Blog Post

Composing Academic Articles in Prezi

As part of an independent study I'm doing this term, I'm reading past issues of Kairos, Composition and Rhetoric's online, open-access journal.  I just finished reading the Fall 2010 open issue, which contains two articles composed in prezi: bonnie lenore kyburz's "Notes on 'Notes on the Film'"... and Cheryl Ball's book review "Goldilocks and the Three (or Four) Digital Scholarship Books".


And last term, I took a class on Educational Technologies  through the School of Education with Barry Fishman.  One of our final assignments in this class was to compose visual representations of our conceptual framework of learning technologies, and we spent the last class milling around the room, talking to one another about how our frameworks had shifted throughout the term.  Some students had posters on the wall, some had 3D objects glued to pieces of paper, and others used prezi, walking me through their thinking while the screen spun and swirled.   


As I've been encountering so much prezi, I've been musing about the affordances and limitations of composing and publishing in such a format.  Why did these authors choose to use a presentation software such as prezi to write in?  What was prezi offering both writers and readers of the text?  Was it just the next "cool tool"?  I even imagined myself composing in prezi, wondering what it would be like to do so, if it would be different than composing in solely written language or in video, which I've been doing a lot of lately.


One of the things I noticed most while reading the Kairos articles was that there was a prescribed reading path through the article which you could follow by pressing the forward arrow, but there was also a lot of marginal material that you missed if you just followed the one path.  Arrows zoomed here and there, and if I clicked and dragged, I got to read more, see a video clip, or view an image.  I could zoom all the way out and view the entire body of the article.  I could select a particular node and zoom there if I wanted.  I could read in any order I wanted, and the medium truly encouraged this.  In fact, I clicked on all the cool looking videos first and watched a few seconds here and there before returning to some written text and reading more.  But truly, my reading process was not revolutionized.  For the most part, I followed the prescribed path, and when I did deviate, I often got disoriented and lost.  I wanted to get back on the path - to read the way I was "supposed" to read.


Another affordance of prezi is that you can design the visual aspects of the entire document to be representative in itself.  A colleague in my Ed. class did this: his whole presentation, when you zoomed out, was in the shape of a computer desk, with the legs of the desk representing his foundational thinking about learning technologies.  This aspect is definitely cool - not only can you offer readers a more varied reading path with prezi, but you can use the visual and aspects of design as a frame for your whole piece.  


After a conversation last weekend with Bump Halbritter, though, I'm concerned at some of the implications of publishing in prezi.    Prezi, unlike Powerpoint, is owned completely by Prezi Inc., and they own the rights to any material published online using their services.  The prezi terms of use states that when you publish, "you hereby do and shall grant to Prezi (and its successors, assigns, and third party service providers) a worldwide, non-exclusive, perpetual, irrevocable, royalty-free, fully paid, sublicensable, and transferable license to use, reproduce, modify, create derivative works from, distribute, publicly display, publicly perform, and otherwise exploit the content on and in connection with the manufacture, sale, promotion, marketing and distribution of products sold on, or in association with, the Service, or for purposes of providing you with the Service and promoting the same, in any medium and by any means currently existing or yet to be devised."  Yikes!!  Does this mean that prezi owns my work perpetually?  And what happens when prezi goes down, or prezi no longer exists?  What would happen to my work then? 


Prezi has come and prezi may go someday, but it definitely offers an interesting format in which to consider reading, writing, and publishing in the 21st century.  I think that it offers a lot to readers and writers, but limits them in other ways.  I may just try it - stay tuned for my next blog post in prezi, which will spin and swirl you away.     



I will be interested to read about your own experiences using Prezi---if their terms-of-use policy hasn't dampened your enthusiasm. (It certainly makes me think twice. I'm in favor of Creative Commons-style sharing but not so keen to potentially have the fruits of my labor feed corporate coffers or agendas for free.)  I’m interested to learn whether you’ll find it easy to compose your work completely within Prezi or, particularly, in the case of text, will end up cutting and pasting in material that you draft and refine in traditional word processing programs.  My first thoughts when I look at the static field of an entire Prezi are either of an ersatz magazine page layout or of a poster. These probably come to mind because, in the former case, I used to work in publishing and the latter was a popular medium for presenting clinical data when I worked in the medical field. So, I wonder if the underlying process of conceptualizing a Prezi is dramatically different.

Of course, the ability to incorporate audio and video introduces dimensions not available in static media, so that adds a new wrinkle to the conceptualization process and to the possibilities. And the fact that you can offer viewers a predetermined path based on the creator's will (i.e., clicking on the grey arrow) vs. the subtle and not so subtle visual cues designers normally use in hopes of guiding readers’ eyes has implications, too. Viewers are always free to navigate a "page" as they please but Prezi allows for a layering of designer-suggested paths. I'm thinking here of Cheryl Ball's piece and the difference between the grey arrow's automated path and the one suggested by her blue directional squiggles.    

With the magazine page/poster analogy in mind, the experience of viewing a Prezi, i.e., zooming in on discrete portions of the overall composition was, for me, like I had shrunk down to the size of a Lilliputian with a jet pack and was flying over a multimedia landscape, pausing occasionally to hover so I could read, watch, etc. Fun, yes. Optimal experience of content? I'll need to see more examples. Looking forward to hearing more from you on this.   


I, too, have known about Prezi for some time but have been reluctant to jump on the bandwagon. The format in which I can present or publish my work for my audience is truly intriguing, but obviously it hasn't been intriguing enough because I haven't jumped off the deep end to try it yet. I have seen it used, but I have not tried it yet myself. Just the other day, a colleague asked me if I knew about Prezi and I confirmed that I did indeed know of its existence but beyond that I had not explored it. I, too, do not know why I am reluctant. After reading your blog post, though, maybe I have a sixth sense that I did not realize. Their terms-of-use policy does make me a bit nervous as well and I think that I might still keep my Prezis on the shelf - at least for now. I look forward to reading more posts.


Excellent formal analysis of the experience of "reading" a Prezi.


Question about your final point: what about exporting Prezi files in Flash format?  That's how I usually present mine, in case the internet connection is lame.


I was also struck by the use of Prezi in recent Kairos texts.  I've used it before, but strictly as a presentation tool, and I found it to be incredibly effective in that regard.  I found that it was more successful if I plotted out my content spatially before starting the Prezi, and if I kept the crazy zooming to a minimum. What I like most about it is its ability to combine a great deal of different content and to organize it in different ways.  I was struck by bonnie lenore kyburz's and Cheryl Ball's uses of Prezi for academic texts because I hadn't considered its ability to stand alone outside of the rhetorical situation of the conference presentation. While both of their texts are certainly innovative, I'm not convinced that Prezi is the best option when working with large blocks of text. I considered using it for a webtext I composed recently, and I just wasn't happy with the way it handled text. Perhaps it just wasn't the right fit for my particular piece, but I think I'll stick to using it with presentations.

Another issue concerning the terms-of-use policy: what happens to your work if Prezi shuts down?  Exporting it to a flash player is a great back up, but you aren't able to edit it again. Watching Yahoo shut down delicious, a social bookmarking site used by many in education, makes me wary of getting too attached to the tools provided by these kinds of companies. They might be gone in a few years.