Real Time Collaboration Using Prezi - Classroom Observations

This week, I had a teacher request an introduction and ongoing support for Prezi. I'm a big fan of the zooming presentation editor and have written several posts about the tool. For this assignment, the class was divided into 3 groups, and each group had approximately 6-8 students. This represented a perfect opportunity to test the collaborative features of Prezi in a live student environment. After some minor testing with a few dummy accounts, we were ready to go.

Collaboration similar to Google Docs
Sharing a Prezi with other users is as simple as sending an email link. Although I would like the ability to just add collaborators as we do in Google Apps, the share link is very easy and once students clicked on the link, they were automatically shuttled into the presentation. Note that each user must already have a Prezi account, as those without will be prompted to login when clicking on the shared link for the presentation. There is also a 10 person limit when collaborating on a single Prezi.

As real as real time can be
I was thoroughly impressed with the speed and stability of the collaborative features found in Prezi. We had between 6-8 different students all working on the same Prezi canvas simultaneously for a 42 minute class period. This was pushing the program towards the 10 person maximum.  The students were inserting text, images and video, rotating and resizing all throughout the time. Since many had prior experience using Google Apps, the ability to collaborate was no longer a novelty, but instead a means to an end in terms of producing a final product that combines their shared research.  Although one could press save and then refresh to insure the viewing of the most recent presentation, most students simply prodded along and when their screen automatically refreshed, new content contributed by their fellow group members would appear on screen.

Suggestions for your classes
Of course, not all was perfect in Prezi land. When students were first introduced to the collaborative features, there were the usual complaints of "where is my image?" or "who deleted my stuff?" that come with real time group sharing of work. Also, since there's a big blank open canvas initially when working with Prezi, we found it helpful to use frames or have each group member carve out some space to work. When the number of embedded videos and images increased, choppiness with simultaneous collaboration increased as well.  Also, Safari proved to be inferior to Firefox and even Internet Explorer in terms of browser choice. Lastly, there's potential for students to focus too much on the look and feel of the zooming features, but we found that most students were focused on their projects and not distracted by the technology tool shortly after the initial exploration.

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