Using Technology to Create Presentations that Engage Students


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.


About ProfMoniK

History professor at Arizona Western College and lecturer at Imperial Valley College and San Diego State University-Imperial Valley Campus.
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6 Responses to Using Technology to Create Presentations that Engage Students

  1. ritchiemayes says:

    Hello Monika
    As time goes by, the research on different technologies teachers can use to mediate learning in virtual learning space has grown appreciably. Although I have used Power-Point extensively in previous courses, Prezi presents an option for students to tell a nonlinear story that can relate concepts presented in the learning material. To have the ability for presentations not to be presented in a linear fashion that is not static, students can bring life to the learning process, I believe, encourages active learning, and help students form interactive relationships with the learning process. Prezi is a great learning tool for the creation of a collaborative learning space, Settle, Abrams and Baker (2011) attest, helps students engage in active knowledge construction. Brock and Brodahl (2013) found Prezi useful for helping student group elements and constructing a pathway between groups. Others like Casteleyn, Mottart and Valcke (2013) tout Prezi as graphic organizer technology, similar to concept maps and mind mapping. Casteleyn et al. (2013) also found a correlation between presentation software like PowerPoint and positive student self-efficacy, which contributes to students showing increased levels of confidence relating to completing assignments.
    Great work!


    Brock, S., & Brodahl, C. (2013). A tale of two cultures: Cross cultural comparison in learning the prezi presentation software tool in the US and norway. Journal of Information Technology Education,1295-119. Retrieved from

    Casteleyn, J., Mottart, A., & Valcke, M. (2013). The impact of graphic organisers on learning from presentations. Technology, Pedagogy & Education, 22(3), 283-301. doi:10.1080/1475939X.2013.784621

    Settle, Q., Abrams, K. M., & Baker, L. M. (2011). Using prezi in the classroom. NACTA Journal, (4), 105. Retrieved from


    • ProfMoniK says:

      Hi Richie-You make several great points. I like the flexibility of Prezi and my college students seem to respond well to it. Last May I presented “Zooming in on Student Engagement with Prezi” to K-12 educators at a local conference on teaching with technology and they seemed to respond positively to it. The only drawback I have found is that if there is no internet, you can’t use is unless you have downloaded the very large file. This is less and less of a concern now that we have WiFi nearly everywhere, but it’s always good to have a backup plan (which is the case with all technology, I suppose!)


  2. Thach-Vu Ho says:

    I have not watch PowerPoint presentation for 15 years like you but I understand your issues. I have seen similar issues with research presentations on a regular basis. One of the things that I like about the PowerPoint is the animation functions. I saw some of jaw-dropping animations on PowerPoint presentations in the past that just made the presentations special. I think one of the drawbacks for educators to incorporate this type of animations on PowerPoint presentations is time. It consumes too much time from the educator to put an interactive presentation together. The positive outcome is that it increases the student engagement into the classroom.


    • ProfMoniK says:

      Hi Vu-I recently started using Google Slides to create presentations for an after school program my friend and I started. We had always used PowerPoint in the past, but decided to use Google Drive so that we could share and edit our work more easily. Google Slides doesn’t have as many bells and whistles as PowerPoint, but integrating videos is much easier and the girls seem engaged by our presentations. Thanks for your comments! Monica


  3. Susan says:

    Hi, Monica,
    Thanks for your comparison of PowerPoint and Prezi. After reading your blog post, I have a new appreciation for both. I also liked your use of engagement activities such as the feedback cards. I have always believed that a presentation is a two-way activity, and you have certainly shown how that can be achieved. Did you have to teach your students how to create a Prezi?

    Liked by 1 person

    • ProfMoniK says:

      Yes, I’ve offered a couple of after-class workshops on Prezi and I’ve have 3-5 students attend each of them. In class I show everyone how to sign up for the education account, since they get more options with that for no charge.


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