It's 2011, and I'm in one of the many classrooms of the Institute of Education waiting for my training session to start. I don't quite remember what the session was on, managing your manager, or recruitment and retention or something like that. I don't even remember the room much, to be honest, apart from it being a regular looking, verging on boring old University classroom, designed somewhere in the early 1980s. I just about remember the speaker, who was a middle aged, white lady, with blond frizzyish hair, and a slightly weary look on her face.
What I do remember quite well, was the presentation. No, not the content - I couldn't tell you what she was talking about - but the style, the movement, the zooming, the awesomeness and the captivating smoothness of it all, which was now not just a medium of presentation, but was the presentation itself. The wow factor of the presentation was so great, that not only did I not know what she was talking about, but I didn't care! All I wanted to know was what it was, and how I could use it!
So, after waiting till question time, near the end, I asked my question "so... what software are you using?". She replied and then about half a dozen other people including myself, who had not moved through the whole presentation furiously scribble down the name.
"It's Prezi." She said.
Prezi!? What's Prezi, and why had I not heard about it. She said a few more things about it, like it was online and free and that was it for me. My presentation life had been changed forever! I didn't know this at the time, but this little software would be a big factor in me scoring my next job! When the session ended, I wondered back to my desk and Googled it. The rest is history.
Since then, Prezi has been my go to presentation software for assemblies and for a long time, I used it exclusively for teaching. Later on I'll say why I don't use it as much anymore for teaching, not because I've found something nicer, but more because I use something a bit more suited to my teaching style, which has changed a lot over the years.
What is Prezi?
Prezi is an animation based zooming, sliding, presentation software, fully online, although there is an offline option. It works with frames more than slides like PowerPoint based applications. Picture a near infinitely large canvas with images of different sizes placed on it. Also imagine a video camera, that is filming the canvas, picture by picture, zooming out to get the large pictures in frame, then panning to and zooming in to get the small pictures. The camera can also twist and turn depending on the orientation of the images. Running the presentation is like playing back the video in the camera. Now imagine the canvas is digital and you can add text, videos and links, that can also fade in and out.
Why is this good?
So why all the hype? Prezi has been around for about 6 years now, so if you don't already know about it or don't use it a lot by now, then why should you?
Reason 1: It's different
Doesn't seem like a great reason. But when you use something you've not used before it forces you to think more and think differently. When I started using Prezi, I was forced to think about the medium of presenting and not just the content. What was the purpose of the presentation? Why was I presenting? How was I explaining certain concepts and would the audience understand what I wanted to express? As a teacher, that is extremely important. We all know of the phrase "The medium is the message". If not then, wikipedia says:
"The medium is the message" is a phrase coined by Marshall McLuhan meaning that the form of a medium embeds itself in the message, creating a symbiotic relationship by which the medium influences how the message is perceived.
What I use when I teach can be the difference between my students getting it and not getting it, irrespective of what I actually want them to get. This leads me to my next point.
Reason number 2: It's not just linear
This is the main difference between Prezi and Microsoft's PowerPoint or Apple's Keynote or OpenOffice's Impress or Google Slides (have I missed any out?). Prezi allows you to flow round and Zoom into your presentation, allowing you that sense of perspective and size which is missing from the others. Take, for example, this Prezi below.
I used this to teach units and measurements to a lower set maths class. It's quite basic, but it allowed me to do something that would have taken me a long time if it were possible to replicate in something linear like PowerPoint.
Reason 3: It's easily sharable
There are lots of ways you can share it. You can download the prezi to use offline, you can give someone the link to view it, you can embed it like I did above, you can even present it while others follow online. When I started using it in school, this was my main pull. I was just starting to go online and paperless with my teaching and classroom resources, and this was the first tool I used. I would put the URL on the board (in bitly for example), and they would be able to see and interact with the slide, in or out of class. It's still easy to use with Google classroom, Edmodo, Moodle, Google Sites (what I use now) or whatever you choose.
Reason 4: It's easy to import into
You can easily add links, embed youtube videos (unfortunately just youtube, but you can link to other sites), you can import PowerPoint slides and PDF documents as well as images and other things. The Prezi above actually has some slides embedded that I kindly borrowed from another teacher.
Reason 5: Exploring
I am able to search and find presentations that others have done on different topics, which is a huge time saver. This is where it's different from nearly every other presentation and teaching tool out there, but is something that is so needed in education. Chances are, that topic you are just about to teach, or you're planning to teach has been covered by someone else, and they have a Prezi that is shared. You can search through, find one and adapt it however you like. Let's say that you are planning on teaching Binary as part of maths or computer science. Just type binary into the explore feature and this is what you came up with. There is plenty to choose from, so you wouldn't have to make one from scratch.
Reason 6: Special Education Account
You can get a free education account that is better than the regular free account, if your institution is recognised. Although when I started the free education account was a much better deal (I think), it's still pretty good now. It was also no trouble registering for it. You get 4GB free.
Yes, I have been banging on about how awesome this is. No, I don't work for them, get paid by them, and don't intend to anytime soon. I have no connection to them whatsoever, apart from the fact that I use and love the tool. I used to use it pretty much every lesson I taught.
Reasons Not to use Prezi
1. So there's the learning curve. It's not huge, but when I started using it, it took me a while to get to where I wanted to be.
2. It has changed so much since I started using it about 5 years ago. I created some Prezi training videos for the staff of my previous school. Within a year or so, I had to create new ones, as the functionality had changed and grown so much. This is understandable for a new tool, but I'm not sure if they are still in that hyper improvement and change phase.
3. It can be distracting. I did say above, that the medium is the message. The reason why I didn't remember the presentation which introduced me to Prezi, or much about the presenter who used it, is because I was so mesmerised with prezi, I didn't really pay attention to anything else. This is clearly an issue if you want to use it to teach students.
4. You need to be online to use it, unless you pay for it. This may be a deterent for those who have sketchy internet connections or want to create while they commute, or just don't want to pay for it.
5. You don't want to change. Fair enough. However, it's something I will touch upon in another blog post.
If you weren't interested in using Prezi, then there are plenty of alternatives. Some of which I have used, but some I have not.
Check out this PowToon blog post, this Emaze post and this CustomShow post for a whole bunch of alternatives.
Like I said, it's always good to check out what's out there, even if you're not going to use Prezi. Get out of your comfort zone.