The University of Oxford is famed for its interview questions -- not because they are particularly difficult in terms of demonstrating intensive academic knowledge but, rather, because they engage prospective students in ways of knowing. Dr. Lynn Robson, lecturer in English and frequent visitor to our college during the spring Oxford interviews at Georgetown College, disclosed one of the typical questions asked of Oxford-wannabees: "Why do you think an English student might be interested in the fact that Coronation Street has been running for 50 years?" [For those who may not be familiar, Coronation Street is a British soap opera featuring stock characters (from a host of social classes) such as the busybody, war vet, and pensioner as well as youthful rebel and university student.]
On the surface the question seems mundane. It throws students for a loop because it's not a particularly scholarly question that might yield a demonstration of knowledge of the thousands of pages of literature with which the interviewee may be familiar. Yet, it is an interesting conversation starter aimed at seeing how people respond to known material. Robson notes that this question “first and foremost...brings popular culture into the mix and shows that techniques of literary analysis can be applied to other media. It could also open up discussion about things such as techniques of storytelling; mixing humorous and serious storylines/characters; how a writer might keep viewers or readers engaged; collaborative writing; the use of serialisation, and how writers/texts might move from being perceived as ‘popular’ (like Dickens, say) to being ‘canonical’.”
How would you respond to a question like this? Examples might include:
- What is the most influential work of art that you have seen face-to-face (not through a book or reproduction)?
- What work of literature would you give as a gift to a graduating senior and why?
- Why do you think the Mona Lisa is considered one of the most famous works of art?
- How does a work of art, any work of art, demonstrate evidence of the production of new knowledge?
As we bring the semester into its final third, consider these kinds of questions as you approach art, design, and research projects. Consider what your work offers to its audience. Consider its purpose, goals, and objectives. Consider decisions made at every step of the way. Are you able to articulate your thoughts about your own production and that of others? How do you see your work fitting into the larger matrix of work produced as a graduating senior, an art student, an artist, or any other identifying group? Feel free to stop by my office and chat about ways of knowing and ways of answering the question...whatever it may be.
For more information on the Oxford interview, see the Times Higher Ed article.