Using Prezi: A review

In my previous post I had a lot of detailed information that I wanted to communicate and only so much post-length in which to communicate it. In fact, the post and my message were inundated with this detail, threatening the viability and practicality of the post.

 

 

So I had to find a way to deemphasize the detail while not losing any of it.

I started out with plain HTML coding. That ended quickly. It was easy to tag and write, but the product was pages long. So, I then tried animated GIFs. This was a little better, at least as far as coding and explaining were concerned, but the product was still long. So then I tried a PowerPoint, or rather an Impress, since I use OpenOffice instead of Microsoft Office. (Why would anyone pay $400 to $500 for something they could get, at equal or better quality, for free?) The impress was 43 slides long after pruning, giving you an idea on how long the first HTML posts actually were. It worked nicely, but like most slideshows it was static and blocky, almost institutional.

So I took the leap and tried Prezi. And I am very glad I did!

First impressions

 

 

My first impression of Prezi came from several prezis educators created, some embedded in blog posts and all advertised on Twitter. These prezis were, as far as I was concerned, of high quality. I was intrigued enough to list Prezi as a tool I would like to try one day when a topic suited it. So it waited until my last post.

Prezi has simple navigation. When you open it you have five options, a Sign In button, an introductory video tour and three prominent tabs: Your Prezi, Learn and Explore.

  • Your Prezi leads to your account, which you activate after you Sign In. In here are your bar-setting creations.
  • Explore categorizes and presents feature prezis made by Prezi staff and end users. There are also Prezis We Like on the home page.
  • Learn has four short, simple videos, explaining how to use the application, plus a Learn box containing links to Community and Support. In Support is a manual, which is actually a table of contents to a Prezi knowledge base. Search is also available on all pages.

With these six resources (I never selected Community), one can navigate the site.

The application is also fairly easy to use, once one familiarizes him or herself with the application navigation, which is compacted into a rotary bubble that sits out of the way in the upper left corner of the work screen.

I did however have initial trouble selecting objects and several false starts because of that after I exited then reentered Write/Select mode. I am not sure if this was a glitch in the application or a fault in my use of it. I had a similar problem near the end of my creation, when selecting objects did not isolate dragging to that object but resulted instead in dragging the whole content of the work screen. These were minor distractions though and I was quick to overcome them with persistence.

 

 

Designing and making my prezi

How to start

It is possible to make a prezi from scratch, with a little planning. Though I created a slideshow to begin with, and the fourth Learn video explains how to convert slideshows into a format Prezi can use, one doesn’t need to. In fact, Prezi explains how to create a prezi from intial main points and nesting and grouping ever more detailed points after that.

 

 

There is an advantage to creating an initial slideshow though.

Prezis contain two components: the content and the layout/navigation. With a slideshow already created, one can transfer the content onto the work screen and then concentrate on designing the prezi layout and navigation, rather than dividing one’s attention between simultaneously creating the content and creating its presentation.

So long as one can create a PDF of one’s content so that separate points are on separate pages, Prezi can use it.

Tips and tricks

 

 

Which brings us to some tips and tricks on getting the most out of Prezi.

  1. Prezi works on units or points of information, whether these are text, images or videos, which it can zoom in on so these units are the only thing on the user’s screen. Slideshows and PDFs need to be designed so that each slide only displays what the user wants Prezi to zoom in on alone. My initial slideshow increased from 43 slides to 86 slides so that individual points could be focussed on separately. The only slide that retained multiple focus points on it, for reasons of aesthetics and message, was the thirty third one (the vertical-polynomial-multiplication summary slide) in the original impress.
     
  2. Because of the number of slides a broken slideshow can have, I suggest you print off thumbs or titles in order to plan the order of their presentation. Additionally, group related concepts/slides and start considering screen placement and size of slides. I planned a large title and subtitle around which I positioned various clusters of nested slides (main points were larger than and centered between associated minor points). I designed the scale and grouping of the slides, the order (or path) of their presentation and only weakly considered placement. I avoided linearity and haphazardness and decided to wind the slide clusters clockwise through the title.
     
  3. An early problem I came across in Prezi was that I had no reference scale with which to determine the viewing size of my prezi. Prezi does have upper and lower limits to zooming in and out, but I did not know whether the maximum limit was one viewer screen, more, or less in size. Prezi did not offer help in this respect and I had to figure it out through trial and error on my own. Trick: Prezi will zoom to maximize your prezi on a viewing screen, regardless of your prezi’s size. (On the zoom slider along the right edge of your screen is a home button. This fits your prezi to fill your viewing screen.) Size your prezi at some mid-zoom level when you create it, so you have some room to zoom up and down several levels as you add units or items.
     
  4. Crop your slides (right click and select crop) so that the necessary information fills the slide. Slideshow slides often have wide margins and “white” space. You don’t need these in a prezi. Cropping allows you to nudge items close to each other without having to continuously bring these items forward so you can later select them.
     
  5. There is a size limit to Select. At a given zoom level, if an item is too small, it can not be selected in order to prevent accidental editing of these items. Zoom in. UPDATE: This problem is also true for items that are too large. This might explain my troubles with selecting and dragging some objects as described in the First Impressions section. To solve, try zooming out.
     
  6. You can toggle between Show mode and Edit mode by pressing the space bar.
     
  7. Both PowerPoint and Impress do not retain borders on tables when converting them into PDFs and prezis. Screen capture (an Insert option) can bring these tables properly bordered into the prezi.
     
  8. It is also possible to type directly into the prezi, which I did for my signature and URL items.
     
  9. Edit, redo and play with your prezi and its components. Just last night, I modified the path of three items in order to smooth out their presentation. Try different arrangements and designs until you create a prezi you like. You can always edit.
     

Embedding my prezi

I use WordPress (WP) as my blog host. It has a knack of refusing any scripting and most embedding into it. Usually, I get around this using VodPod. But VodPod does not recognize Prezi, so I published my post originally with a link to my prezi rather than an embed.

You might notice, if you visit my previous post, that I now have embedded my prezi.

There are ways of doing this. You can:

  • type the URL, without an anchor tag and href attribute, into visual editting in WP, preview this and see if WP embeds the prezi, (I edit in HTML, so didn’t try this.)
  • use WP’s shortcodes and follow WP’s directions, (There is no shortcode for Prezi.)
  • or try the [gigya …] shortcode Panos recommends in The gigya shortcode 1 – inserting videos. (This worked for me. I learned about it through Twitter. The necessary advice is in the comments.)

My embed looks like this. (I got the information — width, height and flashvars — from Prezi’s embed button.)

[gigya src="http://prezi.com/bin/preziloader.swf" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" allowfullscreen="true" allowscriptaccess="always" width="500" height="364" bgcolor="#ffffff" flashvars="prezi_id=vndrhmrgdnxc&lock_to_path=0&color=ffffff &autoplay=no&autohide_ctrls=0"]

And WP did this.

<iframe frameborder="0" width="508" height="372" src="http://wpcomwidgets.com/?src=http://prezi.com/bin/preziloader.swf&type=application/x-shockwave-flash&allowfullscreen=true&allowscriptaccess=always&width=500 &height=364&bgcolor=#ffffff&flashvars=prezi_id=vndrhmrgdnxc
&lock_to_path=0&color=ffffff&autoplay=no&autohide_ctrls=0
&_tag=gigya&_hash=a988d67c8847e82e2fc93078359cfeb4" id="a988d67c8847e82e2fc93078359cfeb4"></iframe>

I spill

 

 

Prezi is a great online tool. It is easy to use and its products are practically limited only by your creativity. It has a few glitches, which I mentioned above, but hopefully this post and practice will iron these out. I highly recommend this tool for a novel and interesting way to present your detailed information or slideshows. I have yet to figure out if an overall audio can be added to a prezi.

Update to Prezi

Last night Prezi announced improvements to its application.

Its select zebra, which allows the user to select, edit, rotate, resize and drag items on the work screen, now looks more intuitive, while retaining most of its functionality. Some of its editing options are no longer associated with the zebra.

Also Insert Shapes allows one to insert an arrow or line, then, once one returns to Write/Select, to double click the arrow or line to create a middle holder with which he or she can curve the line or arrow.

Design of my blog

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Design of my blog, posted with vodpod

This post combines challenges 2, 3, 6 and 7 of the 30 Days to Kick Start Your Blog Teacher Challenge. I used Text 2 Mind Map, MS Paint, OpenOffice Impress, SlideShare and VodPod to create the slide show above.

Anthems & Apathy

Vodpod videos no longer available.
Comic: Do students care? Two panels. Two perspectives.
This cartoon is cross-posted to Educational Comics.

With Understanding, Pride

What thoughts play through your head when you listen to your nation’s anthem? Do you listen to your anthem? Do your students?

As a substitute teacher, I see students who don’t listen to my nation’s anthem, who don’t stand at attention, or who even talk or fool around while my anthem is sung. Sure they have heard it every school morning for x number of years, but they seem to forget that my nation has soldiers deployed out of country defending that anthem and what it stands for. They forget that very few of these valiant soldiers return home unscathed in some way. I know; my father was in the service, thankfully during times of peace, but domestic terrorists were around while he served.

Lately, as I more deeply invest myself in my students’ welfares and futures, I have grown concerned about this apparent apathy, this disinterest, this boredom my students present over my anthem. I think more than just apathy directs their behaviors. I actually think they hold a “it can not happen to me and my country” taking-it-for-granted attitude. Under this premise, my nation’s anthem is just a song with no more meaning than a teacher’s preaching. No wonder they do not respect it as I do. I am not sure most of them even understand it. That saddens me.

I was taught my anthem when I was a kid. Because of this, I hold it with great pride. With understanding comes pride. So I would like to bring meaning to two lines of my anthem, the way I was taught them. I imagine that a class can be best taught this through query and discussion.

Into and Out Of the Canadian Anthem

The Canadian Anthem and its history are described on the Government of Canada’s website (http://www.pch.gc.ca/pgm/ceem-cced/symbl/anthem-eng.cfm). The lines I wish to explore are:

God keep our land glorious and free!
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

When I was a kid, these lines read:

O Canada, glorious and free!
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

(There was a recent suggestion to return to this version, or to at least drop the mention of God.)

I will explore the version I learned, because I think it holds deeper and more identifiable and call-to-action meaning.

“O” is an address, such as the address Shelley makes to the West Wind in his Ode to the West Wind. It implies an addressee capable of understanding it is being addressed.

Canada is obviously the addressee, but “Canada” is a concept. Here students need guidance, for once they comprehend “Canada”, the rest of the Canadian anthem takes on nuances of meaning. What is Canada? It is of course territory, but it is also tradition, culture, values, history and perhaps most importantly the network or Nation of Canadians. This is what I think students today do not comprehend.

The national anthem addresses not only the territory but the people and values of Canada. It addresses the students! It is a song sung not only by the students to Canada but by Canada to the students. Furthermore, it is sung simultaneously about Canada and the students.

Every school morning in every school across the nation from sea to sea to sea Canada sings to the students. What a concept.

So what is it singing? “Glorious” means full of glory. “Free” is another tough one; a whole course can be spent on it with little more than a cursory introduction to all its implications. But can you see, when applied to the territory, the values and the students, how strong, how empowering these words really are?

The next line, particularly “we stand on guard for thee”, is significant since “we” and “thee” apply again to the territory, the values and the students. And “guard” carries more weight. How many different ways can each of the three “we” stand guard over each of the three “thee”?

The Strength of Meaning

In just two lines, the Canadian anthem captures its strength as an anthem worthy of Canadians. When understood the anthem is meaningful rather than meaningless. It ceases to be boring, ceases to be drill. The students own it. And through owning it, they own their land (the house) and their Country (the home).

Regardless of where we are or what anthem we sing, should we not all care about where we live and the values we hold dear? What thoughts play through your head when you hear your nation’s anthem? Do you listen to it? Do your students?

One day maybe, if I finally had enough of kids talking and slouching and fooling around during our national anthem, I might throw my teacher’s lesson plan away and open instead a discussion about meaning behind the national anthem. I wonder if they would even hear?