Young women from non-traditional academic backgrounds living in neighbouring towns around Oxford with a high percentage of social housing are a highly marginalised group. Many of these neighbourhoods show only low participation in higher education. Accordingly, young women from these neighbouring towns constitute a very small percentage of applicants to the University of Oxford – a position that needs to change.
In line with Oxford’s targets in its Access Agreement with the Office for Fair Access, this interdisciplinary project will complement existing programmes aimed at widening access (for example: UNIQ and Learning centre), but tackle the problem in a fundamentally new way using technology. It will seek to help broaden the aspirations of young women by engaging them in four inter-related ways:
1. Identifying the values that underlie the young women’s current career plans and aspirations – the project seeks to engage the young women by working out and naming together with them the values that underlie their current career plans and aspirations.
2. Exploring life stories – through creatively exploring and reflecting on the experience of women at Oxford through the ages, the challenges they faced, and how they overcame them, the project seeks to encourage the young women to imagine in what other, potentially different ways their own values could be expressed and realized at present. These may be ways that could lead to career plans and aspirations different to the ones imagined up to now.
3. Media production – the young women will storyboard and video record a series of short vignettes on their mobile phones, in which they will tell the Oxford women’s stories as well as their own life stories. Group work will focus on developing media production skills relating the history of these women and the challenges they overcame to the young women’s own experiences.
4. Developing programming skills – to enable the young women to develop mobile applications that present these video vignettes in an interactive and engaging format to a wider audience, the young women will receive training in using state-of-the-art tools (e.g. http://www.phonegap.com). This will help raise awareness of the under-representation of women in coding and will simultaneously enhance the young women’s IT skills, which may be beneficial for their career development and aspirations.
The project will draw on the expertise of an interdisciplinary team at the Department of Education with experience in new media engagement of young women from non-traditional backgrounds, collaborative design, participatory action research, and the training in and development of coding skills.
The young women will work together in small groups to develop the content, story and architecture of the mobile application. The app will be made freely available for download with a launch at the Department of Education.
The project will result in the empowerment and capacity development of the young women involved, including their training in research-, presentation-, media production- and IT skills, and the University will benefit from gaining new insight into the young women’s perspectives of the University, in line with Oxford’s Access Agreement target categories.
This research has initially been supported by the University of Oxford IT Innovation Seed Fund and has received subsequent funding from Goldman Sachs Gives.