Tool Review: PowToon, presentations with cartoons!

Have you ever sat down through a presentation where the author of said presentation would blankly switch from slides to slides, showing graphics and bullet point notes for countless painful minutes. Of course you have. Most of the time, you’re not even listening to whatever is shown and you drift away in a daydream. Well, what if the daydream could be present within the presentation itself. That’s right, how about a presentation with colourful graphics, themes and staging? Well, that is exactly what PowToon suggests to its’ users. This tool allows users to create eye-catching presentations with cartoon-like animations. So let’s get to it, roll the Merry Melodies theme song, we’re going on an adventure!

Starting with technicalities, PowToon (which is a combination of the first syllable of PowerPoint with a reference to its’ cartoony style) was created in July 2012 with the intent of being the new industry standard for evolved presentations. The tool is an online software for creating professional slideshows or animated presentations. There is about 9 different possible plans, one of which is the free version. There are premium plans, plans paid by number of exports and, most relevant to our interest here, some educational plans. Theses plans are divided into 3 distinct ones, namely : a teacher plan, a student plan and a classroom plan. Instead of explaining all of this with words, why not use PowToon’s concept and use images! The plans may also be consulted on PowToon’s pricing page Another version of  the PowToon Edu web app is downloadable on Google Chrome’s Web Store for free.

Here is an example of the plans, using the educational plans as reference:

Powtoons

Once registered, users can start creating presentations in the blink of an eye, thanks to PowToon’s highly intuitive interface. First, simply choose a theme, whether it be the conventional corporate style or a more creative picto style. You can also upload visual content from your personal device. Then, simply drag and drop items and props from a tool-bar to the right of the screen onto the slides in the middle of the interface, animate them with guided pre-set animations, add text, create a next slide on the left side of the screen and so on and so forth. Moreover, you can record your voice and use it as voice over that can be added to your PowToon. There is also a wide variety of royalty-free music available that can be added to play as background during the presentation. At the bottom of the interface is a timeframe that can be used for quick editing, placing cues and more. Using PowToon is as simple as it sounds, honnestly, the interface is so easy to use and gives countless possibilities. No need for any technical skills here, anybody can create a fine-looking PowToon in a matter of minutes. When they are done, projects can then be saved online or downloaded onto a device with the right plans.

Writer and speaker Cathy Moore praises PowToon’s humoristic input as well it’s easy usability and intuitiveness. She explains that the timeline feature is simple to use and allows the user to control the entrances and exists of each slides. She mentions that the stock characters and props inspire to use humor and that the different themes offer a great choice of images. Mrs. Moore is an advocate of humor’s presence in education as she says:

humor in teaching can increase retention, motivation, and comprehension.

For her, PowToon is a great tool to better ways of spreading ideas in a fashion that is likely to be better retained by audiences, namely students. In her article about PowToons, she expresses her deep advocacy for humor’s beneficial relationship with learning and retaining information. Humor has a way of lowering anxiety, one of the key antagonist to second language learning and humor can also help bring memorable moments. Therefore, her theory about humor speaks of a direct positive influence on learning and I believe that she explains well how PowToons can help teachers make their students remember lessons better.

Moving on to the ESL applications of PowToon. As reference, Eric mentions quite a few school usage for the tool in a classroom. Students could be asked to re-enact a specific part from a story they read or an alternate storyline using PowToon’s creative characters to play as characters and by recording their voice. They could use it to make a short cartoon-clip explaining a vocabulary word or give a grammar lesson to the rest of the class. Or simply use it as an alternative to PowerPoint since it is a presentation tool after all. Students could use it to create an original storyboard or as part of a greater project, say a video project, to act as a draft.

Personally, I would use the tool for projects involving creative creations in groups. I think it is a great tool that would motivate students to work because it gives a nice looking result to anybody who puts at least a bit of effort into it. I find it is a very motivating tool to work with, especially for younger audiences, because of it’s cartoonesque format. I would use the tool to illustrate grammar lessons in a funny, imaged way, because I believe in what Cathy Moore said about humor’s relationship with learning.

Publicités

Tool Review: Prezi, enhanced presentations.

When it comes to presenting a project to an audience, whether it be a sales pitch, a storybord, a research project, or any project at all for that matter, people tend to unanimously fall back to the regular presentation tools such as Powerpoint, to name the main one. These presentations tools, while very efficient, have become dull and formal to the point where creativity is at its’ limits within their parameters. More and more, people long for presentations that possess feature which help share ideas in a colorful, creative and stylish way. In 2009 by Peter Arvai, Péter Halácsy, and Adam Somlai-Fischer founded Prezi, a company that enables users from across the globe to use their online software. The software is fairly simple, it allows anyone to create an original presentations by providing a wide array of templates of different artistic themes.These templates can be filled with content like text, image, video and can be modified by the user to fit his or her own needs. People have used it for various reasons and one of them, which is relevant to our interest, is of course to make presentations for teaching!

Starting off with the basics, when registering with Prezi, the website offers you 4 different bundles; The first is free and allows user to create a number of Prezi that will amount to a total of 100 MB. Secondly, a 10$/month option allows for 4 GB of storage, control privacy setting by making your presentations unavailable to the public, add custom logo and premium support. The third option of 20$/month  will include all this with unlimited storage capacity and the ability to work offline with a desktop app as well as enhanced photo editing. The last bundle is a team-adapted pricing system that can be billed to teams or organizations which includes all of the above mentioned with account management features and custom branding options. Next up, how does it work? Prezi is an easy to use template-based customizable presentation building tool that will allow the user to create presentations with the shape and appearance he or she desires. To begin, create a Prezi by choosing an artistic theme or template, then you can start filling in the textbox and you’re on your way. The software works like pretty much any other presentation tool, with the insert feature that allows you to insert images, youtube videos, PDFs and much more. you can then enhance your inserted content with a variety of image filters, special effects, animations, movement, etc. This sofware requires a level of understanding that surpasses the casual users so familiarizing yourself with Youtube Tutorials  may be necessary in order to use Prezi at its’ full potential. Because this tool has a lot to offer. A fun fact about this online software is that it has an image search engine powered by none else than Google.

Prezi has been given great praise both by online comunities as well as teachers and even by the BBC itself. They describe the presentations as a cinematic epxerience, relating to the zooming in and out shape that a Prezi presentation uses to navigate through itself. They explain how it is classroom and interactive board friendly as it was created with touch navigation in mind. Making Prezi presentations accessible in the public domain is another plus, considering the fact that students can simply be given an online address and consult it or that it requires no portable storage device for teachers because of the online storage feature. Prezi can be used during interactive classroom sessions or for group projects, it can help students and teachers alike organize their thoughts and present them in an original and creative way. Another impressive feature can be used to remodel an already existing PowerPoint presentation by importing it directly into Prezi without having to start all over. Prezi is an efficient tool because it can serve both the minimalist and the perfectionist. The minimanlist will be able to focus on the content of his presentation without worrying about the format and get an amazing result whereas the perfectionist may take the time to enhance his Prezi and play with the different modifiable features to get a personal and unique result.

However, some out there like author and public speaker Scott Berkun have a rather negative view of prezi. In his opinion, all popular presentation tools focus on slides while the focus should be on thoughts. Tools like Prezi may appear nice and fancy but they take away the main pupose of a lecture or a presentation, says Mr. Berkun. In his words:

There is no point in making a single slide until you know some of what you want to say, and how best to say it.[…] You will spend all your time perfecting your slides, instead of perfecting your thoughts. You will likely talk to your slides when you present, and not your audience, as you will have spent more time on the slides than you did practicing giving the talk itself. Sadly, I don’t know of any tool that guides their users properly towards how good speakers prepare.

Obviously, Berkun takes Prezi through the perspective of a public speaker,  as he is one himself, which is not so far from a teacher if you think about it. So his words strike home when he mentions that although Prezi can be a great tool in the hands of a skilled communicator, it remains a potential distraction from the content.  In his mind, Prezi attracts people who are more interested in the style rather than the substance of a presentation.

Regardless of all Berkun’s opinions, I believe that as an ESL tool, Prezi could be of great use. Students, especially younger ones, need visual stimuli to keep their attention on what is going on at the front of the class.  Prezi may be taking the focus away from the speaker, but at times that’s exactly what students need. Zooming and moving from place to place on the presentation makes for an interesting feature for young learning minds. This allows for bright, colorful and stimulating presentations that differ from dull and repetitive PowerPoint slides. I could see myself use this with my class to make interesting presentations on various topics, whether it be grammar lessons or simply going into the depth of a subject or for organizing a whole unit or chapter from the textbook. With Prezi’s vast posibilities I could make lessons into themed visual adventures, making it more than just words and concepts on a slide but actual visual progression into the topic. I could aslo see this as a tool for collaborative research project for students. Say they have to create a timeline of historical events with information and images related to these events. With the use of Prezi, they could setup a fluid timeline that would jump from dates to dates and zoom into them for a closer look at the relevant information.

Presentations are all in a day’s work for a teacher, this much goes without saying, and let’s face it, one does not have all the time nor the skill in the world to create the most dynamics of presentations. I believe that with a tool like Prezi, any adept of technology can play with the tool without too much trouble and leave the format to the software and concentrate more on the content to make visually stunning presentations in less time. I recommend the tool for teachers as their personal presentation building tool as well as a good way to introduce students to creative ways to present ideas.

Tool Review: EDPuzzle, because recycling is less time consuming than creating new content.

At times, being a teacher requires one to be inventive and resourceful. As teachers’ responsibilities slowly move away from the traditional ways, their tool box must now include clever tricks to save them time and optimize their classroom management. The role of teachers can now reach outside the classroom, in an attempt to maintain their students’ focus on task. This is where innovative and new technological tools like EDpuzzle come into play. Flipped classroom enthusiasts may see this tool as fairly useful while others see its’ limits by comparing it to more popular and complete tools. But before judging it for its’ pedagogical uses let’s explore together this video-editing tool’ functionalities.

This free cloud-based online app is very efficient for creating original material based on what is already available on the web. This tool allows the user to take videos from various sources like Youtube, KhanAcademy, LearnZillion, National Geographics, TEDEd and many more and modify the content to his needs. Modifications include cropping parts of the selected video out, add voice comments and embed questions or quizzes in the video as they are watching it. In this fashion, EDPuzzle allows teachers to make up lessons in less time by using what is already present on the web and therefore save time spent in preparation and replace it by time invested in researching content. EDPUzzle also allows teachers to monitor their students’ progress with a leader board  feature that makes it easy to know who watched the video, when they watched it and how good they did on the questions. Using EDpuzzle is ridiculously easy to use, it literal comes down to three steps. First, select an online video from a bank of videos with a search engine powered by Google and add it to your teacher account then start editing it by cropping out what you feel is unnecessary and by adding your questions and voice over. Second, assign the video to your class and let the students answer the questions. Third, collect meaningful data on students’ performance and understanding and get instantaneous feedback to adapt your in-class activities. This makes EDPuzzle a complete pedagogical tool, in the sense that it is a stand-alone tool that requires no prior technical video-editing skills nor does it require any complicated management. Just like the video creation process, consulting these videos can be done with the same ease and knowing whether students did their homework or not can be seen with a quick look. Students’ progress can be reviewed and monitored at an individual level as well as at a global level and their struggles identified in a matter of seconds with the leader board feature shown below.

lala

Another practical functionality of EDPuzzle is that it is fully compatible with Google Chrome browser’s app toolbars. What that means is that it enables you to select online videos at any given time and save them for later reference. You can download the app at Chrome’s Web Store for free and with the ease of a simple click, start uploading chosen videos to your teacher account on EDPuzzle.com.

People from the Edudemic staff describe fairly well how this tool is simple and easy to use both by teachers and students alike. Yet, they mention how EDPuzzle is not nearly as complete a tool as  »a MOOC platform or LMS » by criticizing how the app does not allow you to use many  »chunks » of videos in one single assignment. In their opinion, this makes EDPuzzle very limited because there can be only one video by assignment and therefore this makes for shorter and potentially less complete assignments. The fact that the audio recordings must make out the entirety of the video and cannot be  partial voice over cues placed around the video also is a considerable downside.

As mentioned earlier, there is an ongoing trend that encourages teachers to flip their classrooms; making their lessons into videos that students can watch in the comfort of their homes and spend in-class time doing exercises and filling in the gaps. Cathie G. is an middle school ELA teacher  that is in favour EDPuzzle by saying that she regularly uses the tool for grammar lessons. She says that there is already a vast number of videos on grammar available on the internet, but that many are too long for her students’ attention span. Moreover, she explains that with the cropping feature allows her to chose the exact piece of video required for her short lessons. She adds that being able to dub the video with her own voice makes the videos easier to relate to for her students and that the questions feature helps keep them in check. She enjoys how quick and easy it is to look at her students’ progress and thinks that this helps her adjust the content of her in-class activities on a daily basis. She also mentions that students can be encouraged to produce their own EDPuzzles and use their video in-class for collaborative teaching; making the classroom more interactive and heightening participation.

As for myself, I could easily see the use of this tool in an ESL classroom. As a student myself, I find that in-class time should be devoted to collaborative activities that build on what is already known. In my three hours-long classes at university, I enjoy it when the teacher makes it so that half the class is a  lecture and the other half knowledge building activities. But in primary and high school, teachers only have about an hour to give their classes so this leaves them with little time to do both. So I believe that flipping the classroom can come in handy, to save time but also to target students’ individual struggles and adapt the activities as well as their collaborating peers to their needs. I would use EDPuzzles for it would give me more time to focus on what’s important and less on preparing my material. This may come off as lazy, but I find that being able to recycle another’s work and tailor it to my classroom’s needs is much more efficient than having to do everything myself. I also think that the leader board feature is amazing for giving quick insight into the students’ understanding and I see it as a great self-managed direct feedback feature that, yet again, would save me time that I would have to invest by going through every student’s copy.