Unveiling Oxplore: home of big questions

Dr Alex Pryce contributes this guest post on an exciting University initiative aimed at young people:

This month sees the first public airing of a new digital outreach initiative on which members of the University’s Widening Access and Participation team have been working. Oxplore aims to harness the wealth of brilliance at the University of Oxford to encourage intellectual enquiry and exploration beyond the curriculum among under-represented 11-18 year olds. In short, Oxplore’s goal is to raise aspirations, promote broad thinking and stimulate intellectual curiosity.

To do this, we’ve designed a portal that utilises the digital technologies and social networks young people are most familiar with, and filled it with content which we hope will engage them to delve deeper into ‘Big Questions’. These big questions tackle complex ideas across a wide range of subjects and draw on the latest research undertaken at Oxford.

Oxplore has produced a range of eye-catching promotional posters

In this first release, these include ‘Could we live without laws?’, ‘Is a robot a person?’ and ‘Can war be a good thing?’. Questions we’re developing further right now include ‘Is falling in love bad for you?’ and ‘Is it OK to ban certain books?’. These questions have been ‘approved’ by a panel of young people as well as being reviewed by academic specialists in the subjects they cover, and by educational experts.

We’re encouraging our users to delve into podcasts, videos, quizzes, lists and articles to help answer these questions and more. They have the opportunity to vote on what they find, and we’re also accepting their ideas of big questions to shape the future portal content.

The site is currently on limited release as we undertake pilot activity and evaluation in the North East of England and nationally (in May). We’re seeking feedback on the concept, the content and the user experience. This will help us to make necessary adjustments before we launch nationally in September 2017.

Mock-up for the mobile version, featuring the Blavatnik School of Government in a novel guise!

Oxplore has been under development since early summer last year (you can read more about the process in our development blog). We hope that what we have produced will allow us to reach more bright young people in a different way to our other access and participation projects like the UNIQ Summer School.

To ensure our first efforts were near the mark, we worked with young people in the design and development of our concept, content and style. They had strong opinions!

We’re aware that Oxplore looks quite different for a University of Oxford endeavour! But, since the University has really been the ‘Home of Big Questions’ itself since the 11th century, it seems only fitting that we take a fresh approach to reach a new audience in the 21st century.

Here’s a short video introduction to Oxplore, on YouTube. Although aimed at the target audience it’s entertaining for adults too!

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