Studying Like An Artist

© Pagani, A visualist, photojournalist, abstractist, and fine artist

“The Best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas.” – Linus Pauling

Prezi, an online presentation software tool, is now commonly utilized in both the academy and out. Unlike the structure and linear flow of  traditional presentation softwares like Powerpoint and Keynote, Prezi offers a new, non-linear, and interactive way of producing knowledge. Despite the Prezi learning curve, such as learning how to use the zoom tool, edit text (e.g. change size/color), adding shapes, and selecting a path/organization of your presentation, Prezi gives the user more creative freedom over the form and content of her presentation. Prezi skills take time to learn and are best developed by doing. Over the course of this semester I have created several presentations for both my seminars and my conference talks using Prezi. Prezi gave me the freedom to build a unique and creative narrative from a blank canvas, however,  through the design process that I discovered something much more fulfilling about Prezi: it’s ability to make me study like an artist. By building a visual presenation of my argument from scratch (literally Prezi starts out as a blank canvas), I was able to (re)formulate and rethink the weaknesses in my argument, which later helped the overall quality of my paper. The follow question dawned on me, if Prezi can help me better develop my presentational arguments visually, then could it also help me study for exams as well? In order to test out this hypothesis, I made myself an online study guide for one of my core graduate classes in the Communication, Culture, and Technology Program, CCTP 506: Fundamentals of Technology. (See Below)

The Prezi functioned as a space where I could embed and aggregate multiple media that reflected the course material. Not only did I use text, images, and diagrams that illustrated the core concepts of the course, but Prezi, as a medium, allowed me to insert videos (from youtube) that further underscored the themes. Utilizing the web’s database of knowledge by “searching” and embedding the seach results in the Prezi underscores how the “search” function on the internet can be a very productive study tool.

It is also important to note that the process of creating a Prezi is by no means linear; it is one of the most exploratory, dynamic, and artistic ways of studying I have encountered. I started out by typing out various points from my notes, adding random images that related to the content, and drawing basic shapes and arrows to organize my thoughts – this was very much like the “sketch” phase of creating art. In the second phase, I started to group concepts together -structure started to form. The third and final phase involved lots of (re)design, mapping, and organization. Questions I asked myself: What concepts best belong together? How can I connect them to make sense? What path or order should they go in? This last phase is the most important because it brings everything together and forces the students to think about the course content relationally.

 

Once Prezi’s learning curve is overcome and the functionality of the tools are mastered by students I believe it can be a very helpful tool to assist student learning and writing. Not only is Prezi a great tool to make presentations, but it is a great way to construct a virtual and interactive flow chart of an argument for an essay or a study guide for a final. Showing students how to simply use a digital tool is one thing, but by letting them be creative with the different ways they could use the tool is can be much more fruitful. This  underscores one of the key milestones of high-impact learning practices: meta-reflection. Asking students about the process of design creation in Prezi will force them to think about how the tool itself is shaping their understanding of the course material. In addition, by creating a visualization of “thinking” it forces one to think about how other audiences, from a variety of disciplines and backgrounds, will perceive the these images. Prezi, afterall, is a public presentation tool, unless you pay an annual fee for a private account. How clear is the message? Are the connections logical? Or are the connections illogical for a particular reason? I’d encourage students at the high shoool, university, graduate levels to all use Prezi to implement thought and ideas. It is almost like creating art, sketching, outlining, filling in the lines, adding paint, and then your final touches. We need to remember that writing is an art and Prezi demonstrates this. It’s time to teach our students how to study like artists.

Here is a useful Prezi Tutorial Handout

 

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