Tag Archives: content

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.



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.

podcast on oxplore
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!

books podcast
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.

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).

Consolidating our findings

We learned much from our first pilot of the Oxplore site in the North East. We ran 6 school-based focus groups with 73 young people from years 7 to 12 as well as collecting data on site usage through Google Analytics.

The focus groups offered a space for us to get into detail as well as hear free form feedback about what users might expect from the site. We had several interactive tasks for them to reflect on, as well as plenty of time to discuss their more general thoughts and opinions. It was interesting to hear the similarities and differences between Year 7 students and Year 12 students in their approach to the concept of Big Questions and in how they viewed the content on the site at present. But, as with all good discovery processes, there was no simple answer and much to consider. Not least because we had lots of notes and findings to transcribe back at the office…

cookies-memeOur Google Analytics data brings together the users who first heard about the site through our school workshops as well as those who came to the site from the posters we distributed in schools and social media. There is one substantial barrier for us with our age range of 11-18: Google simply can’t (or maybe won’t) provide demographic (age, gender) or interests data for those under 18. However, we can still get insights into other aspects of site usage. We were pleased with average length of time each user spent on the site and due to some technical wizardry from our developers we can get a good insight into what they did in this time. Translating all this data within the limits of the context that analytics can give us is a challenge.

And, to add just one more degree of difficulty, we have to consolidate the findings of both the focus groups and the analytics! In places they generally support each other, but in a few cases they differ too and we need to make a call on what the answer might be. We also have to consider any new findings alongside our earlier work with our Oxford consultative group. And, with another pilot phase coming soon, we also need to reflect on what we’ve learned about gathering feedback in this way to ensure we get the most out of it.

With all this going on on a granular level, the good news is that – anecdotally at least – we had lots of thumbs up. thumbs-up-sign

Watch this space (because something is about to happen)

Oxplore will be on limited release from next week with our first portal pilot. To get the portal to this stage we’ve had many things to bring together in the past few weeks. It has been fairly intense…!

Before the pilot, we’ve had to finish off aspects of our work that have been central to our activity for the past 6 months. We had our last technical development sprint of this phase, and we’re delighted that our development team have ticked as much as was possible off the to do list. The site is functionally ready for our pilot – and is optimised for mobile and tablet.

oxplore-posterOur designers have put some finishing touches to the site designs. We’ve also had some posters produced which have some of the same visual impact as the main site. These have already been distributed to schools in the North East of England – and are hopefully going to be adorning the walls of corridors and classrooms there soon,

Our content writers have sent us over the last of our content, we’ve loaded it into the site CMS and a team of reviewers including early career researchers and educational specialists have been reviewing it and suggesting tweaks. Live next week, we’ll have 15 questions for our users to explore – with over 225 different content items including lists, quizzes, podcasts, videos and articles. Not too shabby.

While this point has marked the end of some of these aspects of our work, having a live portal ready for our users also marks the start of wholly new tasks and challenges for the Oxplore team. In the coming weeks we’ll be running school workshops, focus groups, presenting at a student conference and firing on our social media cylinders for the first time. In the background, we’ll also be planning more content and for what further technical development we need to undertake before the national launch.

While our development timescale has been incredibly swift, I feel like I’ve been telling everyone I meet to ‘watch this space’ for a long time. Finally, that space is about to be filled!

Bringing the threads together

Oxplore is getting ready to hit the roads of the North East as part of a pilot of the portal. From late February to late March we’ll be promoting Oxplore to schools and young people from Hartlepool to Hexham.

Our plan is to run workshops with schools which encourage them to think about our big questions in a broad and curious way. We’ll also be attending one of the massive Oxford and Cambridge Student Conference at St James’ Park in Newcastle, running a competition, distributing posters for classroom display and running a social media campaign targeting interested young people in the region. Probably the most exciting aspect of all of this activity is unveiling the Oxplore portal for the first time to our potential users – and meeting some of them.

We have only one more technical development sprint before we’re ready for that stage – so our front and back end coders will be whipping through the ‘tickets’ for our features and hopefully crushing any last minute bugs. Our content writers, reviewers and uploaders will have a similarly busy month to have articles, videos, podcasts and quizzes lined up and ready. While everyone else is doing this, I’ll be preparing all the marketing and learning materials we’ll need to distribute throughout the pilot both digitally and face-to-face.

So, while we have been progressing many different things concurrently but largely independently for a few months, we are now at the stage to bring them all together for our pilot. The clock is ticking down.

Image by olarte.ollie (Flickr) CC BY-SA 2.0

Harnessing brilliance

A key part of our mission is to ‘harness the wealth of brilliance at the University of Oxford’. What we mean by that is that we want to use the expertise of the University in Oxplore. As one of the world’s top research universities and a historic centre of ideas this is an exciting prospect. We hope this will make our content vibrant – reflective of the latest research trends and revealing some lesser known angles on subjects.

With over 5,000 research and support staff and around 6,000 graduate research students Oxford is a very fruitful place to seek input! It does present some challenges… some say it has taken Oxford 800 years to get to quite such a complex organisational structure. Finding the exact researcher who can help with some of our specific ideas is not an easy task in every case. It requires a lot of online detective work and the good will of support staff in the different faculties and divisions.

That said, we’ve already had some early success stories. Medievalists are biting our hands off to give their ‘best’ battles (including one featuring meat products battling fish products). And it is reassuring to find that world-leading experts on the psychology of friendship and the impact of wars on economics are keen to share their insights with young people through new podcasts.

There is plenty of brilliance out there – we just need to ensure we can ‘harness’ it appropriately for launch and in the long term.