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Dr Amber Fensham-Smith

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Professional biography

Dr Amber Fensham-Smith is a Lecturer in Childhood and Youth Studies at the Open University. Amber begun teaching in Higher Education in 2013 while undertaking her ESRC funded doctorate at the School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University. Prior to her appointment at the Open University, Amber was a lecturer in education at the University of Bedfordshire. She holds a BA in Sociology (First Class) from the University of Durham, an MSc in Social Science Research Methods (University of Bristol) and a PhD in Education from Cardiff University.

Research interests

Amber’s research expertise lies in the field of alternative education and informal learning. Her doctorate explored the role of new technologies and learning communities and knowledge networks in UK home-education. This was a novel mixed method study that involved 242 families across England, Scotland and Wales (available here).  

Prior to the completion of her PhD, Amber was commissioned by the Welsh Government and the ESRC to conduct a mixed-method research project on in engaging Gypsy and Traveller Families in education. Currently, she is working on a participatory project using Photovoice with a group of home educated learners in Sussex (funded by the University of Brighton).

Teaching interests

In her previous academic post, Amber made a substantial contribution to teaching and learning on a diverse portfolio of undergraduate and postgraduate course in Childhood and Youth Studies and Education. She has designed, co-ordinated and contributed to new and existing modules, acted as an internal reviewer for course approval panels and championed faculty employability initiatives while acting as a graduate engagement lead and an employability tutor. She has supervised a range of undergraduate and taught-postgraduate research projects in the field of children and young people’s technology use. Her commitment to teaching excellence is recognised through Fellowship status of the Higher Education Authority.

 Amber is passionate about evidence-based scholarship to inform the pedagogic design of new and existing learning activities. She is interested in fostering student voice, personalised curricular and innovative assessment within a distance learning context. Amber is looking to forward to working with module teams across E102, E232, EK313 and Y032 to contribute to new and existing presentation and production activities. 

Impact and engagement

  • Amber is a convenor of the BERA Alternative Education Special Interest Group. The activities of the SIG seek to foster connections between independent researchers and practitioners working, within and outside, of the academy
  • Peer reviewer: British Educational Research Journal, Journal of Education Studies & Educational Review
  • 2018, BBC Look North News media appearance

External collaborations

  • 2020-present, Professor Janice Wearmouth & Dr Karen Lindley (University of Bedfordshire)
  • 2018- present, Dr Zoe Flack (University of Brighton)
  • 2019-present, Dr Harriet Pattison (Liverpool Hope University) & Dr Laura Nicklin (University of Wolverhampton)
  • 2013-2017, Professor Sally Power & Dr Peter Hemming (Cardiff University)

Publications

Becoming a Home-Educator in a Networked World: Towards the Democratisation of Education Alternatives? (2019-08-18)
Fensham-Smith, Amber
Other Education: The Journal of Educational Alternatives, 8(1) (pp. 27-57)


The rise in home education: issues related to recognition, collaboration and successful partnerships (2021)
Fensham-Smith, Amber
In: Wearmouth, Janice and Lindley, Karen eds. Bringing the Curriculum to Life ((In press))
Publisher : Open University Press


A systematic review of methods in UK home education studies: recommendations for development and practice (2019)
Flack, Zoe M. and Fensham-Smith, Amber J.
In : University of Brighton Second Education Research and Enterprise Conference (14 Jun 2019, Brighton)


Becoming a home-educator in a networked world (2018)
Fensham-Smith, Amber
In : British Educational Research Association Annual Conference 2018 (11-13 Sep 2018, Newcastle)


Becoming a home-educator in a networked world: towards the democratisation of education alternatives? (2018)
Fensham-Smith, Amber
In : Researching for Social Justice and Educational Improvement, BERA English in Education Special Interest Group (21 Jun 2018, University of Bedfordshire)


Breaking Badman: online networks and the making of new divisions in a landscape of home-education practice (2017)
Fensham-Smith, Amber
In : British Educational Research Association Annual Conference 2017 (5-7 Sep 2017, University of Sussex, Brighton)


Social action and the making of new divisions in a landscape of home-education practice (2017)
Fensham-Smith, Amber
In : STORIES Conference 2017 (15 Mar 2017, Oxford)


New technologies, knowledge networks and communities in home education (2015)
Fensham-Smith, Amber
In : The European Conference on Education (ECE) 2015 (1-5 Jul 2015, Brighton)


Home education: networks and communities (2015)
Fensham-Smith, Amber J
In : WISERD Annual Conference, Cardiff University (30 of Jun 2015, Cardiff)


Representations of Home Education: challenging misrecognition (2014)
Fensham-Smith, Amber J
In : British Educational Research Association: Early Career Researchers Conference, The Institute of Education (2014, London)


A systematic review of methodologies in UK Home Education studies: Recommendations for development and practice
Fensham-Smith, Amber and Flack, Zoe
In : BERA conference 2020 (8-10 Sep 2020 (conference cancelled), University of Liverpool)


Using Photovoice to Elevate Children’s Participation in Home Education Research: Opportunities, Challenges and Unanswered Questions
Flack, Zoe and Fensham-Smith, Amber
In : Educational Research (Re)connecting Communities, ECER (25-28 Aug 2020 - Cancelled, University of Glasgow)


Towards co-operative working in alternative education (2020-05-22)
Fensham-Smith, Amber
The Freedom to Learn Project, Phoenix Education Trust


What are the issues in rethinking fieldwork-practically, theoretically, ethically? (2020-05-12)
Fensham-Smith, Amber
The Open University


Should we really call this home schooling? Reflections from the research field (2020-05-06)
Fensham-Smith, Amber
BERA


Gypsy and Traveller Education: Engaging Gypsy and Traveller Families - A Research Report (2014-11-25)
Fensham-Smith, Amber
Knowledge and Analytical Services, Welsh Government Social Research, Welsh Government.