Since the beginning of the project, the team has been keen to pinpoint what exactly makes a question big and truly engaging to our target audience. Discussions with our original user consultation group combined with findings from the most recent pilot and data analytics have contributed to our understanding of this. Likewise, entries to our Big Question competition have given us a flavour of the range of topics which appeal to young people. Here’s a whistle-stop tour of what we’ve found…
Topics which are not traditionally covered in the classroom generally tended to attract longer visits from students on the site (e.g. do guns hurt more people than they protect?). Interestingly, this supports Oxplore’s aim to go beyond what’s learnt in school and engage students with subjects and debates they might not have ever considered before.
The weird and the wonderful – which included time travel, aliens and ghosts- cropped up time and time again in the competition entries, and in the top rated and viewed lists suggesting that teens are intrigued by some of the world’s big mysteries which test human understanding. No pressure for our academics and content developers then :)!
The morbidly curious topics such as ‘is the death penalty ok?’ seemed popular with the age group. Perhaps again because this is not likely to covered by their teachers. A couple of competition entries also indicated an interest in what happens after death with a particularly interesting entry being: ‘what happens after we die, do we wake up?’
Topics linked to power and truth fared well (e.g. can we live without laws? Should under 18’s be allowed to vote? Should you believe the history books?) Perhaps this relates to how young people are often presented with little choice but at the same time overwhelmed with vast amounts of information from those around them (teachers, parents, their peers, the Internet etc.). In light of this, it may be difficult for them to decipher what is true and what is useful. Maybe envisioning a world where there could be more freedom is an exciting prospect?
The future was a hot topic (e.g. ‘would you want to live forever?’) and a repeated theme in the competition entries (e.g. ‘Should we colonise other planets in the future?’). This was not altogether surprising considering the young age of the target audience and how at school they are likely asked to consider what they want to do post-exams and beyond. Also with all the unrest shown in local and global news, the world must seem like a pretty unpredictable place right now – to your average teenager- who can see a host of upcoming unknowns.
So there it is- what makes an Oxplore question big and thought-provoking to an 11-18 year old? One which covers a topic that moves away from what’s learnt at school, one that’s mysterious and slightly unusual in nature, one which challenges the information they’re already exposed to, and one that allows them to dig deeper into future unknowns.
We now look towards our next pilot study which’ll focus on the user journey and try to extrapolate what it is that keeps a student engaged as they navigate through a big question. This will be incredibly useful to us as we continually try to develop our materials to make them relevant, informative and interesting for young people to venture through.