Digital Story

Why did you choose this particular tools? How did the tool impact the manner in which you told your story (perhaps in a way that is different had you just used text or related the story using your voice)? How might you use such tools in your own teaching to produce materials for students? How might students be given access to the same authoring tools? What kind of impact would you expect to see in your students in terms of motivation, creativity, or any other characteristics?

Our job was to play around with some of the Web 2.0 tools now available for creating online/offline presentations. There has been tremendous competition in this area, especially if this list of tools we were given by our professor is any indication. Choosing one of these tools would be time-consuming, however in this case I had Twitter to help me. Turns out that on Twitter lots of people I’m following are raving about Prezi, a relatively new tool which looks to me like a replacement for PowerPoint.

I actually did this assignment wrong at first. I used Photostory 3, a program Microsoft puts out which is surprisingly decent and easy to use. After uploading my video to Youtube, I went back and reread the assignment, and discovered I was supposed to use one of the tools listed on the Wiki page above. Oops. Guess I should be less surprised when my students mess up an assignment.

Fortunately Prezi is pretty easy to use, and I had already collected all the photos I wanted to use. Within an hour I had most of the presentation up and going. One problem I had though was embedding audio with my presentation. I really think music or a voice over included in an online presentation is key, otherwise the presentation might be a bit boring. So I did some digging around and found out Prezi allows you to embed SWF files (usually created with the Adobe Flash authoring program) into presentations. I just created a simple SWF with the audio I wanted embedded (a very famous Thai song… hope I don’t get Prezi banned in Thailand!) and set to play as soon as the SWF is downloaded. Making the SWF super small (1px by 1px) makes it seem as if the audio is part of the presentation, rather than a separate download.

I found that when using Prezi, adding each image takes a bit of time. Aligning the text with the image, especially when the image was rotated AND the frame to hold the text and image was rotated was difficult. I had to fiddle with it quite a bit to get everything to look right. This meant I didn’t really want to add more frames than was absolutely necessary to tell my story, and my Prezi presentation ended up being quite a bit shorter than my Photostory presentation.

Telling a story this way is interesting, partially because there’s no opportunity to clarify anything you’ve written. I found myself editing the text quite a bit to make sure that none of it was controversial (I’m going to be sending this to family) or could be "taken the wrong way" out of context. Without the ability to see the audience this presentation is for, I lose a lot of the very useful two-way communication that occurs when you tell a story. For example, I have no idea if anyone else will even like this presentation!

I think I’ll use Prezi next year with my students. I usually have students create a review of what we have done in class, generally as a PowerPoint presentation. Creating the presentation in digital form definitely increases the amount of time it takes to do the review portion of the assignment, but makes the giving of the presentation decidedly easier. One advantage, an important one I think, of Prezi over PowerPoint is the fact it can be used from anywhere, is easy to move between computers, and can be easily shared/embedded online. As well, none of the students needs to pay for using Prezi, which means I can reasonably expect all of my students to have the required software (they need a web browser).

I’m going to be teaching science and mathematics next year. In mathematics, a typical word problem is like a story. One way I could help students improve their ability to solve word problems is to view the problem like a story. In fact, I’ve had students create their own word problems (and video problems!) and I think that if we story-boarded the word problems, using a presentation tool like Prezi, then they might have a better understanding of the steps involved in solving the problem. Students have a variety of different learning styles, and this might help some of the students understand word problems who normally have difficulty.

In science there are lots of stories, especially in Biology. I could imagine telling the story of the life cycle of a tadpole/frog for example using one of these presentation tools. Seeing the life-cycle visually would definitely help students see the changes that occur in the frog as it matures. Telling the story themselves would help them remember it, and understand a fundamental principle of biology, the cycle of life.

Prezi is cool. It does all these neat turns and twists, etc… when transitioning between slides. This is pretty hard to do with PowerPoint and way cooler looking than the typical twists, etc… Prezi is also much easier to use than PowerPoint. After only two presentations, I think I’m pretty competent with it. Spending time during class learning how to use software isn’t my cup of tea, I’d rather the tool students are using is so straight forward you can teach it in 10 minutes. Any longer than that and you have to do loads of reteaching.

Students will like using it because it’s easy and free. It allows them to be creative while not burdening them with cumbersome multi-step "formulas" for getting simple things done.

The drawback I see for students is the audio portion. I hope the people at Prezi.com get that figured out soon. Adding an audio file to your presentation has got to be easier than what I went through. I mean I found it easy, but I’ve devoted a lot of time to learning Flash, time better spent doing something else I think from a student’s perspective.

You can view it at http://prezi.com/129140/view/. Wait a bit for the music to start, the images to download and then click on the right arrow at the bottom to navigate through the slides.

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