Dialogues: Digital Storytelling with Microsoft Sway

In this session we demonstrated the functionality of Microsoft’s digital storytelling app.

  • Quickly create interactive and accessible web content without needing to be a web developer.
  • Create and/or share Sways with the rest of the web, just the University or select users.
  • Sway Overview

We then presented a case study on how the software has been used to create Research Digistories as online educational resources for research students. In the case study, Sways have been created using past student work and focus not on the product of the research but on the externalisation of the hidden and personal knowledge involved in the research process itself.

Sway is available to all staff and students by logging into sway.com with their Office 365 credentials. (campusID@newcastle.ac.uk and your university password)

Additional resources

Sway Video Tutorials

Sway Quickstart Guide

Sway Online Course

Dialogues: Creating resources that are useful and useable

We spend lots of time creating digital resources, how can we build in accessibility so that they can be used by the widest group of people?

In our 3P session we explored a few ideas

  • documents are best when they have text (not pictures of text), structure, and a sensible reading order.
    – We explored this with a hands-on exercise looking at pdf accessibility.
  • videos are much more accessible and useful when they have a transcript and subtitles.
    – We had a look at how easy it is to add transcripts to YouTube.
  • Images can convey information powerfully, but how can we make these useful to people with little or no sight?
    – We explored the use of images in a Sway

Video Transcripts

As well as helping learners who are hard of hearing.  Captions and transcripts also help:

  • non-native speakers
  • people accessing resources on limited bandwidth
  • those without soundcards or headphones
  • people who prefer to read and annotate text

In this activity we’d like to show you how to add subtitles to a video on YouTube.  You’ll need a video, a script and a google account.

Feel free to use the following example files that we used in the Nutela session.

Sign into YouTube with your own google account

  • Upload the video to YouTube (look for the upload button in the top right), and click Publish when it is done
  • Click on the Video manager button


  • Click the drop down next to the video and select “Subtitles & CC


  • Next click “Add new subtitles or CC”


  • The method we will use here is “Transcribe and auto-sync” as this will automatically set the timings of the text:


  • Paste your text into the text box and then click “Set timings



You will now see an option under “My Drafts”.

  • Wait 30 seconds or so and then click the refresh button:


Now you can check that it has aligned it correctly by listening to the video and make any changes.

  • To adjust the timings click on the phrase you wish to change and then drag the blue tabs:


  • Once you are happy with the words, punctuation and timings click “Publish edits


You should see the following video, click on the CC button to view the captions.

(Our demo video is about how we generate subtitles when we don’t have a script.)

YouTube also has a function which automatically generates subtitles

If you don’t have a script for your video you may be able to make use of the automatic subtitles which YouTube adds to all videos.

  • In Subtitles & CC, instead of adding new subtitles you need to select “English (Automatic)


  • Listen to the full video to check if the text is correct and make any changes.
  • Once you are happy with the words, punctuation and timings click “Publish edits



[Huge thanks to Eleanor Lockhart for preparing these instructions and screenshots for the hands-on session.]

Useable PDFs

Imagine that a 20 page PDF arrives in your mailbox.

  • How do you go about reading it?
    Do you skim it? check for a table of contents or look for an abstract or executive summary?

There are a few things that document authors can do to make a PDF more useable.

Top of my list would be:

  1. Make sure that the pdf itself contains text, not just pictures of text – your readers may wish to annotate it, copy relevant portions and highlight key ideas.
  2. Add some structure to guide the reader, headings and bullets.
  3. Think about readers who may be using text to speech to listen to the document – check that it has a sensible reading order.
  4. Have a think about how whether the document would make sense if any pictures or diagrams were removed.

Let’s explore these with a few examples.

Note: For the PDF examples in this post, you’ll need to download these to a folder on your PC, navigate to the folder and open them with Adobe Reader.  We want to make use of  a few features in Adobe Reader and don’t want to open them in a browser.

Is it text or a picture of text?

You can quickly work out whether a pdf has any text in it, or just contains images of words by

  • trying to select text using the cursor
  • listening to the pdf using “Read out Loud”

Try this:

  • selecting some of the text – you won’t be able to!
  • In Adobe Reader select View then Read Out Loud and click Activate Read Out Loud
  • Once Read Out Loud is active click anywhere on the pdf – it will only read the page numbers.

In comparison try the same things with a version containing text.

Does it have discoverable structure?

You’ll have seen Version 2 is a bit better.  It has text, and there look to be some headings.

The downside is that the headings have been created by making the text bold, not by marking them as headings.  As a consequence we don’t see anything at all in the page navigation.

Let’s look at V3: v3-musings-with-headings

This one has bookmarks, so I can see the structure.

bookmarksThis is only a short example, but imagine if it was longer!  The heading structure shown in the bookmarks would really help me understand the flow of the document and revisit pertinent sections once i had read it.

If you are making your own pdfs from Word documents it’s easy to add these bookmarks in.

Adding Structure to your Word/PDF documents

Next: we’ll ask you to create a word document, add headings and save it to a PDF.

  • Start Microsoft Word
  • Type out headings for a short report (you could use “Introduction”, “method”, “results”, “discussion”) and add some dummy text beneath each of these “fjkfjkdfjsj…etc”
  • Put the cursor on each of the headings and click on the Ribbon to make each of these a heading

ribbonYour document should look something like this:


  • Click File/Save As and in “Save as type” choose PDF
  • Click Options


  • Make sure “Create bookmarks using Headings” is selected.


Save and open your PDF – you should see the headings as bookmarks.

Check the Reading Order

If you are reading through the documents using a screen reader or text to speech programme the reading order is vital.

If you generate pdfs from Word the reading order is normally OK, but floating text boxes rarely end up being read in a sensible place.  However, the reading order on some pdfs that have been designed for print can be disasterous!

Here’s a really bad example:  v4-newsletter-example

  • turn on Read Out Loud and listen to this – what has gone wrong?
  • Use right arrow key to move through the document – you’ll see that it moves across the columns indicating a dodgy reading order.

Fixing this kind of problem can be time consuming.  You can get someway with Adobe Acrobat Pro (Touch up Reading Order), but a better approach is often to go back to the original author.

Finally, does it need to be a pdf?

By definition PDFs are designed to be printed.  If people want to increase the font size the only way they can do it is by zooming the document, and they will loose information off the side of the screen.

In contrast if the same information is on a Word document or a Web page this can be zoomed much more easily.  (Try Word’s Web layout), and although PDFs can be annotated in Adobe Reader and other tools, many students would prefer to edit a standard document.

Also, think carefully before you add passwords to prevent editing, copying and annotating – these can really impact useability.

Try annotating v3-musings-with-headings if you want to see how frustrating it is.


3Ps: Dialogues

The next 3Ps: Pizza Pop and Practice workshop will take place on 29th November 2016.

The topic is ‘Dialogues’ and draws together sessions on storytelling using Microsoft Sway and the complexities of designing materials accessible to all students.

The event will take place between 12 and 2pm in the Hope and Tees Clusters of the Robinson Library.

There will, of course, be pizza and pop available before the workshops begin.

Please do register here.

We look forward to seeing you there!