The Thoughtful Animal


The first proper session I attended at Science Online was I-wish-my-science-teachers-had-been-like Stacy Baker‘s workshop on Prezi. Despite some issues with the hotel wifi, it was a fantastic session, and I learned quite a bit. Clearly, there are some things better suited to Keynote/Powerpoint, and some presentations perhaps better suited to Prezi (just as they are still some types of presentations best suited to whiteboards or chalkboards).

I think Prezi can be really effective for teaching part-whole relationships, and the zooming tool can be really useful for, for example, getting deeper and deeper into displaying the different parts of a cell or atom. Or for teaching spatial concepts, such as a lecture on neuroanatomy or geography, or teaching history by jumping around a timeline.

What I can’t figure out is if – or how – it might be useful is for teaching more conceptual ideas that can’t be readily grounded in a spatial way. (Is this just a problem with my linear thinking?)

How would you use Prezi? How have you used Prezi before? Has anybody used Prezi for teaching undergrad courses? For journal clubs, or lab meetings? Dissertation defenses? Conference talks? Care to share links to them, so we may all learn by example?


  1. #2 Andrea Kuszewski
    January 19, 2011

    Chris Anderson used Prezi in his TED talk on How Web Video Powers Global Innovation. I think it was a really effective visualization tool for his concepts. Link:

  2. #3 John Hawks
    January 19, 2011

    I started using it last year. One cool thing — I used it to put tiny text and figures next to the variables in the Euler-Lotka equation, so I could zoom in to explain them individually. I like the way that figures can be grouped, so that similar concepts can be shown en masse for effect.

    A problem is that I like to do things like hide axis or data labels and then reveal them through successive builds. Prezi doesn’t make that easy as far as I can tell.

  3. #4 Jason G. Goldman
    January 19, 2011

    Right, I also like to control what the audience sees and build up to something across multiple slides. My growing opinion is that Prezi is fantastic for a limited set of circumstances.

  4. #5 Grad Student
    January 19, 2011

    I’ve been using Prezi for about a year now, for more or less every type of presentation I have to give. (I’m a grad student, so these have tended to be either presentations in Journal Clubs/Lab Meetings or Class Project presentations). I’ve also used it in some VC pitches/product design cases.

    I’ve found it excellent for all these uses. What I particularly like is that it’s very receptive to a highly communicative lecture style. If in discussing a given figure, or critiquing a given method, someone has a question about how that ties into another figure some time later on or earlier in the paper, I don’t have to do the dreaded jumping back and forth through presentation slides to find the proper slide. I can just zoom out, and jump ahead. (The very slick figure zoom handling options in Presenter mode help with this). This is even more true during the Questions portion of any presentation. I generally start questions by zooming out to reveal the entire field-of-view of the presentation thus far (something that always provokes a gasp in the audience, and which encourages creativity (If I’m giving a presentation on a single-molecule experiment, my presentation from this view might resemble the experiment itself, and so on)). As questions arise, I can zoom into each concept under discussion as and when I need to, and then zoom back out. (Invisible frames help a lot with this).

    I deal with the sequential revealing issue through creating identical slides, containing the labels, and without them, which helps somewhat, though I agree, this is a failing with the Prezi platform right now). I think however, that the fact that some things might not be as easy to do in Prezi is counter-intuitively a benefit. When I’m making a Powerpoint presentation, it’s very easy to fall into an easy rhythm, both in creating it, and in presenting it. The fact that Prezi requires me to think about the form of the overall structure of the presentation before I can even start making it is in my view quite conducive to enforcing creativity. (It’s quite difficult to make a boring Prezi).

    I don’t think Prezi presentations need to necessarily be as zoom and rotation heavy as some of the ones you typically see online are. I’ve had good success with keeping a slide based approach, which means that people who are more used to Powerpoint are still comfortable, but incorporating some kinetics with it, which tends to keep people awake. (The fact that embedded videos play very well is another bonus, I’ve never had to deal with the ‘it won’t play on this computer’ problem).

  5. #6 Rob
    January 19, 2011

    Here’s a Prezi I produced recently on science history and it’s impacts (focuses on bio and nanotechnology)

  6. #7 Lisa /@lisasj
    January 19, 2011

    I did my first Prezi last May and it’s been my main visual tool since. Here’s the most recent, talking to a first-year Science class about critical thinking used in science and journalism:

    I agree with Grad Student on two points:
    1) Prezi encourages me to find new links and ways to organize my thoughts, rather than just presenting them in order. What other pictures should this one be close to?

    2) The tool will definitely let you get more zoomy and rotatey than might be sensible. It will wow people now, but it might end up looking like the animations on PowerPoint (drive in! shutter!) I might be slightly guilty of this 🙂

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