Sway-ing and blending beyond content

The first of our week long lunch time drop in sessions yesterday took a look at some simple and free to use tools that can help to enhance presentation and get people to re-think how they can represent and/or create new content and of course most importantly learning activities.

Over the session we explored a couple of tools that we’ve been experimenting and using over the summer – Blendspace and Sway.

Blendspace allows you to “create lessons in 5 minutes“.  It’s a simple grid interface where you can  drag and drop videos, webpages, pictures, text into a sequence for learners to follow. There is a (limited) commenting  facility, and some more responsive/social  features such as a like button. It is primarily aimed at the primary school market, but as with everything it can be used in all educational sectors. It is particularly useful if you have a structured activity (perhaps for a flipped teaching session). Being able to drop web pages directly into the resource is quite handy and during our discussion we also thought that you could use it to create topic resource banks.  We’ve used it to create quick guides for Turnitin for example.

screenshot of turnitin guide for staff

One of the appealing things for us it that it embeds well into GCULearn. Just copy the embed  code it generates into a content area and you have something that looks a bit more attractive and engaging for users. I also think the structured nature of the building content does make you think more about the design of activities.

The other tool that I’m really becoming impressed with is Sway from Microsoft.  It is more of a text layout tool, but again it embeds nicely in our VLE. Sway can be particularly useful if you have a lot of text and you want to make it more appealing visually (yes, I know a bit “style over substance” but having something that looks nice can make a difference for learners and teachers alike). The interface is pretty simple and is mainly drag and drop and you can add videos from a range of sources. We’ve used it to create a slightly more exciting 10 Ten Tips list for using GCU Learn our staff help page.

A “neat” feature of Sway which could be really handy is that you can upload a powerpoint presentation and it splits out all the images and allows you to add text to them. So instead of just uploading you powerpoint to your module, you could upload it into Sway, maybe just keep the key image and add some additional resources/links and commentary. Again that could be a very useful resource both pre and post lecture/workshops.  Yes, you could of course use the notes facility in powerpoint to do that, but be honest – how many of us do that?

With both tools, you also get the added advantage of having an external URL so if, like one of our colleagues mentioned yesterday, you have new work based students,  you could potentially send links to content/activities before the students are fully registered and can access GCULearn. They both have the usual sharing facilities via Facebook, Twitter etc. With Sway you do have to have an outlook/exchange (or if you’re old skool like me) hotmail account to register to use the service.

Teaching teams might want to think about creating an authoring email that can be shared. We’d also recommend that you write your content in outwith either tool so you have source document, and in the event of any changes to pricing/access etc you can easily recreate any resource in another service.

Of course, the other good thing is that you can start to put a CC licence on resources and make them OERs.  As ever if you have any thoughts/ideas or examples of using either we’d love to hear about them.

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