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In this module, I explore the possibilities represented by use of Prezi in the modern classroom.
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Prezi is a piece of web-based freeware that operates as a non-linear production tool. A person can create a “path” of graphics, text, videos, or anything else that would fit on a computer screen, and use this path to shape a presentation on any topic known to man. The user can use Prezi like PowerPoint, revealing point by point, or use the technology to focus on certain terms or ideas within larger frameworks. The program can advance through each predetermined step with the click of a button or simply portray a large canvas for the creator to focus in at will, providing a presenter with a variety of options to reach his or her desired destination.
Prezi would have a variety of uses in a K-12 learning environment. On the side of the teacher, Prezi can provide a convenient and intuitive way to share information, not to mention a welcome alternative to PowerPoint slideshows. An English teacher can project a passage on a screen and use Prezi’s zooming capabilities to focus in on one word, with the definition written underneath in a font that only becomes visible as the size of the word increases. Videos that illustrate the topic can be incorporated into the presentation itself. Prezi also provides a variety of ways with which a teacher can show connections between main topics and smaller ideas, from a large graphic to explore to carefully drawn arrows that only gain true meaning as the instructor zooms out and the whole canvas is revealed. Furthermore, on the side of the students, Prezi provides an option to take the place of PowerPoints in presentations to the class. The format allows for the inclusion of any file, graphic, or video the student believes needs including, thus making the student’s options in presenting potentially limitless, hopefully allowing them to think outside the box in the process of preparing to teach the class. Prezi Meeting, a program within the program, allows more than one person to edit a Prezi at a time, ideal for group work.
The rest of this module will serve as a crash course in Prezi and everything that the program represents for the educational field. By the end of it, I hope that you will see that Prezi, though it does have its limitations and drawbacks, like any other program, is a breath of fresh air for the classroom environment. By modeling the way the students will naturally think, instead of forcing the material into a flat plane, Prezi will allow a teacher to present a subject as being multi-faceted, be the subject anything from the historical context of a novel to the structure of a sentence.
Getting started with Prezi generally involves three stages. The first involves the first experimentation with the program, including a heavy, slightly disjointed reliance on the special effects, or zooms and turns. The second stage usually involves the amount of special effects being replaced with one overarching theme, as the user realizes how the entire canvas can be used to represent the main idea. The third stage is almost minimalistic, compared to the other two, with the unnecessary special effects finally removed and leaving only a simple, if effectively illustrative, presentation behind.
In order to achieve the illustrious third step, the place to start is on the Prezi website itself. Specifically, at http://prezi.com/learn/ a person can watch three different videos walking him or her through the steps of making a steadily more complex Prezi. The site has helpful “cheat sheets” for each video, allowing a user to simply read through the most useful tips, instead of watching a video. A downside to these cheat sheets, however, is that they list slightly different information from that found in the video, requiring a visitor to both watch and read in order to see the entire walkthrough. On the plus side, however, the videos warn against such tendencies as the overuse of zoom and pan, which can lead to “Prezi motion sickness.” In this way, the walkthroughs can serve to aid a person in moving through the usual steps of Prezi usage.
Another excellent walkthrough of the capabilities of Prezi is at http://www.dontwasteyourtime.co.uk/presentations/presentation-prezi-for-advanced-users-prezi/. This walkthrough uses Prezi itself to show its own capabilities, and therefore makes every step sound far simpler than the voice in the videos on the Prezi website. This walkthrough would also be more useful than the Prezi-provided videos for the user who cannot watch a video, for whatever reason, or who would rather move through the walkthrough, back and forth, at his or her own pace. The illustrations and lack of an overwhelming amount of disjointed text also serve to make this walkthrough preferable to the otherwise similar Prezi-based walkthrough available on Prezi’s website.
A last good website to rely on in the process of discovering Prezi is http://thejobshopper.com/2010/06/6-tips-for-a-great-prezi-the-ppt-alternative/. This page lists six major tips to help a person create an effective presentation, using the software. Some tips, such as the need to rely on few words to do a lot of work, are implied in earlier walkthroughs, although they are seldom, if ever, stated outright. Furthermore, the last tip, or how to figure out a way to package narration with a new Prezi, is something that neither of the previous sites discuss at all and is thus a very useful addition all on its own.
Mr. Avery, a geometry teacher, posts Prezi’s on his blog when he wants his students to be able to see and compare different images and ideas. He then has his students respond to the Prezis with comments on the post that open up discussion. For me, the most refreshing idea he incorporated into his use of Prezi is the inclusion of artwork drawn by the students themselves to illustrate his major points. However, the constant zooming in and out of his Prezi is a little overdone, and few of the students seem to use the comments to refer to the presentation itself. Both the Prezi and the student responses can be found here: http://mravery.edublogs.org/2010/12/29/awinterstory/
Showing, Not Telling: Prezi & Omeka:
Caro Pinto, a librarian at Yale, needed to teach a class about the importance of primary sources. Disliking PowerPoint for its limited ability to illustrate larger concepts, she immediately turned to Prezi as a method of allowing the class to understand sources with a more “hands-on” approach. She claims that using Prezi to pair the names of certain genres of sources with excerpts taken from sources within that genre allowed the students greater involvement with and discussion over the material. According to her, the use of Prezi allowed her students to make more connections to their own lives. However, she does not provide a link to the Prezi she used, so the reader is forced to take her word for it. The entirety of her review can be found here: http://chronicle.com/blogs/profhacker/showing-not-telling-prezi-omeka/34296
The Prezi Experiment: A Useful Presentation Tool?:
Erin Jessee is an anthropology teacher who decided to try Prezi as an alternative to PowerPoint. Her first Prezi for her class was also her first experience with the software, and she relied very heavily on zooming and panning to get her ideas across. The initial response of her students was excellent, as they loved the dynamic nature of the screen. By the end, however, the students were sick of the program, and told their teacher that they would rather see a PowerPoint next time, as the visuals of the Prezi would often distract from what the teacher was saying. The story of her experiment with Prezi is located here: http://www.erinjessee.com/?p=375
In-Class Collaborative Debate Mapping with Prezi Meeting:
A professor at Vanderbilt by the name of Derek Bruff used Prezi in his classroom as a method of allowing his students to design concept maps. Uniquely, he utilized the Prezi Meeting feature, which allows multiple users to edit a Prezi at the same time, rather like GoogleDocs. While the students were entirely fascinated by the process and stayed on task for the entire class, Professor Bruff’s review reveals that he was not entirely pleased. Ten students working on the same presentation at the same time resulted in confusion, so he had to group the students up. Also, the students became distracted by the many options, and would play around with fonts and backgrounds rather than adding the content he wanted them to add. His entire review can be found here: http://derekbruff.com/site/blog/2010/11/30/in-class-collaborative-debate-mapping-with-prezi-meeting/.
· A way to encourage student involvement and interest, as discussed by both Erin Jessee (http://www.erinjessee.com/?p=375) and Derek Bruff (http://derekbruff.com/site/blog/2010/11/30/in-class-collaborative-debate-mapping-with-prezi-meeting/)
· Visually models concept mapping for students, as mentioned by Derek Bruff
· Very flexible in use, including as a way to focus in on details on a map or in a passage (http://www.appappeal.com/app/prezi/), or by having the students work together in real time (http://blog.prezi.com/2010/09/10/work-together-in-real-time-with-prezi-meeting/)
· Overuse of the special features appeals to first-time users, but can lead to “Prezi motion sickness” (http://prezi.com/learn/) or to students being too distracted by the movement to focus on the material (http://www.erinjessee.com/?p=375)
· Prezi Meeting will only allow in 10 contributors at once (http://prezi.com/learn/work-together-real-time-prezi-meeting/), but even ten contributors can clutter the presentation (http://derekbruff.com/site/blog/2010/11/30/in-class-collaborative-debate-mapping-with-prezi-meeting/)
· Prezi is online-based and cannot host files on its own, so an internet connection as well as the ability to access the included links is mandatory (http://www.erinjessee.com/?p=375)
1. Play around with Prezi before making your first presentation, to get the special effects out of your system so you don’t wind up with Erin Jessee’s problem.
2. Utilize the possibility for zoom and pan without going overboard. You can focus in on the words of a passage to show their otherwise hidden definitions, but pan straight from one close-up of a word to the next, instead of constantly zooming out between them.
3. If you’re going to use Prezi Meeting to allow the students to work on Prezis together, have multiple Prezis available, with one assigned to each group of students. This way, the Prezi won’t get too crowded, like Derek Bruff’s did.
4. Always center the Prezi around one core idea. Jumping from topic to topic is only going to encourage the feeling of motion sickness.
5. Like with any other presentation aid, don’t become too dependent on the Prezi as a crutch. Make sure that you only put the most necessary words and graphics in it. Don’t fill the Prezi with paragraphs of text and walls of graphics.