In my last blog post a few months ago (The Course Overhaul: Redesign and Refresh), I talked about the course overhaul and how to manage it within the often severe time restrictions online instructors face. I wrote that post as I was preparing mentally for an overhaul of my own online courses, many of which were still relying on text more than I wanted. I’d reasoned to myself for years that they were, after all, humanities courses—text is the nature of that particular beast—but as time progressed, the courses began to look and just feel stale to me. They needed a chemical peel, if not an entire facelift.
I’d experimented with Prezi in my on-ground courses (see this post, Teaching with an iPad), and I loved it. I found it fresher than PowerPoint, and, even better, less reliant upon text. The entire format of a PowerPoint, if you think about it, is structured around text: each blank slide gives you a place for a title and then bullet points for text items. Yes, you can add graphics and images, and if you’re really tricky, you can use some PowerPoint plug-ins to incorporate things like YouTube videos and so on. But I think Prezi is much more open and flexible, and I like the creativity that it allows me.
In any event, the students in that on-ground course loved the Prezis and asked me if I would upload them to the online course shell, which I duly did. When it came time for me to think about overhauling my online courses, then, I had 8 or 9 Prezis already uploaded into the spring course shell that would be duped over for one of my summer online courses. I decided to add Prezis to my other online writing course, making the Prezis my primary method of delivering content. The Prezis would replace my text-based “lectures” in previous iterations of my courses. I had previously attempted to use videos of myself talking in place of my text lectures, and I’d never liked them (and thus never ended up using them). Watching myself talk for 5-8 minutes on video was icky. I couldn’t imagine that my students would want to see me yak away, either, so the Prezi was a perfect solution—I could present content without students having to see me talk.
Once I’d made that decision, though, I realized that Prezis are excellent when you are standing in front of people speaking and clicking through the presentation at the same time. Without any kind of audio, they’re sort of…disconcerting. Odd. One of my students described them as a series of “keywords” without any real connection. Perhaps this is just because of the way I’d built my Prezis—I’d built them to be visual cues for a presentation I’d be making in person. But still, for the online classroom, I didn’t think that I could make enough connections with a Prezi alone. I wanted my students to know exactly how I was connecting all of the items on the Prezi. To that end, I decided to combine my use of Prezi with another tool: Camtasia. Camtasia is a tool that allows you to record what is on your desktop, so you can have a paper, for example, in Microsoft Word, and record narration as you click through the document. Or you can record yourself talking as you click around a website—virtually anything that’s on your computer can be recorded while you talk. I went to the Prezi website, pulled up one of my Prezis, clicked on my Camtasia icon, selected the area of my desktop I wanted to record, and started the recording. (After some experimenting, I realized that the best way to record a Prezi was NOT in full-screen mode, but just in the regular “View” mode.) When I was finished with the narration, I used Camtasia’s editing features to remove any stumbling over words or sneezes, and then uploaded the video to Screencast.com, where I have a paid account (more storage that way, and it was well worth the money). After it was uploaded, I got an embed code, which allowed me to open my text/multimedia item in LearningStudio in Author mode, click on the HTML editor, and paste in the code. Voila! Instant video lecture complete with visually appealing Prezi.
I realize that this process is not rocket science, nor am I the first revolutionary instructor to find that combining two tools like Prezi and Camtasia makes for a really fun and useful strategy for content presentation. What did surprise me, though, were the comments I received from students on the Prezis. To me, this kind of “lecture video” was something I should have done a long time ago. Using audio in online classes is not exactly cutting-edge. But the relatively simple addition of these Prezi videos to my online courses, combined with another purely audio feature—I added Grammar Girl podcasts to each unit of my courses, using some simple code that I found through my good friend, Google, to create an audio player—was cutting-edge to my students. The feedback I got was without exception positive. The students loved the Prezi videos and the podcasts. Loved them. They couldn’t say enough good things about these aspects of the course. Even more astonishing to me was that several students in my online courses writing courses (both of which are usually taken at the end of their course sequence in the university) told me that mine was the first online course they’d taken that used audio at all. I realize that the time it takes to overhaul online courses can discourage instructors from making the attempt at all, but my experience has shown me two things: one, the time it took me to build the Prezi videos, while not negligible, was not overwhelming, either (building the Prezi itself takes the longest; the narration and uploading of the video takes maybe 30 minutes total); and two, the response from my students more than made up for the effort.
Jennifer Golightly, Ph.D.
Academic Trainer & Consultant