Prezi is slowly making its way into academia from the bottom up. This innovative presentation service is being used by many students (myself included) in small scale group presentations. The question of course is whether this is just another fad, or if it genuinely contributes something to the way we present knowledge, and if so, if it then lends itself to the specific setting of a lecture hall commanded by a university teacher.
I would like to make the case that Prezi is indeed something that is qualitatively different from the classic Microsoft Powerpoint – not so much in its slick movements or its embeddedness in an online environment, but more because of the spatial arrangement of knowledge. What powerpoint fails to do is to facilitate is the creation of mindmaps, and this is where Prezi shines. Mindmaps can be very useful and powerful to structure and present knowledge, and Prezi’s graphical tools – the frames, lines, highlights, arrows – all support this function very well.
Another positive thing – something others might see as a negative – is the uniformity and restrictions of options. In the past eight years as a student I have seen very few visually appealing or ingenious powerpoints. Most teachers are happy with a times-new-roman-white-background presentation, and the few experimenters who venture beyond this usually go horribly awry with contrasting colours, distracting animations or background images which obscure text. Prezi limits its graphical customization to a few prefabricated themes, none of which are visually disturbing, and as such the viewers of Prezi presentations can rest assured that their visual peace will not be brutally violated.
When it comes to the lecture situation I am somewhat unsure if Prezi will work smoothly. Teachers already have navigational problems with powerpoints: they will accidentally rightclick, sometimes panic, blame the system, move the presentation into the wrong direction or mistakenly skip slides. Prezi, with its zoom abilities and occasional loading times that may confuse a user could contribute negatively to this mayhem.
Another possible problem is that the free edition of Prezi publicly publishes any presentation you make, which might not be too attractive for teachers, who will sometimes consider their powerpoints intellectual property. Apart from that, the 100 MB limit of the free edition does not really support a teacher who wants to setup multiple lecture series, especially when these presentations would be image-heavy.
As far as I know, the UvA does not have a deal with Prezi that students and teachers can get its “pro” edition where you can keep your Prezis private and have 2000 mb storage space, and this might frustrate the advancement of Prezi within the UvA organization.
If however Prezi-competence would be trained and the local service problems eliminated, I am fairly certain that the introduction of Prezi could lead to a qualitative improvement in the lecture rooms, especially for the theoretically oriented courses. Presentations would likely be more pleasant to watch, and due to Prezi’s interface possibilities, trickier concepts, theories and arguments could more clearly be laid out for the viewer.
An example of a Prezi presentation: