Part of the Radcliffe camera library from outside, alongside an image of a person holding a touch-screen tablet and stylus pen

Applicants in 12 subjects must have access to a stylus and large touchscreen device for interviews

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Image Description: Part of the Radcliffe camera library from outside, alongside an image of a person holding a touch-screen tablet and stylus pen

Oxford University has created a new ‘Tier’ system to determine the level of technology applicants are required to have in order to sit interviews. While many social sciences and humanities fall under Tier 1, requiring only video conferencing, most scientific subjects in Tier 3 require that applicants also have access to a large touch screen device and a stylus pen: a mobile phone alone “is not likely to be suitable.” 

Earlier this year, The Oxford Student broke the news that Oxford was moving to an entirely online interview process, details of which have now been published

Biochemistry, Chemistry, Computer Science, Computer Science and Philosophy, Earth Sciences, Engineering, Mathematics, Mathematics and Computer Science, Mathematics and Philosophy, Mathematics and Statistics, Physics, and Physics and Philosophy are the twelve ‘Tier 3’ subjects which require applicants to have access to a tablet or touch screen laptop, and a stylus, in addition to the device they are using to access Microsoft Teams. 

Labelled under “essential equipment”, a touch screen device with a stylus will be needed in order to access and use a Miro whiteboard, “An Online Visual Collaboration Platform for Teamwork” according to their website. Miro functions as a collaborative digital whiteboard enabling multiple people to interact on the same ‘canvas’ at the same time. Devices “should have a screen at least 8 inches in size, so a mobile phone is not likely to be suitable.” 

Applicants will be asked to “Add markings using the ‘draw’ tool to highlight, point to, or annotate an existing image or text, add text using the ‘text’ tool, write out mathematical notation using the ‘draw’ tool with your stylus, as though you were writing on a piece of paper, sketch a diagram using the ‘draw’ tool with your stylus, as though you were drawing on a piece of paper.” 

The move to online learning this year has highlighted the ‘digital poverty’ faced by many students at disadvantaged schools. “In our schools, 60% to 70% of children wouldn’t have laptops,” Wayne Norrie, head of an academy trust with schools in disadvantaged areas, told the BBC. However, many schools do have access to ‘tablet computers’ – touchscreen devices commonly known as ‘tablets’ – according to a study by education technology charity Tablets for Schools. 

The University prefaced its Tier system by saying that in many cases “interviews are expected to take place in schools, and so you and your school will need to check that you have access to the required technology listed here.” 

The University offers some support to students unable to access the required technology through the College they applied to, or have been assigned for the interview. They continued: “We are already in touch with some applicants’ schools to try and pre-empt any potential issues around access to technology but please encourage your school to contact the college inviting you for interview with any queries. If you are not applying through your school, you can also contact the college inviting you with any issues.” 

Class Act, which campaigns on behalf of students from working-class, low income, first-generation, and state comprehensive school backgrounds, told the Oxford Student the technology requirements “would certainly pose a massive barrier to access” unless the University provided further detail on how it will support students unable to access these:

“Unless there are multiple and sufficient contingencies in place, this would certainly pose a massive barrier to access and all the hard work so many of us here have put into access work.”

“It is a shame the University has not detailed specific plans for what they will do if schools and students don’t have this technology, to reassure the numerous applicants who will be feeling very anxious upon hearing about these new requirements.”

“Class Act hope to be able to get a clarification from the admissions teams on what their plans are, to make sure the interview process is as equitable as possible.”

UPDATED 20/11/20: A spokesperson for Oxford University said:

“There are a range of options available to access technology suitable for tier 3 remote interviews, which have been prepared in consultation with schools. Schools and individuals can discuss these options with colleges in order to find the best option for their needs. By introducing the different options we are ensuring everyone can access the interviews.”

The interviews webpage has been updated to note that “no candidate or their school will be expected to purchase a touchscreen device in order to participate in their Oxford interviews.”

The Chair of the Admissions Committee, and Principal of St Anne’s College, Tweeted at 4:17 pm on 18/11/20: “@OxOutreach has been working with schools for months now to make interviews as fair as possible for everyone. This includes provision of tablets to state schools that don’t already have them.”

All Tiers require a computer, with a microphone, speakers and a webcam with access to Microsoft Teams as the video conferencing tool, either installed in advance or via an internet browser. Applicants must also have plain paper and pens to take any notes, a copy of their personal statement, and any written work submitted. They may have been sent pre-reading in advance. 

Tier 2 subjects consist of Classical Archaeology and Ancient History, Economics and Management, Experimental Psychology, History and Economics, Music, Philosophy, Politics and Economics, Psychology, and Philosophy and Linguistics, and these need — in addition to what is listed above — access to Miro whiteboard on the same device running the Microsoft Teams call, in case they are asked to make basic drawn annotations or highlights, or to add text to something shared with them. 

Tier 1 subjects consist of Ancient and Modern History, Archaeology and Anthropology, Biology, Biomedical Sciences, Classics, Classics and English, Classics and Modern Languages, Classics and Oriental Studies, English and Modern Languages, English Language and Literature, European and Middle Eastern Languages, Fine Art, Geography, History, History and English, History and Modern Languages, History and Politics, History of Art, Human Sciences, Law, Law with Law Studies in Europe, Materials Science, Medicine, Medicine (Graduate-entry), Modern Languages, Modern Languages and Linguistics, Oriental Studies, Philosophy and Modern Languages, Philosophy and Theology, Religion and Oriental Studies, and Theology and Religion. These subjects only require the video conference software, and any workings a student may do on paper can be shown using their webcam.

Image Credits: Dan Dodman and Dose Media, via Unsplash