All posts by sarahwilkinox

The Oxplore Big Question Challenge!

Want to share your research, inspire young people and have the chance to win a £50 Amazon voucher?

We’re looking for your idea for an engaging Big Question designed to fascinate 11-18 year olds, plus a resource (article, podcast, video, animation, multiple choice quiz, list-style article or image gallery) that you would be keen to create with Oxplore in Trinity Term 2018.

We welcome entries from current DPhil students and early career researchers from any discipline.

To enter, complete our entry form.

Entries must be received by Sunday 11 February 2018

What is Oxplore?

Oxplore is University of Oxford’s digital outreach portal. As the ‘Home of Big Questions’ it aims to engage those from 11 to 18 years old with debates and ideas that go beyond what is covered in the classroom. www.oxplore.org

Oxplore has been built and created by the University of Oxford for young people as part of our commitment to reaching the best students from every kind of background. The project is coordinated by the University’s Widening Access and Participation team which delivers outreach work with young people across the UK as part of Undergraduate Admissions and Outreach.

Our website includes Big Questions ranging from ‘Does a god exist?’ to ‘Is a robot a person?’. Each of these includes tackles complex ideas across a wide range of subjects and draws on the latest research undertaken at Oxford.

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What is the Oxplore Big Question Challenge?

We’re keen to inspire young people with the latest research happening at Oxford. Part of this means looking for ways to feature interesting approaches to big ideas on our website from our current DPhil students and early career researchers working in a range of disciplines.

This is where you come in! The best idea will not only win you £50 in Amazon vouchers but the opportunity to see it produced and included on the Oxplore site.

You’ll need to suggest a Big Question that can fascinate 11-18 year olds, and one learning resource that could accompany it. The question itself will need to be broad enough to accommodate different arguments and disciplines (you can see examples at www.oxplore.org).

The accompanying learning resource can be more specific to your research expertise but should still be creative and engaging. It could take the form of an article, podcast, video, animation, multiple choice quiz, list-style article or image gallery.

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How can I enter?

To enter, complete our entry form.

In the first instance, we will be simply asking you to propose your ideas rather than actually send across a finished resource.

How is this judged and when would I find out if I’ve been successful?

Your submission will be judged by a panel of university staff who work in Undergraduate Admissions and Outreach and regularly work with young people. The panel will also include an Access Fellow and the final decision will lie with the Senior Head of Outreach.

The panel will be looking for entries that not only showcase interesting and innovative research and perspectives but that have considered the intended audience and the fit with Oxplore’s existing content types and styles.

Shortlisted entries will be contacted in early March 2018 and will have their entries taken forward in discussion with the Oxplore team and with input from our registered users.

So what makes an engaging Big Question?

An Oxplore ‘Big Question’ is one that can bring in a wide range of disciplines, debates and ideas. It will likely cover areas that are not traditionally covered in the classroom and UK National Curriculum.

An engaging question will not be possible to solve with just one answer. It won’t have a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answer. Instead, it will be open to a range of diverse and global perspectives.

It may touch upon an area that thinkers in many disciplines have been debating for years and that still attracts interest today. In this sense, it is continually topical.

An effective big question suggestion will also try to tap into what young people find interesting. From our work with young people, we have found that they are particularly intrigued by ‘the weird and the wonderful’. Topics such as time travel and aliens have attracted interest suggesting they are intrigued by some of the world’s big mysteries and things which test human understanding.

Additionally, some of our most viewed big questions on the site include consideration of gun control and the death penalty indicating the appeal of morbidly curious topics. Just think about the popularity of the Horrible Histories series for example…

Lastly, show that young people are fascinated by questions linked to power and truth such as consideration of whether we can live without laws and whether history books are trustworthy. They also engage well with ideas about the future such as immortality, climate change and more. This is not altogether surprising considering how they are frequently asked to consider what they want to do in their lives.

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I have a question…

Feel free to email oxplore@admin.ox.ac.uk if you have any queries.

In the meantime, good luck and we very much look forward to reading about your ideas!

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Two, three, four heads are better than one

Here at Oxplore we’re always looking to collaborate with academics across the University since it’s their innovative research and insights that enhance the credibility and richness of our resources.

To date, we have generally asked academics to support Big Questions by contributing to articles and recording podcasts. And this has often been in collaboration with our own team (i.e. we speak to academics over the phone and collate the discussion into a written piece) to streamline the workload and time required of busy academic staff. We also have a panel of early career researchers who academically review the materials on the site and create new resources for us.

New stage, new ways

This model has worked really well. However, now that we have launched nationally and are in a new phase of planning, we’re exploring different ways of working with academics. This includes consulting with key academics to look over new resource plans to gain their insights as to how these could be extended further and how to include lesser-known topics. Not only do we benefit from the fresh perspectives academics offer, but this process also provides another layer of quality assurance for upcoming materials.

We’ve also started to work with academics and create resource plans together from scratch. For example, we are working closely with Dr Priya Atwal on our upcoming Big Question, ‘Do we need a royal family?’ This area lies within her research expertise on the royal family and empire, and so it’s been really valuable to gain her ideas and creative energy in designing this content.

Another way in which we are collaborating with academics is by working with existing interdisciplinary projects based at the University – sharing their materials and helping to create greater awareness of their work among our target audience. For example, we have teamed up with Professor Katrin Kohl who works on the AHRC-funded Creative Multilingualism project to develop our upcoming question: ‘Would it be better if we all spoke the same language?’

Creative multilingualism

Professor Kohl has helped shape and review our resource plans for this question, she has contributed to the main article and she has agreed to take part in our live stream event in February which will be centred on these materials. We’re also excited to be including some of the Creative Multilingualism audio recordings and videos on Oxplore. Plus, the Creative Multilingualism team are keen to use the finished resource in their work with schools, which will not only enhance awareness of both our projects but also Oxford’s outreach activities in general.

Reaching out to the Museums    

Since the start of Oxplore, we’ve been keen to work together with the University museums, gardens and libraries to share some of their beautiful collections and highlight their interesting projects. Much to our delight, we’ve been able to draw upon the collections for some of our homepage images. See some examples below:

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Additionally, when we were planning a Big Question about sexuality (‘Does it matter who you love?), we knew instantly that we wanted to try and involve the superb ‘Out in Oxford’ project which brings together items from the University collections that focus on LGBTQ+ experience. With permission from museum staff, we created two shortened trails for the Oxplore site using the original images and descriptions as provided by University staff and students. This served as a meaningful way to bring in a historical, anthropological and global perspective to the exploration of this topic.

The journey continues…

We’re always looking for new ways to include and work with academic staff. Next year we’re planning to run a competition whereby we invite early career researchers to share their research in an engaging way with our young target audience. If you’re an academic or work with academics and have a suggestion for how you would like to contribute to Oxplore, please do get in touch as it would be great to hear from you.

 

So what makes a big question big?

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 :)!

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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.

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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.