Today’s post was written by David Harcrow, academic technology coordinator at King’s Schools in Shoreline, Washington.
I started teaching elementary school in 1998. Back then, technology was really limited to word processing, some PowerPoint and really slow internet—especially at our school. Back then, I was not really involved in using technology in the classroom simply because it seemed very inefficient and lacked a lot of exciting programs for students to use for learning.
As the years went on, technology started to improve, the internet became faster and new programs started to emerge. About six years into my teaching career, I started to see lots of new programs that could impact student learning. Our internet speed started to improve, and programs like Google Earth and YouTube started to present the ability to access content that could be displayed for all students to engage with and share. Still, at that time, projectors weighed 60 pounds and were extremely expensive, so there still were limitations on the amount of use I could get out of these tools. Nobody in our school had an LCD projector, but there was one that could be checked out from the library.
Finally, in my ninth year of teaching, projectors had gotten small and cheap enough that my principal had enough money for me to purchase one for my classroom. This opened up so many doors for my ability as an educator to show content to students in ways that were exciting and kept their attention. We read books online, worked with interactive maps, used interactive math websites to tackle difficult concepts, kept daily class notes online (in Word), used PowerPoint for student reports and much more. Our class was using technology in ways that helped bring learning concepts alive and helped students stay focused, excited and engaged.
Starting the Sway journey at King’s Schools
Two years later, I accepted a position at King’s Schools in Shoreline as the academic technology coordinator. My job was to take everything I learned about technology and how it can positively impact the classroom and present it to other teachers for use in their classrooms.
At that time, a very exciting product came out called Microsoft Live@Edu. I was really excited to see that you could access Microsoft products online even if you did not have a copy of the Microsoft Office Suite at home. I also like the ability for schools to have a specific domain name for emails and individual accounts. At the time, Google had something very similar, so the decision to go with either one of the programs was up in the air.
Even though I was the technology coordinator, I did not have a strong background in computer science or IT, so I needed to reach out to Google and Microsoft for assistance in setting up these accounts for my school, which required some PowerShell, web domain and Active Directory experience. When I reached out to both companies, I immediately heard back from a man named Jonny Chambers at Microsoft. Very soon after, he came to our campus and actually helped our IT department connect all of our students with an account with Live@Edu. Right there, the answer for me was very simple—Live@Edu and Microsoft were our choice in moving forward with anything cloud related. The service we received was top notch and in person. Any time I needed assistance, I receive a response quickly and sometimes even in person.
One of the nice things about being a technology coordinator is I have the ability to spend a lot of time researching programs that help engage students and increase student learning and involvement. No matter what grade you’re in, there are times you need to present information to others, whether it is in small groups or full class. There are many presentation programs—PowerPoint, SlideShare, Animoto, Keynote, Google Slides, Prezi and more—which all have pros and cons and dynamic ways of presenting content for the user.
These presentation tools always seem to have a fairly steep learning curve. They also require the user to spend a fair amount of time with design and layout. Some of them are very linear, while some of them are almost three-dimensional. Some of them are single presenter only, while others allow for peer editing and sharing. The ability to allow for linking and embedding of content and ease of inserting media differs on each.
What I really was looking for was a presentation tool that seemed to have it all: a small learning curve, the ability to share and edit with peers easily and quick setup with less attention to detail and more attention to content.
About a year and a half ago, I was browsing through YouTube and saw this new Microsoft app, Sway. It looked different than all the other presentation products I had seen. It had a different flow to it and it seemed to be fresh and exciting. Naturally, I wanted to try it out right away. My initial impression of Sway was one of great excitement. I really liked how content could be added from various sources within the program itself. One of the things that’s difficult is having to continually leave your active window to find content that you want to add. You have to minimize your presentation app, open another window and start searching. When you find something you want, you either have to save it somewhere and/or cut and paste and open up your presentation window to add. Sway has the ability to search for content of all types—videos, images, tweets—within the same active window, and then merely drag and drop into your Sway. What a fantastic way to stay focused and work efficiently!
Office 365 Education provides instant access to Sway
Since our school already has Office 365 Education accounts (formally Live@Edu), we are able to sign in with these accounts and start utilizing Sway right away. With Office 365 Education accounts, students can easily add to Sway presentations through their same connected OneDrive account. If students have been saving all their Word docs, PowerPoint decks, images, videos and other files to OneDrive, they have instant ability to grab them within the Sway editing view and place their content directly into their presentation.
Sway even works on mobile devices. I have an iPhone, which is set to automatically upload pictures I take directly to OneDrive. The nice thing with that is that now anytime I use Sway to create a report, I can quickly add pictures from my phone to my OneDrive account and then put them directly into a Sway. This saves a lot of time because all of this can happen automatically.
One of the other features that I really like about Sway is the ability to embed websites. Oftentimes, when you are presenting content, you’re also presenting something else from the web. It is very clunky in a presentation to minimize a window and maximize another to share different content. The ability to share a website or webpage within a presentation without leaving the presentation is very seamless and very professional-looking in Sway.
The ability to embed and add pictures and videos is so easy that I have seen 3rd-graders, learning Sway for the first time, do this within 15 minutes of starting the program.
I also like how the program is so easy to share throughout our student community in Office 365. One component of presentation is collaboration, and the easier you make this, the more time will be spent on content than actual setup. Sway makes it very easy to share with others and work together on the same project.
One example of the ability to use Sway for projects was in the 6th grade at King’s Schools. Every year, they have a science project where they host a family science fair night and display a science inquiry that includes a tested hypothesis with results. Hundreds of people attend and look at all the student projects and displays. This year, each student created a Sway presentation that highlighted their science project and their findings, in addition to their physical props. They then created a QR code for their Sway presentation that was placed at their physical presentation booth for the science fair. Parents and families were encouraged to scan the QR codes to view a student’s digital presentation. Teachers, students and families were impressed with the perfect blend of physical presentation with virtual presentation. It was such a hit that the 6th-graders will follow this format again next year.
Wireless projection and tablets are becoming the norm in schools. Presenting Sways with a tablet device is the way that presentations are meant to be. Sway allows for seamless scrolling, which adds very strong eye appeal. The HD pictures I put in Sway are much more vivid and pop better than any other presentation program I have used.
When I present with Sway, especially to people that have never seen it before, I hear a lot of “oohs” and “awes” about how it looks so cool to scroll through the presentation and have many different looks, whether it is an embedded video, a stack of pictures, an external website built within the Sway or even the cool ability to build a Sway within a Sway.
I have specifically heard two of our graduating seniors refer to Sway as their “go-to” for presentation because they can complete a powerful presentation in 30 minutes as opposed to a couple hours.
Feedback and focus on learning
All of these things together, in my mind, make Sway rise to the top when it comes to presenting. The whole idea of spending more time on content and less time on design—especially in a new and dynamic way—makes Sway a very good choice for presenting.
I have seen Sway since its beginning and have been lucky enough to have a connection with the team that created it. Over the last year and a half, the Sway team from Microsoft has listened to its users and made amazing advances in the program, and they continually work toward making presentations dynamic, easy and accessible for all students regardless of their platform. They continue to make game-changing enhancements and add tools that continue to make it a must-use or a “go-to” for presenting.
Technology has come a long way in my 18 years in education. I’m very excited to see tools like Sway begin to emerge as not only fun and exciting ways to present information, but also truly impacting student learning. With Sway, students spend more time focused on the content and less time on the design. When students are more focused on the content, they are truly learning, which is the whole purpose of the presentation.