prezi

6 Useful Online Tools for Academics (and anyone else who teaches)

 

I teach a session on the PGCAP (Post-Graduate Certificate of Academic Practice) at York - a programme of teaching-related workshops and classes over the course of a year, which every new teaching academic has to attend.

Here's the presentation from this year's workshop, EdTech: Useful online tools for academics:

It covers Blogging and Twitter (specifically their possible use in teaching, which is a lot less straightforward than their use in research, or academic profile building), the excellent Padlet which people always seem glad to be introduced to, Prezi itself, Slideshare, and sources of copyright free or creative commons images.

In previous years I've done a session on Information Literacy in the Digital Age - but I find it increasingly difficult to keep delivering the same things year after year. If I don't rewrite stuff, the feedback scores start to go down as I get less interested; clearly my declining interest is communicated to the audience somehow, despite my best efforts to prevent this. So last year when I had to submit the brief for them to put in the PGCAP brochure, I decided I'd redo the session and make it about useful online tools, and about trying to help the academics more digitally literate (rather than talk about student digital literacy) - that seemed to be the thing people enjoyed most about the previous version of the session, even though it was only a small element.

This academic year I've several times completely redone a workshop or teaching session, and stressed myself out massively in doing so, but ultimately felt much better delivering the new session and got better feedback too. It really is worth it. But it takes a huge amount of time and on this occasion I'd forgotten I'd need to do it - and the session was on the 3rd day back after Christmas... So it was a nightmare, really! But, ultimately, worth the time it took.

This kind of primer session on online tools is, in my experience, welcomed by academics. When asked about the most useful aspects of the session a lot of the feedback mentioned this, e.g.

  • Opened my eyes to new technologies and avenues to share teaching content.
  • Use of blogs images, twitter…all.   I had heard of many of these but the info was helpful to know how to use them effectively.

  • Seeing what is available, evaluated by presenter – gave good insight

  • Very objective analysis of tools and possible use..

  • Examples of how the tools had been used for teaching and learning

So something as simple as flagging up tools some may not have heard of, and giving examples and (objective, rather than evangelical) analysis of how they're used so that even those who have heard of them get something out of it, is often enough to be genuinely useful.

This is less and less of the case, however. I was talking with someone from the eLearning Team (not part of the Library or IT) this week and we agreed that a couple of years ago, just introducing these technologies to a group of academics was enough - but now there's much more understanding of the tools that are out there. So we have to up our game, and move onto more in-depth discussion of how to use these tools, rather than just what they are. Increasingly (albeit not in the presentation above) I find myself wanting to present things by user need, rather than by platform.

Presentation Tools 4: Using Prezi to make NORMAL slides

 

Yesterday in the post about Canva, I promised Prezi but not as you know it... This is because we're not going to be using Prezi to make a Prezi, we're going to use it make regular slides.

Using Prezi to make normal slides (prezi.com)

If you want to take advantage of some of Prezi's features (particularly the symbols, shapes, graphics, and templates) but don't want an actual Prezi with all the zooming and swooping which can make people feel ill, you can just create a Prezi to work as a PDF. The slides below are both an example of this and an explanation as to how:

Of course, you may want to use Prezi as Prezi themselves intend, in which case have a read of this guide to preventing motion sickness in the viewer. If you want to use Prezi in the academic environment, start here. And, although it's a little out of date now, my 2013 mega guide to using Prezi is here.

The final post of Presentation Tools Week is tomorrow, and focuses on 3 different tools that help you with colour.

Prezi Guide: The 5 Essentials To Stop Your Audience Feeling Sick

 

Prezi is nothing if not divisive. Some people love it, some people hate it - I'm in neither of those camps. I find it very useful in some situations, but still use good old fashioned PowerPoint Slides for more than half the presentations I give. Prezi should be used for a reason.

Prezi is relatively new (it's been around since 2009), it's getting more popular (there are around 40 million users now) and it's improving its interface all the time. Some people accuse it of being style over substance, but for certain ideas (interactive maps, for example) it provides substance that slides simply can't bring to the table. For me, Prezi can be fantastic as long as you adhere to one maxim above all: don't let the medium get in the way of the message. Any presentation materials should be there to support the presenter and work FOR the audience in adding to their experience. Do that, and Prezi can really raise the level of an audience's engagement.

Potentially, a great Prezi has the wow factor. So why would you want to completely undermine that by creating something which makes sections of your audience feel motion-sickness? It's up to you, the presenter, to minimize the possibility of this as far as humanly possible. Here's how. (For the short version, view the Prezi about it.)

1. Positioning

The single most important thing about creating a Prezi is the positioning of the objects on the canvas (and directly related to this, the order in which they're visited on the path). Position your materials sympathetically, people! By which I mean, rather than moving haphazardly around the canvas and disorientating the viewer, move from left to right, or from top to bottom - move in a way the human brain is used to.

2. Distancing

But positioning is about more than putting your objects in a coherent pattern - it's about having a uniform (and short) distance between them. The closer you place your objects together, the less zoom and swoop there is in your prezi. Place them right next to each other and it won't zoom out at all, it will just slide right over from one object to the next.

3. Sizing

As with distancing, uniformity is the key to sizing too. Put similarly sized objects together - ideally make them the exact same size. This means there's no need to zoom in or out. Contrast this to having a small object followed by a much larger object and then a small object again: the zoom is flying all over the place.

4. Rotation

99.9% of rotations and barrel-rolls in Prezis add absolutely zero value to the presentation.

I just made that stat up but I'm sure it's true. In fact most of the time rotating actively detracts from a Prezi. It is the Number One cause of queasyness in the viewer. It can be used with a good reason (a visual metaphor of some kind to better express your ideas) but otherwise, why would you? It just gets in the way of your message.

5. Pacing

The ability to zoom in and out is both Prezi's strength and its weakness. It's what allows you to show the relationship between objects on your presentation, it's what allows the element of surprise for the big reveal, it's what lets you put your own hierachy onto your information rather than having it dictated to you. But it's also at the heart of what can induce nausea in your audience.

So, pace your Prezi like you would regular slides. Don't move it on every few seconds - arrive at point on your path, talk about it for two minutes, or five minutes, or more, and then move on. This means there are fewer zooms per presentation, and less quickly following one-another. But you can still take advantage of the zoom's ability to enhance your presentation.


One last note on zooming

If you double-click the right arrow to move your presentation on (or left arrow to move it back) it zooms twice as fast. This can be effective in reducing the sea-sick effect - after all it's the transitions which cause the problems, so if you only transition for 50% of the time you did before, that helps. The only downside is it feels risky; if you triple click by mistake, you'll miss your path point entirely and have to go back...

Here's my Prezi on this whole topic - it explains what I've just said in a visually illustrative way (which is sort of the point of Prezi after all):

 

Finally

All that said, if members of your audience are particularly susceptible to motion-sickness, even doing ALL of the above may not be enough. So only use Prezi for a specific reason. Use it to do something PowerPoint can't, rather than as a direct replacement for the sake of it. Use it to cover several dispirate topics, or to make something interactive, or to visually explain relationships between ideas. But if you don't need to do any of those things, and it's a regular presentation, just use regular slides. Just be sure to use them well.

Which leads us to a bonus option:

(6. The nuclear option)

Prezi can be a very useful way to make a nice looking presentation: the fonts, icons, ease of importing images, and themes, make smart presentation materials without the need for a huge amount of effort or design knowledge. Once you get over the initial learning curve, it's quicker to make a nice Prezi than nice slides. So if you want to take advantage of all that, but want to 100% eliminate the possibility of motion-sickness, simply save your Prezi as a PDF, and use it as you would slides. Every path point on your Prezi is a full-page of the PDF so it ends up looking like a (nice) PowerPoint.

To save a Prezi as a PDF, click the share icon and choose the relevant option from there.

To save a Prezi as a PDF, click the share icon and choose the relevant option from there.


Disclaimer: Prezi will always make some people sick - they dislike Prezis intensely, and it's very important to them that they bring this up a lot. I offer no judgement here; I do the same with LinkedIn. But this guide is about stopping an audience feeling motion-sickness when watching a Prezi - if you aren't prepared to take steps to do this, you shouldn't be making Prezis!

Digital Scholarship Training at @UniofYork: Facts and Figures

 

Andy Priestner has written about the importance of writing reports, even if no one asks you to, to showcase the value of what the Library is doing.

...it is not enough just to collate this data and wait to be asked for it. It is far better to ensure that the people who need to know this stuff are informed, at least once a year, of these top level statistics, before they ask for them: a pre-emptive strike if you like…
— Andy Priestner in Business School Libraries in the 21st Century, edited by Tim Wales

(You can read a larger excerpt from his chapter here.)

With that in mind, a while ago I produced an internal report on the Digital Scholarship Training I've run at York (and various exciting things happened as a result of doing this) - which I've now expanded into an external version, which includes the Google Apps for Education training run by my colleagues.

My message to you is that if you have any expertise in the area of digital scholarship, scholarly comms, Web 2.0 in HE etc, find a way to offer it to your academic community! As I've mentioned before, we've found they're ready for it, and excited about the opportunities.

Below is a tweaked version of the report to include the message in the paragraph above - the original version (which can be found on our Library slideshare page) is aimed at York staff and asks them to get in touch for information about upcoming events. Putting it on our Slideshare page will hopefully increase the profile of something very positive for the Library and IT - we've both found that there's been some reputational gain from helping people out with things they really value right now, rather than solely focusing on what we've always done. We've also both found that word is starting to spread and we're becoming go-to people within the University when help or advice is required in these areas, which is excellent.

There's more about the nature of the training itself in this blog post on the Networked Researcher suite of workshops, and this later post about how the training is shifting slightly.

Import your floorplans into Prezi to create an interactive map

A couple of years ago I wrote about some interactive maps we'd made of the Library, which we used for induction and teaching - they went down very well. The students are much more engaged by a slick Prezi than a tired PowerPoint, and it's also very practical to have information about the library geographically located in a map, rather than in linear slides. So the maps worked really well as stand-alone web objects to be viewed independently by students and staff, as well as actual materials for live presentations and workshops. You can read the post - Student Induction, Libraries, Prezi, and Interactive Maps - here; it also contains an embedded Prezi map, with which to compare the new version I've created below.

In 2012 we tried to improve the maps a little, including embedded a lot of videos in them - things like the virtual tour, but also information at the point of need, for example '1 minute on... how to photocopy and scan' next to where the printer/scanners are on the map.

This year, we did something I've wanted to do from the start, which is import floor plans to Prezi and create the maps based on those. Previously we simply didn't have good enough floor-plans in a format I could use - hence having an outline of the Library buildings (drawn by someone in the Digital Library team), somewhat awkwardly divided up by me using lines and boxes. Now though, we have a MUCH better interactive map, the basis of which is an imported PDF of our floor plans.

Here is the generic map we display on our Info for New Students page (as always I'd recommend going into Full-Screen mode to view this - press the Start Prezi button then once it loads, click the box icon in the bottom-right corner):

We experimented with various ways of representing the different floors: separate maps for each floor, or one map but with box-outs containing the other floors, for example. In the end we opted for making the ground floor plan of the overall building take up most of each ground floor, but with the other floors contained within the same space. (That doesn't make much sense; you'll see what I mean if you look at the map.)

Unexpected benefits

Once again the response from the students was really good. Quite a lot of our induction talks happen as part of wider introductions to the course, from academics, the Student Union, Careers office etc - just the fact that we aren't using PPT and they all are makes the students sit up and take notice. They've often not seen Prezi before so are impressed by the ability to zoom in on different parts of the Library and talk about them. It really does have more impact, and make people more aware of what you're saying about the Library, than a PowerPoint presentation. (And I say that as someone who still likes and uses PPT a lot, including for a lot of teaching.)

That is the expected benefit of using Prezi, but each year another benefit that occurs is the map instigates conversations with the academics. People from the Departments we're presenting in come up to us and want to talk about the Prezi - they're often impressed by it, and they appreciate the fact that the students took notice of it. I really do think I've found it easier to work with departments after they've seen me using Prezi; it serves as a jumping off point / builds bridges. (Bit of a mix of metaphors there but you get what I mean!)

If you want to try making your own interactive map, here's how

The process we followed at York was this:

  1. Open a new Prezi and edit the template so it reflected our branding
  2. Import the floorplans as a PDF. When you import as a PDF each page of becomes a seperate object on the canvas, to be manipulated: picked up, shrunk, stretched, etc
  3. Stretched the overall top-down view of the Library so it was absolutely massive - after all, everything else has to fit inside it
  4. Placed the individual building plans within the stretched top-down view
  5. Annotated the maps with further information by simply double clicking anywhere on the canvas to type
  6. Put in photographs to give the audience a better idea of where they were in the building
  7. Embedded YouTube vids at all appropriate places (this is very easy with Prezi - you just need the video's URL)
  8. Saved a copy - individual Academic Liaison Librarians then took the generic map and made bespoke versions for each department
  9. Made different versions, by copying the maps, to suit specific needs - so edited the 'path' (the order in which the Prezi moves through all the text and pictures on the canvas) to make e.g. 5 or 6 key points only for a 10 minute presentation, or every single thing on the map for the stand-alone web version ..

An example of a different version of the map (as in point 9) is this iteration I made for my History of Art PG students, with subject-specific information added and non-essential path-points taken out:

We also use Prezi for some teaching but not all. So for my History of Art 1st years, with whom I have an hour on Texts and an hour on images, I use PowerPoint for the Finding Texts session, and Prezi for the Finding Images. The latter was created using a Prezi template - these are really good if you need something nice looking in a hurry. It took me around 2 hours to turn my predecessors PPT into the Prezi you see there.

Non-York examples

Here are other takes on the interactive map:

If you have examples I can add me list, or any comments or questions, let me know below!