We analyze the presentation software Prezi as an evocative object and a talkative technology that engages users in diverse web-based learning situations. Prezi claims to offer an alternative to a much ridiculed PowerPoint, and Prezi's rhetorical options indeed privilege storytelling and metaphors through spatial organization, movement, and visuals. Still, we argue that many educational prezis in psychology fall short of such aims, relying on bullet points in a decorated, quasi slide-based document. The Prezi company, together with dedicated commercial and professional users, create a talkative and plurivocal technology, with a flow of tutorials and showcased presentations. Nonetheless, we propose that these voices leave important aspects uncovered for educational users, and we argue that the Prezi team should redefine its author guidance strategy.
The paper is structured as follows: we first discuss the significance of presentation tools for learning. We then go on to investigate what is Prezi and how we encounter it. We analyze several types of messages from and about Prezi, and we discuss how it is currently used. We conclude the paper by highlighting the main findings and reflecting on implications for research on digital rhetoric.
Prezi is designed as an evocative technology: it explicitly aims to encourage certain ways of dealing with knowledge, organizing information in space, through movement and storylines. Its templates bring to the fore metaphors as a persuasive device; the most acclaimed prezis, highlighted through contests and various informal rankings, illustrate the presentation principle of a journey through a visual landscape, using movement to create surprise and perplexity by zooming in, and to achieve clarification by zooming out to the bird's-eye view.
Prezi is also a verbose and multivocal tool: commercial and technical interests fuel a flow of messages and conversations about how to design prezis, aiming for 'stunning' presentations, for clarity and creativity. Prezi users have much to learn from 'tips and tricks' presentations and from illustrations in showcased prezis.
Nonetheless, many prezis composed for classroom use, among those published on the Prezi platform, do not make full use of the tool's capabilities and do not really follow its invitations to storytelling, metaphorical argumentation and spatial reasoning. We have observed this shortcoming in the case of prezis about psychological conditions such as depression, bipolar disorders, and delusions: although such conditions can be greatly clarified through analogies and storytelling, the bullet list of symptoms and causes remains a dominant rhetorical device in prezi frames. Visuals are used mostly for decoration, and movements do not have other rhetorical use besides the creation of attention-grabbing transitions.
We propose that part of this limitation derives from the business focus of Prezi, including its clarifying-and-encouraging voices. There are relatively few showcased prezis that deal with the clarification of scientific concepts, and there is no special focus on science throughout the corpus of prezi tutorials. Users could also benefit from comments on specific prezis, explaining how they do what they do: teachers and students may well appreciate the persuasive power of a stunning prezi without having the vocabulary to describe and then reflect on its rhetorical choices. This requires redefining the Prezi tutorial approach through an intersection between the currently disparate endeavors of 'tips and tricks' advice versus showcasing prominent, creative prezis.