Technology Tools for Academics: Prezi

Prezi (prezi.com) is, as the website says, a zooming presentation editor. It has many uses beyond giving a formal presentation, and I will highlight a couple of those here. You can really zoom in on a prezi, which makes for a lot of fun when presenting with it. How is works is you set up a “path” (marked by actual arrows or not) through which your presentation moves. In effect, it’s a kind of storyboard, and allows you to set up a non-linear narrative path for the story you are trying to tell.

I like Prezi because it is non-linear, it moves around, and it’s fun. It isn’t quite as well known as it ought to be, so it’s also attention-grabbing when you use it. It transforms a presentation from a dull series of texts into a fun, almost-interactive experience. It helps engage the audience, and anything that can help with that is a wonderful thing, in my book.

I first noticed it when a student used it for a capstone presentation, but it really caught my eye when two students at USF, Janelle Christensen and Charlotte Noble, used Prezi to put together a slick and powerful protest. They were protesting FL governor Rick Scott’s rant about FL not needing to fund disciplines like anthropology. As you can see, they did a stellar job. You can read all about that here, and view the Prezi here. On a related note, I think that particular Prezi would be a good teaching tool for an intro class–a sort of “this is what anthropologists do” lecture.

Prezi has some options that are free. I use the Edu Enjoy version, which comes free to anyone with a .edu account. It’s better than the base version because it allows you to keep your prezis private. The base version requires them to be publicly accessible. There are three main differences between the free Edu Enjoy version and the premium Edu version: more storage space (500 MB v. 2 GB), support within 24 hours, and offline desktop editing, which is not supported by the base Edu Enjoy version. And, of course, $59 per year.

I’ve used Prezi in class, to have students do presentations. It works very well as a group assignment, actually, because students are responsible for their portion of the Prezi. I introduced students in my gender class to Prezi, and asked them to use it to put together a group project on gender advertisements.

Prezi has a “meeting” functionality, which allowed the students who set up the prezi to invite other students in their group to collaborate on creating it. So, every student worked on their individual part of the prezi. This created some variation in the flow of the prezi, of course, but it had three advantages. First, students were less worried about “carrying” someone whose work was not of the same quality, and therefore compromising their grade. Second, I could tell students’ individual work apart and determine if they required a separate grade from the rest of the group. Third, they didn’t need to actually meet to work on their assignment, which always poses difficulties to students with full schedules.

My students really enjoyed using Prezi, and turned out some excellent presentations. They were good enough to use as an art installation, and had circumstances permitted, I would have liked to set one up.

Prezi’s non-linear format also allows you to put a little more text on than you ought on a regular Power Point. This is because you can break it up into smaller segments, but also because the interface lends itself more readily to more text. I think it’s because it is, effectively, animated–that offsets the visual ennui generated by more text.

Prezi can be used to make posters. I actually had a student in another class who laid his final presentation out as a neat poster, and then moved through it section by section. I imagine, if you are used to thinking in an ordered way, a poster format allows you to visualize your project as a completed product and would aid in organizing thoughts. You can also print out your prezi as a poster. I haven’t done so, so I can’t comment on the resolution. Here’s a prezi from Sarah Walkowiak (2011) at Brandeis on creating effective posters in Prezi. Here is a brief discussion on the Prezi forums about printing a prezi as a poster, and here is the Prezi link on how to print your Prezi (generally, not specifically as a poster).

I also had a student who used Prezi to organize his paper. He set out his thoughts, linked them with arrows to show how they flowed, added text that would go into his paper, and generally wrote it out in Prezi first. In other words, it was a kind of map of his paper. The graphical and non-linear format allows you to visualize your ideas as parts of a whole, and to set aside sections that do not fit into the final version, but yet are relevant to the thought process. You can zoom in to work on a specific section, or zoom out to think about the set of ideas as they work together. I really liked that idea, and will surely be trying it out myself.

As far as actual presentations go, Prezi is, as I said, a lot of fun. It captures audience interest, it allows non-linear movement and thought (so you can jump back and forth between ideas quite easily), and the zoom functionality adds another layer of movement to your presentation. You can, for example, visually depict that one idea is contained within another.

Now for cons. I have to say, there aren’t too many. It takes a wee bit of getting used to and figuring out, but it’s easy to play with, and it’s well worth spending the time to figure it out. One minor issue I’ve faced when using it as a presentation tool is that it can be a bit vertiginous. The trick with that is not to zoom in and out too far, and to try to keep each section relatively close the one that came before.

I had to send my presentation to the organizers of a conference I presented at this spring. Prezi allows you to download your prezi as a zip file that contains files to run it on both macs and PCs. This file can be quite large, though, depending on your prezi (mine had videos and photographs). This is where Dropbox comes in. As I said in my post about Dropbox, I simply put the file in my Dropbox public folder, and sent the organizers a link to the file. No struggling with emailing it from my end, I didn’t clog up their inboxes with a massive file, and all they had to do was click the link to download the file.

You can run a Prezi from your desktop and you don’t need to be online to run it. However, unless you buy the Premium version, you will need to be online to create and edit.

The one thing I will tell you is that Prezi doesn’t work with all remote clickers. It didn’t work with the clicker they had at that conference, and I had not used Prezi at a conference before, so I hadn’t brought my own. It threw me off completely. When I’ve used it in class, though, our school clickers have worked. Here’s the Prezi Learn Center wisdom on remote clickers.

Finally, I’d like to give you a couple of links to get you going. Here’s one on Prezi tips, and here’s another about how to make a good Prezi. Both are created by Adam Somlai-Fischer.

I hope this has been helpful. Prezi has a lot of potential in the classroom and in research, and I’ve found it a very good way to get students involved in a project and audiences involved in your talk. As with any tool, it takes practice to make a good prezi, but I’ve become better at it as I keep using it.

If you have other suggestions on using it, please do feel free to post comments.

Note on accessibility: a brief exchange with Kerim Friedman reminded me that not all excellent software is accessible, and Prezi is not. It seems screen readers cannot read prezis because of flash content. This is an important con, and I want to make note of it (thanks, Kerim). Also, as this post points out, many (all?) state-funded entities are required to use accessible software, and that will include the classrooms of state schools. For more discussion, here is a list of prezi forum topics tagged with “accessibility.” I’ll keep an eye out for changes.

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2 Responses to Technology Tools for Academics: Prezi

  1. Pingback: How to Create an Academic Poster? Tips and Tricks | Knowledge People Performance

  2. Pingback: How to Create an Academic Poster? Tips and Tricks | Knowledge People Performance

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