A Good Year To Be Online

An article written by Tom summarising his work during the academic year 2020/21 for the St Edmund Hall Aularian Magazine.

The first year in my new position as an ‘Early-Career Teaching and Outreach Fellow’ at the Hall has been a rollercoaster ride to say the least. From the highs of reaching over 2 million people with a video filmed in the college grounds, to the cancellation of almost every in-person event, it would be fair to say a lot has happened over the past 9 months…

October saw the release of a video entitled ‘How Hard is it to get into Oxford University’ with YouTube star Mike Boyd sitting the Maths entrance exam in the Old Dining Hall. The video demonstrates how anyone can learn the skills required to succeed at Maths, and tries to demystify the Oxford experience. With over 2 million views to date, the college hopefully has more than a few new prospective students all over the world.

Michaelmas was a difficult time in terms of in-person events, with most being cancelled or moved online due to ever-changing restrictions. However, I did manage to visit a couple of schools with the highlight being a visit to Hockerill Anglo-European College where over 300 students enjoyed a lecture on the ‘Million-Dollar Millennium Problems’. You can watch an online version of the lecture recorded with the Royal Institution below.

I also worked with ‘Maths Week Ireland’ during October with my lecture on ‘The Maths of Sport’ being streamed live to over 100 schools across the Republic of Ireland. November saw the start of admissions season, and working with the Undergraduate Admissions Office at the University, I hosted several mock interview sessions with applicants ahead of the real thing in December.

Hilary term was of course all online with the majority of students remaining at home due to the national lockdown in the UK. Outreach events followed the same format, including the Royal Institution weekend Maths Masterclasses, and several science festivals at which I was an invited speaker. One particular event that stands out for me was with STAR Academy at the NASA Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. Despite coming from an assortment of disadvantaged backgrounds, the passion and enthusiasm the students displayed for learning STEM was a real breath of fresh air.

Trinity term fortunately saw the return of in-person events once again, and with it the opportunity to record a series of video interviews with some of our undergraduate students discussing their dissertations or research projects. These videos should be available on the college YouTube channel in the near future so watch this space!

Finally, I have continued to make content for my website and YouTube channel under the ‘Tom Rocks Maths’ brand, with recent videos of me taking an A-level Maths exams reaching almost 1 million views. You can watch the Maths A-level exam video below.

I have also continued to work with the excellent ’Numberphile’ YouTube channel which currently has over 3.14 (or pi) million subscribers. I have now featured in 10 videos on the channel – reaching over 5 million people – with my recent video on the ‘Gabriels’ Horn Paradox’ in particular generating a lot of attention.

Despite the undoubted challenges that 2020/21 has brought, the switch to online formats for teaching and outreach has had the benefit of allowing me to reach a larger audience than ever before. Here’s to even an even bigger and better 2021/22!

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