Looking towards Teachers

Oxplore is all about Big Questions,  so it’s probably no surprise that one of the biggest questions asked at the University of Oxford is: “How do we improve outcomes for more of our young people?”.

In this post, I’ll be looking at why I’ve been asked to work with teachers to find ways to turn up the level of impact in our work of Widening Access and Participation.

mixing desk
Photo from https://unsplash.com/@willyin

It’s been a year since Oxplore launched, and it’s a been a  great success in terms of online engagement from students and schools. But the work of the Widening Access and Participation team has a long way to go, and it makes sense to look at other audiences we could work with.

I am new to the team, and to the work of the University and it is hard not to be drawn into the statistics and narratives around the lack of diversity at Oxbridge. These issues have been discussed with humour and the collective smarts of 4 Cambridge Grads, especially in this episode of the fantastic Over the Bridge podcast.

There are so many possible levers and interventions that could change the lives of young people and, perhaps bring more of them to the University of Oxford – and there are many wonderful projects making a difference (UNIQ, TargetOxbridge).  Oxplore, like so many of these initiatives, looks to shift the perspective of young people

However, teachers and other trusted adults in the lives of children have the opportunity to have a greater impact, earlier. Changing behaviours, expectations and opening opportunities with teachers, from KS2 upwards, should have a sustained and greater effect. Or at least, that’s our hypothesis – that we are going to test and evaluate.

SO, I’ll be spending the next few months visiting schools, talking to teachers and school leaders, looking for how we could best complement Oxplore; with a digital  platform for educators.

I’ll be asking questions here – and, hopefully asking for your help.

If you’d like to be involved, please watch this space, and the @Oxplore Twitter feed



Oxford Big Question Challenge – for UG and Taught PG Students


***Entries have now closed for the Oxplore Big Question Challenge –

Those who entered will be contacted shortly if they have won top prize or have been selected as one of the runners-up.***

At Oxplore, we strive to inspire 11-to-18-year-olds to think and explore beyond their school curriculum, and we need your help! This competition is open to all current Oxford undergraduate and taught postgraduate students from any discipline.

Propose your ideas for a new ‘Big Question’ for Oxplore with some recommended reading resources. The ideal Big Question will fascinate young people whilst being broad enough to accommodate different arguments and disciplines (you can see examples at www.oxplore.org).

The best idea will not only win you £75 to spend at Westgate Oxford, but also the opportunity to see it produced and included on the Oxplore site. With five runners-up prizes of a £25 voucher each, there’s nothing to lose.

Entries will close on Sunday 28th October at 11:59pm – Sunday of 4th week.


Continue reading Oxford Big Question Challenge – for UG and Taught PG Students

Engaging young people through digital learning – Oxford Thinking insight

The team were delighted to be featured in the latest issue of Quad – Oxford’s new alumni magazine – and on the Oxford Thinking webpages. We know that the University’s alumni community are keen to see the University making progress on widening access (including the First Gen alumni and the Black Oxford Alumni). Without a donation from an Oxford alumnus, Oxplore would not exist!

‘We’re certain that it’s totally innovative, and we haven’t seen anything like it elsewhere on the web,’ explains Dr Alex Pryce, from Oxford’s Undergraduate Admissions and Outreach team. For two years, Dr Pryce has been working with colleagues from all corners of the University to develop Oxplore, an initiative aimed at engaging young people and potential applicants through digital learning.

Read more on the Oxford Thinking website…

Photo by John Cairns

Interns continue to make a difference!

Oxplore has been expanding our student voice through more ideas and content generated by our fantastic interns! The University of Oxford Careers Service programmes means we were able to recently host three micro interns (Georgina, Serena, and Laura) for one week and had another intern (Mia) for four weeks. Each of them contributed greatly to our ongoing development.

Our three micro interns were quickly organising, producing, and then filming a discussion about a Big Question by their fifth and final day with us. They did an incredible job and you can watch the clip on ‘Is falling in love bad for you?’ here.

Not only did they complete a superb video, but they also enhanced our content with additional resources. Georgina, Serena, and Laura created reading lists for the questions ‘Does Race Matter?’, ‘Should You Ever Fall for a Chat-up Line?’, and ‘Should You Have To Be British To Live in Britain?’

Laura also planned our forthcoming undergraduate competition (watch this space in Michaelmas) while Serena and Georgina collaborated on plans for a new Big Question for the site.

Finally, we’ve been fortunate to have Mia as our intern for a number of weeks this summer. She’s helped with drafting a future blog post for NACE, contributed a reading list for the question ‘Does Fake News Matter?’, and she shot, edited, and created the social media plan for a video that gives you a tour of both Balliol College and the Mathematical Institute, while answering the question, ‘Does Truth Exist?’ with Maths student Jamie.

Thoughts from the students…

We were extremely privileged to have had the opportunity to work with these students and here are some of the reflections that they shared with us about their experiences with Oxplore.

As someone with a passion for access and outreach being able to use my creative skills to develop work for the Oxplore website has been really rewarding. I liked the variety of tasks I was able to undertake, working both in the Undergraduate Admissions Office as well as going to the Music Faculty to speak to Professors. Developing the mini-podcast was a particular highlight for me and I have learnt a lot about sound editing, something I wasn’t familiar with before at all. Interviewing academics for the podcast has made me more interested in communications, journalism and excited about the possibilities of digital outreach. – Georgina


Being entrusted with developing the competition really excited me, as I felt that I learned how to create and shape everyone’s ideas into something new and usable. It was encouraging to feel that I had been trusted to make decisions, from the prizes to the graphics. The week flew by, as it developed from marketing ideas and possible prizes into a fully mapped out plan that is (nearly!) ready to go. I have learned so many new things about marketing this week, from writing an extensive print brief, dissemination plan and Gantt chart – and I’ve had a lot of fun getting to learn how to use the photo editing software for the first time. The skills I have used will very soon come into use as I manage the marketing for an Oxford Playhouse musical in January and hopefully in my future career in marketing or outreach work. – Laura


I have had a wonderful week working as a micro-intern for Oxplore and feel proud to have contributed and created content for such an engaging and interesting website. Oxplore may be aimed at 11-18 year olds, but in both browsing the website’s previous questions and creating resources for our new one, ‘Does Music Matter?’ I feel like I have learnt a lot and will definitely be returning to the website to explore it more. The five days flew by – it’s hard to believe that we fit so much into five days, starting with brainstorming and planning and then finding and creating most of the content needed, including videos, articles, quizzes and podcasts. Recording and editing audio files is something that I hadn’t done since GCSE so it was great to work with audio-editing programmes again and regain some of the skills. It was also great to get to know more about the access and outreach department in case I decide to pursue more outreach work in the future. – Serena


What this internship has taught me above all is the value of online access; its potential to reach young people differently to in-person outreach, but no less powerfully; and the ways we can go about trying to build meaningful content. The Oxplore team came up with a brilliant itinerary for me in which I was able to explore loads of different aspects of a digital outreach job: from writing content, to storyboarding, to filming and editing, and more. I’ve been so grateful that the team have provided me with huge amounts of support, but have also challenged me to develop new skills – for example, the planning and execution of a video for the Oxplore YouTube and site was something completely new to me, but has turned out really well. The control I’ve been able to have over my ideas has given me the confidence to have more of them: I’ve learnt that digital outreach requires a lot of creative thinking, and the team’s trust in me to produce content has made this feel less like an internship and more like being an equal partner in an exciting project. – Mia

Micro interns with macro impact!

The Oxplore team were lucky enough to be joined by three fantastic Oxford University undergraduate students on ‘micro-internships’. These shorter placements are organised by the Internship Office at Oxford University and offer applicants the chance to contribute to a project within a team for a week at the end of term.

We were hugely impressed with the quality, breadth and depth of the work they each produced. Being such a small team, we were able to vastly increase the scope of our project for the week which had a direct and positive impact upon audience reach and engagement.

One of our interns, Molly, focused on creating new digital content for our upcoming Big Question on mental health. She independently organised, filmed and edited a series of short interviews with undergraduate students. Within the videos, students gave their top self-care tips on looking after their personal wellbeing, and they explained on what the concept of mental health meant to them.

Our other two interns, Olivia and Jessy (pictured below), were tasked with organising a Facebook live stream in a week! They approached this daunting prospect with calm professionalism, and pulled together three excellent speakers to discuss and debate the Big Question ‘Should we believe the history books?’

Check out the video here! 


Thoughts from the students

We asked each of the interns to write a reflection on the week that they spent with us- we were thrilled to hear that they all found it useful and enjoyed being a part of the team. We are very grateful for the enthusiasm and energy that they brought to the role, and wish them all the very best in their future careers!

I found my week at Oxplore really exciting and insightful. It was lovely to work in the office alongside so many dedicated people on such a thought provoking and clever piece of Outreach work. One element that I really enjoyed was the freedom of seeing a project through from start to finish. Being able to dedicate the whole week to the live stream and pick our chosen question, create the promotional content and guide the academic discussion gave me lots of new skills in organisation and planning. I particularly enjoyed making the trailer for our live stream and it has encouraged me to put more time into video editing. Now I’ve learned what it is like to focus on outreach full time and how closely intertwined this is with video production and social media, it has shown me that two of my pre-existing interests can meld really well together. I will definitely be getting involved with more work like this in the future – Olivia.


My week with Oxplore has been amazing! I’ve really enjoyed learning more about this platform and the University’s widening participation schemes. It’s been so beneficial to have the opportunity to plan a live stream outreach event from scratch; from choosing the question, thinking ourselves about how we would tackle the question, to gaining skills in event management by finding relevant academics and locations, as well as having to film, edit, and promote videos for the site. This microinternship has been fantastic because of all the different skills involved and subsequently all the experience gained in just 5 days! I hope to use these skills to take digital widening participation back to my College to ensure opportunities are there for students and schools that can’t make it to Oxford for a visit and equally to put a more academic-spin on access. Also, I’ve really loved working full time in outreach every day and hope to be able to do this once I graduate – Jessy.


I have found my week as a micro-intern for Oxplore incredibly interesting and insightful. My passion for creating videos was always merely a hobby, and so I am really thankful for the opportunity to pour all my energy into producing these three videos without any other priorities and distractions. I have learnt about using professional video editing software like After Effects, been taught about different lighting techniques, and discovered what it is like to produce videos as a group. It has been really informative to see what producing videos is like in a professional environment. This experience has encouraged me to pursue more professional opportunities in video production and further develop my own skills in video editing software – Molly. 



How schools are using Oxplore

While Oxplore can and is being used outside of school hours by independent users, encouragement from teachers and use within the classroom can be really instrumental in leading learners to our materials. We can see from our analytics on site use that for UK users, the site is marginally busier between 9am and 3pm – and within those hours it is fairly sustained and consistent use at all times throughout the school day.

We’ve interacted with many teachers in person and online who are excited by the ways they can use the site with their students. We’ve been really inspired by their creative approach to using Oxplore in their schools! Here are just some of the things we’ve heard about already:

Oxplore clubs

This has been a really pleasant surprise for the Oxplore team. We’ve heard that enterprising teachers have set up lunchtime or after school Oxplore clubs for their students. The first we heard about was in Southborough High School, but there are several now dotted across the country. We’ve recently heard that Christ Church College’s Schools Liaison Officer is using them as part of a sustained contact programme with 5 schools in one of their link regions. The clubs take the Big Questions as a starting point for debate and discussion both within individual year groups and across different year groups – making them an excellent space for peer-to-peer learning as well as a variation from the conventional debate club. (Not all of these are called Oxplore clubs – one school calls it Philosopher’s Tea Party which is also pretty charming!)

oxplore club


Form time

Some schools are using Oxplore to replace ‘silent reading’ or other form time activities. This does depend on the class having access to either tablets or PCs, or on the teacher taking them through the learning journey. We think this is a great way to start the day! Sleepy Year 10s may disagree…

PSE/Gifted and Talented cohort stretch and challenge

There are many schools who have been in touch to say they are using Oxplore either to include stretch and challenge activities with the whole school through PSE classes to achieve school-wide learning objectives, or to particularly engage with cohorts of those identified by the school are more able/gifted and talented (however or whatever they might define this as). For some schools in our target areas, we recently mailed out some classroom exercises that could inform these – and judging by recent site use and registrations this is being used. Sometimes, we see a number of registrations or comments come through from a certain school in quick succession. Just this morning this happened with a school in Jersey – this afternoon it was Llanidloes in Wales.image2

University preparation

We know of at least one enterprising teacher at a school in Milton Keynes who is using Oxplore as part of a university preparation activity. We’ve been lucky enough to see the PowerPoint she created, but essentially Oxplore is a part of the Y11’s action plan to engage in super-curricular learning that might inform their personal statement or help with subject choice, as well as the basis of a small discussion task.

Oxplore live streams

We held our second school-targetted live stream on the 6 February and schools from across the UK tuned in for discussion and debate around the Big Question ‘Would it be better if we all spoke the same language?’. The classes watching were able to submit questions for the panel and enter a prize draw – and we were glad to hear that some schools were also using the classroom extension activities we designed with their groups either before or after the session. Others reported the discussion going on well after the stream ended! We’re hoping to run another of these in May – and these events will be interspersed with our evening live streams that young people can watch from home.


A BETTer day at work

Last week, part of the Oxplore team took some time away from the office to attend BETT at ExCel London. This multi-day expo brought together established companies and new educational technology start-ups for a series of talks, workshops and demos. As a relatively new project ourselves, we were keen to see the latest innovations and how others are using new technology to inform and inspire young people.

For both of us, it was our first visit to BETT and we were overwhelmed by the size of the exhibition area and the diversity of products and approaches on show. Unsurprisingly, Microsoft and Google had large stands, but there were a number of smaller gems including edtech start-ups from across the globe in various government-sponsored stands or tucked away at the corners!

In the exhibition area, we both noted the prevalence of STEM approaches (and in particular anything with a coding element, 3D printing or simple robotics). There were comparatively few Arts and Humanities innovations, except for some language learning apps and VR for experiencing historical times and places. We also didn’t find anything quite like Oxplore. Much of the focus was on encouraging creativity or monitoring progress, rather than stimulating critical thinking (so we aren’t out of the job just yet).

We attended several talks, of which the most interesting and relevant to Oxplore were one from Simon Nelson looking at the future of FutureLearn and the wider digital education offering for the HE sector, and how American teacher Steve Auslander uses the Skype in the Classroom interface to connect his class with experts and other classrooms across the globe.