Category Archives: content

Micro interns with macro impact!

The Oxplore team were lucky enough to be joined by three fantastic Oxford University undergraduate students on ‘micro-internships’. These shorter placements are organised by the Internship Office at Oxford University and offer applicants the chance to contribute to a project within a team for a week at the end of term.

We were hugely impressed with the quality, breadth and depth of the work they each produced. Being such a small team, we were able to vastly increase the scope of our project for the week which had a direct and positive impact upon audience reach and engagement.

One of our interns, Molly, focused on creating new digital content for our upcoming Big Question on mental health. She independently organised, filmed and edited a series of short interviews with undergraduate students. Within the videos, students gave their top self-care tips on looking after their personal wellbeing, and they explained on what the concept of mental health meant to them.

Our other two interns, Olivia and Jessy (pictured below), were tasked with organising a Facebook live stream in a week! They approached this daunting prospect with calm professionalism, and pulled together three excellent speakers to discuss and debate the Big Question ‘Should we believe the history books?’

Check out the video here! 

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Thoughts from the students

We asked each of the interns to write a reflection on the week that they spent with us- we were thrilled to hear that they all found it useful and enjoyed being a part of the team. We are very grateful for the enthusiasm and energy that they brought to the role, and wish them all the very best in their future careers!

I found my week at Oxplore really exciting and insightful. It was lovely to work in the office alongside so many dedicated people on such a thought provoking and clever piece of Outreach work. One element that I really enjoyed was the freedom of seeing a project through from start to finish. Being able to dedicate the whole week to the live stream and pick our chosen question, create the promotional content and guide the academic discussion gave me lots of new skills in organisation and planning. I particularly enjoyed making the trailer for our live stream and it has encouraged me to put more time into video editing. Now I’ve learned what it is like to focus on outreach full time and how closely intertwined this is with video production and social media, it has shown me that two of my pre-existing interests can meld really well together. I will definitely be getting involved with more work like this in the future – Olivia.

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My week with Oxplore has been amazing! I’ve really enjoyed learning more about this platform and the University’s widening participation schemes. It’s been so beneficial to have the opportunity to plan a live stream outreach event from scratch; from choosing the question, thinking ourselves about how we would tackle the question, to gaining skills in event management by finding relevant academics and locations, as well as having to film, edit, and promote videos for the site. This microinternship has been fantastic because of all the different skills involved and subsequently all the experience gained in just 5 days! I hope to use these skills to take digital widening participation back to my College to ensure opportunities are there for students and schools that can’t make it to Oxford for a visit and equally to put a more academic-spin on access. Also, I’ve really loved working full time in outreach every day and hope to be able to do this once I graduate – Jessy.

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I have found my week as a micro-intern for Oxplore incredibly interesting and insightful. My passion for creating videos was always merely a hobby, and so I am really thankful for the opportunity to pour all my energy into producing these three videos without any other priorities and distractions. I have learnt about using professional video editing software like After Effects, been taught about different lighting techniques, and discovered what it is like to produce videos as a group. It has been really informative to see what producing videos is like in a professional environment. This experience has encouraged me to pursue more professional opportunities in video production and further develop my own skills in video editing software – Molly. 

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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!

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?’

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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.

 

Podcast ponderings

Rebecca Costello from the Oxplore team reflects on the use of audio content on Oxplore and the production process the team undertake.

One of the many things that makes Oxplore so innovative is our purpose-made audio content. Podcasts are commonly used as vehicles to impart engaging, accessible information to wide-reaching audiences, serving as a broad gateway into a topic, or offering the chance to delve that little bit deeper into a specific area.

In developing content for Oxplore, we were excited about harnessing the potential of this creative medium, and our podcasts offer a bespoke, focused perspective on many of our Big Questions. Often recorded in academics’ own offices, these resources can lift the lid on the wealth of cutting-edge research being carried out across the University of Oxford, providing fresh, contemporary perspectives and academic expertise.

Most recently, we’ve worked with Dr Alpa Parmar and Dr Julia Viebach from the Centre for Criminology; Dr Stephen Harris from Plant Sciences; Dr Ian Thompson, from the Department of Education, as well as loads more university staff and students. It is great to include some students’ perspectives as they aren’t already represented in the University’s extensive podcast library, and we feel it makes the resources appealing to young people too.

Podcasts work very well on Oxplore because they can break up text resources, and appeal to students who prefer to learn aurally or visually. Real voices also bring the subject to life; hearing the speakers’ tone, intonation and vocal inflection can bring dynamism to the recording and convey a sense of passion that may be lost in a written resource.

We choose our contributors based on the end goal of the podcast. If we are looking for specific and detailed knowledge, such as someone to speak about legal truth in the courtroom, then we search for an appropriate expert and invite them to contribute. However, if the recording requires a simple word or sentence from a selection of staff and students, such as our Chat up lines from across the world resource then we issue a wider general invitation for people to share their insights.

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A podcast in the Oxplore Big Question ‘Is it OK to judge other people?’

All of our recordings are created, edited and added to the website by the Oxplore team. Once an academic has agreed to be part of a podcast, we arrange to meet them in a convenient place, and ask them to complete a permission form giving us the go-ahead to use their content under a Creative Commons license. We use a portable Roland R-26 recorder to capture their thoughts and then edit the audio using Audacity when we’re back in the office. Audacity is a free editing programme that allows users to trim, fade, and apply effects to audio material and IT Services here at Oxford run training courses that the team have made the most of!

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Editing an Oxplore podcast in Audacity

One of the important things for us to keep in mind when creating podcasts is their length; they need to be long enough to offer a comprehensive perspective on the topic, deep enough to offer something new, but short enough to capture the attention of busy school students. While we do try to re-use existing University content wherever possible, often recorded lectures or academic papers are simply too complex and too long. We aim therefore to keep Oxplore podcasts roughly between 3 and 5 minutes long, though of course we wouldn’t delete anything that is crucial to the trajectory of the narrative.

Once we’ve edited the audio down so that it’s smooth and polished, we make any accompanying images either using a slide show, or by uploading an Oxplore background directly to YouTube with the accompanying MP3 file via Tunes to Tube. Tunes to Tube is a website that facilitates the quick and simple uploading of MP3 files to YouTube, allowing images to be uploaded with the audio in one go – and we’ve found it a very useful resource.

There are many ways to include audio on websites, but given our bespoke CMS, YouTube is the simplest option for us. It also gives the added bonus of our content being discoverable on the second largest search engine – a site we know young people love using. It also gives us the benefit of including closed captions – which not only help those with hearing difficulties but also those who aren’t using sound while browsing the site. We check captions for accuracy – and this is especially important when creating multilingual resources – as we want to give everyone access to the same quality experience when using the Oxplore website.

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Set adrift from the Big Questions they are a part of on the Oxplore, our podcast playlist on YouTube is a bit of a quirky mix! We really enjoy this variety in our work though, and we’re always developing new recordings so do keep an eye on the site or subscribe to our YouTube channel to hear our next creations.

Learning to Oxplore…

Danielle Lloyd, who is with the Oxplore team on a five-month placement, reflects on working in the Oxplore team.

I joined the team in June as a trainee on the Ambitious Futures Graduate scheme. The scheme aims to provide graduates with ‘diverse and challenging opportunities’ – and Oxplore has definitely done this for me! Every day with the team is different from the last, here’s a taster of the things I’ve been up to…

Researching the weird and wonderful… from the history of football and the inner workings of the brain to the biology of race and robots taking over peoples’ jobs, there’s no shortage of fascinating content creation tasks here at Oxplore. I was also able to build my own Big Question from scratch, which provided an incredible opportunity to see a mini-project through from idea to finished product.

Is it OK to judge other people? Big Question on Oxplore

Creating over 200 avatars… plus infographics and social media images using open source image editor software, GIMP. I’ve never had much of an opportunity to use design software before, but I’ve found GIMP surprisingly easy to pick up and use. It’s been great for creating fun infographics for upcoming questions, something we wanted to do to make ‘big data’ accessible for our young target audience.

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Designing an engaging workshop… for our upcoming national launch event. I’ve always enjoyed planning activities for young people, you can really let your imagination run wild! We’ve been creating a workshop based upon research from the Oxford Martin School, and it’s great to be able to share real academic research with young people in a format they can easily understand and engage with.

Chasing Oxford students… for reading recommendations. During school visits earlier in the year, some older students expressed an interest in reading materials that took them beyond the site. To address this, I reached out to a long list of Oxford undergraduate students who had previously expressed an interest in the University’s widening participation work. As part of this, they were asked to suggest which materials (books, podcasts, videos and articles) inspired them to choose their university subjects. We’ve had some fantastic responses, highlights include The Pig That Wants to Be Eaten by Julian Baggini and Follow Your Gut by Rob Knight with Brendan Buhler. Watch out for their arrival on the site soon!

So, it’s been a busy couple of months juggling content writing and marketing activities with work on other outreach projects like the UNIQ summer schools and a Lauriston Lights summer camp, but managing this complex and diverse workload is a skill I will take with me to all my future roles – whatever they may be!

 

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.

Recognise someone/somewhere?

If you’ve visited our homepage at www.oxplore.org, one of the first things you will have noticed is our imagery. You can’t fail to miss it – it flies in!

If you are an Oxford local or know much about the city, you might recognise familiar objects, places or faces. Each of the headline images for our big questions has a subtle link to the city and University that Oxplore calls home.

Some of these are iconic. For ‘Does a god exist?’ we’ve used the famous domed roof of the Radcliffe Camera. In ‘Do aliens exist?’ we’ve used the striking new Blavatnik School of Government building (which does look a bit out of this world). The Mini Cooper for the ‘Should you have to be British to live in Britain?’ question is similarly iconic – and manufactured at the Mini Plant in Oxford.

Not all of our images are so easily recognisable, but we appreciate the link nonetheless. For the ‘Can war be a good thing?’ question for example, the war grave might look like one of the thousands across the world, but it is in fact from Botley Cemetery. Those buried there were treated at the University’s Examination Schools which were requisitioned as a hospital. And, the people we’ve included are all current or former Oxford students – made into robots, super heroes and more.

Pooling our ideas for these images and for the future content we’re working on at the moment has been one of the team’s favourite tasks. We feel we’re bringing a new angle to some of Oxford’s heritage as well as bringing some of the city’s hidden gems to the fore.