The great thing about Office 365 is that it never stands still. Because it’s cloud-based, updates, features and new applications are added, or become available, with minimum technical intervention from the user. That means they can sometimes go almost unnoticed until another user, or a demonstrator, or your RM Education consultant introduces you to them.
So, although Office Mix and Sway have been around for a while now – two years for Office Mix, a year or so for Sway – they’re not as well known as some of the other applications. That’s a pity because when teachers begin to understand them, the immediate reaction is to start listing the ways in which they can envisage using them in the classroom.
Office Mix is a free add-on for PowerPoint 2013 that brings interactivity to what is already a well-established and efficient presentation tool.
With Office Mix, you can add audio or video – your own or from other sources -- to your PowerPoint, make ink annotations to your slides as you go and add quizzes and polls. Press the ‘record’ button and you can record any or all of the presentation, including your words and inked annotations, and make it available, via the Cloud, on any enabled device. It then becomes a powerful resource for revision, ‘catch-up’ for students who need extra help or miss a lesson, and of course for flipped learning. Increasingly, 21st Century students want lesson content – if possible whole lessons – to remain available online for repetition and further study; Office Mix fulfils that expectation.
One really important feature is the provision of ‘analytics’ – the evidence of who’s studied each slide, for how long, and, if there are quizzes or tests, detailed individual results.
Importantly, all of the Office Mix features are available from within PowerPoint. There’s no need to learn any extra audio-visual or editing techniques.
A further key attraction for many teachers is that you don’t have always to make new Office Mixes from scratch. You can take any existing presentation – and many schools have a whole library of them – and apply the full Mix makeover, giving a new lease of life, with new and rearranged content and a much richer level of explanation and student engagement.
In many classrooms, PowerPoint is used by children and students of all ages for their own presentations. It seems clear that they will be quick to pick up the extra features of Office Mix and, as is the case with all good software, will find ways of using them that the teacher hadn’t foreseen.
All of that means it’s important to realise that although Office Mix can be thought of as ‘PowerPoint Plus’, and can work well like that, it’s also a step up to a new kind of online tool. That’s because with Office Mix, a presentation moves from being a transient event and becomes an always-available multi-media resource. This makes the basics of good presentation even more important – short segments, variety of pace, slides with a few bold words, all in the cause of maintaining engagement and enthusiasm.
Finally, given that it’s free and uses your existing skills – and content if necessary – what’s not to like about Office Mix?
While Office Mix starts from a familiar base, Sway is quite unlike anything else in the teacher’s technological toolbox. Microsoft Product Manager Jim Federico says so in his presentations, and raises a laugh when he adds, ‘Word creates documents; PowerPoint creates presentations, Sway creates…. Sways.’
What Sway actually does for education is enable teachers or students, individually or in collaboration, to draw together material from any conceivable source under an overarching title which can be whatever you want, from ‘My Journey Through School’, via ‘The Andromeda Galaxy’ to ‘My Lovely Horse’. It’s been described as a ‘one-page website’, although Jim Federico prefers to avoid the idea of a ‘page’ altogether, preferring ‘canvas.’
My own visualisation is of a huge, expandable notice-board on to which you can pin lots of information – a bit, I suppose, like the kind of board that TV detectives like to stand studying and writing on with felt pens. But that’s only a very small part of it. Sway can certainly include documents, photographs, drawings and maps, but because it’s digital and multi-media it also accepts videos (in-house or from a source such as YouTube), inked annotations, a live Twitter feed, live audio or video, a PowerPoint or Office Mix, animated simulations, web links. In fact, you can move to it virtually anything in digital form, selected and sequenced so as to explain, entertain, tell a story, persuade, instruct, engage, whatever is appropriate. It offers, says Jim Federico, ‘A new paradigm of creating and sharing rich interactive web-based presentation which is immersive, interactive and expansive.’
The real innovation, though, lies in the way Sway takes away from the author all the work and decisions around design. A set of sophisticated algorithms developed with expert designers take care of the look of your Sway as it develops, and if you aren’t sure about what’s emerging, or what you end up with, you can press a ‘remix’ button and be offered a new version that you might like better. The layouts also adapt to, and look good on any device. The teacher or student is able to focus on choosing, authoring and curating content, while Sway itself takes care of the clarity, aesthetic quality and accessibility of the final product.
Sway opens up endless possibilities for the creative teacher and student, individually or in collaboration. At Microsoft Showcase School Shireland Collegiate Academy, for example, Sway is a valuable aid to flipped learning – in Design Technology, the teacher is able to put together Sways which incorporate video examples, audio explanations and word documents pulled into one place for students to study and respond to in advance of their lessons.
And at Simon de Senlis Primary, another Microsoft Showcase School, children are adept a producing Sways to present their project work or to report back on school visits and expeditions.
The links listed here have lots of examples of Office Mix and Sway, but my own feeling is that so far users are still finding their feet. There’s a whole creative world out there of ideas that will increasingly be explored by students, making teachers say, ‘Wow! I would never have thought of that!’
Jim Federico of Microsoft on Office Mix and Sway
Using Sway for flipped learning in D and T at Shireland Collegiate Academy
Gerald is a former head teacher and a writer on education.
Read his blog about transitioning to Microsoft Office 365.
To find out more about how RM can support you with Microsoft Office 365 please call 0800 138 3393 or visit http://www.rm.com/products/office-365