When I was a 1st year student in graduate school I took a course from a development economist Alain de Janvry. It was probably the best course I ever took after high school. He was, of course, brilliant and a great theorist of economic development, especially Latin American economic development. But what made the course really great for me was that he put a picture of the entire course on the blackboard in the first lecture. The picture was a series of connected bubbles and each bubble contained a piece of the story of economic development. Over the next 14 weeks, each bubble was essentially blown up and filled with rich detailed content. But you never forgot how it connected to all the other bubbles. I learned more in that class than any class I took because I could visualize how all the different pieces of a unified picture fit together. I am a visual learner and when I am at my best teaching, it is by drawing pictures of the big ideas I want my students to link together.
That brings me to Prezi. I first met Prezi when we were doing a search in Economics three years ago. All the candidates did their presentations using Prezi instead of Power Point. I immediately saw the visual power (and the limitations) of the presentation tool. Power Point is linear and verbal. Prezi is visual. It was exactly the tool I needed to replicate the kind of course diagram that de Janvry had created.
During the Tempel Summer Institute last summer, Instructional Technology staff trained us to use Prezi. Sort of. We were told that our final presentation about what we had learned would be done with Prezi, then immersed us for about two frustrating hours. I thought I would go crazy and then suddenly it clicked. Because Prezi lives in the cloud and can be shared with others, it is also a great tool for collaboration. But one drawback, as we learned in Tempel, is that when many people work on the same presentation, someone can suddenly show up on the document and make a mess of what you were doing. Not on purpose of course.
I am teaching Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow in my first year seminar, and by the end of this section I created a Prezi that captures the essence of the book. Each bubble will be a topic for a class session the next time I teach the course. I can already see how it helps students understand the big picture – for their final paper of the section, they used the Prezi to help structure their arguments.
I now have students creating collaborative Prezi’s for their final group presentations. I’ll write more about this in a later post.