For years I’ve been part of the anti-Powerpoint movement — the group of individuals painfully opposed to educators who presumably “teach” with their entire lecture written on their slides, transforming their physical existence into a mere auditory translation of the text for the bored-out-of-their-mind students. I’ve considered the importance of teaching the “art” of designing effective presentations but today, I think I stumbled upon the answer.

Web 2.0 does it again — another beautifully integrated, easy to use tool that turns the concept of a presentation inside out by focusing on key words and visuals spread out over a continuous two dimensional canvas, using hierarchy and zoom to convey importance. Now I can’t help but draw the lovely metaphor between an artist’s toolkit and the Prezi interface, as we embrace our new methods of creating in the 21st century (as an art history I rejoice in seeing the arts influence business innovations processes so inherently).

Here is a simple demo of Prezi so you can get the idea then you can take a trip over to the Prezi showcase to view lots more samples (many which are simply mimicking the Powerpoint interface, you’ll catch on to them after awhile).

I also rejoice in a move towards a visually-centric content creation tool. This makes all the difference. Moving away from an interface that requires a user to click through pages or slides is a huge leap for the western user … bravo Prezi! I have felt constrained and challenged as an art historian, and I’ve been very vocal about this in presentations I’ve given in recent years, as I’ve attempted to craft learning activities for my students to effectively achieve objectives focused on visual learning. But how does one have students engage, critique, analyze and study an image in a text-centric learning management system (like Blackboard)? That has been my biggest challenge as an online educator and that was specifically why I began to migrate outside of Blackboard and started to dabble with web 2.0 tools (like VoiceThread and Ning).

So, check out Prezi. It’s quite amazing. Hmmm. Prezi training for educators and students-generated Prezi projects? Sounds like a turning point! And for those of you who are eager to ask the question, yes, Prezi offers subscription options that give you the ability to keep your content private. There is also an option for a “Public License” for students and teachers which I wasn’t able to get more details about, as I am not currently teaching right now (unless somebody wants to hire me?? Grin.).

To learn more about Prezi, visit the Learning Center which provides many beautifully done, easy-to-follow video tutorials.

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12 Comments

  1. I ran across Prezi about a month ago and really liked what I saw. It's a great way to "reinvent" presentations.

    There's nothing wrong with PowerPoint (or Keynote) per se. They are both excellent apps. The problem is in the way presenters use it and to a great extent this is exacerbated by the default slide styles.

    Too often I see presenters (faculty, in my case) use PP as a tool to organize their thoughts. After all, the default PP slide is the one with a title and a list of bullet points. It's easy to just start typing in key phrases as though they were an outline. Consequently, most PP slides end up being a dense list of bullets.

    I've since learned that to make better presentations, the default slide ought to be the blank one. Stay away from the bullet points. I organize my thoughts in a word processor, then I figure out how to design a slide that complements my ideas rather than being my ideas.

    Prezy does exactly that. It encourages you to create views of your ideas that are as simple as a single word, or a picture, or a pithy quotation. It's not the zooming feature that makes Prezi a good presentation tool — it's that the default "slide" is the blank one. It forces you, the presenter, to really think about how to best present your material.

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  2. Anonymous, thanks for inspiring my follow up post!

    Barry, great points all around. I'm a fan of Keynote and it pains me to use Powerpoint as I find it much less fluid and intuititive. However, I do agree with all of the points you've made about the *real* issues being the in the way the tools are misused. Then again, as you've also eloquently stated, designing a tool, like Prezi, that demands creative thinking from the presenter in order for content to be created is intriguing and I'm quite curious to see where this takes us. The more I plunge through there showcase area, it's obvious how many folks are forcing the PPT interface into Prezi (click, click, click and the Prezi becomes linear). We shall see what becomes!

    Thanks for the comment.
    Michelle

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  3. Prezi is still, ultimately, a linear presentation tool. It's still going to tell a story with a beginning, middle, and end. After all, it's designed to augment, rather than replace, the presenter's linear delivery of material.

    I don't quite see how Prezi could be used to support non-linear discovery of information. One would have to know, say, that that nearly-invisible dot on the screen was actually an entire "slide" with text, pictures, and its own nearly-invisible dot. How would we design the presentation so the material could be discovered in a non-linear fashion? Perhaps some kind of "choose your own adventure" interface?

    Ultimately, any presentation of material is linear, whether it be a single sentence, a paragraph, or an entire book. It's how those "presentation units" are connected together that makes one tool linear and another non-linear. The web already permits a non-linear structure.

    While I do think Prezi is creatively interesting and could help the presentation designer "think outside the slide," I don't think it, alone, is going to allow non-linear discovery.

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  4. Hi Barry, I think you and I may be envisioning two different uses of Prezi (?). I am seeing it as a tool for creating web-based content that could be presented in a classroom and simultaneously shared (and stored) online. Thus, when one designs the presentation I'd imagine utilizing the non-linear structure of the web by embedding relevant links that may be touched upon by a live presenter and/or left for individuals to explore on their own later. Therefore, the content in the Prezi would be non-linear or at least much less linear that a Powerpoint.

    I realize a Powerpoint could also integrate embedded links but Powerpoint is not a seamless, web-based tool…as you clearly understand. Prezi (and other similar presentation tools) make the web both the creator's and the viewer's canvas which, to me, increases the potential for non-linearity but doesn't require it. Maybe that's a better way of saying it (?).

    This is good stuff, thanks for opening up the topic for more conversation.

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  5. I think this tool will also enable me as a world language teacher to create presentations that allow students to go from parts to whole and back again with thematic vocabulary as well as difficult grammar concepts. This canvas type of presentation would seem to lend itself to helping students understand direct and indirect objects, by allowing students to focus on agents, objects and receivers and looking at the interactions between them. Although I have just found this tool, thanks to your well written blog, I am reeling with ideas on how to use this new tool. Thanks for sharing and evaluating. In regards to the linear nature of the presentation I think that the ability to go from part to whole and back again will keep students engaged and thinking on different levels.

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  6. Senor Hache, Thanks so much for your comment. Your notion of engaging students in learning through the "parts to the whole" is very relevant to me at this moment, as I, myself, am feeling challenged (a very GOOD thing) with the Prezi interface. I'm realizing how "trained" I've become with the "slide to slide" creation mentality of Keynote (the mac version of Powerpoint that I use). I really do love feeling this way, as it's pushing me outside of my comfort zone and challenging me to communicate my ideas in a new way. I really like your thoughts and appreciate your contribution to our dialogue. Thanks so much for speaking up! This has been an intriguingly popular post for my blog (many readers!!).

    Best wishes — please keep us posted with your innovative work!
    Michelle

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  7. So I gave Prezi a shot, and I have to say my experience was mixed. First of all, I found it hard to take full advantage of the visual format and the potential for non-linearity that Prezi does afford – to a large extent, I created a PowerPoint presentation except by slides were organized in a circle, rather than a slide deck – but that's just going to take some time, I've been creating PowerPoints (and before that, overhead transparencies) for 30 years or more.

    My second reaction is that Prezi is still at a beta state – it simply lacks some basic tools for managing fonts, colors, lines and shapes that I would want to have, ESPECIALLY to create a presentation that works at a visual level. I mean, something as basic as being able to group multiple objects in a single object, align objects or text, or select a font, have been around for a very long time, but if these features are in Prezi I sure couldn't find them. In particular, it's a lousy tool for drawing, so next time I will create diagrams in OmniGraffle and upload them to Prezi.

    Another significant weakness – as far as I could tell, once I laid down a path I couldn't edit it. I had to delete and start over. Not good!

    Finally, presenting with Prezi takes some practice. Fortunately, before presenting in a meeting I had the chance to do a sort of rehearsal showing my presentation to a colleague, and I realized that without a mouse and scroll wheel I would be at a severe disadvantage. So my tip to anyone who wants to use Prezi – make sure you can scroll on a mouse or mousepad so you can easily zoom in and out during your presentation.

    So overall, great experiment and I will use it again, but I wouldn't encourage anyone but an early adopter, or someone who creates very simple presentations, to use Prezi. I do like very much having the presentation on line and accessible to everyone who saw it – I do believe this is the right way to work!

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  8. Bravo, Michael, for taking the leap and giving Prezi a shot in front of a live audience! And thanks so much for sharing your outstanding feedback with us. I think all of us will really take your advice to heart.

    I have dabbled with Prezi. I have a presentation that I want to create but I also have found myself so challenged with "wanting" to create in a straight slide-by-slide style. I like feeling challenged though so I'm willing to work through this stage and agree it's a good thing to have a good break us from our analogue roots.

    I too immediately felt frustrated with the inability to customize my fonts in Prezi. I realized that's something I do endlessly in Keynote.

    I think Prezi would really benefit from developing a direct connection with Flickr or another public image database (with public domain or creative commons licensing). VoiceThread has integrated this into their "create" step and it opens up a hold new world when you're there trying to communicate visually and the images are made available to you in the interface.

    I'm curious about knowing what your audience members thought about the presentation? You shared great thoughts from the 'user' perspective but how were your ideas received?

    Michelle

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  9. The presentation went well but (as usual) the key was getting the right content to people who who cared about what we were talking about! I know several of them really appreciated that the presentation is online for them to explore (one had his own laptop and was looking at his own view of the presentation while during the meeting instead of looking at the screen)

    When I zoomed into some small text that was rotated 90 degrees, I got an audible reaction from the group… my guess is that the novelty will wear off quickly, just like the fancy wipes and audio effects in PowerPoint seemed innovative for a short time and then quickly became annoying cliches… the key is to have a connection between the content and the visual organization, and that's REALLY HARD to do well…

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  10. By the way, based on your tip, I looked at the ELI "7 Things You Should Know About Next-Generation Presentation Tools". That lead me to Zoho Show because I would like to have a tool that supports real-time collaboration. Zoho Show looks very nice, a combination of Google Docs and GoTo Meeting-type tools, but the metaphor is strictly PowerPoint – it's almost an exact clone. Probably a good business decision, but disappointing as a learning tool.

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