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Professor Nancy Canepa on Prezi and Fairy Tales

Will your students be giving a final presentation at the end of the spring term? If so, you might consider encouraging them to use Prezi instead of PowerPoint.

canepaNancy Canepa, Associate Professor of Italian, teaches a Comparative Literature course on Fairy Tales (as COLT 10 or COLT 39). For the second offering in a row, students in the course have used Prezi for their final presentations. Prezi is a cloud-based presentation tool that allows students to put digital objects into relationship with each other in such a way that enables a visual representation of their argument. Whereas PowerPoint is linear, Prezi allows for much more flexibility in the structure of a presentation. It has some drawbacks, however, which should be taken into consideration when deciding on an appropriate tool for your students' projects.

Please read a Q&A with Nancy after the jump and explore the prezi, entitled "Hansel & Gretel Around the World", submitted by Savannah Moss '18, Christopher Park '17, Priscilla Salovaara '19, and Neha Shetty '15.

Scott Millspaugh: What is COLT 10?

Nancy Canepa: The Comparative Literature website states that COLT 10 “seek[s] to introduce the student to the aims, assumptions and methodologies of reading and the study of literature. This course is designed as an introductory course to the Comparative Literature major and other literature and humanities majors.” COLT 10 is a topics course, and the various offerings aim to involve students in the comparative study of texts across time and space, and to acquaint them with some of the central concerns of the discipline of comparative literature.

My course in fall 2015 surveyed the development of the fairy tale in Europe and North America, from the first collections in early modern France and Italy through the Brothers Grimm to the extraordinary regeneration of fairy-tale subjects and motifs in the 20th and 21st centuries. The course began with a chronological unit that covered the history of the literary fairy tale from the 16th century to today; the second part of the course was devoted to a number of “case studies,” in which we compared and contrasted many versions of common fairy-tale types (e.g., Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunzel) in order to examine the interplay between universality, cultural specificity, and intertextuality in fairy-tale forms and functions.

SM:Why did you decide to use Prezi for student presentations instead of another presentation tool, like PowerPoint or posters?

NC: Throughout the course we discussed fairy tales in terms of intertextual “networks” that extend through time and space. Prezi, whose particular software lends itself quite well to the consideration of these sorts of non-linear and non-hierarchical relationships, seemed a logical choice for the final project, in which students worked in groups of 4 on a tale type of their choice.

In particular, students conducted research on the selected tale type, and collected an assortment of different versions of the tale type (old and new, textual and in other media, etc.).  In their Prezi presentations they included an analysis of the tale type, research on its versions, references to some of the critical literature on the tale type, and analysis of the significance and importance of the tale type. I assigned the groups early in the term, and there were a number of preliminary, scaffolded assignments that had the students thinking about and working on the final project over the last month of the course (including annotated bibliography, activity with authentic materials in Rauner, in-class group discussions of critical literature, tale-telling performance). During the last week of class each group presented their Prezi in class for 15 minutes.  Students had an evaluation rubric that they filled out for each of the Prezis (rubrics for their own Prezis were optional); after the class presentations I summarized the feedback, added my own, and relayed it back to the groups. The groups then had another week to continue revising their Prezis as they saw fit. (The final grade on the Prezis was broken down into various categories, and I specified assessment criteria.)

SM: Did your students need any specialized training to use Prezi?

NC: Yes; Scott Millspaugh conducted a class/workshop on how to use Prezi. This seemed to work well; students felt very comfortable using Prezi.

SM:Were you able to measure your students' achievement of their learning objectives based on their presentations?

NC: Yes and no, for various reasons.

Individual contributions to group presentations are always a bit tricky to gauge.  In this case, a few students let me know about their dissatisfaction with other members of their group.  But besides this inevitable (I think) aspect of group work, and no matter how much I stress that a project like this should be truly collaborative, I occasionally get the feeling that students are dividing up the work and then cutting and pasting into the final presentation. Though most of the Prezis were ultimately very coherent, esthetically, stylistically, and conceptually, a few of them, at least in the in-class version, struggled to have that cohesion.

I had a class of 41 students, and thus had to devise a final project (which I did want to have) that involved group work, since directing and correcting 41 research papers was not an option.  By the end of the course students had a substantial store of primary texts under their belts, as well as being were very well-versed in critical issues pertaining to fairy-tale studies. They were, in other words, ready (and very excited, in many cases) to embark on research on their chosen topic. Although many of the groups researched their topic very meticulously, Prezi doesn’t lend itself too well to presentation of deep investigation and complex research, and some of the groups were frustrated, I felt, that they couldn’t substantiate in a more thorough way all the work they had done. In at least one case, the final version of the Prezi had expanded to include a huge number of slides with an excessive amount of text. Although formally, this wasn’t an appropriate use of Prezi, I did understand the students’ desire to share their work! And on the other hand, some of the Prezis produced by the groups that respected the spirit of the software were a bit superficial, I felt.

In short, this is the usual dilemma I have with projects in large classes: creating an assignment that encourages both depth and concision, individual research and group collaboration.

All of this said, most groups found the Prezi assignment stimulating and rewarding from beginning to end, and felt that they had learned a lot from it.

SM: When you teach COLT 10 again, will you ask your students to do the same assignment? If so, is there anything that you would change?

NC: Yes, I would probably repeat this assignment in a course on the same topic with a similar number of students, though I would continue to tweak the assignment.  If I had a smaller number of students (< 30), I think I would ask for individual, short research pieces (jn paper form) to accompany the final Prezi.


If you're interested in using Prezi in your Winter 2016 course, please write edtech@dartmouth.edu.

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