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Feeling 'All Boxed-Out?' Prezi Offers an Alternative to PowerPoint

Open range, free as the ocean, a large canvas for large ideas, continuous, fluid, telescoping, opening the imagination--Prezi is a presentation tool for this age.

Presenting ideas in PowerPoint makes them seem like chunks, discreet and unrelated. It challenges the presenter to sustain cohesion elements, broken up as they are into boxes. It is famously awful at the visual representation of complex ideas, according to Edward Tufte. Tufte demonstrates in detail how the limitations of PowerPoint, used to explain the damage to the Columbia shuttle while it was still flying and had not yet burned up on re-entry, may have led NASA to mistakenly okay re-entry.

PowerPoint is, of course, not evil. And people have chosen freely to use it. We cannot blame PowerPoint for the destruction of Columbia. The only question is about our overuse of a particular kind of representation of knowledge that skews information and reinforces the unfortunate concept of knowledge as compartmentalized into boxes. But Prezi offers an alternative.

With Prezi, there is no box. One is not forced to reduce a concept down to a set spatial limitation. Prezi is so much better than PowerPoint, it is misleading to even call it a presentation tool; it is more like a painter’s canvas that spreads infinitely in all directions. The painter is able to fly over this canvas effortlessly while she sweeps her brush. The space fits the concept, not vice versa.

Prezi is the knowledge representation space for this era. It is especially the space for educators: As we turn from teaching to learning, we must be aware that learning goes on continuously and is not defined by segment boundaries. Students don’t start learning as class begins and end learning when it ends; they don’t start learning history on September 4 and stop learning history on December 10.

If we claim to be student centered, then we have to move away from the model of segmented learning that we could not avoid with the limitations of the technologies we had: the need to meet for a time in a room (a box) to hear knowledge from an expert, the need to print knowledge in books conveying the inevitable message that knowledge is containable and finished, the need to work on paper that reinforces even further the belief that knowledge is a thing and is limited in time and space. We are increasingly embracing a new sense of the “continuity of learning”--continuity between semesters, continuity of knowledge exchange in a community of practice, continuity of knowledge exchange out of class and over the summer, and continuity over a lifetime. Prezi conveys that sense of continuity. It has no borders unless you put them there. As a visual analogue to learning, it is closer to the boundlessness of the mind. It does not bring with it the logistical struggle to fit big ideas into a pre-set box.

Prezi is actually easier to use than PowerPoint. That’s a big plus. Faculty members often resist changing to a new technology because they simply don’t have the time to learn it. Prezi takes almost no time to learn.

Reassuringly, your Prezi presentation is created on the Web. You can download your presentation to your computer, but the original Web version remains in place. No matter where you are, then, you can access your presentation, even if you did not bring your own computer.

Still, PowerPoint is ubiquitous and will remain so for a long time. And if you are presenting in a team, your Prezi presentation cannot be merged into one file. This is not a great disadvantage, but it is important to keep in mind. Also, you will not always have an Internet connection for presentations, making it important to have downloaded your Prezi before heading out to a class, a meeting, or a conference.

You can find a compelling demonstration of Prezi, as well as a discussion of reasons not to use Prezi on the Prezi Web site. Prezi has laid out the market niche for a new representation paradigm. Expect to see copies on the market soon. For now, you can still get the basic version of Prezi for free. But the best part of Prezi is its emblematic power: It is a step out of the era of segmented learning, and into the era of continuous learning.

[Presi logo image used with permission.]

About the Author

Trent Batson is the president and CEO of AAEEBL (, serving on behalf of the global electronic portfolio community. He was a tenured English professor before moving to information technology administration in the mid-1980s. Batson has been among the leaders in the field of educational technology for 25 years, the last 10 as an electronic portfolio expert and leader. He has worked at 7 universities but is now full-time president and CEO of AAEEBL. Batson’s ePortfolio: E-mail: [email protected]

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