Oxford vs. Cambridge

Engineering Area
Analysis & problem definition, Assessment & evaluation, Design & Prototyping, Ideation & Conceptual design
Group or Individual
Amount of People
Up to 15, 15-25, 25+
Type of Class
Duration of Activity
Half an hour or less
Type of Activity
Collaborative team setting, On-line Classroom activity


What is this technique about

The Oxford vs. Cambridge method is an icebreaker that makes student teams compete against each other. The participants are divided into two groups – an Oxford group and a Cambridge group, which could also be boys vs. girls. The teams will now compete against each other on finding items (sunglasses, toothbrushes, shampoo etc.) as the first team. As an icebreaker, the method is ideal for the creative process, hence it helps the participants to stop thinking too much about the topic or problem and then focus completely on something else.

Where does it come from 

Using icebreaker activities and re-energizers in the classroom effectively help to “break the ice” in various ways: Adult learners get acquainted, start conversations, build trust, and relieve tensions. They encourage participation and help to create a sense of connection and shared common understanding. They help to clear the mind, vitalize, and create enthusiasm (Chlup & Collins, 2010).

The name of the method refers to the common discussions about whether Oxford or Cambridge is Britain’s greatest university (e.g., WillieWillieHarrySte, 2011).

For which purposes it is used (why in your engineering teaching)

When students are to develop an idea or solve a problem based on the engineering process, it can be very helpful if an icebreaker is implemented before the prototyping and development starts. This allows them to clear their mind and let go of the topic or problem for a while (Chlup & Collins, 2010). Furthermore, it can be crucial for the prototyping and development process if the participants have cleared their minds, because new ideas and thoughts to the problem might emerge.

How to implement this techniques online

Preparation, what do before the session

    1. Choose 3-5 items that the students should find in their homes. Make sure that they are items which everybody has at home but usually not very close to the laptop (e.g., salt, sunglasses, etc.).
    2. Inform the students in advance that they will be required to turn their camera on.

During application, i.e., while giving the session

    1. Ask the students to turn their cameras on (wait until everybody has done this). 
    2. Divide students into two teams (If you do not know them well, you can make a male vs. a female team to identify them – if there is an uneven number make them wear a sign of group membership such as a yellow Post It).
    3. Introduce the purpose and rules of the exercise. Stress that it is a competition and that there can be only one winning team.
    4. Make sure that the participants understand that they work individually but for their group.
    5. Tell them that 3-5 items will be named, and they should find them in their flat, get them and hold them up in front of the camera as fast as they can. 
    6. The first group where all participants show their item to the camera will win the round.
    7. Start the game with the first round and announce a winner at the end of each round.
    8. Repeat step 7 with all items.

Follow-up, about what to do after the session

    1. Count the points and name a winner of the Oxford against Cambridge method.

Examples and/or testimonials

The below is an example of how the method was prepared and facilitated in February 2021 by a student group during the course “Megatrends and Technological Innovation” held at the University of Southern Denmark by Prof. Dr. Patricia Wolf. 

Facilitators instruction guide

Turning point (until 9.30 max)

    • This is an exercise which only one person can win per round. The exercise is from your childhood and is called Oxford against Cambridge.
    • Divide the participants into two teams that will play against each other.
    • Tell them that you will name items, and they should go and look for such items in their house, go and get them quickly, and show them to the camera. The team where ALL players show such an item first to the camera wins a point.
    • Ask them whether they are ready.
    • Name the first item: Sun glass.
    • Tell them who won.
    • Name the second item: Shampoo.
    • Tell them who won.
    • Name the third item: Spice.
    • Tell them who won.
    • Tell which team won.

Tools needed

You will need a platform to share screens and communicate with the participants, such as: MS Teams, Zoom or similar. As well as access to a shared document (e.g. Google doc, Word)

    • Timer 
    • Teacher: Paper and pencil to write down the winners of each item (can also be done online in the chat)



Becreate.ch (n.d.), online at https://www.becreate.ch/en/knowledge 


WillieWillieHarrySte (2011, October 16). Oxford vs. Cambridge. [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fVyJDV6igLk 


Chlup, D. T., & Collins, T. E. (2010). Breaking the ice: using ice-breakers and re-energizers with adult learners. Adult Learning, 21(3-4), 34-39.