Wednesday, August 1, 2012

PowerPoint, Prezi & PowToons!

I love PowerPoint.  As a high school English teacher, I used it daily and challenged my students to create incredible Illuminated Texts –engaging higher order thinking - using advanced features.  With the Illuminated Text, the combination of the movement, images, audio and timing helped to create fluid and powerful messages. 
As an elementary librarian, I got the chance to work with a group of struggling readers to create simplified Illuminated Texts that included one quote, an image and an explanation for why the quote was so important to the text.  They only “illuminated” the quote slide with different effects and features- but the results were incredible. 
The elementary aged students really picked up the advanced PowerPoint skills I showed them quickly, but the process is still very time consuming and a student can get easily frustrated and bogged down in applying effects and especially in establishing the timing of it all.
In making a move to the elementary level, I have worked harder to engage students a little more with the presentations.  While I love PowerPoint – it’s not always the best method of communicating information to an elementary aged student.  PowerPoint can be boring – and to make it interesting – with Illumination – it can be time consuming. 
Enter Prezi.  You can really do some cool things with this online presentation software.  I think it is a great tool for showing the relationships between ideas and for generating timelines with key details – take a look at almost any of the examples under Education, and you can see that the software really helps students (and teachers) keep the message short and sweet – and visually appealing.  For me, and I think I haven’t worked with it enough, I find Prezi to be a little frustrating.  I have a hard time finding what I want to add and then maneuvering things around in the order I want it to go.  I also had a hard time saving and opening my Prezi on the off chance the Internet would be down at school and I wouldn’t be able to access the presentation I had made. On the plus side, even though you have to create an account, they have a free educator account, and there are tons of training materials.  I guess I just haven’t given it enough time to really get the full benefit. I did show a group of technology students how to use this software, and while they were entertained, it didn’t really stick with them either.
Most recently, I have been playing with PowToon, another online, subscription presentation software.  Everything about it is fun.  You even create your “Presentoon” in a “Playground”.

Screen shot of my PowToon presentation

Like Prezi, you save your presentation to a “cloud” or for this, you could upload it to YouTube, but as of right now, I could not find an option to download the presentation to your computer for use offline – this could be very problematic.  This service is new, so the full details of the service are not entirely clear to me.  The “free” subscription allows you 20 uploads to YouTube, and there appears to be an educator subscription – although I just signed up for the free one and will hopefully get more information about the educator subscription soon.  I made a PowToon to introduce myself to my new school, and I didn’t really want to upload that to YouTube, so I just shared it on the PowToon site and linked to that. 
When you make your PowToon, you have to have your screen resolution set to 1280x768 (that took me awhile to figure out), but once the resolution was set correctly, I saw that they have it set up so that you can easily see text types and characters you can add. You can also view the presentation in “movie” format, but you create it like you would a PowerPoint presentation with slides.  Setting the timing is really easy – it’s set up a bit like MicroSoft MovieMaker with the timing bar located at the bottom, and it is easy to tell which element you are working with on the timeline. The training videos they have available are quick and easy to follow.  From my previous experience with creating presentations, this one is very intuitive and entertaining. 
I think the kids, especially if I ever get around to adding an audio track to it, will really enjoy watching it.  The only drawbacks I can see right now, is that the product is still in development, and I’m not sure how open then will make it to educators.  Since I haven’t added audio (mostly because I would need to create an audio track to add using a different program) I can’t really comment on how easily that would work.   Finally, the program says that presentations can be downloaded to a computer, but I haven't had luck with that yet - it looks like you can only download for a fee. Being restricted to online use, especially if you are in a school with slow or spotty Internet connection could cause a problem.
I hope to continue working with the online presentation software like Prezi and PowToons as the year progresses – especially because of the great possibilities for collaboration and sharing that online tools like these use – but I have a feeling I won’t give up PowerPoint for my daily activities just yet.

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