Tag Archives: digital technology

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.

Why we need a digital outreach portal

For some time the University of Oxford had been exploring ways to sustain engagement and widen the reach of its outreach activity. This interest was the catalyst for the digital outreach portal – an online resource available to students regardless of their UK location.

This approach can enable us to carve out a new way of reaching young people by using the same digital and social technologies they use every day. It can also help us to reach students from Year 7 to Sixth Form and help to shape their aspirations and potential earlier than we do at present.

We agree that portal should focus making Oxford’s greatest asset, its academic strengths, more available to young people as super-curricular content. This type of content and intellectual enquiry plays to the University’s strength as a research and innovation power-house.

From a technical point of view, we feel strongly that the functionality and navigation of the site should be intuitive and inspire intellectual curiosity. The aim is to connect content across different topics, subjects and time periods to encourage an inquisitive approach to learning, grounded in the way young people navigate the online world.

We also want to enable outreach staff to use the site to host webinars and as a platform to develop and promote content to schools. As a venture we want to work in collaboration with Colleges, departments, students and academics across the university to develop engaging and innovative content that can be promoted and curated through a central accessible hub. A clear entry point for gifted students at schools across the UK to engage with Oxford’s outreach work.

We are hugely excited about the portal and the depth of sustained outreach contact it will provide. Our hope is that the hub will become a benchmark for best practice and innovative outreach in the digital space.