Tag Archives: pilot

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).


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….


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

Oxplore is now on limited release

We’re very pleased to announce that www.oxplore.org is now on limited release. The portal we have built at this stage features 15 Big Questions, including around 225 individual articles, quizzes, lists and videos. Questions already live include ‘Is a robot a person?’ and ‘Does a god exist?’.

We’re currently using this limited release portal for pilot activities in the North East of England. Last week we visited 10 schools to introduce the concept through interactive workshops looking at answering and creating complex questions. We travelled through Chester-le-Street, Hartlepool, Durham and Newcastle-upon-Tyne and met 220 pupils from years 7 through 12.

We’re keen that users in our target demographics use the site in this pilot state so we can gather data on their usage, and gather more feedback through surveys and focus groups. The focus of this particular pilot is on content and concept. We want to understand if our content is interesting and appropriate for 11-18 year olds, and if they are as keen on the big question idea as our initial consultative group were.

The project team are keen to reiterate that this isn’t by any means a ‘finished’ Oxplore. We have a list of technical features in our backlog which we will begin to tackle again soon to have them included before our national launch. We also need to fill the site with even more big questions – from ‘Is falling in love bad for you?’ to ‘Do you make your own luck?’.

So, stay tuned right here if you want to continue to hear our occasional project updates. If you’re more interested in the main site you can follow us on social media (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram).

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.