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:
In 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!
Not another 2018 round-up?! As 2018 draws to a close, we wanted to mark just some of the activities the Oxplore team has been engaged in. Thanks to our users, followers and supporters for your ongoing enthusiasm and engagement this year.
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.
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:
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!)
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.
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.
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.
In December, the Oxplore team were invited to attend the Seren Network’s conference ‘Above and Beyond’. Seren is a network of regional hubs designed to support Wales’ brightest sixth formers achieve their academic potential, and the conference brought over 1000 of them to Newtown in Mid-Wales.
We delivered workshops with over 200 Year 12s, and enjoyed seeing how they responded to the tasks we set for them (creating, discussing and presenting their ideas for Big Questions). Being put on the spot – especially when you’ve been travelling in a coach since 6am – can be daunting! Their ideas were creative and their responses astute and considered. Joseff and Tamsin roamed the workshop rooms to challenge their assumptions, and at the end of the sessions the Welsh students submitted their own Questions to us to bring back to Oxford. We put them – all 275 of them – to the Director of Undergraduate Admissions who carefully considered them before choosing 4 to receive prizes from us….
Bringing the Oxplore concept from Oxford to Wales allows us to spend some time away from our desk and the ongoing task of developing new content and live streams. It also allows us to meet some of the young people we want to encourage to use the site. In our development, feedback was crucial, and even now we’re keen to test the ongoing appeal of the site. On this occasion, 95.2% of those surveyed said they would use oxplore.org after the session – and a modest (well, it was Christmas) increase in pageviews and visit duration from Welsh users bears this through into site usage.
And, since then, we’ve been working on our next batch of content, building partnerships across the University, launching a programme of live stream events, working with the Seren Network and The Brilliant Club for a large student event in Wales, and launched the various strands of our digital and traditional marketing.
So, in the last year we’ve gone from 0 site users to over 25,000 site users. We’ve gone from 0 Big Questions to 36 Big Questions. Most importantly, we’ve gone from a concept to a dynamic and multi-faceted project.
2017 has certainly been pretty thrilling. We’re all hoping 2018 is just as exciting.