One of the “Inside the White House” presentations created by a student using Prezi.
We’ve entered the homestretch of the semester and Spring Fever is in the air. Spring Break is nearly upon us and that means that final papers will be due in all of my history classes. Although students are provided with a term paper prompt, the themes are broad in my women’s history and world history courses, while my U.S. history students have each been assigned different couples for their “Inside the White House” profiles. Rather than keep each student’s research between just the two of us, I like to give students the opportunity to share their research with the class through visual presentations. In days gone by, this meant bulky presentation boards and props; today, using technology, students can create and access their presentations online, then present in class or through an online discussion forum. Although students have many options to choose from, most choose to use Microsoft PowerPoint or Prezi.
Both PowerPoint and Prezi allow students to communicate their ideas through words, images, and sound. Students research and write a term paper that is submitted to me, then create a presentation that is intended to share what they learned in their research. This requires different skills than simply reading a paper to the class: students must reflect on the entire project and select a few key points they wish to share with the class. They also must use technology to create the presentation.
PowerPoint and Prezi can be used to engage students by providing a creative means to communicate what they learned to the class. PowerPoint is the ubiquitous presentation software and most students have at least some familiarity with it. Using slides to create a linear presentation allows students to organize their ideas, incorporate text and images, as well as video. Prezi, on the other hand, lends itself to storytelling and is more interactive. Presenters can zoom in and out of frames, and embedding video, audio, and images is easy. Safar (2015) noted that most students dread presentations, but creating and presenting with Prezi is an enjoyable experience, alleviating some, if not most, of the anxiety surrounding public speaking. After watching student research presentations over the course of the last fifteen years, two issues continually arise: too much text (that is also too small) and small images. There’s not much a presenter can do to remedy these using PowerPoint, however, with one click, they can enlarge text or zoom into an image with Prezi. For students in the audience, PowerPoint or Prezi presentations are engaging and activate learning through visual stimulation. Presentations are perceived as more professional and formal, therefore students pay attention and are more likely to ask questions of the presenter.
There are several ways to assess student learning using PowerPoint and Prezi technologies. For the presenters, I use a rubric, evaluating the presentations for content, mechanics, and aesthetics. I also consider how well the students demonstrate their understanding of the assignment and their subject. The rubric is made available to students when the project is assigned, clarifying expectations for the finished product (Reddy & Andrade, 2010). Audience members are also assessed for engagement and learning through activities such as brief writing assignments and feedback cards. Depending on the class size, I may divide the class into groups of five to eight students and assign, for example, groups 1 and 2 to complete presentation feedback cards for each other, focusing on what they learned from the presentations and what the presenter did well. I review the feedback cards before distributing them to the presenters. At the conclusion of each presentation day–sometimes presentations run for more than one class period–students are assigned a reflection paper.
Although I sometimes miss the days when a student would show up to class with a homemade stovepipe hat and proceed to discuss Lincoln’s decision to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, requiring students to create multi-media presentations using technology has improved the quality of presentations while engaging students in learning. Students need to learn presentation skills for whatever profession their future holds. As much as I hate to admit it, many of my students may never crack open a history book after they leave my class. However, I can rest assured that they leave my class having learned a marketable skill that is transferable to nearly every field.
Reddy, Y. M., & Andrade, H. (2010). A review of rubric use in higher education. Assessment & Evaluation In Higher Education, 35(4), 435-448. doi:10.1080/02602930902862859
Safar, D.H. (2015) Educating with Prezi: A new presentation paradigm for teaching, learning, and leading in the digital age. College Student Journal 49(4), 491-512.