Monday, 23 April 2012

Reflections on teaching and learning - using Prezi

Like many in this wired World, I’ve been playing around with Prezi – the non-linear presentation tool. I came across it about a year ago thanks to Nicola Osborne and like many tools in the Lakeland Plastics of the tinterwebs it seemed to fill a need I only ever had a niggling sense I had – for a presentation tool that unlike PowerPoint did not make you present in a linear fashion (I have since discovered the ability to press “B” in the middle of a PowerPoint and also am a lot better at designing and animating slides). The fact Prezi is free to academic users also helped my conversion.

I’ve watched one presentation delivered by Prezi (I felt a little bit seasick too) and delivered three – one for a Petchakucha of my research interests, and twice in teaching. I’m going to focus on these two and think about Prezi as a teaching tool.

The student experience

I’ve got a bit of an insight into the student experience of being subjected to a Prezi from two perspectives – firstly from everyday feedback and secondly, rather usefully, from an autoethnography I have a couple of students doing for their dissertations and my PGCap. From this it seems Prezi makes for a poorer teaching and learning experience than PowerPoint from a practical and seemingly pedagogical point of view. One practical problem – students cannot print out a Prezi. Or they can, but it’ll either be one sheet the size of a billboard or 70+ sheets of A4. I had trouble enough because I saved my PowerPoints as pdfs, so this was a bit of a problem with Prezi. This was the case even though ever lecture was twinned with exhaustive distance learning notes. I embedded my Prezis in our VLE (BlackBoard) but I’m not sure how many people went back to them. Also, students feel seasick too – and I didn’t do that much zoomy swoopy stuff on my Prezis! My student doing their autoethnography also thought I’d presented using Prezi three times, whereas it was just twice in two separate lectures. This suggests that it actually failed to deliver a lasting impression for this student.

My experience

I deliver my lectures as a story. The beginning is usually a real-world, nice example of some of the issues I will be discussing in the lecture. The middle is the construction of theoretical scaffolding and then fill in some the gaps with real-world examples, often through the use of group work in class, and then end (now) with a “this is what you should know” section. So, PowerPoint actually suits this way of speaking. I felt much more comfortable speaking to the narrative of PowerPoint. Further, it was much easier to get an overview of a PowerPoint presentation written some months before in the five minutes before a lecture began, than it was the equivalent Prezi.

To be fair on Prezi, I think it was also partly my fault and that I was trying to be too clever. In the effort to make something that looked good I discarded the PowerPoint rules-of-thumb: using bullet points to summarise points and act as prompts; using strong images as prompts and to provoke thoughts etc. In one of my Prezi delivered lectures I got to one frame and it was just a gigantic question-mark. Clearly I’d put this in a year before with the idea that this would be a good time to ask the class questions of clarification. Could I remember what the question was? I’d hidden the answers in the dot at the bottom of the question mark and had to swoop in, check what they were, and zoom back out again and ask the question. Which rather defeated the purpose of asking the question in the first place. And as an interactive lecturer I also found Prezi, by making me a bit more nervous, reduced the amount I happily engaged with the class.
Finally, the one thing I started using Prezi for – the non-narrative nature of it – wasn’t helpful at all. The couple of times I did have to go off-piste, so to speak (navigate around the Prezi field without using the pre-drawn path) I was just lost and it took my far too long to find what I was looking for and zoom in on it properly. The one thing that really bugged me was at the end of drawing your path around your Prezi, if you had to change it, especially if it was near the start of your presentation, the only way to do it was delete the whole path and start again. This compares to just inserting a new slide in PowerPoint.

So, in conclusion, I have to say I’ll probably be ditching Prezi entirely for teaching next year and sticking with PowerPoint (for all its flaws) for the foreseeable future. The real test will be in the end of semester feedback and the exam results!

1 comment:

  1. Really interesting to read about your experiences of teaching with Prezi. Prezi for teaching is something I have only done for a one off lecture I gave, but I have been using it throughout my PhD for almost every presentation I have made and I have to say that I think I am converted.

    Teaching seems like quite a different beast. As you're preparing lectures for teaching and so have a much greater quantity to produce I imagine, a) memorising your path and b) knowing your whole canvas is a real challenge.

    However, because I recently had a great experience with Prezi at a conference and because I am a bit of a self confessed Prezi addict I hope you still find the right use for a Prezi every now and then. Two things struck me though. You should be able to export your Prezi as a pdf, though this will still be one slide per page so not great for student note taking. Also, they have updated the way that you edit the pathway and it now no longer has the problems you mentioned. The other thing I have recently had a play with has been the templates which proved to be great.

    Having said all that, as I say, I am an addict and so completely biased. Nice to read about your experiences to remind myself that Prezi is not necessarily a replacement but an alternative to PowerPoint.