Hate PowerPoint? Here are 5 REAL Alternatives

This post “Hate PowerPoint? Here are 5 Alternatives” from Read/Write Web has been floating around the web this weekend.  With the exception of Prezi (which I will list here as well), this post lists four other programs that are basically PowerPoint clones.  Here’s an alternative set:

1. Prezi – I use Prezi quite a bit, but not all the time.  It is right for presentations that still need a linear flow overall (that’s what the path is … a linear flow).  It is also right when there is a “big picture” that will help you make sense of the information being presented.  But it is not always the right thing to use.  Most of my Prezis took at least 20 hours to build – these are not “throw it together at the last minute” affairs.  A poorly-designed Prezi is just as bad as a poorly-designed slide deck, so don’t use it unless you have a good design in mind.

Image of Playing to Learn Prezi

2. Mindmaps – I give a LOT of presentations off of mindmaps.  I find the flow of the presentation can more easily morph to the needs of the audience this way.  As

the participants ask questions, I can easily guide us to different parts of the mindmap to answer the questions and explore new resources.  I have about ten active mindmaps, but here are some of my favorites for presentations:

Image of Mindmap

    3. Google Sites – If you want participants to be able to explore resources during the presentation, how about a quickie website?  Google Sites is great for this.  I’ve built a couple websites that were built for presentation purposes

    4. Crowd-built alternative (Google Doc, Mindmaps, Chat Rooms) – If you have a room full of people and they all have access to computers, harness the power of the crowd to create the resource.  It goes something

    like this … “We’re going to learn about _____ and if you find any links, insights, or tips helpful, then please add them to the [mindmap/google doc/chat room].  At the end of the talk/workshop, you’ll be able to take this resource with you.”  Here are two examples from past presentations.

    Image of Google Doc for Wolfram Alpha Workshop

    5. Animoto – I gave a Travelogue about my trip to India last year that was built entirely of Animoto videos with music of India and

    photos/videos from the trip.

    My husband and I narrated over the videos.  My students and I have been experimenting with teaching through Animoto videos.  Any time you need to share a lot of images and short video clips, Animoto could be a great option.

    Image of Animoto video (women in India)

    I’ll offer up one more alternative. Just learn how to create a well-designed slide deck. If you do it well, it shouldn’t matter which slide-deck program you use.  If you create bad PowerPoints you’re perfectly capable of creating bad Keynote presentations too.  I found that reading books like Presentation Zen and Slide:eology laid a great foundation for learning how to build better slide decks.

    Finally, ask yourself, Why do you hate PowerPoint?  Is it because you actually hate PowerPoint, the software?  Or is it possibly because most presenters that use PowerPoint put less than 1 hour of thought into designing their presentation.  A good presentation takes considerable thought to form, design, flow, audience, and venue.  I’ve seen bad presentations in Keynote, bad presentations in Prezi, and bad presentations from presenters that “in an effort to avoid PowerPoint” used no visual resources whatsoever.  The quality of the presentation usually boils down to one thing:  How much time and thought did the presenter put into creating a learning experience for the audience?

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    Mindmaps for Learning

    I’ve been using a web-app called Mindomo for about two years now. With it I am able to map out ideas and create interactive sets of resources in a non-linear fashion. You may have seen some of my resources or been in a presentation where I used one of these maps:


    I think that using these interactive maps gives three main advantages:

    1. If you present with a map, you are no longer forced into a linear presentation and can easily respond and adapt to audience questions.
    2. The audience can play along during the presentation, wandering off to explore the areas of the map that interest them most.  This is the same idea behind Edward Tufte’s “supergraphic” – a data-rich resource that the audience becomes engaged with, each person in their own context.
    3. The process of creating a mindmap helps to organize resources and ideas, think of applications to ideas, fosters thinking about comparisons and contrasts, and helps you to see the holes where information or resources are missing, all in a very visual manner.

    It is this third item that has me particularly intrigued.  When I begin building a new presentation, I now find it helpful to organize a mindmap as one of the first activities I do.  The process of building the map teaches me more than I would ever learn on my own.

    This year I’m planning to put this idea to the student test and have each student in my MET class (Math for Elementary Teachers) create a Mindomo mindmap for one of the units as one of their four Learning Projects.  The Mindomo accounts are free (for up to 6 maps) as long as you are willing to live with a 1-inch wide strip of advertising on the right-hand side.

    I had been stressing over the need to create a tutorial video, but one of our workshop participants (Rose Jenkins of Teching Up) has created a fabulous video on getting started with Mindomo (click here for her tutorial).  I’m planning on just sending my students right to Rose’s video for their introductory tutorial on using Mindomo.mindomo2

    Rose has also got an interesting idea for pushing out a partially-created mindmap to her statistics students, and then asking them to add the appropriate resources and annotations to the map (Read her post, Mapping Out Math).  It was a little tricky to figure out HOW to create a map and then share it to students in a way that makes each copy their own, but Rose made a tutorial about THAT too! (click here for the tutorial about sharing maps)

    Kudos to Rose for taking charge of a set of tutorials that really needed to be made!

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    Trick out your Copier!

    Did you know that most “modern” copiers have the ability to send “copies” as a pdf attachment to your email account?

    Once you get it set up, you can run a stack of papers through using the “scan” feature, and email it as one pdf file to yourself.

    Why would you want to? Well, maybe you need to return graded tests to online students or you need to get some handwritten notes to a sick student – this will do the trick!

    My online students must go to a testing center to take exams for online calculus. When I get the stack of exams, I can run them through the copier (ungraded) and email the pdf files to myself and then do the grading (using a tablet) in Adobe Acrobat using the red pencil. Then, I can email the graded exam to each student for immediate feedback (i.e. no more old-fashioned mailing back graded tests).

    One technical note: Our copier will not do this nicely for 2-sided paper, so if you’re going to use this for tests for online classes, you might want to make the tests single sided for ease of feeding through the copier. Otherwise, you will have to copy every side of every page separately, and each page will come as a separate file (yuck – I learned this one the hard way!).

    What if a student is taking tests at an off-campus site? Certainly you don’t want to run a faxed test through the copier (the quality of most faxes of penciled work is barely readable already). Convince your testing center or department to get a subscription to eFax (starting at $16.95 per month) or Comodo (starting at $29.95 per year). Then the off-campus testing center email the completed exam to the online service, where it can be picked up electronically.

    BONUS: This faxing option will save a little bit of paper, so that will relieve some of the eco-guilt for the single-sided copying (or you can donate to the Arbor Day foundation).

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    Need an Easy Webpage? Link In

    Try using LinkedIn for your professional webpage. Then on your college website, just put the basics about yourself and link to the LinkedIn profile.

    Here’s mine as an example: http://www.linkedin.com/in/mariahandersen

    It’s pretty easy to do … just fill in the blanks, and the software does the rest. You can upload a list of contacts and it will check to see if any of your email contacts are already “linked in” to the network – then you can easily send an invitation to link with them.

    If you’re not really sure what LinkedIn does (I admit that I wasn’t), you might want to read this article, Ten Ways to Use LinkedIn, from the How To Change the World blog. It explains, very nicely, how to optimize the web resource for you.

    After reading the article, I was able to customize my LinkedIn page to do a few things, like including my blog name and website name (instead of just “My Company” or “My Website”) and creating a LinkedIn page with my name as part of the URL.

    After being part of the LinkedIn network for a week, I think I am now getting the hang of some of the purpose behind the linked in network:

    1. To see what contacts you have in common with other people you know.
    2. To find contacts in places you are going to visit that know someone you know (to get an introduction). This could be useful if you’re planning on doing a lot of traveling (as I am) during a sabbatical semester (assuming I get one).
    3. To find a contact at a company that you are interested in doing business with, through someone you already know.
    4. To see what someone looks like! There are a few people I regularly correspond with online and I had no idea what they look like, until now. So if you’re going to link in… please, add your picture!

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    PBwiki … a way to collaborate on documents

    No doubt you’ve heard of wikipedia … this is a smaller-scale version of that where you can make your projects public or private.

    I’ve just started using this to collaborate on a couple of projects. For one I am collaborating with a coauthor from another state, and we’ve set up a private wiki at pbwiki.com (the pb is in “as easy as peanut butter & jelly”). PBwiki is free for educators.

    This way, our proposal can “live” on the wiki and we can both access it to make changes and the document lives in real time. In this manner, we avoid passing the document back and forth over email.

    If you have online students writing a joint report or working on a project, this might be a nice way for them to collaborate with each other. If they let you into their “project wiki” then you could make comments on their work… similar to when you make comments in a draft document.

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