Looking for ideas to challenge your more able learners in the humanities? In this blog post, Dr Alex Pryce selects four “Big Questions” from the University of Oxford’s Oxplore project that will spark debate, relate the humanities to the modern world, and encourage independence of mind…

Oxplore is an innovative digital outreach portal from the University of Oxford. As the “Home of Big Questions”, it aims to engage 11- to 18-year-olds with debates and ideas that go beyond what is covered in the classroom. Tackling complex ideas across a wide range of subjects and drawing on the latest research undertaken at Oxford, Oxplore aims to raise aspirations and stimulate intellectual curiosity.

Our “Big Questions” reflect the kind of thinking students undertake at universities like Oxford. Each question is accompanied by supporting resources – including videos; quiz questions; possible answers, explanations and areas for investigation; and suggestions from Oxford faculty members and current undergraduates.

The following four questions touch on subjects as diverse as history, philosophy, literature, linguistics and psychology. They are daring, provocative and rooted in current issues. Teachers can use them to engage able learners as the focus for a mini research project, a topic for classroom debate, or the springboard for students to think up Big Questions of their own.

1. Would it be better if we all spoke the same language?

Over 6,000 languages are spoken worldwide… what’s the point? Imagining a world without linguistic difference will encourage learners to think more globally, while examining the benefits of multilingualism will start conversations about culture, nationality and identity. Investigate multilingualism’s benefits and drawbacks, both historically and with reference to today’s world. For additional stimulation, check out the recording of Oxplore’s live event on this Biq Question.

Perfect for: interdisciplinary language teaching.

2. Should celebrities influence you more than your parents?

This question challenges students to think more deeply about why they hold their beliefs, who shapes their behaviour and choices, and how this colours their view of the world. It also creates room for able learners to have nuanced discussions about complex topical issues such as political beliefs, sexuality and ethnic identity, but with reference to public figures they care about – so they get the chance to focus the discussion.

Perfect for: demonstrating the present-day relevance of humanities subjects.

3. Should you believe the history books?

A classic foray into historiographical thinking which can be used to debate questions such as… How have the internet, photoshopping and so-called “fake news” affected our grip on the truth? To what extent does the adage that history is written by the winners stand up in the age of social media? How have racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination shaped the history we consume? For more on this question, check out this recorded Oxplore live stream event.

Perfect for: humanising historians and fostering critical thinking.

4. Do humans need religion?

Explore philosophy, history and the history of art by encouraging learners to think about humanity’s long association with religion and spirituality. Does religion encourage moral behaviour? What about religious extremism? Examine the implications of religious devotion in fields such as power, community and education, and encourage the sensitive exploration of alternative views.

Perfect for: conducting a balanced debate on controversial issues.

Dr Alex Pryce is Oxplore’s Widening Access and Participation Coordinator (Communications and Engagement), leading on marketing and dissemination activities including stakeholder engagement and social media. She has worked in research communications, public engagement and PR for several years through roles in higher education (HE) and the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). She holds a DPhil in English from the University of Oxford and is a part-time HE tutor. 

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Date: 
Friday, November 30, 2018