Monday, November 19, 2012

Alternatives to PowerPoint

If you are the teacher who assigns students to create PowerPoint presentations to show what they have learned, consider a few alternatives. This is on my mind because my students in Intro to Education are  giving presentations on school reform and some historical topics in education, and one of the requirements is to use technology to create visual aids...and I'm encouraging them to try something other than the PowerPoint they've always used.

So here they are: three alternative technologies you might consider:


1. Prezi

You must at least check out Prezi. It's a zooming, swooping alternative to PowerPoint. You can check out a sample presentation I created as an exemplar for my Intro to Education students here.

A couple things I love about Prezi:

  • It's cloud-based, so you don't have to worry about saving your presentation to a flash drive, or emailing it to someone else. This also means it's beautifully cross-platform and works on any computer with a modern browser.
  • It is set up to support both a linear or non-linear presentations. PowerPoint really only works well for linear presentations. The nice thing about Prezi is that you can jump out of the point-by-point line anytime and zoom in or out to whatever point or diagram or graphic you need to illustrate your point.
  • The folks behind Prezi recently updated the editor, making it very, very easy to use. (Not that the old version was hard to use, per se, but it wasn't as intuitive as the new editor.) Great tool!
The one hang-up I have with Prezi is that you have to be careful not to make your audience sea-sick with all the swooping and zooming...it can be a little much, especially if you're clicking fast.


2. GoogleDocs Presentations

When I was an elementary/middle school Technology Coordinator, this was my go-to app for students giving presentations. Super easy to use, and presentations turn out looking great. Go ahead and give it a test-drive...

Okay, maybe to say they look "great" is an overstatement--this is a no-frills tool, to be sure. But it's free, and cloud-based (love that), and so straightforward that my 5th graders could create a presentation with very little instruction.

Here again, you can share presentations easily, and Google seems to be continually updating the tools within GoogleDocs. Give it a few years, and I think it'll be giving PowerPoint a regular run for the money.


3. OpenOffice

Okay, so maybe you're leery of the cloud, but you don't want to pay the big bucks for MS Office. Never fear--of course there is a free and reliable alternative! Check out OpenOffice. It's available in PC and Mac versions (and Linux, for the ├╝ber-geeks out there...but you probably already knew that...), but this is one you'll need to download and install.

OpenOffice works pretty great, and there is a pretty large supporting community behind it, so if you have trouble, leave a message on one of their message boards; someone will be sure to help you out. That said, it's freeware, so you get what you get and don't throw a fit, okay? Still, you can create word processing documents, spreadsheets, and presentations (all in file types completely compatible with MS Office), and it's free...so who's going to complain to much?


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So there's my three picks. I have them here in ranked order by my preference, but you'll need to weigh your own needs before you decide which is best for your own setting.

What other alternatives to PowerPoint are you using?

7 comments:

  1. Keynote is a wonderful program, but of course, it's Mac only.

    I like the concept of Prezi but I can't stand being given a presentation with it. I agree that it can be very easily too much. Spin here, swoosh there, headache everywhere. It's almost to a point where it moves for the sake of moving and not for the sake of the presentation, and that's not good.

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    1. Agreed...that's my biggest problem with it. We have to be really, really careful not to zoom for the sake of zooming, right? ;-)

      I think the new templates with the update to the Prezi editor help some with that--less of the random flying around.

      Overall, I still think I prefer Prezi to PowerPoint. Here's an article I got published way back in 2008 about "Death by PowerPoint..." http://csionline.org/CSTblog/index.php/home/single_entry/death_by_powerpoint/

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    2. I think you hit the nail on the head with that. I know that when I'm taking notes in a class, I prefer what you explain yourself doing. I think what I like about Powerpoint/Keynote (rather, "linear") presentations are just that - that they *are* linear. It's probably more of a preference or individual thing that a universal rule, but I think that I can process things better when everything is moving the same direction. Call me boring. :P

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    3. Not boring--just self-aware. :-)

      Like I said in the Death by PowerPoint piece, it's not that anti-PPt...it's more about knowing the time and place for it. Part of the trouble--for PowerPoint and Keynote and OpenOffice and all the rest--is that they become a crutch for bad teaching. Lectures can be amazing and engaging in the hand of a master instructor...and they can be awful and tedious when it's just an avalanche of content without narrative.

      PowerPoint, like any tech tool, can be used well, or used poorly. The linearity can lend really well to building a case or providing that narrative structure. But bullet-pointing a class into submission is just bad pedagogy. (My 2¢...) :-)

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    4. Also, I probably should have said in the original post that the Prezi example I made *intentionally* had a lot of zooming and panning, which we talked about as probably being a weak use of the tool. :-)

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  2. I think you're absolutely right. I know that when I make presentations to give in classes, I'm already looking at the slides and asking myself "why" what I put there is there. If I can't think of a good reason, I take it out.

    That mentality (and it's descendants) will be needed one day! ;)

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