Prezi Educators Society Guest Column: Engaging Students During the Summer

Summer classes can be tough places to engage students, and even tougher online.

Students have so many other things to be doing and even more distractions than during the traditional school year. My job was to help them make their class a top priority.  Prezi helped me engage students in ways that surprised even them.

This summer, I taught Media & Society, an undergraduate general education course that serves as an introduction to our Communication department for majors and improves media literacy for all students.

We get to do fun things like watch Bollywood movies and analyze Old Spice commercials, but we also introduce terms such as media ubiquity and homophily.

The Prezi lectures for this class were first developed when I began teaching Media & Society as a face-to-face course, so Prezi was integral in the course development. I was still figuring out how to best use the technology and was able to make them a bit more coherent over time.

From that foundation, I became very conscious how information flowed. Students online are even more visually attuned than students in a standard classroom.  The material is up close and personal. I fine-tuned how images looked from all levels of zoom.

Beyond just the visual, students still needed the verbal explanation I give in the classroom. However, technology access in rural areas involves limited bandwidth. Students obviously have to have decent Internet access to take an online course, and the course already includes a high volume of YouTube clips, images, and links. But, I chose not to add audio lectures to prevent uploading problems in remote parts of the state. Instead of audio, I added short text blocks in between images throughout the Prezi, preferably no longer than three sentences each. More frequent, shorter text blocks worked much better than long passages.

Eastern Kentucky University uses Blackboard as the base for online courses. I divided my six-week course into six units, each with a link to a Prezi “lecture,” a Discussion Board, and a unit test. The student’s interactivity with Prezi led to more lively Discussion Boards, and I believe, more student engagement. 

This summer, all students who started the course, finished it. I follow an achievement model of grading rather than a bell curve, meaning students have to reach high benchmarks to earn an A rather than earning grades based on the performance of their peers. Half my class earned As, and none failed.

Here’s what my students had to say: 

“I've had teachers that just use PowerPoint which is so boring compared to Prezi. I like having visuals, videos, and audio examples while I'm shuffling through the slides.”
“I want to extend my thanks for all the work you put into making this a very engaging and enjoyable class. I’m actually a little disappointed it is over already.”
“I liked using Prezi because it is easier to engage in and retain the material. Prezi breaks the information down into different sections. Seeing all information in a PowerPoint can be overwhelming and hard to remember. All the mass information when you feel like you are just reading for a long time. Prezi being interactive helps you be more interested in the information and gives you a better overall view for everything you need to learn.”

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Ginny Whitehouse is an associate professor of Journalism at Eastern Kentucky University and a Cases and Commentaries editor for the Journal of Media Ethics. She teaches and researches in the fields of social media ethics and online privacy. If you want to see more on how she uses Prezi, you can check out her profile: http://prezi.com/user/ginnywhitehouse/ You’ll find her summer online course prezis and prezis for her face-to-face class.