Category Archives: Development

How schools are using Oxplore

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:

Oxplore clubs

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!)

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Form time

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.image2

University preparation

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.

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A BETTer day at work

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.

 

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!

Happy Holidays from Oxplore

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As the Oxplore team wind down for 2017, we’ve been reflecting collectively on the past year and everything we have achieved.

This time last year we were about to launch a holding site and were beginning to collate content and bring together our brand assets.

In February, we launched our beta site complete with 15 Big Questions, and took it to the North East to seek user feedback in our first pilot. We tweaked the site content based on that feedback, launched another batch of Big Questions, and went out again to our users in the East Midlands and Wales in May and June for their thoughts on technical features and user experience.

Over the summer, we developed the new features based on their feedback, developed even more Big Questions, and planned for our launch programme to begin in the fresh school year in September.

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.

Looking back (and forward)

Danielle Lloyd, has been with the Oxplore team on a five-month Ambitious Futures placement. As she leaves for her next challenge, she reflects on working with Oxplore and across Widening Access & Participation at Oxford.

My placement with the Oxplore team is (sadly) coming to an end. It’s been an exciting time to be involved in such an innovative and fast moving project, and I’ve had the opportunity to learn lots about widening access and participation along the way. I’ve collected together a few examples of practices I think are important in outreach work…

Tracking and evaluation

Within the Widening Access and Participation team and across the collegiate university, there is an abundance of excellent outreach work taking place. Evaluating these activities has a range of benefits, including informing future outreach practice, providing evidence for continual investment in outreach, ensuring that activities are engaging and meeting the needs of their target audience, and sharing best practice (both within and outside of the institution).

The breadth and variety of practice at Oxford provides opportunity to track and evaluate many types of outreach, but this can also present challenges. How do we evaluate consistently across the university in a way that is effective and time-efficient? A new evaluation framework seeks to address some of these challenges by offering a flexible framework (including suggested survey questions and evaluation format) that can be used by all outreach practitioners. This will also integrate with HEAT (the Higher Education Access Tracker) which is a great tool for a joined up evaluation technique, not just within the university but across all partner institutions.

My experience so far is that whilst evaluation can be challenging and time-consuming, its benefits for effective outreach outweigh the costs.

Collaborative working

Following on from the idea of sharing best practice through evaluation, I have also experienced the importance of sharing resources, knowledge and experience in outreach work. For example, the Oxplore team has been creating (learning) materials (e.g. engaging workshop plans, colourful flyers and lots of branded goodies) to share with college and departmental outreach officers. Working with the wider outreach community in this way gives us an avenue to share Oxplore with a wide range of young people, but also gives outreach officers a new way to share academic research through an engaging Big Questions workshop.

Within Undergraduate Admissions and Outreach, a recent move to a bigger office where the majority of teams are now sitting together increases the potential for collaborative working between outreach, recruitment and communications teams. It can be small things, like sharing a list of annual awareness days for social media marketing, but also bigger things like sending 1000s of flyers to schools and UCAS fairs across the country!

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Student involvement

During my time at Oxford, every outreach project I have worked on has included some kind of involvement from student ambassadors, which has a hugely important impact. Students can offer a perspective on Oxford that many staff can’t, and are much more likely to be someone that young people can relate to. At the UNIQ Summer Schools, the Lauriston Lights camp and our own launch day, I saw the ambassadors build a rapport with the participants which engaged and welcomed them in a situation that had the potential to be very intimidating.

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The Oxplore team with student ambassadors Amy, Alastair, Serena and Rebecca

This is just a small sample of the lessons I’ve learnt with Oxplore, and across Widening Access and Participation. I intend to take this all with me to my next role in a FE college (and beyond!).

Reflecting on Oxplore Live

One aspect of the Oxplore launch that was new for the University and for Oxplore was an interactive live stream for schools that we ran on Monday 18th September. We saw this as a way to reach schools across the country and involve them in our launch activities – and also as a way to trial a digital engagement model for working with schools on a more regular basis.

As with the Oxplore website, the content was key, and we chose to discuss our launch Big Question ‘Would you want to live forever’ with a panel of experts from different disciplines. We needed to ensure when our academic specialists signed up they knew what they were agreeing to… We wanted to be open to questions from young people watching which meant they had to up for tackling whatever came their way! Thankfully Professor Alison Woollard, Dr Jonathan Jong and Dr Cressida Ryan were up for the challenge.

We were keen to ensure we had a ‘chair’ who was as comfortable with academics as they were with a camera. Former Oxford student and science YouTuber Simon Clark  was willing to take a bit of time away from the last weeks of his PhD at the University of Exeter to help us out with this. We were very grateful since even with the heat of the studio lights and a live broadcast he was unflappable!

Broadcasting live from Oxford to schools was always a risk since we know from our school visits that the technology in schools varies greatly… They don’t all necessarily have the most up-to-date browsers, they might block certain websites and social media, and how exactly their networks and hardware are set up seems different in every school. To give us the best chance of success in reaching their classrooms we worked with Educational Media Services at the University’s IT Services to broadcast through livestream.com (avoiding blocked social media domains) from their basement studio (to ensure connectivity was as good as it could be from our end). Of course, there was still a risk out of our control that the school might not have the right plugin or a patchy wifi – which we could only really mitigate by giving a link to test connection with our joining instructions.

While we were briefing our panel members and running through the technical requirements and a dress rehearsal, we invited teachers to register through Eventbrite. This was helpful to us to get an idea of interest, but also so we could send teachers extra resources in advance – some materials for the students to complete while the stream was live, and other ideas of extension activities for teachers to extend the session or run a follow up activity another day.

Since this was our first event like this, we did have some enquiries about how it would work and how best to deliver it. Some schools were able to have students log on individually or in pairs in PC rooms, while others broadcast through a projector with everyone watching the screen. From our point of view, it does make this kind of activity hard to measure because it isn’t clear how many people we are reaching, but for schools it is good to know it can work both ways.

As with every event, we did have a little bit of anxiety about how it will be received, and the technical requirements did add another layer of complexity. We did need two members of the Oxplore team to monitor comments on the stream and social media – not only to choose questions to put to the panel, but to watch out for any abusive comments too. And, once we’d gone live it was over in a flash!

Our analysis shows that we had viewers in over 50 different towns and cities in the UK. We also had around 200 comments and questions from our viewers, as well as 478 viewers tuned in live. We’re pleased with these statistics for our first go at using a live broadcast to reach schools in this way! The whole process was a learning experience for our team and we hope to build on this success and run more streams like this in the coming months.

You can watch our broadcast again here.

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Danielle and Alex from the Oxplore team with Simon, Alison, Jonathan and Cressida off air.

Oxplore is officially launched!

Oxplore has officially launched for all to see, use and share. Phew.

At one level, this launch marks the end of technical development which has pulled together a robust site which meets our vision for the Home of Big Questions and responds to user feedback. It also marks a point where we have delivered a substantial enough amount of content that we are sure our users can get lost on the site and dig deep into resources.

However, any good website is an organic thing. We’re already working on more content and our communications going forwards. Now that users can register we can’t wait to engage more with them.

A hard date, though, is a good time to reflect on a few facts and figures from our past 18-months!

Over the coming weeks the team are taking some down-time as well as reflecting on the success of the launch activities. (More on those another time).