Review by Patricia Monticello Kievlan, Common Sense Education | Updated October 2015
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Office Sway

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Cool scroll effects, flexible features boost visual storytelling tool

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6-12 This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
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Pros: Tons of features make it easy to combine text and images to tell a story that's all your own.

Cons: Watch out for the privacy features to make sure you're not sharing too much.

Bottom Line: A great tool for design and presentation, if great visuals and easy sharing trump having some active viewing features present in other tools.

Consider using Sway as a digital portfolio tool where students can offer highlights of their written and visual work on the Web. Liven up a lab report by having your students import charts, graphs, and images from their latest lab into Sway, then have them enter their written responses in between. Have your students create digital storybooks, drafting the story on paper and then drawing or searching for appropriate images to illustrate their story. They could even use the device's camera to snap a photo of their drawing and insert it into their presentation. In an ELA class, use Sway to illustrate a text you're reading in class. Students can import passages from a short story, novel, or play and then include images and video to tell the story visually.

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Sway is a digital storytelling app from Microsoft that integrates with the online Office suite. When you launch the app, you can enter an existing Office account login, if you have one, or enter another email address to create a Sway account. Then, follow the how-to document to get oriented on how to add text and images and then how to customize how users will scroll through your story. Once you've completed your creation, you can share it in a link to your presentation online via the Sway website and choose its privacy settings; options include "Unlisted" (which lets you share the link to your Sway without it being publicly available on the Web), "My Organization" (which lets you share with others at work or school, if you all have Office 365 accounts), and "Listed" (which makes your Sway publicly visible). You can also choose to just keep your Sways local on the device.

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Once you get a hang of it, Sway can be a lot of fun. Creating visually stunning stories by plugging text and images into the app's template is empowering. Though the template's pretty simple, it's terrific that you can easily toggle its format (such as changing a story that scrolls vertically to one that scrolls horizontally) and its functionality (such as changing a swipe-able stack of photos to a static gallery). Those little changes can help you make slick, sophisticated presentations that are totally your own. There are a couple of odd things about Sway for iOS though. The detailed instruction guide is written with the Web and Windows 10 in mind, so a few of the features described in the how-to text don't work exactly as they're described or appear where it says they'll appear. 

Sways are easy to share online, and viewers can scroll through at their own pace, taking their time to explore the text and images and ponder how they're related. As a tool for learning, that self-paced experience is nice, and it would be even better if there were features to make that viewing experience more active, such as tools for annotation or commenting. As it is, Sway may not become your go-to presentation tool, but it's a great way to create Snow Fall-style design that's visually appealing and super simple to navigate. Take a look and get creative: this might just be the next cool presentation or report tool for your classroom.

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Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

Sway was created more for adults than for kids, but middle school and high school students could find the flexible features and simple interface engrossing and empowering.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

Students won't learn anything in particular, but there's great potential for exploring storytelling and presentation skills, from writing clearly to choosing the sequence of text and images effectively.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

Sample projects offer a good introduction to the features and their potential. Despite a few discrepancies in the how-to text, the features are intuitive and it's easy to get started with your own creations.


Common Sense Reviewer
Patricia Monticello Kievlan Foundation/nonprofit member

Teacher Reviews

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Featured review by
Melissa Z. , Classroom teacher
Classroom teacher
Springfield, MA
Sway Into Presenting!

I have used this as a way to present information and for students to present. Overall it is a decent teaching tool. It does have some short comings. I really think it depends on what your purpose is for your presentation. If you want the students to really go in depth on a topic and add animations than PowerPoint would work better. However, if you are looking for a simplistic way to have students present information than Sway would work. Sway can be used for more complex presentations, but it lacks the editing skills that other presentation tools have. It is a great starting tool for students to use to learn how to present.

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