December 6, 2013

Prezi session at the PSTA Conference

Posted by Dr. Laura Guertin

Today, I am at the Pennsylvania Science Teachers Association (PSTA) annual conference, being held in State College, PA.  This conference pulls in a great many science teachers and future teachers from across Pennsylvania (somewhere between 500-1,000 people in attendance) to share teaching strategies and resources in K-12 education.  Presentations focus on chemistry, biology, physics, astronomy, Earth science, pedagogical practices, and of course – educational technology!

The first session I attended this morning was given by a high school teacher.

Using Prezi to Meet the Ecology Standards

Learn ways to use Prezi to illustrate key ecology concepts. Participants receive access to a complete ecology unit including a pre-made Prezi, guided note sheets, quizzes, unit test, and a student Prezi project description and rubric.

If you are not familiar with Prezi, I feel their website describes it accurately as online “zooming presentation software” that goes beyond what a MS PowerPoint presentation can do in terms of the delivery of images and text.  This video gives a little more background on the product:

For full disclosure, I am not a fan of Prezi.  Seeing all of the fancy zooming and spinning around as one transitions from topic to topic I find really annoying and unnecessary.  I have never enjoyed presentations that have used Prezi, and I have never used the program myself.  This conference session was not my first choice of the morning, but as the speakers for the session I wanted to attend cancelled, I thought I would attend the Prezi session to see if I could be convinced that there is value to using this tool in the classroom.

Points during the presentation that opened my mind to where Prezi could be useful:

  • The presenter did a very good job by starting with “why” she uses Prezi with her students.  She said that not all of her students have access to MS PowerPoint at home (which is an issue also with my students), and since Prezi is a fully online program, students can set up a free account to create something even more innovative than a PowerPoint file.
  • During a demonstration of one of her existing Prezi files, she showed us how a “slide” can zoom in on just the terms or the image you want students to look at, to keep them from copying down everything on the screen in front of them and not listening to what you are lecturing about.
  • She also showed us how one cam embed photos and YouTube videos in Prezi, and since most K-12 schools block YouTube videos from playing the classroom, this is one way to work around showing YouTube videos.
  • Students can collaborate synchronously and asynchronously on one Prezi

The point that caused me some concern about using Prezi with students:

  • Inserting images – although Prezi seems to search online for Creative Commons images, this is not explained to students and no citations are required or necessary.  In essence, students are still randomly pulling images off the internet and inserting these images in their presentations – a Prezi presentation that is freely available online for the public to view (if that setting is selected).

To be fair, there is one use of Prezi that I can see some real value for in teaching – teaching students a sequence and/or about scale.  With PowerPoint, if I were to teach about a chain of events, I would have to jump back-and-forth between many different slides and probably duplicate many to show students where each event falls in a timeline.  With Prezi, I could easily have one zoomed out image showing the entire chain of events and quickly zoom in and out between events so students can see where everything falls along that timeline.  The presenter showed an example with the food web in an ecosystem, and was able to move through the different levels along different pathways of the food web for the same ecosystem.  I think being able to zoom in and move through a timeline or along an image of an outcrop would be helpful for students  in understanding spatial and/or temporal features.

So, am I now a fan of Prezi?  Not quite yet.  But I am now going to look in to see how people are using Prezi to teach geology and geologic time.  A quick search of the database came up with over 1,000 Prezis when I typed in “geology,” so it may take some time for me to find a quality Prezi for me to be convinced of its pedagogical value (or, I’ll just have to create my own!).