influence the development of tuition systems/processes, and support continuous improvement of tuition.

Impact and engagement

I hope all of my research has an impact, whether that's on my own thinking, my colleagues, OU students, or the wider public. My Changemakers research aims to positvely impact the understanding that young adults have of how to make political and social change, as well as influence government thinking about the resources that people need. My work with Oxford Migration Observatory aims to improve the knowledge and understanding that journalists have about migration, to the benefit of both journalistic practice and public understanding. And my work with the Institute of Welsh Affairs hopes to influence government policy in Wales in the areas of media regulation, education (school and adult), and recognising Welshness.

More to come on this soon...!

I was thrilled to receive positive feedback about Changemakers from Sir Lindsay Hoyle MP (The Speaker of the House of Commons) and The Rt Hon the Lord Fowler (The Lord Speaker to 2021), who said about our work in 2020:

“This year, UK Parliament Week reached almost one million people. I think this is a number that should be celebrated throughout the nations. I am delighted to hear that your energy and enthusiasm for UKPW has helped Changemakers become such a big and inspiring project. The collaboration video, joining up Changemakers and UKPW, has had a fantastic effect, engaging OU students and many more across the higher education sector and beyond. The UK Parliament Week team look forward to working with you again next year to build on this successful collaboration and make both #UKPW and #ChangeMakers bigger and better. I believe that together, we can make a mark and bring the people together to talk about what matters to them.”

External collaborations

I lead the OU's partnership with UK Parliament, part of my department's/discipline's 'Open Politics' initiative. Open Politics is a student-focused initiative which aims to: 1) further the politics and international studies OU student community, 2) bring politics and parliaments closer to students, and 3) be student-led in design and scope of activities. The three main areas of activity are: 1) working with students to create an academic community, 2) providing the opportunity for students to interact with UK parliaments and attend politics and international studies related events, and 3) working with the Houses of Parliament as a partner of UK Parliament Week and Parliament more generally.

I am a Fellow at the Centre for Online and Distance Education (CODE), as well as Co-Convenor of the Student Engagement Special Interest Group. CODE is a community of experts and thought leaders in the field of online, distance, open and technology enhanced education drawn from across the University of London member institutions, and more widely from across the UK and internationally. Recently I developed best practice guidelines for student engagement as part of CODE.

Before this, I was co-chair and founding member of the Political Studies Association’s Teaching and Learning Network (until spring 2022). During this time the Network made an exceptional contribution to the politics discipline, providing practical support to PSA members during the COVID-19 Pandemic through multiple webinar series, that provided not only practical help, support and advice, but also a sense of community for members at a time of crisis. One of the key functions of the webinars was to raise the profile and status of teaching and learning within the discipline, and in particular issues linked to online teaching. I was also a Trustee, Director and Executive Committee member of the PSA.

Over the last few years, I’ve done lots of work with the fantastic team at the OU in Wales linked to their active citizenship strand of work. This aims to help students and the wider public think critically about society and politics in Wales, and to help people to use their voices as citizens. As well as my work on media, education, democracy and citizenship with the Institute of Welsh Affairs, I am currently partnering with various Welsh organisations which work with young adults as part of my Changemakers research.  

I was one of the academic leads for ‘Wales: Who do we think we are’, a programme made/broadcast by the BBC. The programme examined the biggest challenges facing Wales, who makes the decisions that affect people’s lives, and how different Wales wants to be. The programme, OU Connect resources, and a blog are available online.

I’ve undertaken peer review for various academic journals including Higher Education Studies, Journal of Education and Training Studies, Journal of Open Learning, and European Political Science. Journals/publishers are welcome to email me with review queries.



Working with politics ‘students as partners’ to engender student community: Opportunities and challenges (2023)
Smith, Donna
Politics ((Early access))

Tuition attendance and students with mental health disability: does widening tuition options increase access? (2021)
Smith, Katy and Smith, Donna
Open Learning: The Journal of Open, Distance and e-Learning ((Early access))

Citizens’ perspectives on the news media and democracy: a citizens’ panel case study from Wales (2023-11)
Seargeant, Philip; Smith, Donna and Moore, Dylan
In: Maci, Stefania M.; Demata, Massimiliano; McGlashan, Mark and Seargeant, Philip eds. The Routledge Handbook of Discourse and Disinformation. Routledge Handbooks in Applied Linguistics (pp. 258-274)
ISBN : 9781032124254 | Publisher : Routledge | Published : Abingdon, Oxon

The Changing Representation of Gay Politicians in the UK Press (2009)
Smith, Donna Louise
PhD thesis The Open University

Citizens’ voices, people's news: making the media work for Wales (2022-11)
Moore, Dylan; Seargeant, Philip and Smith, Donna
OU Wales / Institute of Welsh Affairs