Since evidence of impact is now a key requirement of many funders, and global reach is a major priority of the University, it is unsurprising that researchers are devising creative ways to ensure that their work reaches the widest possible audience.
The Outreach and Public Engagement category attracted far and away the greatest number of entries in this year’s competition, and we have subdivided it into general outreach activities and outreach activities which focus on ways of harnessing the power of the crowd.
Winners: Professor Mary Bosworth, Andriani Fili, Dr Ines Hasselberg and Dr Sarah Turnbull for the Border Criminologies Website and Blog
Border Criminologies is an online platform on which the Centre for Criminology uses a variety of digital technologies to encourage academics, students and the interested public to publish and interact online about a contemporary issue.
The Border Criminologies website offers an intellectual space to a rich and global pool of expertise, and makes available data, research, teaching resources, and open access publications along with an events list of seminar series and conferences around the world.
The Border Criminologies blog is a particularly important feature of outreach, showcasing original research from around the world, first-hand accounts of border control, and book reviews. The blog appeals to specialists by creating interdisciplinary dialogue and gives the public at large access to a huge range of resources and information, developed with the general audience in mind.
Border Criminologies has an extensive online presence on social media, with an active Twitter feed, posts on Facebook, and a private Border Criminologies research forum page on Facebook. The team is also collating images of border control on its Flickr and Instagram accounts. Other activities include regular seminars, conferences, and discussion group meetings, which are podcast on the team’s iTunes account and summarised on the blog. The platform also hosts the first open access journal on the intersections between criminal justice and migration control.
Border Criminologies has addressed the gap in communication and collaborative work in the study of border control, while reaching out to, and including, diverse groups of academics, practitioners, and those with lived experience. Website statistics indicate that the blog has more than 11,300 unique visitors per month (and growing!) from all over the world, nearly 4,200 followers on Twitter, 1,500 likes on Facebook, and almost 150 blog subscribers.
The judges commended the team for their use of social media channels in particular to engage different audiences, and for their admirable processes to source from their academic community intellectual contributions for the intellectual discussion of a topic that triggers such polemical outbursts.
Runner-up: Martin Handley for the UNIQ Virtual Learning Environment
The annual UNIQ summer school is a free one-week residential session at Oxford for high-achieving Year 12 students who meet one or more of the University’s goals for widening access. Unfortunately, the school is heavily oversubscribed, and so Martin came up with the idea of developing a virtual learning environment to allow unsuccessful applicants to gain a taste of Oxford and receive support from current students in confidence-building.
The UNIQ Virtual Learning Environment uses discussion forums, quizzes, videos and tools to support students as they work through 16 modules grouped into three stages: The City and University, Studying at the University and Applying to the University. In the first year of the initiative 119 students progressed to the end of the second stage, of whom 84 applied to the University and 26 received offers for places in Michaelmas 2016. Comments from respondents to a feedback survey include:
- After hearing from current students at the University through the videos and chatting to other VLE users through the forums and private message, I realised the people were very real. Coupled with the useful advice I found the idea of applying much more achievable.
- When I first started using the VLE I did not intend on applying to Oxford … The VLE made Oxford seem more down to earth and this was a key contributing factor that led to me applying to Oxford.
The judges commended Martin’s achievement in adding, with minimal resources, a digital dimension to the continuing efforts by the Undergraduate Admissions and Outreach Department to encourage applications from some of the ‘most able, least likely’ school students.
Honourable Mention: Jamie Hartmann-Boyce and Gavin Hubbard for OxFAB (Oxford Food and Activity Behaviours): Our Preliminary Findings
The Oxford Food and Activity Behaviours (OxFAB) study was launched in early 2015 and was widely publicised through links with a BBC Horizon TV programme. The study aimed to explore the different strategies overweight people use to lose weight and how their weight changed over time. Participants were asked to log in to a website on a semi-regular basis in order to answer questions about the different strategies they were using and to record their weight.
The OxFAB research team chose to share its preliminary findings with its 1,890 participants in a way they could easily understand. Rather than simply summing up their analysis in a short paragraph, or sharing an academic publication, they opted to create an infographic. Jamie and Gavin write:
In terms of the amount of weight lost by people in the study, we thought long and hard about how we could represent this in an interesting way – what could we use to show the equivalent weight? Ideas included pictures of tins of beans, 1 kg weights, a baby, and the needle on some scales, among others. Eventually we hit on the idea of using a Yorkshire terrier which – after some intensive Googling of different animal weights – we thought was an interesting, fun, unexpected and recognisable shape we could use to illustrate this.
The result is shown on the right.
The infographic was then shared with the participants in the OxFAB trial through an email newsletter. Although it was not possible to collect feedback (apart from the informal opinions of their colleagues), the judges commended the team for representing complex statistical analyses in an accessible manner to engage members of the public from a wide range of backgrounds.