Mapping Character Development Across Time with Prezi Meeting

Collaborative PreziWhile Prezi has gained reputation as an alternative presentation tool to PowerPoint, the addition of the real-time group editing functionality of Prezi Meeting allows for users to collaboratively create exhibits like concept maps and timelines. Recently, CNDLS worked with Sociology professor Sarah Stiles to use the online presentation tool in one of her summer classes.

In a post earlier this year, Derek Bruff of Vanderbilt University detailed his use of Prezi Meeting to have his students create a debate map, demonstrating an alternative use for the tool. As Professor Bruff explained, “Prezi Meeting is a feature within every Prezi that allows you to invite others to edit your Prezi. You send them an URL, and they click on that URL to get full edit access to your Prezi. What’s more, Prezi Meeting allows you and your friend to edit your Prezi at the same time, much like Google Docs allows multiple people to edit a word processing or spreadsheet document together in real time.”

The Request

Students of Professor Stiles’s Contemporary City class were studying achievement ideology and social reproduction theory through the reading of Ain’t No Makin’ It: Aspirations and Attainment in a Low-income Neighborhood by Jay McLeod. The text follows the lives of youth in two groups — the Hallway Hangers and the Brothers — growing up in the Clarendon Heights area during the 1980s-90s. Professor Stiles wanted her students to be able to work collaboratively in the creation of a document that would track the events of both groups during the time period. and relationships between the various events and characters.

Why Prezi?

Two things were to be represented: the connections between the characters in the text, and the events they encountered over a common course of time. While Professor Stiles was originally considering a wiki for this project, CNDLS staff thought of ideas to show both elements, such as the use of tag clouds on a Georgetown Commons blog and Dipity, an online timeline representation application.

Prezi was chosen for being able to fulfill both representations while at the same time allowing for collaborative creation. Making this use of Prezi even more interesting was that despite being known as a presentation tool, the process of creating the visual took precedent over the final product, an emphasis that made the activity of creation more meaningful.

How was it used?

Students worked in two groups, with one editor for each group. In a previous session, they were each assigned a character from the text and asked to create a Prezi on that character to gain experience with the app. One student demonstrated her character presentation before groups started working, and her use of imagery and humor to create a simple yet interesting character sketch helped ease the apprehension felt by many students unfamiliar and unsure of the tool.Students collaborate with Prezi Meeting

Before they started group editing, Professor Stiles shared a link to the main Prezi, where she had inserted a timeline image that was to be used as a common reference for both groups. The Hallway Hangers created their presentation above the timeline, the Brothers below.

While only one person edited for each group, other members took turns providing images (either by emailing them to the editor, or providing links) and descriptions that were formatted into the Prezi.

Prezi Meeting allows users to “follow” each other during the course of editing, meaning that one user can view the actions of another user in real time. Following users is as simple as clicking on user icons, a utility that has obvious benefits for instructors to track progress during a session.

You can watch snippets of their work in the video below.

What did we learn?

As with any new technology, there were a few flaws. The most frequent required editors to reload the page, a byproduct of having multiple users logged into the same session. While Prezi Meeting supports ten simultaneous users, CNDLS staff tested with eight prior to the class and experienced small issues like delays in seeing updates from other users, inconsistencies in formatting, and general growing pains with learning how to use the application. During the class, there were five accounts interacting with the presentation, including the two editors, Professor Stiles, and two accounts we used to record the work of the editors.

After the class, I asked the students a few questions about the experience.

The experience was new to most, and as a result, many had not planned a structure/format for their presentations. Despite this, we witnessed creativity on the fly — many of the character trees were created intuitively and with little debate in how they would be displayed, highlighting one of the best aspects of Prezi: its focus on laying out ideas in relation to one another rather than in a linear fashion. This is truly what allows Prezi’s use to expand beyond simply a presentation tool, and why it makes such an excellent space for laying out ideas, both in individual and collaborative use.

Editors worked in groups to create the PreziThe format of having a minimum number of editors seemed to help the process as well. Many students agreed that it created less confusion, and the application seemed to run with reduced “bugginess” when working with a smaller number. The idea behind having the students create their own Prezis before class time was a good one, as they all had an idea of the limitations and features of the tool.

The main complaint voiced by multiple students was the lack of an erase feature. While there is an “undo” feature, the visually abundant presentations required the manipulation of multiple images, and navigating through those images can be tedious at times.

Despite the occasional inconsistencies, students said they enjoyed the experience and found the tool easy to learn and use. This gentle learning curve combined with the flexibility and collaborative nature of the tool made it an excellent and productive choice. When asked, the students said that they were excited to have been exposed to this novel tool and would definitely make use of it for future projects and presentations, extending its benefits outside of this single course.