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:
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!)
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.
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.
This week we held the last of our consultation sessions with the group of 11-16 year olds at the Into University centre. As we move away from the conceptual and into the technical side of development, this seems like a good time to reflect on exactly how 14 rowdy young people have shaped our ideas.
The content we are collating is structured around questions. Most of these were voted for by the young people – they were rated highly as sparking their curiosity. Some of the questions we came up with and that we thought were interesting were given a resounding thumbs down from the group. We’re not pursuing them. Even more pleasing – questions that the group came up with together will feature on the site for launch. Their suggestions in this area were particularly insightful and challenging.
The notion of wanting to have a say came across loud and clear from all the sessions. At times the debate of the suggested content had to be curbed to get back to the task at hand! To harness this enthusiasm, forming and sharing opinions is key to our concept – so our users can feel a part of the debate. The notion of reward and gamification (through achievement badges and/or levels) proved a popular idea too so that will be a part of the user experience. And, while we didn’t end up going with one of the names they suggested, the name we’ve chosen was overwhelmingly their first choice name from our list of suggestions.
We obviously hope to stimulate and engage all of our users when the site launches. However,if we can meet the high expectations of our first consultative group and do justice to their ideas we are on to a winner.
Every project needs a place to sense check. We’re at the stage with the digital outreach portal that many, many decisions that will shape the portal need to be made swiftly. In the next few weeks we’ll be making further steps forward in our plans for content, branding, visual identity, site design and more. With so much happening at once, we’re lucky to be able to sense check ideas and learn from the potential portal users that make up our consultative group.
As we blogged after our first group, we’ve brought together a group of 14 young people with the help of Into University’s centre in Blackbird Leys in Oxford. As the weeks go on, we remain delighted with our young people’s enthusiasm. They’ve picked up our brief and needs quickly, and they’re certainly informing our decision-making through a combination of debate, voting and individual written feedback.
Last week we asked them to consider the pros and cons of ‘gamification’ of the site. They told us how they like to feel like they’re achieving things and a part of a bigger community, but there were some that were not convinced by some attempts to engage them. They also told us what they liked in terms of ‘look and feel’. It isn’t surprising that ‘digital native’ young people have some very particular thoughts about the style of the digital resources they interact with. They are also helping with the ongoing task of choosing a name for the portal.
This week they worked in smaller groups and were able to interact with wireframes of some concepts. For the first time, I think they were able to see how their ideas have already been listened to, and they were able to see something tangible. They were asked what they liked and didn’t like about each design.
Some of the things that they liked included some of the innovative interface features (more to be revealed soon) and the ability to see what is newest on the site. Interestingly, they preferred scrolling down to scrolling across a carousel. Not only is their feedback detailed and specific, but it is clear that our group take their responsibility seriously. Discussion was considered throughout, and most groups worked without even taking a break between designs!
How do you know what young people think about learning, exploring and developing a portal for them? Ask them.
Yesterday we held our first consultative group session with eleven young people based in the Oxford area. Our hosts were the Into University centre in Oxford who are used to working closely with young people. The individuals in our group have been specially recruited as representative of future users of the digital outreach portal. We’ll be meeting with our Oxford consultative group weekly over the next six weeks.
The purpose of the consultative group is to receive ongoing feedback from our core audience as the digital outreach portal develops. We will ask their opinion on everything from content and design to navigation and naming. We know that young people can be a challenging audience to reach, and particularly with a first of its kind project like ours. This is why we’re going out to meet them already – we want them involved in its development. What’s more, we know young people use the internet and engage with digital technology in a way that is completely different from us older folk.
The primary focus of the first consultative group was to get to know our participants better, in particular the way they like to think and the kinds of questions they find most interesting. Just as importantly we’re interested in what devices they use and what they use them for. Participants were asked to bring to the session the device they most commonly use to access the internet. Unsurprisingly all of our young people brought their smartphones with them, with one even bringing a tablet too. Guess that supports our view for mobile first design!
One key take-out from yesterday’s session was simplicity and ease of use, rather than design, were key criteria identified by young people for the site. This will surely impact on the site navigation and look/feel. Another key issue is the potential challenges of accessing the site using mobile data as opposed to Wi-Fi – especially if you don’t have lots of data on your phone contract.
Overall we’re thrilled with our first consultative group and are looking forward to continuing to work with such brilliant, thoughtful and engaged young people – we’ve got a great bunch!