Prezi is an online Flash-based presentation tool that allows users to either develop structural pathways, or employ a non-structural approach, on a single digital canvas. Images, text, and videos are placed on the canvas and grouped in frames that come in multiple designs; canvas template designs also vary in styles and colors for intended audiences. Users can zoom in, and zoom out (either manually or by the determined pathway), and the importance of items in the presentation can be determined by the sizing of elements. Prezi offers a variety of plans ranging from basic free services, tiered packages (which offer extended features such as increased storage capacity and the ability to work off-line), and an educator's license for educators and student projects.
The first step is to make sure that all Internet requirements are met before enrolling in Prezi. After you've decided which plan works for you (students are fine with a free basic plan; teachers and students should take advantage of the "EduEnjoy" plan), you will begin with a pop-up window where you can create a title and description for your project. While tutorial videos can often be long and of little value for web-savvy users, Prezi's tutorial videos—found in the Prezi Academy section—are excellent, succinct, and definitely worth viewing before playing with a new canvas.
Orienting yourself with the various menu options is another useful step before working on your presentation. In the left corner, you will find several options and tool options: Write (default tool), Frame, Path, Insert & Shapes, Show, and Colors & Fonts. The top bar menu allows users to save as needed, undo or redo an action, print, exit, seek help, and also facilitates collaborative efforts through the "Meeting" functions. The buttons on the right of the screen allow users to zoom in and out, as well as return "home" (which provides a long-lens snapshot of the entire canvas).
As you begin, you may want to head over to the Colors & Shapes tool and select a design template with specific colors and font styles; the Theme Wizard provides additional personalization options for colors and fonts, including the ability to insert a logo that will appear throughout the presentation. To insert text, begin with the Write tool and type; you can resize text by extending the textbox and position your text with the options at the top. Before selecting "OK" to finish your text, you will want to decide whether the text will follow the design options for a title, subtitle, or body. After finishing your text, click on the object and you will see Prezi's unique features appear as striped options in a bulls-eye design. The outer ring allows you to reposition your object diagonally, while the center ring allows you to drag your object to any location on the canvas. The middle ring is perhaps the most useful feature because users can click, hold, and drag out (or in) to resize the object. The sizing of objects on the canvas provides users a simple and easy-to-edit way of prioritizing elements on the Prezi canvas.
Inserting images and videos is fairly simple. Most files are acceptable in the Load File tool—.pdf, jpeg, mp4, mp3, etc. In addition, any video on YouTube can be easily inserted through the YouTube tool and the Shapes feature allows users to insert arrows, draw freehand, and use a highlighter.
Before determining your presentation's pathway, Prezi's strength as a visual medium is the ability to group objects on the canvas using the Path tool. In this regard, Prezi breaks away from the constraints of other tools like PowerPoint and functions much like a graphic organizer that moves, zooms in and out, and embeds multimedia elements. (Note that users can, however, upload preexisting PowerPoint presentations to Prezi.) After creating text, inserting images, and framing/grouping elements on the canvas, the final step is creating a pathway. Although some users might prefer to present without any pre-determined structure, the ability to create a determined path is useful in Prezi because it allows the presenter to go “off” the pathway at any moment (and for any duration) and on the next click (or right arrow button on the keyboard) the presentation resumes where the presenter left off. Whether a user follows a pathway, or uses the canvas much like an iPad canvas, Prezi facilitates a back-and-forth dialogue between presenters and the audience.
Prezi's site offers numerous examples since projects are developed and stored online. For a history classroom, the immediate value of this tool is the ability to embed all the multimedia of a presentation in one space—instead of toggling between windows or tabs on a browser. Additionally, the ability to download your finished Prezi to a desktop is an added value for those unfortunate moments when the school's server is slow or not functioning.
It is worth noting that Prezi does offer limitations. Font and color selections are limited (although a manual feature for selecting colors does offer options on an RGB scale), and design templates are too few to offer the personalization that teachers, and particularly students, seek in a presentation. Another hassle is that the Theme Wizard feature erases any previous personalizations every time you select this tool, including any logo previously imported by the user. Likewise, the Frame feature only offers three designs (and an invisible fourth option) and the Shapes tool could benefit from offering shapes found in most other programs: geometric shapes, curves, call-outs, word balloons, and various other forms of arrows. A last word of caution is that if a Prezi project is not structured carefully, audiences might feel vertigo with the zooming and panning features (but the tutorial videos address this matter fairly well).
Despite these limitations, Prezi offers teachers much more than what it initially appears to be: a fancy PowerPoint tool. By allowing presenters to collaborate online, leave and return to established pathways during a presentation, and embed multimedia tools, Prezi offers a much more exciting presentation for an audience. The ease of grouping items is a useful tool for teachers who want to model graphic organizations, as well as a helpful medium for students to display their cognitive process as they tackle historical questions and investigations. The infinite canvas style is also appealing because it frees creators to go wild with their imaginations. For the teaching and learning of history, Prezi's features offer a way to plan, construct, and present historical topics in a multimedia manner that applies digital tools in a Web 2.0 collaborative fashion.
Visit the Prezi website, follow the tutorial videos, and explore some of the projects online.
"Prezi proves prominence over PowerPoint" The Hartford Informer January 27, 2011 (Online edition)
Check out Prezi EDU for teacher and student-created Prezis.