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Challenging the Presentation Paradigm: Prezi

The Prezi menu/UI toolbox can be a little counter-intuitive

With the semester creeping closer and closer and many of us frantically prepping new classes (or doing vital updates to existing classes), the topic of lecture slides invariably crops up. 

Are my slides really that useful to my students, or are they just a crutch for me? Should I use my old slides (with necessary minor updates)?  Should I throw my slides out, and try something completely new? 

We are all aware that using lecture slides comes with some pretty problematic baggage.  Personally, I’ve got to admit that I often feel a little academic guilt about using lecture slides – even though I’ve gone to great lengths to avoid “Crappy PowerPoint Syndrome” – CPS!  (keep text to an absolutely minimum, no massive bullet point lists, lots of illustrative images, use slides to stimulate discussion, etc, etc, etc). 

But let’s all be honest here, its unlikely that we’re going to completely change the way in which we deliver lectures.  Lecture slides can be quite helpful for students (as well as a tool to keep our lectures focused and on track – and firmly out of the outskirts of crazy ramble town).  But what if we could have the best of both worlds?  Still present content digitally in lecture – but do it in such a way that it isn’t the same old linear, slide after slide filled with bullet points and the occasional image.

In the spirit of these questions, Prof. Hacker is kicking off a series of posts called “Challenging the Presentation Paradigm” – each post will explore a piece of software (or a technique) that can help you change the way you deliver lecture material in class.

First up is Prezi (http://prezi.com/).

Coming from a little start-up in Hungary, Prezi is a web app (Flas/Flex based) that lets you author and deliver what they call “zooming presentations.”  The description is apt, as Prezi presentations aren’t actually based on a the traditional linear slide model.  Instead, Prezi embraces a zooming user interface model in which blocks of content are arranged contextually in relation to other blocks of content – and the user can zoom in and out of the content, alternating between a “big picture” view and a “detail” view (check out the website for lots of examples – or check out the embedded example below).  In addition, you can layer content in such a way that there are several orders of zooming – zooming into a block of content, then zooming into a picture within that block (so it fills the whole frame), and then zooming into the picture so you can see a specific detail.

Prezi offers the opportunity to present content not as  chunks whose relationship is only maintained by the fact that they strung together in a linear fashion, but as content that is logically related sets and subsets that are connected in a very spatial manner (and can be navigated non-linearly).

Because Prezi is a web app, all of the presentations you create are stored (and accessed) online.  Normally this might present a problem if there were an unstable internet connection in the picture.  However, Prezi gives you the ability to present offline (basically just saves the file locally).

Like a lot of other web apps these days, Prezi has a tiered pricing scheme – with a free version (limited storage, Prezi branding on all of your slides, and no way to manage view permissions), a basic version which costs € 39/ year (more storage, no Prezi branding), and a pro version € 119/ year (even more storage, enhanced permission control, and an offline editor).  Personally, I think that the offline authoring tool that comes with the Pro account is probably the most compelling feature that Prezi offers.

Prezi isn’t without its drawbacks.  First off, as mentioned earlier, if you want the offline authoring tool, you’ve got to shell out € 119/ year (not cheap by any stretch of the imagination).  I’d rather author Prezi presentations in a desktop app than on the web, so this is a big deal for me.  Second, the very nature of Prezi (remember, its a web app) means that you aren’t going to get the kind of crazy high quality presentation you can get with purely desktop based slide authoring apps (I use Apple Keynote – and always produce HD quality slides).  Thirdly, Prezi’s authoring UI (toolbox/menu pictured below) takes some getting used to.  I think that it could probably have done with a little more time in the oven (and associated testing – especially with instructors) before it was released.

The Prezi menu/UI toolbox can be a little counter-intuitive

The Prezi menu/UI toolbox can be a little counter-intuitive

All in all, I’m of the opinion that Prezi’s has far more in the way of good than bad.  Used properly, I genuinely think that it has the potential to change the way in which we deliver lecture content the classroom.

Have you tried Prezi?  If so, please share your impressions.  If you haven’t, sign up for the free account and give it a whirl – and be sure to come back and kick in your .02 ¢ to the discussion.

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