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 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 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


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