In the first week of the UK COVID-19 pandemic lockdown visits to Oxplore, Oxford University’s online learning resource, increased by more than 43%.
Of this growing traffic, more than 8,900 of these visits were from first time users, an indication of the number of teachers and people getting to grips with home-schooling across the country.
Affectionately known as the ‘home of the BIG Questions’ by users, Oxplore is a free educational website created by Oxford University and designed to engage 11-18 year olds with complex ideas across a wide range of subjects from maths and english, to philosophy and economics. The website is organised into a series of over 50 thought-provoking questions which take students on a guided journey, and were suggested by young people themselves, either at University outreach events or through the Oxplore site directly.
It is designed to challenge their pre-conceptions around certain subject areas that they may perhaps have considered less stimulating, and make them fun and relevant to their own lives and experiences.
The programme is intended to encourage young people’s skills of debate and critical thinking, introducing them to University-level subjects that they might not even have heard of, as they begin to consider their own academic goals and where their personal strengths and interests lie. Each question has a series of supporting learning resources (articles, quizzes, podcasts, videos, and image galleries) which draw upon some of the cutting-edge research led at the University.
Of the multitude of questions included in the hub, some have proved to be particularly intriguing to users in these uncertain times, with some of the most popular ranging from; “Could we end disease?” to “Is school the best place to learn?”, and “Should footballers earn more than nurses?”
While the resource has previously been popular among city-based schools, with top users being based in London, Birmingham and Liverpool, during this time of isolation, people around the country are keen to stay connected. Particularly parents in search of inspiration as they navigate the daunting task of home-schooling. As a result, the team have noticed increased engagement coming from more remote regions, such as the Isle of Man.
Uncertainty around when the Government’s lockdown measures will end and schools will reopen continues and online learning and digital access, has never been so important. In addition to the development of Oxplore, over the coming weeks, expanding digital resources will be a major priority for the University, so that life and learning at Oxford can still be shared. People will find online insights into our research, our students’ experiences and our admissions process, so that they remain accessible to anyone.
Samina Khan, Director of Undergraduate Admissions and Outreach at Oxford, and a former teacher herself, said: ‘We want to target these resources in particularly those students from disadvantaged backgrounds, who may never have engaged with the University before, but are in the process of making important decisions about their higher education future and considering whether Oxford could be the right choice for them. Oxford’s online resources will arm them with the information they need’.
Sarah Wilkin, Outreach Officer at Oxford University, said: ‘The current situation has highlighted the value of digital resources and making learning available to everyone. Being involved in a project like Oxplore has always been exciting, but hearing teachers discussing our materials online and seeing how they’re sharing Oxplore with students and their families during school closures, has been especially rewarding.’
Stephanie Cater, Outreach Officer at Oxford University, adds: ‘Recently we’ve put together some activity ideas to help people get started with Oxplore independently during the lockdown. These short tasks promote the key research skills valued in a range of subjects e.g. summarising, building an informed argument and making connections between ideas. We will be sharing even more activities to help students engage with the site in the coming weeks.’