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.

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

Some bells and whistles

Throughout the summer, our technical development team have been working hard on the Oxplore site to add new features. These haven’t been released to the main site yet – we’re waiting until our national launch. We have been adding some new Big Questions to the live site over the past two months though – including Can money buy happiness? and Should under 18s be allowed to vote?

The first feature the developers worked on was a reworking of our homepage. In the current site the format was in block panels of 1 question, 6 questions, 1 question, 6 questions etc. Our focus groups showed that young people liked the principle of this design, but they wanted different ways to navigate too. They’ll soon be able to see new, trending or topical questions first as we have a way to pin questions to the top. They’ll also be able to navigate questions through themes (since as we’re nearing 35 questions, it can get a bit overwhelming). You can preview it in the short video below!

Under the hood, we’ve also developed user registration and a whole host of related features including commenting on Big Questions after voting, bookmarking resources you liked for later, controlling your contact and privacy options and navigating the homepage as a logged in user. We also needed to do a little set up for the live stream element of our national launch.

Plus, to allow us to make the Big Questions themselves more dynamic we’ve developed some new resource types like scrolling image galleries, pros and cons lists, and (better) ways to display images in existing resources like articles and lists.

And, finally, we’ve also been addressing bugs with how the site performs on different devices and enhancing the analytics we can gather to help us monitor the effectiveness of the portal.

It has certainly been a packed summer for the developers… It is exciting to see the site growing in this way, and to know that we have been building functionality that has been rated highly by the users we spoke to in our pilot (particularly our May/June pilot which fed into what we prioritised and how they work).

The last development sprint ends tomorrow – on schedule! Phew.

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.

DL post - 2

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!

 

Developing an Oxplore toolkit

This week we met with access/school liaison officers from Oxford’s colleges and faculties to discuss how Oxplore can underpin their face-to-face work in the next academic year. It was one of the starkest findings from our pilot study that areas with an element of face-to-face interaction with young people spent much longer on the site and had higher numbers of page views. Common sense always suggested this would be the case, but the difference was very noticeable. So, with thousands of contact hours across the University’s various access programmes each year, we feel that equipping the wider community with the tools to disseminate Oxplore could make a big difference!

The good news is that those who attended our workshop were keen to include Oxplore as part of their work. From our discussions, it is clear that we do need to think about how ‘Big Questions’ and the Oxplore approach can work within existing structures which often focus on introductions to university. Beyond the colleges, we need to consider how faculties with their specific subject knowledge can build on the ideas while retaining the subject specificity that is important to them. There were also suggestions as to how we can link our activities with wider concerns such as helping older students to not just have ideas, but to structure their arguments well.

We want to make resources available in a format that works ‘out of the box’, we also want to provide the tools without being too prescriptive or limiting. One of the colleges (Mansfield) has already been using some of the workshop tasks we devised for groups of 25-30 with groups of 60-90. As outreach practitioners, they are flexible and creative! If we can do a bit of groundwork, our colleagues working in outreach have the skills to make them work.

And, to draw on those skills, we challenged the group to come up with the start of workshop ideas we could build on – so we have 3-4 workable draft activities already!

 

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Focus group design for teens

In the first half of 2017, our work has been largely defined by the two pilot phases in which we’ve been sharing Oxplore with specific groups and regions. When we haven’t been travelling to schools to meet with young people, we’ve been planning these visits and working out what feedback we most need to shape the development.

Gathering this feedback has been incredibly helpful – and taking the time to pilot Oxplore has been very worthwhile. We have run 12 focus groups with 162 young people, and each one of them has surprised us with their ability to grasp not only what we are trying to achieve, but how we can use the digital tools to achieve our aims. Their digital upbringing was particularly noticeable in our recent visits to the East Midlands where we were discussing UX, interface and technical features. They were clear on what they expected from a website – and many even bandied about terms like ‘OAuth’, ‘CAPTCHA’ and ‘hamburger menu’ like developers!

A challenging aspect of these visits has been coming up with activities that help us to gauge their true feelings in an engaging way while still getting the data we needed. We were clear that the traditional focus group format of sitting around talking was not going to work for our groups – we needed something to keep their attention. We merged our need for qualitative feedback with sessions designed to be both reflective and interactive.  To gauge their preferred other websites, they voted in ‘Web Awards’ which not only asked them to reflect on the features of the sites they most like to frequent, but gave us evidence of user interfaces we might seek to emulate. To help us prioritise the development of new features, they spent ‘cash’ (ahem, stickers) on the features stuck up around the room. To help us refine the scope of those features, they looked at site designs and answered prompts about the process of registration, commenting and more.

While collating the outcome of these activities and more, we’ve also been reflecting in the team and with our developers how simply letting the young people loose with a tablet or PC in a computer room is in itself an excellent barometer of how well the site achieves its aims. In many cases we struggled to get the young people off of the site and onto the tasks. In a few schools they even used the Inspect Element function to view the CSS and temporarily edit the site to what they thought it should look like… (more Big Questions about footballers, apparently).

inspect element editor

With technical development now back underway, our next task is to ensure that we make the very best of all this input.

Reaching ‘Generation Zzz’

The aspect of the Oxplore project that I am asked about most often is how we are using social media to reach our target audience of 11-18 year olds. This group are naturally social media savvy – indeed in some of the schools we’ve been in thus far, pupils have described social media as one of their main ‘hobbies’! However, this group are also notoriously hard to market to – often referred to as  ‘Generation Zzzz’. So, we’ve been using the past months and our pilot periods to test what works to ensure we divert our efforts to the most effective tasks when we launch nationally.

Our starting point is by ensuring we are everywhere our users are – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and Snapchat. If another network pops up and grows in popularity – we will move there too. This is a necessary flexibility in the social world. We’re already slightly victim to the more private networks like WhatsApp that our audience are moving towards.

social-media-2173511_640We have a fairly busy programme of scheduled ‘organic’ or free content. Throughout both our pilots, I’ve been scheduling educational but easy to digest content around the theme of ‘Big Question of the Week’. This is a content-led approach which helps us build up our reputation for interesting and provocative approaches.

In this organic content, each network has its own challenges and opportunities. For example, on Instagram it obviously has to be a visual post and the current scheduling option from Hootsuite is not ideal, but hashtagging makes the content very discoverable. On Facebook, it is tough to break out from those who have already decided to follow your page but the content delivery types are very varied.

We are advertising on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Thus far, my general opinion is that the targeting options on Facebook and Instagram are more useful for reaching our audience because we can segment by age into the 13-18 age group.

Twitter does reach a large audience and the clickthroughs are actually slightly higher over the period, but the segmentation options do not give me enough reassurance that we are reaching young people. Twitter does not gather date of birth or more detailed information about the users, it segments by interests and some characteristics as well as location. The trends seem to suggest 11-18 year olds are less active on Twitter, and their number (11.7% of all users) is dwarfed by the 18+ demographic.

Facebook and Instagram both offer much more tailoring because of the information they hold on the users. It is very easy to build up a profile by age and location (down to the km) and include potential interests from an unlimited support. While the anecdotal wisdom I’ve heard always suggested that younger people were less interested in Facebook, statistics suggest 84% of the demographic have a Facebook account.

I’m using the pilot period to trial different advert types and target different segments. The main purpose here is to see how broad or narrow to set the audience for the best return. For example, in one test I ran a split test across three groups: one for every young person in the region, one for young people with some specifics (like maybe they liked science or reading) and their current level of education, and another targeting down to specific groups they might be in or the pages they might follow. There is something a little Goldilocks here, and the evidence so far suggests that Mother Bear’s porridge is getting the most bites!

The social network advert managers do tell me how the ads are performing, the cost per interaction and some of the demographic details (like, for example, all our advertising is currently hitting 2/3 girls and 1/3 boys). However, in creating the advert I’ve taken the time to use the simple campaign URL builder so that I can track the source of the visits through into our Google Analytics. This shows me that in general most of our mobile referrals spend a shorter time on the site than users coming from our sources (like Googling us). So, getting them there through social media is only one part of the challenge when dealing with Generation Zzzz….