#TheFeed – Community Dementia Art Sway Project: #MIEE Report by Lee Whitmarsh


This latest extract from #TheFeed is written by Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert (#MIEExpert) Lee Whitmarsh talks about the local community project he and his students at Alsager School, Cheshire, have been involved with that sees the use of Sway helping those affected by dementia.

To learn more about Sway itself we’d recommend viewing this on-demand webinar from #MIEExpert Paul Dredge – ‘Light up your classroom with Sway’.

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We are very excited to be given the opportunity to share with Microsoft’s #Thefeed how we are developing a community dementia art Sway project.  Alsager School students working in collaboration with Alsager Partnership are running several art workshops that will lead to a personalised interactive Sway Life Story for people with dementia and their families and carers.

John Poulson, Kath Reader and Maria Ashdown from the Alsager Partnership invited Alsager School to create a community art project as part of the town’s bid to become a Dementia Friendly Town.  The starting point was the wish to create an innovative and collaborative community art project that raises awareness of dementia and positively impacts the lives of people living with dementia in the local community.

It was important that the art project reflected, involved and celebrated the community spirit of Alsager in which students from Alsager School were given the opportunity to lead the art project working creatively with the local community and developing their 21st century skills.

As a school, we are working with Microsoft and we wanted to use the school’s innovative use of technology and the exciting opportunities that Office 365 offers students to develop an art project for the community that we hmope will positively enrich and support people living with dementia and their families.

Our aim was to combine aspects of Reminiscence therapy with art and digital Sway workshops.  We wanted to give people living with dementia and their families the opportunity to share their life stories with students and to make and create their own mixed media art collages inspired by the artwork of Robert Rauschenberg.   It was important to us all that we gave students the opportunity to blend traditional art techniques with contemporary use of technology reflecting 21st century practices.   We wanted the art project to be focused on creating personalised interactive Sway life stories using the very artwork and photographs we have been privileged enough to have had shared with us by people living with dementia.

Sway allows individuals and families to create a digital interactive history, moving forward and back in the dynamic presentation at their own pace selecting what video to play while looking at any of the photographs and artwork that they wish.  You can stop at any time on key moments allowing for different attention spans and specific interests of an individual on a specific day.  As Sway is in the cloud it’s accessible whenever needed and we hope it could be used to inform any future carer about the person living with dementia.

As sway can be viewed on any Internet enabled device at any time of day, multiple people can view the Sway at the same time at any point they wish.  The software has no barriers to learning, it is free and accessible by anyone with Internet access.  It also allows families to edit and to add more content to differentiate the Sway to match their changing needs. [Continued below]


Read more from the latest issue of #TheFeed on Docs.com:


We have a fantastic working relationship with the Alsager Partnership and local community and this has driven the community art project forward.  The Alsager Partnership have been inspirational and are developing an exciting and supportive programme of events to raise awareness and provide more support for people living with dementia, bringing the local community together in a common cause.  The Partnership will be launching Alsager’s very own dementia café called the Memory Café in the local library and we will have the opportunity to present the Sway Life Stories as part of the grand opening on Friday 28th April.

To get the project up and running it was important that we approached it as a collaborative enterprise and placed the needs of the person living with dementia and their families at the forefront of our thinking.  It was important to all involved that the project would only be a success if the person living with dementia would benefit from being involved in the project and feel part of the process.

The first step was teaching the students how to use Sway and we took this opportunity to ask the students to produce a Sway presentation on the artwork of Robert Rauschenberg.  This was a great way for the students to explore the many different options for presenting content such as image stacks, comparison sliders and adding video clips.  The aim is to teach this group of students how to use Sway and then for them to become Alsager School ‘Digital Leaders’ and teach other students and staff across the school.

We then set up a series of workshops in school where we could trial the project with families.  We held a coffee morning in school in which art students met with couples and shared stories, photographs and memories about their lives.  It was a wonderful meeting and it was a privilege to have seen different generations coming together to share their stories.

The next steps involve the students leading an art workshop with the couples in which we will collage copies of the original photographs to create mixed media collages in the style of Robert Rauschenberg.  Through this making process students will be able to ask more questions about the photographs and the stories behind the images, collecting as much information about the person’s history and life as possible to then use in the Sway.

The student created Sways will be uploaded to Microsoft www.docs.com and will be presented to the couples in a Sway workshop in which the students will guide and support the families on how to use and engage with the Sway presentation.

The long-term aim is to build the dementia community art Sway project into the school’s art provision so we can support the amazing work the Alsager Partnership is doing to become a Dementia Friendly Town supporting people living with dementia and their carers in the local community.

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