4 Ways ORA Has Been Inspired by the University of Oxford
Since our foundation, Oxford Royale Academy has been inspired by the University of Oxford.
Though we aren’t affiliated with the university, we know that our students come to us to experience Oxford life at its finest – and we do our best to meet or exceed their expectations. That means drawing on the Oxford experience in every way that we can. Our students want to find out what it’s like to study in the UK and in top universities. Oxford was Britain’s first university, and all universities founded subsequently were inspired by it – so that’s why we look to the University of Oxford to inspire our summer school as well. In this article, we look at some of the key ways in which the influence of the University of Oxford has shaped the courses, the teaching, the ethos and more at Oxford Royale Academy.
1. Our teaching philosophy
The most important and inspiring thing about the University of Oxford is the teaching. This works in two different ways. One is the large lectures that take place at almost all universities across the world.
The other is more important: this is the tutorial, a mode of teaching that is nearly unique to Oxford (they have them in Cambridge too, but there they are called supervisions). Instead of being just another student in a large, anonymous class, in an Oxford tutorial the student is with one or two others, plus their tutor, who is an expert in their field. Tutorials last just an hour, but it’s a very intensive hour of teaching and learning in which the student has to defend their point of view on a topic at a level that stands up to the questioning of their expert tutor, plus anything that their tutorial partners may have to add to the discussion. Tutorials develop students’ confidence and understanding of their work rapidly, offering weekly expert feedback on their growing understanding of their subject.
At Oxford Royale Academy, while we offer small-group teaching, we don’t offer tutorials – not least because tutorials are highly intensive and our students join us to enjoy themselves as well as to learn! But our teaching philosophy is inspired by the tutorial style in several ways, as follows.
In a tutorial situation, one of the things that is most prized is being able to think independently. The University of Oxford doesn’t want to produce students who simply regurgitate what someone else claims is the right answer; they want students who can think for themselves, and come up with original reasons to defend their own point of view. A tutorial scenario requires this; a student who has read and repeated someone else’s argument isn’t going to be able to defend it adequately under the sharp scrutiny of an expert in their field, while one who has thought through the question themselves and come up with their own ideas independently is likely to have a better chance. Not only this, but being able to assess the evidence, produce your own opinion and justify it adequately is a core intellectual skill, while merely repeating the opinions of others is much less so.
At Oxford Royale Academy, we similarly encourage our students to think for themselves. One way in which this is encouraged is that our very diverse classes feature students from all over the world, with different backgrounds and perspectives. When students draw on their diverse experiences, they naturally come up with ideas that are fresh and original to share with the class. Students are also rewarded in feedback and end-of-course reports for thinking independently.
Ultimately, even if they fall short of the right answer, trying to work it out for themselves is a valuable exercise that will serve them well in their future university careers. At university interviews, for example – especially at Oxford and Cambridge – interviewers are less likely to care about whether a student’s answer to a question is completely right than what it demonstrates about their reasoning abilities. And of course, getting better at thinking independently is also a vital step in getting better at figuring out the correct answer for yourself.
Sharing ideas with others
Another important skill a tutorial teaches is being able to express your ideas with confidence in front of others, even others who know a great deal more about the subject than you do. It’s a skill that’s important in many fields: many people will find themselves having to give a presentation to their managers and their managers’ managers in the workplace; others, speaking at academic conferences to the leading experts in their field. If you get tongue-tied when you have to speak in front of someone more knowledgeable than yourself, then you won’t get very far in a tutorial setting. Though many students do struggle with this in their early tutorials, they quickly grow in confidence to share their ideas and demonstrate their knowledge. After all, even if you’re not the greatest expert on a particular topic in a room, if you’ve thought for yourself then you will be the greatest expert on your own ideas and how you arrived at them.
Oxford Royale Academy students are encouraged to share ideas with their wider class and their teacher, both formally through presentations, which can be the assessed work at the end of the course, and informally by raising their hand and speaking up in class. Our reports take their classroom contribution into account. The advantage of a summer school is that for easily embarrassed students, they can take solace in the fact that they won’t be spending time with their classmates year-round; this helps students to come out of their shell. The confidence to speak up and share ideas, once gained, is easy for students to take home with them.
Discussion and debate
The final, all-important aspect of the tutorial system is that students don’t just present up their ideas into a vacuum. Those ideas are instead challenged and discussed by their tutor and by other students in the tutorial. For the student presenting, this offers them the chance to defend and develop their ideas further. Meanwhile, the other students in the tutorial learn how to assess the work of others critically, and how to discuss it appropriately and constructively.
When students share their ideas within an Oxford Royale Academy class, their peers are similarly encouraged to share their own experiences and to discuss these ideas politely and constructively. Though the tutorial system is perhaps the best example, these skills are vital for any British university degree, and for the workplace. Through the Oxford Royale Academy teaching philosophy, our students can get a taster for this approach to teaching and learning, and figure out if a British university would be right for them in future.
2. Our international approach
Students from all over the world come to study at the University of Oxford. International students make up 43% of the student body as a whole, and nearly two-thirds of graduate students. According to the university, this includes students from over 140 different countries and territories around the world.
Diversity is a real strength of the University of Oxford, and it’s a strength of Oxford Royale Academy too. Though we have a much smaller student body than the circa 24,000 students enrolled at Oxford, we have an even greater diversity of nationalities. Students of 150 different nationalities joined us in 2018, and students of 162 different nationalities are set to join us in the summer of 2019, from Samoa to Mongolia, Azerbaijan to Guadeloupe. This enables us to introduce students from opposite sides of the world, who might never have met but for their time with us, and facilitates an incredible exchange of cultures and experiences.
Take our Global Leadership Programme, for students aged 16 to 18, as just one example. Where in other settings, students might discuss different political systems in the abstract, at Oxford Royale Academy they might well have the opportunity to compare notes with their peers from around the world who are actually living under these different systems: in a representative democracy, in a Communist state, in a monarchy, or even in a dictatorship – enabling them to dig deeper into the reality of the topics being discussed. And this applies across other subjects as well, such as different approaches to healthcare and medical ethics in Medical School Preparation; legal systems and attitudes to law and order in Introduction to Law; or the different consumer pressures and desires of different cultures in our Business and Enterprise Programme.
3. Our parties
When you think about the University of Oxford, parties probably aren’t the first thing that comes to mind. But a good party is an integral component of the Oxford experience. Taking place at the end of the summer term, many Oxford colleges hold Commemoration Balls, though only a handful of colleges have a ball every year; balls on a three-year cycle, or only on significant anniversaries, are more typical. That’s because an Oxford ball is a spectacular affair, and can take all the spare time in a three-year cycle to organise. Balls are usually themed – for instance, this year’s Balliol Ball is Nebula-themed, from the decorations to the food and drink, while Keble’s Ball takes the idea that in a post-apocalyptic world, nature and technology in symbiosis have taken over. And there’s stiff competition between the colleges to see which can hold the most sophisticated and elaborate celebration. After a long year of hard studying and even harder exams, a ball is just what Oxford students need to let off some steam.
Naturally, we think that our students, studying hard with us, deserve the same! Every ORA student will have the opportunity to attend at least one party during the time with us. We go to luxurious and exclusive destinations, such as Kingston Bagpuize House, a stunning stately home, the beautiful Oxford Union, or other prestigious and historic venues including colleges, hotels and country houses. Parties provide an opportunity for students from different courses to get to know each other and to celebrate their academic success. All of our parties also have a theme that’s reflected throughout the decoration of the venue and the activities available, from James Bond to Alice in Wonderland. Every year, we do our utmost to make the parties even bigger and better than the year before.
4. Our setting
Oxford Royale Academy is based in several centres across the UK and internationally, including Cambridge, St Andrews, London, Yale – and, of course, Oxford. Wherever we offer summer school courses, we look for settings that remind us of why people love the University of Oxford. That might be because they have been centres of education for hundreds of years, such as St Andrews and Cambridge, so that our students know that they’re walking in the footsteps of countless notable people stretching far back into history. It might be because they’re among the world’s leading universities, such as Yale, so that our students get a feel of what it might be like to be studying there as an undergraduate. It might be because, like Yarnton Manor, walking through their corridors and into their halls feels a great deal like wandering around Hogwarts. Of course, our centres in Oxford have all of these characteristics and more besides.
Similarly, when we put on activities and excursions wherever we’re based, our starting point is Oxford: filled with parks for sports and games – from croquet to ultimate frisbee – and sitting in the middle of sites representing thousands of years of history and culture, from Stonehenge to Bristol to London’s West End. When we plan activities in our other locations, we always look to make the most of what’s there, while remembering Oxford as our inspiration. The University of Oxford is more than just an educational institution: it represents hundreds of years of tradition and excellence – and at Oxford Royale Academy, we are deeply inspired by that ethos.
If you’re as inspired by Oxford as we are, why not join us there in the summer? Find out more about our Oxford summer school.
All photos used were taken at Oxford Royale Academy summer schools.