Thing 5: On Digital Storytelling & Presentation Tools

Soldiers and local kids telling stories, during World War I

Soldiers, many of them with children on their knees, have formed a semi-circle around a soldier who looks like he is telling a story. There is a building and bicycle in the background and they are in a dirt square.
Once troops had entered a village they were often housed with local families. This was a welcome opportunity for rest and a diversion for the locals.
Ernest Brooks. ‘On the British Western Front. Not a drawing room fire, but it answers the purpose.’ [N.d.] From the papers of Field Marshal (Earl) Haig (1861-1928). National Library of Scotland. http://digital.nls.uk/74546380 Used under Creative Commons, Attribution-Noncomercial-Share alike 2.5 UK: Scotland.

I first began working with digital media as a communication tool about 15 years ago. At that time, both web pages (html) and Power Point were relatively new technologies to many people and, because I had dabbled a little in both, I was instantly the resident expert. I soon learned about the relationship between content, graphical design, and technology. While I have learned new information and design ideas, and technologies have emerged (or in some cases, disappeared), I continue to hone my skills at this craft.

I was first exposed to Prezi (http: prezi.com) about a year ago. I don’t remember where it was when I saw it or who it was that might have shown it to me. I do remember being blown away by the really neat prezis  that I saw. The idea that one could easily create a presentation on a topic, present relevant micro- or macro-information on the topic, and to either present this information in either a sequential or non sequential manner with animation, this was truly amazing.

(It appears to me that Prezi with a capital ‘P’ is the name of the Web 2.0 tool, that a prezi with a lower-case ‘p’ is the thing one creates, and that the plural of prezi is prezis.)

This almost unrestricted freedom was initially overwhelming the first time I created a prezi. I searched Prezi for good examples and found many wonderful artistic creations (I wish I had that kind of talent) and others that were others that were painful to look at (either due to a lack of understanding of good graphic design or due to a general disorganization). Couple this with the fact that I couldn’t create a prezi using my iPad, I decided to put this tool on the back burner.

Fast forward to this past December. A ‘new to our staff’ science teacher lead a Prezi workshop that was sponsored by the teachers center. Using an interactive white board, he both introduced the idea of a prezi and demonstrated how to use it as an instructional tool. Together with ‘new to me’ features like predesigned templates, the ability for multiple users to work on the same prezi at the same time, and iPad compatibility, I saw that I needed to give Prezi another look.

This week I had the opportunity to work with an 8th grade ELA teacher needing to do a ‘multimedia research project’ and I suggested that her students could create prezis for their final products. Considering the skills and abilities of her students, I created a prezi template that the students could copy and use. I would then post links to these prezis onto the class project page so that the teacher could easily show these to her class.

I also talked with one of the family and consumer science teachers  about her experiences using prezi with her students (she had also gone to the prezi workshop and it was new to her). Overall her students really liked it and I think I’ve got steps in place to deal with some of the challenges she faced. When I demonstrated prezi to my English teacher, we were unable to create her account due to ‘network difficulties’ (another reason for offering the students an option on their finished product), however, she was enthusiastic about prezis and she is planning to attend the science teacher’s next prezi workshop later this month.

We spent earlier this week engaged in the research process and today I presented the idea of creating prezis. We also gave them an option of creating a Power Point slide show instead should  difficulties emerge. The same content, the same organization, and the same expectations regardless of which tool they chose to use for their product. By the end of the class, probably a third of the class had started their prezis, a third were Power-Pointing, and a third were finishing up their research.

One of the central ideas we talked about with the students was the need to cite everything that they use in their research. With this in mind, we (the teachers) decided that the students should not use graphics since we did not discuss with the students how to cite images and the challenges faced when trying to citing images. Sorry kids, boring prezis and Power Points. One enthusiastic student asked me if he could create a ‘fun’ prezi instead of using the template I presented. While I am a big fan of creative expression, it should not come at the expense of the lesson. Sorry kid, give me all of your content first and then we can talk. If we had all kinds of time available to work with these students on this project, I would have really enjoyed introducing the students to ideas related using images properly (e.g.: citations, Creative Commons, etc.) and to communicating effectively through graphical design. Perhaps these ideas will be presented to these students in the future.

I am satisfied with this collaboration. I have worked with this teacher before and we’ve done some really neat projects together. I believe that I have met her instructional needs and that we met the learning needs of all of her students. I look forward to seeing their end products.