Microsoft Sway makes multimedia collaborative storytelling easy in Richard Marcus’s Censorship in Music course

In a Nutshell

Richard Marcus’s MUSC 100 course on censorship in music had students work in groups to develop multimedia presentations about censored composers. These presentations used a cool new (and free to your students) application called Sway that’s part of the Microsoft Office 365 suite of tools. Sway is like a cooler version of PowerPoint that allowed Prof. Marcus’s students to easily and beautifully incorporate images, maps, videos, and their own podcasts into a fully web accessible, collaborative presentation.

Course Description

Censorship in Music, a COLL/MUSC 100 seminar-style course, offered Spring 2017 with 16 students, focused on censorship and First Amendment rights and how these ideas relate to music. In this course, students examined the motivation behind restrictions on music in various cultural contexts. Particular focus was directed towards censorship in Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union and First Amendment cases involving popular artists in the United States. The course grappled with issues such as cultural hierarchy, social mores, and attitudes toward language, race, and sexuality.

Course and Assignment Objectives

  • Outline the history and interpret the meaning of free speech in the United States
  • Define the term censorship
  • Examine cultural bans in various historical contexts
  • Discuss and describe reasons behind the censorship of cultural works


  • In order to show mastery of the course objectives outlined above, each team was required to tell the story of one composer whose work was banned in Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union.
    • Projects were created in Microsoft Sway and included a 5-7 minute podcast as well as representative music accessed through Swem Library’s databases.
    • Projects were presented on Friday, April 7th in Ewell Recital Hall and served as a pre-concert lecture before the performance of the Amernet String Quartet.

Lessons Learned

Major Takeaway:

Focusing on storytelling was a fun way for students to explore a topic that was unfamiliar to them. By telling the composer’s story, students were able to see the person they were studying as a regular person. Both the students and the faculty member enjoyed working on the project. The end result was much more visually appealing and narrative-focused than a PowerPoint usually is. The students all liked the scaffolding of the assignments, but integrating scaffolded assignments into your course means you have to be more mindful about the schedule, and not assign as much content as you might normally. If you focus on the combination of content and skills, there are real benefits to what students get out of a course with an integrated, semester-long multimodal assignment.

Things that worked well:

  • Working groups were important. Students developed camaraderie within groups and in the class. The feedback from their colleagues was key to creating that collegial atmosphere. The instructor modeled proper critiquing methods for the students to make sure peer comments were substantive and actionable.
  • While not all students used Audacity, those who did found it to be very easy to use.
  • Although some students complained that Sway was too restrictive in what it allows you to do, they all found it easy to use and the end result was usually visually appealing. The lack of control over the end product was the only real complaint.

Things to think about improving for next time:

  • A better grading rubric for these multimodal assignments would be a benefit in the future.
  • Since the initial research took a lot of time, the students would have preferred an assignment where they decided what sort of story they were going to tell up front. That would have narrowed the amount of “wasted” research.
  • Students could have done a better job choosing representative music. That could be scaffolded into its own graded assignment next time.
  • Part of the assignment was public speaking, and they wish they had more practice. Students had a time limit in their presentations and didn’t always gauge their time properly. One option would be to add the fourth hour as a lab hour where students could get practice public speaking. See Barbette Spaeth’s DIY page for more info on scaffolding a public speaking assignment.
  • Students wanted clear expectations about the finished product. It might be nice for them to have an example of a semi-completed example, but the instructor didn’t want them to have a complete example because that could stifle their creativity.
  • Students were pressed for time on the podcast. Maybe just cut back to a Sway presentation.

Shared Resources

Try it Yourself / Tools Used


  • There are lots of great examples of different ways people are using Sway in education. It’s strongly suggested that you offer some of these examples to your students to show them what’s possible and what your expectations are. Check out the Sway examples page here:
  • Students aren’t professional presentation builders. Here’s an example from Dr. Marcus’s class: Sample Sway Presentation


  • One component in this assignment was the creation of a podcast. The first step in creating interesting podcasts is listening to interesting podcasts. Have your students listen to and analyze an episode or two. If you can, find podcasts that have to do with the topic of your course. A few good choices:
  • Students aren’t professional podcasters. It’s also good to get some real world samples of student work. Here’s one from Professor Marcus’s class: Sample Student Podcast



  • Podcasting: Again, if you want your students to do a podcast assignment, either on its own or as a part of a larger assignment, we suggest you start with Annie Blazer’s DIY page here.
  • Sway: Students at William & Mary have free access to Sway by logging in with their William & Mary accounts (Note: they need to log in with their account and NOT their account). Start creating your Sway now by logging in to Sway at
About Mike Blum

Mike is the Academic Technologist for the Humanities at the College