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



Micro-intern Develops Future Big Question

We continue to benefit from the Micro-internship programme offered through Career Services here at the University of Oxford.

This term we had Mick join us from Balliol College. During his time with us, he began the outline and recorded two interviews for a future big question (‘Is the internet bad?’), participated in a recording of the Sounds of South Asia live concert with the Faculty of Music, and much more.


Thoughts from the student…

Oxplore sees our intern as a precious resource to the work that we do and here is Mick’s reflections on his time with us.

Working as part of the Oxplore team in the past week has been an absolute dream. How cool is it to do something both intellectually interesting and socially meaningful? Very. My big question was “is the internet bad?” With this as anchor, I got to run with all my curiosities about the structure of the internet, its contributions to global progress but also inequalities, the deep ethical questions about psychological hacking, and the empathy-driven power of human-centred design. I believe my actual work tasks included: researching, writing, liaising with and interviewing academics – but my recall isn’t too clear because all of it was just a blur of fun to me. I believe that Oxplore is doing innovative work. It shows young minds the kind of work being done at a university, but also hopefully instils in them the self-belief that they are capable of higher-order curiosity-driven conceptual thinking as well. It also makes multidisciplinary learning of a complex issue the norm! . – Mick


Happy 50th Big Question!

Pupils take part in a discussion with an Oxford academic

It’s hard to believe that Oxplore now has 50 Big Questions to explore, discuss and debate!

To mark this milestone we embarked on our biggest collaboration yet, working with a student drama production, a college (Lady Margaret Hall) and the University’s Oxford for Oxford programme to create our 50th Big Question, Would you pay everyone the same?

On Thursday February 14, we invited 70 local state school pupils to help us celebrate with academic workshops, college tours and a special performance of the student musical “Made in Dagenham”, all tied into the issues of gender inequality and equal pay.

Pupils attend lectures and workshops as part of the 50th Big Question launch

Year 9 pupils from St Gregory the Great Catholic School, Year 10 pupils from The Oxford Academy and Year 12 pupils from Oxford Spires Academy joined us at 9am for a day of lively debate, activities and learning. The day began with a lecture from Dr Laura Paterson about the history behind the musical, exploring the Dagenham factory workers’ struggles to win equal pay. Pupils then broke into smaller groups for interactive sessions on the representation of women in theatre, feminist approaches to theatre and gender and economics in the Middle Ages – with plenty of lively discussion and even the opportunity to create some art based on Chaucer’s Wife of Bath.

Year 9 pupils created five-minute sketches and word maps based on Chaucer’s Wife of Bath

Next came the official launch of our 50th Big Question, with excited pupils, student ambassadors and outreach officers counting down to the question ‘going live’ at midday! 

After a fantastic lunch in Hall and a tour of the LMH grounds and facilities, pupils headed off to the Oxford Playhouse to finish the day by watching this term’s student musical production “Made in Dagenham”. They enjoyed seeing the issues that they’d learned about and debated throughout the day brought to life by the student performers, and when the actors issued the call to the audience to “stand up” if you believe in equal pay we saw lots of young people jumping to their feet!

The pupils’ visit was supported by the Oxford for Oxford Project, one of the University’s Access initiatives. Oxford for Oxford co-ordinator Vanessa Worthington says:

“I had a wonderful time meeting with the students and teachers of Oxford Academy, Oxford Spires and St Gregory the Great. The lecture and workshops really hit the mark with the students and some very interesting and engaging discussions were had.”

“Made in Dagenham” crew member and Lady Margaret Hall JCR Outreach Officer Laura Wilsmore added that

“We’ve been working with Oxplore and Oxford for Oxford to approach local state schools to get them to come and engage in the new 50th Big Question which we’ve worked on together… I want to show that Oxford doesn’t really have a “type”, it can be for anyone”.

As the content lead for Oxplore, I’ve particularly enjoyed working with current Oxford students to create this Big Question. The cast and crew of Four Seven Two Productions, the student theatre company behind “Made in Dagenham”, created several videos with us and the production’s Outreach Assistant Oliva Webster wrote an article on the history of the Dagenham strikes that now forms part of the Big Question. Meanwhile our winter micro-interns Shona, Daanial and Gabrielle created quizzes, image galleries and articles as well as several more videos featuring academics and fellow students. I’ve been interested to see that equal pay is still very much a ‘live issue’ both for current Oxford students and Oxplore users.

We’d like to thank all our collaborators, as well as the teachers and pupils whose enthusiasm made the day a fantastic experience!

Micro-interns are mega productive!

Oxplore continues to expand our student voice through the University of Oxford’s Micro-internship Programme. In December, we hosted three students (Gabrielle, Shona, and Daanial) from differing disciplines who came together to create web and social media content that will soon be available online.

Meet the micro-interns in this animation created by Gabrielle.

Gabrielle was our Video Development Assistant and visited a number of colleges and departments during her time with us. She filmed items for an upcoming Oxplore marketing campaign, student videos for our Instagram, and developed a number of animations.

Shona and Daanial were our Content Development Assistants for the week. They worked diligently on our upcoming January big question (Would you pay everyone the same?) finding resources and articles for it and even recording two video interviews with Oxford University academics.

Thoughts from the students…

Oxplore sees these interns as an invaluable resource and here are their reflections on their time with us.

I have had a very enjoyable week working as a micro intern at Oxplore. The best bits include interviewing academics and discussing the topic of ‘Would you pay everyone the same?’. These discussions have definitely redefined how I view certain topics, and it is clear to see how Oxplore will spark discussions across the country. The internship has allowed me to develop skills in video creation and editing, and it is clear to see the benefits that the content I created will have for students looking at the website. It was wonderful also, knowing that the output, discussions, and tasks I was undertaking were all in aid of a wider goal of widening access and participation. The internship is something I have certainly valued doing, and the experiences and opportunities gained here have been unparalleled. I believe that Oxplore makes a genuine impact and am grateful to have been a part of developing the Big Questions and being part of the team. – Daanial


This micro-internship has been an immensely rewarding experience for me and has enabled me to develop many new skills that will help me in future communications, marketing and/or outreach positions. It was exciting to have so much freedom over our project and to receive such a positive response from academics at the university when contacted for an interview about their research. The two interviews we conducted with academic staff were a definite highlight for me, as I gained first-hand insight into cutting-edge research and opinion and learned more about other faculties in the university. Using video and audio editing software has been fascinating and enriched my understanding of the process of content creation. Filming for an Oxplore YouTube video with so much creative license over our storyboard and content felt liberating and satisfying as I feel we were able to incorporate lots of our own personality into the clips. I’ve engaged with lots of new people this week, who I hope to continue conversations with over projects lined up as part of my role as President of Oxford First-Gen for this year. It’s also been immeasurably helpful to better understand the inner workings of central university Widening Participation efforts. I definitely think I’ve gained a lot personally from this week, but it’s also fantastic to feel that our efforts will have a positive impact on improving access for prospective applicants in future. – Shona


I have had a fantastic time combining my passion for filmmaking with my dedication to access and outreach while producing fun and accessible videos for Oxplore’s ‘Big Questions’ during my micro-internship. The opportunity to interview students and academics at Oxford, as well as the chance to use professional quality video equipment, has helped me to develop production and editing skills that I will hopefully use in my future career in TV and Film production. Hearing the opinions of amazing individuals at Oxford on questions such as ‘Should We Eat Animals?’ and ‘Could We End Poverty?’ has shown me the benefits of lateral thinking – we can learn so much about the world by approaching topics from diverse academic (and personal) stand-points. A particular highlight of the week for me was learning how to use animation software to create videos which fit the Oxplore house style. I have thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to explore big academic questions in new and engaging ways and I hope you will be just as fascinated with our approach to the big question launching in January – ‘Would You Pay Everyone the Same?’ – Gabrielle


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