Guest blog post, David Lopez, Microsoft Fellow and Master Trainer
I'll be honest with you and let you know that when I first saw Sway I didn't quite see how to use it in the classroom. I have opportunities to visit school districts all over the country and work with teachers and administrators of all walks of life. I recognize as you do, that teachers are asked to do new things everyday on top of what their normal responsibilities are. Oh yeah, and there's life outside of school too. While many teaching tools are a teacher's choice to use or not to use, part of my current job is demonstrating the "how and why" behind some of these great resources. After that, it is still the teacher's choice but I'm the one standing there wearing the t-shirt and cheering them on. So when I see a new free tool from anywhere, I try to evaluate a few things right off the bat.
- What does it do and do I have a reason to use it?
- Is it easy to use?
- Can students use it?
- Is it cross-platform?
- Can it save instructional time instead of waste it?
After watching the demo video, it was easy to understand that it is a very smooth web-based content creation tool. So I gave it a try with some of my own content and that's when things really sprang to life! I suddenly realized that all of the time I spend on design work for presenting content can be left up to Sway's internal design engine. All I really need to do is put images, text, videos, and more in order and Sway makes it look good – which in-turn makes me look good. I can even import content from PowerPoint files, PDFs and Word documents for a quick Sway makeover.
Is it easy to use? Freakishly easy. Those video and picture resources that I gather to use as lesson starters or bell-ringer activities no longer need to be downloaded and embedded, Sway automatically connects me to lots of different built-in sources and lets me drag and drop pieces of multimedia right into my Sway canvas. In fact, it freaked me out the first time I typed the title of the Sway and then clicked to find a relevant background – Sway had already started a search based on my title and gave me a list of suggestions including: pictures, videos, and even tweets from multiple resources all over the web. The great thing is that they are aggregated right on the same page allowing me to stay focused on my content.
Can students use it? Like Luke brought balance to the Force, Sway brings balance to the classroom presentation. Many times students focus too much on one thing or the other. They work really hard on the content but forget to leave time for presenting the work they have done or they focus way too much on the presentation and shortcut the content. Sway allows for a balanced approach, allowing students to work on solid content and information gathering and still be confident that their presentation will look good even after just a few minutes of work.
Is it cross-platform? Yes. A Sway can be created using any browser from Windows, to Apple, to Chromebook. This seems to stem from a committed, mobile-first perspective that Microsoft is bringing to the table across their services. One of the best things about Sway though is that it automatically reformats your content to look great on a mobile phone even though you may have created it on your desktop. As a teacher, I know I can easily use it to build a page of content, share it, and then continue adding to and editing content as needed, and my students can view the up-to-date Sway on any device. This happens because Sways are stored in the cloud so there is always just one "source of truth" so I don't have to worry about versioning nightmares or having to resend out links, all the changes are dynamic and everyone always sees the latest version.
Can it save instructional time instead of waste it? As with any classroom tool, tech or non-tech, it is up to the teacher to integrate what he or she feels is advantageous to student achievement. If you're a perfectionist and you want to have complete control of granular choices on fonts, colors and designs, Sway might not be the best tool for that moment. However, if you want to gather your content and let someone else handle the design and layout at the click of a button, then Sway can be a great little teacher's helper. This can save you time and effort while still getting great visual output. If I'm having students use it and I want them to get the most out of the research and the content development they are doing then it can absolutely save instructional time through its ease of use and mobility-first mentality. They can go from the lab to the classroom computer in seconds and even continue the work on their own device at home without having to save anything on a flash drive.
In this blog post, Lynette Barker has some great suggestions for creating a Sway resource page:
- Start small . You can add to the Sway at any time. Gather a few quality resources and just do it! If you wait to gather all the 'exact' resources you want you may never start
- Have a clear purpose . Is your Sway intended to be a collection of resources that will support rich learning activities? Is it a blend of resources and learning tasks? It is worth defining this in an opening statement to inform users. If it is a 'resource package' only, you can always add a link to the teaching program at a later date
- Provide resources in a variety of formats . Including information as video, audio, text, websites and books makes information accessible to students with differing learning needs.
If your spring break hasn't already passed you by and you have a moment while curling up on the couch at night binge watching your favorite TV series, grab your laptop, sign in to Sway.com and give it a try. Sway your next topic in history, Sway some video resources for the kinetic and potential energy unit that students are going to be working on next week, or Sway the latest news on the TV series you're watching – and see how quickly Sway works for you. Read about Sway ideas for educators .
See this Sway of the Word document that I wrote this blog post in, it looks much cooler that way and check out the surprise at the end, it's just like the movie Inception.
If you want more info check out these free on-demand webinars all about Office Sway:
Or check out this blog post to see some awesome teachers using Sway in their classrooms.
Get started at sway.com.
– David Lopez signing off, I hope you use this in your classroom tomorrow!