February 20, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Presentation Tools Worthy of the Content | Consider the Source

EH_MarcAaronson_CTS_perm2015One of the many ways I learn from my students in the Master of Information program at the Rutgers School of Communication and Information is through the digital presentations they craft. Students are asked to present to their peers an overview of an author’s work, an idea for school or public library programming or, this coming fall, a plan for digital storytelling. The formats they choose are as eye-opening as the books, writers, and programs they investigate.

We’ve all been using one presentation tool or another for years. What the new digital platforms are doing is shifting the focus from presenting information to creating an experience. With these programs, one can immerse an audience in what an author, a book, a series, or a genre does. As a result, in addition to familiar tools for sharing books such as trailers, podcasts, and social media, we now have new horizons for book presentations.

At first, PowerPoint was the option everyone knew and preferred. Then Prezi, with its swirling links and opportunities to embed clusters of information within other clusters, became a favorite. Some students felt a bit dizzy navigating in Prezi. Others, though, were able to play with the format to create an experience that is both aesthetically pleasing and informative, as in this presentation by Rebecca Operhall.

This past semester in class saw the advent of Google sites (credit to student Susan Elko), which can be adapted to create a combination of visual fun and informational depth, as seen in this FlipSnack presentation (by Kate Reid), which also echoes the look of a book allowing users to embed PDFs into its pages. Pinterest has been around for a while and is useful for large-scale projects. It has the disadvantage of lacking hierarchy; all pins appear to have the same value. But it offers a clear, attractive display (credit to Christine Williamson) that invites exploration.

Google docs (thanks to Alexandra Steiger) remind me of PowerPoint—easy to use and able to handle a range of clear digital links.  And now there are emaze and Nearpod. I must admit that, while I have a committed relationship to PowerPoint and have flirted with by Prezi, I am just head over heels for emaze and Nearpod.

Emaze is a mini-museum. It is reminiscent of Second Life, minus the avatar and the need to learn to fly and explore whatever happens to be constructed there. If PowerPoint and Google Docs are slide shows—2-D rectangles to design and fill, emaze is a 3-D space in which the experience of moving from one display to another has a physical dimension. Instead of passive audience members in a darkened room, viewers navigate a gallery, pausing to look at an image, text, or film, or glance at a caption (as visible in Kate Reid’s work).

The one student example I have seen of Nearpod (credit to K. Antigone Trowbridge) is also very promising. The platform offers a slide format, but it can incorporate other presentation formats, such as Pinterest or Prezi, so somewhat of a meta-presentation tool and experience. I was so mesmerized by the Sand Art video in this Nearpod presentation (slide 6) that I was inclined to like anything that Nearpod brought my way.

Next semester, the students in my Materials for Children class will become familiar with Storybird, using it to create 32-page books. In class, we’ll do that with paper and cardboard. Online, Storybird will allow each student to consider the choices that come in displaying art and text on single pages and spreads (e.g., minimal vs. heavy text). In many ways, this platform brings to book creation what I see developing in all these newer platforms: the marriage of art, text, flow, and design. The grammar of picture books is becoming a design structure that applies to effective presentations—and nearly everything we do.

While I’m limiting myself to what I’ve seen and used in class, Dr. Joyce Valenza, who many of my students also study with, was kind enough to share an extended list of the presentation software she is currently sharing (no fewer than 40 items!).

Of course, being new does not always mean better, or that it necessarily supersedes other options. My son in high school is hard at work on a research paper. The other day he told me that he realized that old fashioned 3” X 5” note cards were really helpful. He has a stack of apt quotations with full references at hand and doesn’t have to hunt through a stack of books bookmarked with sticky notes when he needs them. Sure, he could type those notes into a program just as well as he can write them on cards. But the basic lesson of finding information and carefully recording it has not changed. What have emerged are forms of short narration that are in themselves innovative and exciting.

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Marc Aronson About Marc Aronson

Marc Aronson is a Rutgers University lecturer in the School of Communication and Information and the author of many notable nonfiction titles for children and young adults including, The Skull in the Rock, winner of the 2013 Subaru Prize from the American Association for the Advancement of Science. His book The Griffin and the Scientist (with Adrienne Mayor) will be published in April 2014. He was the first recipient of the Robert F. Sibert medal from the American Library Association for excellence in nonfiction writing for youth.

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  1. Thanks for the insights Marc. It’s interesting to see where technology is taking this. I’m glad that you’re also referring to these applications as tools – I often find too many people really too heavily on the software and neglect the message that they’re communicating.