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An update on what's coming up at Oxford Sparks - the University of Oxford's platform for digital science engagement.

It’s an exciting time for us at Oxford Sparks, with lots of change in the pipeline. Read on to find out more!

As you might know, Oxford Sparks is the University's platform for digital science communication and engagement. We aim to create exciting and dynamic original content, which we share via our websiteYouTube channel and social media platforms (InstagramFacebook and Twitter - please do consider following us if you don't already!). 

Our aim is to open up science and provide a positive engagement experience for public audiences. We build awareness of who researchers are and what they do, across all scientific disciplines. 

Our content - past and future!

Until now, our two major types of content have been our podcast (the Oxford Sparks Big Questions Podcast, a new series of which launched this week) and animations. In addition to these we have done Facebook Live interviews and some 'live action' video, alongside other bits and pieces.

While the animations have been very popular (and are much-loved by us and researchers), we've decided to move away from these, and concentrate more on creating short, fun, informal videos, which lend themselves very well to social media. By producing videos with a face behind them, we hope to encourage more engagement from viewers, and to break down some of those misconceptions about what a scientist is/does.

 We also hope to create some more formal 'microdocumentary' style videos, which should fill the niche left by the animations, and may be more suitable in some situations (for example where a researcher wants to go into greater depth about their work).

Some of you may have seen our recent series 'Lockdown Walks' - short (~2 min) videos shot by researchers on their mobile phone, then edited by us. These give a good idea of the sort of content we're hoping to generate much more of. In fact, we're hoping to start creating videos with researchers this term (Michaelmas 2020) that look at the science of everyday objects and phenomena, in a very similar style.

 If you would be interested in creating something with us, don’t hesitate to get in touch!

Training Opportunity

One of our other big plans is to recruit a team of 'Sparks Ambassadors' (final name to be decided!) who will help to make the videos. We envisage these to mainly be DPhil or other early career researchers, who are enthusiastic about PER and want to gain some hands-on experience. As part of this initiative, the team will receive training in effective science communication techniques, as well as on the more practical aspects of film production.

We hope that the 'Sparks Ambassador' initiative will be a great way to encourage young researchers to share their science, provide confidence to those wanting to create their own content, and - of course - lead to some great videos!

Who's our audience?

Over the summer we were able to carry out some in depth audience research. Through this process we identified a key target audience: the ‘curious spectator’. This audience is described as people who are interested in science, but don’t currently engage with or actively seek out scientific content, and don’t feel informed.

 Done properly, we feel that the new content we have planned should attract the 'curious spectators' while still fully engaging our existing audience of ‘science fans’. 

 

Our key messages are:

- This is relevant to you

- This is for you – you are doing science

- We’re here to provide reliable information

- Dig deeper into what interests you

- Fascinating, cutting-edge science.

 

We specifically want to avoid overtly technical or stereotypically ‘science’ styles as we will be using the hook of ‘relatable’ experiences, objects or questions rather than being ‘science-forward’.

I hope that this has given you some insight into our plans. We can't wait to get started! If you have any questions about the content, audience research, or suggestions of topics that we should cover, don't hesitate to get in touch! Also, if you – or someone in your department – would be interested in working with us (either on a one off video or as a Sparks Ambassador), we'd love to hear from you.