Essay Alternatives

Prezi Essays

This past semester, I experimented with having my students write essays in Prezi, the web-based presentation software, in my Science Fiction class, a 200-level literature course for non-majors. I sought to improve the organization of the essays and improve the strategic use of evidence to support claims. I’ve tried more traditional ways of getting students to pay more attention to the structure of their papers, like outlines. I’ve also modeled citation in class from primary and secondary textual sources in an effort to get students to take only what they need, instead of unnecessarily long or unrelated passages.

I opted to experiment with Prezi to see if students would produce more structured and well-supported arguments if they could visualize them.  I scaffolded assignments as I normally would leading up to the final project for the class:  summaries of primary texts, drafts of thesis paragraphs and annotated bibliography entries.  I had students work out the “map” of their Prezi essays using a sentence outline or just grouping ideas together and using peer review to determine how they would move from one idea to the other.  As the rubric for the deconstructed essay shows, students had word count limits on slides. These limits were designed to make students more conscious of how they used text as evidence and how they explained the significance of video or visual evidence.

Overall, I was pleased with the way the essays turned out. Some students still had trouble with the idea of an essay, which they see only as text-based in a Word document, in a Prezi. Next semester, I plan to have students complete their major projects in Prezi.  This time, students will create an academic poster, an assignment often given in science and social science courses, for their analysis of literature and film in my Detective Fiction course. Students are familiar with academic posters, and the use of Prezi will allow them the ability to embed images and video, something they cannot do with traditional poster board posters.

My goals remain the same: to use Prezi to help students improve the organization of their writing and use evidence effectively.

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