Oxplore with our interns…

Oxford undergraduates, Jack and Aura spent a week with the Oxplore team (remotely); hear about how they found the experience…

“I’m Aura, a third year Human Sciences student at St John’s College. I’ve just finished a fantastic week working as a remote Content Development Intern for Oxplore.”

When I first encountered Oxplore when applying for this internship I was struck by how exciting and useful a resource it is. When applying to university I selected Human Sciences primarily because of its interdisciplinary nature. I loved the idea of thinking about issues facing humanity from a holistic perspective drawing on lots of approaches. The Oxplore website would have been invaluable to me before my university application process.

Aura, Oxplore Intern

Over the past week I have created glossaries of complicated terms in the Big Questions ‘Do we see colour the same?’ and ‘Can Money Buy Happiness?’ I really enjoyed this task as it got me to think precisely about what certain terms like ‘objectivity’ mean. Examining concepts that I often take as given when writing an essay was both a stretching and satisfying intellectual endeavour.

I also produced a list-style article ‘Tales of an underwater world…’ for the ‘Should we put our Ocean first?’ Big Question. It was wonderful to delve back into my love of literature for this piece. I have always thought that literature can provide powerful insights into areas often delegated to “science”, such as the ocean. This task in particular reminded me of how much I relished my unusual combination of A level subjects: English literature, History and Biology. As much of the Oxplore website attests, these disciplines can go together much better than you might expect.

Along with a varied social media campaign, another piece of work I particularly enjoyed producing was a student reading list relating for the question ‘Can We End Poverty?’. Whilst I haven’t explicitly studied this topic in my degree, economic inequality seems to permeate many of the societal issues that I have grappled with. It was delightful to reflect on what made certain works on this topic so compelling and to share their merit with Oxplore’s readership.

Despite the challenges of this internship happening remotely, the Oxplore team made the virtual office environment a pleasure to work in. There was a general atmosphere of friendliness that made asking for help and feedback an ease. The regular communication and catch-ups each day really helped me feel like I was working as a part of team rather than on my own at home.

I hope that Oxplore’s reach continues to grow in the future. Now that more and more outreach events will have to move online, Oxplore is an even more important resource than ever. Getting people as young as age 11 to think about complex important ideas in a nuanced way is a stellar achievement. The young people engaging with the Big Questions will be primed for not only university study at a place like Oxford, but for doing good in the world afterwards.

Aura created a new resource for Oxplore’s upcoming Big Question on the ocean which looked at the representation of the sea in literature and film.

I’m Jack – a student of History and Economics at St Hilda’s College, just about to start my second year. Last week I was lucky to have the opportunity to work with the team at Oxplore as a Content Development Micro-Intern. I got to produce a whole range of content for social media and the Oxplore website, working in the are of access and outreach which I really care about”.

As someone who remembers attending an Oxplore outreach session at the Seren Network Conference in December 2017, I was excited to get to work with Oxplore and learn how they create their content on this micro-internship. After the long vacation away from the university, it was also a nice way to get back into thinking academically and researching. I learnt a lot about how to work remotely, and how so many people are still doing that even as schools and universities reopen.

Jack, Oxplore Intern

I was really welcomed by the team at Oxplore, and they told me a lot about their own work as well as what I needed to be doing. Producing content for Oxplore is a really fun process, but at the same time a lot goes into it. I was really impressed by how content for the website is linked to areas where academics are doing interdisciplinary research, and how much the articles for Oxplore are informed by the thinking of academics.

In creating a set of social media posts to promote a future big question, I think I learnt a lot about how careful social media planning is to be aware of differences between platforms, target audiences and the context online. It was also quite a creative experience. Making glossaries and a reading list for existing big questions was probably the most fun activity, because I had to think about what would be suitable for pupils aged 11 to 18 and what I used to enjoy reading. Making a video of my response to a big question was a very different challenge, and something I am not really used to, but it was really fun to plan how to set it up and how to respond to the topic.

Over the course of the remote micro internship, I learnt lots about working remotely, like the importance of time away from the desk, of posture and of continuous communications. Given that university will be more remote next term and some of the working changes after coronavirus look like lasting a long time, this was all very useful to me. Although the remote micro internship worked very well, and much better that I expected, I still think I would have preferred to have worked in person this week were it not for coronavirus.

To take a peek at Jack and Aura’s reading lists click here and here.

Oxplore in a Box!

Calling all teachers, we have a gift for you! Since we can’t bring our Big Question workshops into schools right now, we’ve created ‘Oxplore in a box’ – everything you need to deliver your own #oxplore session in one easy download. Click here for a workshop presentation plus worksheets and resource cards: bit.ly/Oxplore1 If you are a parent or student reading this, we have also included guidance in the presentation notes on how you can adapt the activities to support learning at home.
Wrapped present

Homeschooling? Tips on how to get started with Oxplore!

Are you looking to stretch and challenge the curious young minds in your life? In need of homeschooling inspiration? Then Oxplore is here for you!

We’ve made a handy activity sheet that will help you get started with Oxplore. All of our content is free and informed by the latest research from the University of Oxford. Click the link to download: http://bit.ly/OxploreActivities.

Below are the ideas included in the activity sheet with a bit more contextual information. For example, each of the short tasks are designed to help children practise learning and research skills which are valued in a range of subjects. Look out for the ‘Good practice for’ sections below for more specific details about this.

  1. Watch your big ideas get bigger!

Visit oxplore.org and find a Big Question that intrigues you. Draw a thought bubble and write the question inside.

Around your thought bubble, jot down your first impressions. This could include:

  • what you already know about this topic
  • your opinion on the question
  • other views that could be taken

Look at the Big Question materials and add to your ideas. What have you learnt? Did anything surprise you? What would you like to learn more about? Could there be an interesting subject to study which is related to this topic? (Check out the ‘Take this further’ resource in the ‘Read more’ section for subject ideas).

Good practice for: summarising existing and new knowledge; considering multiple perspectives; challenging preconceptions; forming a balanced opinion.

  1. Cooking up a Big Question

Take a look through two or three of Oxplore’s Big Questions.

Create an ingredients list for a ‘perfect’ Big Question. If you’re feeling particularly creative you could write this in the style of a recipe e.g.

‘First stir in a range of ideas from different subjects… Next, spoon in a dollop of…’.

Once you’ve done this, try thinking up your own Big Question. Is there a topic that has always interested you? If you could ask a professor at a university like Oxford anything, what would you say? Look back at your recipe to make sure your question is suitably BIG! Click to send us your ideas.

Struggling for ideas, have a look at our word clouds and sample question formats to gain some inspiration.

To take this further, try completing our planning sheet to help you devise how you would go about finding answers to your Big Question:

Planning sheet

Good practice for: Identifying the codes and convention of a text; evaluating what makes a text effective; being playful and creative with language; identifying personal interests; suggesting new ideas adopting an existing format; creating a research plan.

  1. Sending Big Questions with love

Select a Big Question and learn more about a topic that interests you.

Take a postcard-size piece of paper. On one side, write down some of the key points made in the question and what it has made you think e.g.

‘Dear…, today I learnt about…. Some people argue that… while others suggest… Something that surprised me is… Overall, I think that…

Postcards are short texts, so make your points as concisely as you can.

On the other side, create an artistic representation of the question. You could write down the question itself or add drawings which relate to the topics covered. Get creative!

Maybe you could send your postcard to a friend. Remember to include our url – oxplore.org – so they know where to look!

Good practice for: Summarising ideas; writing concisely; adopting the codes and conventions of a particular text (i.e. a postcard); expressing ideas artistically and through a different medium.

  1. What’s the BIG idea?

While browsing the homepage, you may have noticed that we’ve grouped our Big Questions into themes. To do this activity you’ll need to close your eyes to this! No peeping!

Scroll past the first 3 sections of the homepage until the Big Questions appear randomly in grids that look like this:


Try to categorise the Big Questions you see using your own themes. Aim for 5-8 themes in total. Were there any questions that sat in more than one group or were really tricky to sort? Jot down your findings.

Good practice for: Making connections between ideas; categorising content; recording and explaining observations.

Keeping in touch

We’d love to hear how you’re using our resources and engaging with our Big Questions.

Stay in touch via @Letsoxplore on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Ask us a question: oxplore@admin.ox.ac.uk



Would you like to join us for an #OxploreAdventure?

In the next few weeks, the Oxplore team will be posting mini-challenges for 11-18 year olds to complete using oxplore.org. Each activity will give students the opportunity to practise key skills used in university study  such as building an argument, summarising information, and producing a creative response to a source.

To be in with a chance to win a personalised video response to a Big Question from an Oxford academic, we’ll be encouraging students to send in a photo of their completed work via @letsoxplore (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram) or oxplore@admin.ox.ac.uk.

Keep an eye out on this blog and our social media channels for details of our #OxploreAdventure challenges…

Thoughts from our interns…part two

I’m Freya, a second year student at Pembroke College studying English Language and Literature. Last week, I was lucky enough to be offered the chance to work with the Oxplore team as a Content Development Intern. I have worked with Oxford outreach programmes before, and I think that it’s really important to bring people together, and education is a great way to do it! It just so happened that last week coincided with a certain outreach event: the Oxford versus Cambridge Varsity rugby match.

Excited that we finally found the stadium!

As a person whose understanding of sport is limited –- to say the least –- I definitely wasn’t expecting to have as much fun as we did. The Twickenham stadium is massive, but the rugby players weren’t daunted at all. The crowd consisted of school trips from all year groups, Oxbridge students and overly-invested dads! It was a very sociable atmosphere, and I felt like I learnt a lot about the power of sport to bring people together.

Lauren, the other Oxplore intern, was very concerned that we would be running our outreach event from the middle of the pitch, kind of like Beyonce at her Super Bowl performance. Luckily, we had a separate event room to run the Oxplore event. The event was held to around 200 students at a time, and we teamed up with about 10 student ambassadors to run the event. Our job was not just to help the leaders of the event, but to try and have a proper chat with the students and get the discussion flowing.

Firstly, we explained what Oxplore was and asked them to think about what a Big Question is. Then we asked them to consider the big question ‘Should celebrities influence you more than your parents?’ I had some really interesting conversations with students who pointed out that they probably spend more time on social media –- and celebrity ‘influencers’ — than with their parents. This led to real engagement with the question, and I thought it was great that these Big Questions have such personal implications and make you re-examine elements of your own life.

This has certainly happened for me too. In creating the new glossaries for Oxplore questions such as ‘Are humans ruining the Earth?’ and ‘Would you pay everyone the same’?, has made me really delve into the key ideas that these questions bring up. Trying to define the key terms has also made me re-evaluate my own knowledge of these things and led to a deeper understanding of these questions.

Overall, I want to thank the Oxplore team for welcoming me in so enthusiastically, and for the work they do for creating such an engaging and accessible platform. I learnt a lot over my week as an Oxplore intern – not just the rules of rugby!

Thoughts from our interns…part one

I’m Lauren – a third year Music student at Oriel College. Last week I was lucky to be offered the chance to work with the Oxplore team as a Content Development Intern, as well as helping at an outreach event at the Oxford vs Cambridge Varsity rugby match.

Despite the somewhat dismal weather and the unfortunate (if you’re supporting Oxford, at least) defeat of both the Oxford womens’ and mens’ rugby teams to Cambridge, Twickenham proved to be an extremely enjoyable and rewarding day. This was because of the Varsity outreach event where Y10-Y12 students came to hear about Oxplore and get a taste of university-level thinking. The workshop was led by the Oxplore team, with support from colleagues and Oxford Student Ambassadors, as well as Freya (another fellow Oxplore intern) and I.

Although the Varsity rugby match is a massive event, the hard work of the whole team from Oxford meant that the outreach sessions ran smoothly. I really enjoyed chatting to the students who were taking part and I was so impressed by their willingness to get involved with thinking more deeply about some of Oxplore’s Big Questions such as ‘Should celebrities influence you more than your parents?’ Many of the students came up with their own Big Questions too such as ‘how can social movements lead to changing laws?’ and ‘if there is a God, who created him?’…we had some fascinating discussions.

My experience last week reinforced my belief that Outreach work is hugely important. It helps present real student experiences of Oxford, give a flavour of what it is like to study here, and provide young people with all the relevant information they need should they decide to apply to Oxford. Coming from a state school in a small town where Oxbridge is not really on anyone’s radar, I know that University outreach events like last week’s Varsity Rugby are valuable. This is because they show a completely different — and more positive — side to Oxford, compared to what I had previously imagined, and I have had the best time studying here so far!

I think Oxplore is a fantastic resource: it’s completely free to use, it’s fun and creative, but it also sparks intellectual curiosity, engaging 11-18 year olds with ideas and debates that go beyond the classroom. During my internship, I worked on a range of tasks such as social media strategy and developing new glossaries which explain key concepts in Big Questions such as ‘Does music matter?’ and ‘Should everyone speak the same language?’ Plus, I spent time researching the question ‘Do we stay the same from birth?’ in order to compile a reading list of further resources (books, podcasts and videos). It was interesting to learn how each Big Question is planned (with input from academics from a range of disciplines) as well as how the website is put together and marketed. What has struck me the most, however, has been how passionate everyone is about widening access to Oxford – this has made it a hugely rewarding project to be involved in. The trip to Twickenham was an added bonus!

Oxplore workshop materials coming your way!

An Oxplore workshop can take many different forms and it can be great fun getting creative with your classes/school groups! To help get you started, here are some free, printable materials with supporting slides that you might like to use with your students…

Firstly, we have ‘How to answer a Big Question’ which gives students the opportunity to create their own questions and plan how they might go about addressing these in a critical and balanced way.

Secondly, we’re excited to share our newly-created workshop focused on the Big Question, ‘Is it OK to ban certain books?’ which uses Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ as a case study.

Ban books graphic

Please feel free to download, edit, share and use these materials with your students. If you have any questions about any of the resources, please don’t hesitate to ask via oxplore@admin.ox.ac.uk. Likewise, if you have your own Oxplore workshop/teaching materials that would be happy to share with others, please let us know and we’d be delighted to share them on your behalf.

Happy Oxploring!

Thoughts from our intern…

charlotte1I’m Charlotte, and I’ve just finished my first year studying English at Brasenose College. I was lucky enough to get the chance to work with Oxplore for three weeks in June and July as their summer intern—here’s my thoughts on what the experience has meant to me, personally as well as professionally.

As someone who has both benefitted from and volunteered at access and outreach events, I was so excited to be able to carry on this work when I was offered my three-week summer internship with Oxplore.

Coming straight from the stressful exam season, it was wonderful to be able to throw myself into something different, creative and most of all, fun! The team put me at ease from the start, and allowed me to be involved with a range of tasks and events, which really helped me to understand the work that goes into widening access to Oxford. Some days were spent in the University Offices, writing engaging and accessible content for the Oxplore website—my favourite of these was for the upcoming Big Question, ‘Is school the best place to learn?’ It involves a list of Top 10 Best and Worst Fictional Teachers, and, for an English student, it was an absolute dream!


The digital aspect of Oxplore was, I must admit, a concern of mine before I began the internship, as I’ve never been the most proficient with technology! However, I soon got the hang of the different programmes and really enjoyed using my creativity to come up with interesting videos and images for the site. This digital element is so important to the future of widening access beyond areas local to Oxford, and I know that I would have been grateful for a resource like Oxplore when I was in secondary school. Due to this internship, I have become more aware of the importance of reaching students at a younger age, and of ensuring a positive, more accurate presentation of Oxford and its people is accessible to everyone, regardless of background.

The internship also allowed me to develop skills outside of the office, including attending video shoots and assisting with outreach activities such as the Undergraduate Open Days and the Target Oxbridge residential. This really helped to cement my passion for access and outreach—I get so much satisfaction from helping young people to overcome the barriers to Oxford I would not have overcome if it weren’t for events like these. Taking an active role in public-facing activities, along with the responsibilities I was given in the office, pushed me out of my comfort zone and helped me to grow my confidence, something which has been—and still is—an important personal goal.

Who uses Oxplore? A top-level view for the school year

At Oxplore, we’re using website analytics alongside other evaluation techniques to gain an insight into the impact the site is having. From a very top level, what can it tell us? The end of the 2018/19 school year seems like a good time to check it out. These observations are based only on our UK users from 1 September 2018 until 21 July 2019. There were 76,778 of them!

UK traffic really starts picking up from 8:00am and remains fairly constant throughout the day before tailing off between 9.00pm and 10.00pm. It is slightly higher during school hours, with the highest numbers at 10.00am and 1.00pm (maybe break and lunchtime?).

More users access the site on mobile and tablet devices (53.09%) compared to desktop computers (46.91%). Mobiles and desktops are much more common than tablets overall. Interestingly, PC use is highest during school hours but drops significantly in the evening, while mobile use is highest in the evening and lower during school hours.

Mobile usage by the hour

Desktop usage by the hour

Our users come overwhelmingly from organic search (69%) – but the search terms relate specifically to the site name, suggesting the majority of users are using search engines as tools to navigate the web. Who needs an address bar?! The next biggest source is people coming direct to oxplore.org and we also get a large number through referrals. The biggest referrer is the University of Oxford’s own website, but there are 302 other referrers, many of which are school’s own VLEs or websites.

mapWithin the UK, our biggest location is unsurprisingly London, but we’ve recorded visits from 882 different locations within the UK. The most northern is Lerwick in the Sherland Islands, the most eastern is Great Yarmouth in Norfolk, the most southern is Penzance in Cornwall and the most eastern is Derry in Northern Ireland.

The average length of time spent on the site by a UK-based user is 3 minutes and 7 seconds. Over 26,500 UK-based users stay on the site for longer than 1 minute (which we use as a benchmark for recording our users on HEAT) – and those in the >1 minute group actually average 9 minutes and 30 seconds. That is plenty of time to delve into our quizzes, articles and videos. We have recorded 119 users who spent over 30 minutes on the site in one go – which is probably longer than I’ve spent on any website!

Oxplore at the Oxford and Cambridge Student Conferences 2019

Oxplore was represented at the Oxford and Cambridge Student Conferences this March – these are designed as travelling open days and offer a great chance for us to meet with large numbers of students and their teachers. Oxplore was represented at many of the events by second-year Geographer, Ben Farmer. We asked him to tell us more about his time meeting students in Swansea, Birmingham, Liverpool and Newcastle:

benfarmerIn March I got a chance to take Oxplore on the road as part of the Oxford and Cambridge Student Conferences. This is an annual series of events across the UK for Year 12 students to come along and hear about uni life at Oxford and Cambridge and how to apply. The Oxplore team including Olly the Otter came along to show teachers and students what Oxplore is all about!

I enjoyed showing students the website and explaining how it could be useful in choosing what subject to study at uni as well as expanding beyond what they’re taught at school. Each day would be a different region and range of students to discover Oxplore. We facilitated a range of debates across the day at the Oxplore stand discussing topics from across Oxplore’s incredible 50 Big Questions. Top highlights included ‘Should we pay everyone the same?’, ‘Does the truth exist?’ And ‘Should we clone humans?’

I really enjoyed the chance to show students Oxplore and use content from the website to start random discussions on an array of topics with a variety of suggestions from students which had me contemplating plenty of Oxplore’s big questions on the train home.

Some of my favourite discussions were around ‘Should healthcare be free?’ including over whether healthcare was a human right, how it should be funded and what happens if someone requires really expensive treatment. ‘Should under 18s be allowed to vote?’ also had plenty of interest with students I spoke to pointing to the current political situation alongside existing opportunities for under 18s like driving or joining the army as top reasons to allow them to vote. Some of the most memorable discussions on this question involved whether we should ‘stop older people voting’ or ‘devise a test before people can vote,’ plenty of controversial ideas that are perhaps worth considering…!

It was also interesting to hear from both teachers and students who are already using Oxplore at school or as an after-school activity. They provided some fab feedback about their favourite big question and what they’d like to see on the Oxplore website. If you’ve got any ideas then do get in touch!

The Oxplore otter and Cam-guru