Web-Based Alternatives to PowerPoint

“Oh great, another PowerPoint!” We have all been there, as students, as attendees at a conference, or participants in a professional development workshop. The presenter goes to the workstation, inserts the thumb drive and opens yet another PowerPoint. As if somehow related, you get a little sleepy and begin to sink down into your chair. For the past 20 years or so, PowerPoint has been so pervasive that it has become almost synonymous with the word presentation – like Kleenex and tissue or Google and the Internet. PowerPoint is an extremely useful and powerful tool (most people only know how to use PowerPoint at the surface level), but wouldn’t you like to view and create presentations differently?

Yes, and with that in mind here are a few of my favorite alternatives to PowerPoint: Glogster, Google Slides, Powtoon, Prezi, and VoiceThread. There are dozens of web-based presentation tools, but each of these is easy-to-use and available for free. Please keep in mind that they do not simply duplicate the functions of PowerPoint; using a different presentation tool inherently changes the nature of the presentation and what it means to present.

  • The first, Glogster, is used to generate “multimedia interactive posters” or glogs. These glogs allow presenters, often students, to express their ideas by combining a variety of multimedia in one digital space. Users are able to include images, graphics, audio, video, and text. When finished, glogs are easily shared online.
  • Google Slides approximates the overall function of PowerPoint; however, this web-based alternative has more robust features for collaborating and interacting with a live audience. For example, multiple users can simultaneously access and edit the same presentation. Perhaps most notably, Slides offers the presenter the ability to accept and present audience questions during the presentation.
  • Powtoon is quite different from the other presentation tools described here. It is a video – animation presentation software. These video-based presentations allow you to grab the attention of the audience by animating what would normally be a static and linear presentation. Powtoon is especially useful for presenting projects.
  • Prezi has quickly become a significant rival of PowerPoint. Prezi enables the creation of presentations; however, these presentations may be crafted in a manner that displays a visual journey, such as the flight of a bird or plane. Prezi is excellent for documenting movement, progress, or the organization of a structure or process.
  • VoiceThread allows you to create multimedia conversations using text, annotations, images, videos, documents, and presentations. It is a collaborative tool that allows multiple users to view, create, modify, and annotate presentations. VoiceThread is easily one of my favorite presentation tools and is extremely robust in supporting language learning.

*Not all alternatives to PowerPoint are created equally. It is always important to note the intended purpose of the presentation and the unique functions offered by each tool. Leverage these defining characteristics to maximize your presentation value.

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The Top 10 Reasons LRCs Still Have a Place in Higher Education

We live in a world in which technology has become irreplaceable in terms of improving communication and supporting education. Laptops, smartphones, and other mobile devices also offer almost unlimited access to language learning resources via the web, including video tutorials, authentic language examples, and opportunities for teletandem exchanges. With such widespread prevalence of technology, does the language resource center still have a place in higher education? In the language learning process?

Unequivocally, the answer is yes, and below is an outline of the top 10 reasons LRCs still have a place in higher education:

  1. Technology – LRCs house a variety of language learning resources, especially those that are technology-based. Most importantly, LRCs strive to offer technology-based resources that are not otherwise readily available.
  2. Mobility – By providing alternative venues and access to multiple resources for language classes, LRCs enable language instructors to diversify their teaching methods and activities. Often, this leads to increased mobility in language learning, making it more of an anyplace, anytime process.
  3. Innovation – The work of LRCs is future driven. LRCs provide means, access, and support for innovation in language teaching and learning, including experimentation with new ideas, devices, or methods.
  4. Collaboration – LRCs offer a dedicated space for language practice. They afford opportunities for peer interaction, guided interactions with experts or native speakers, and a variety of events and workshops.
  5. Expertise – Many LRC directors offer unique expertise in “tech” and “teach”. Additional staff and student workers are also able to provide support with specific purposes in mind.
  6. Motivation – LRCs provide opportunities for low stakes language rehearsal through support, resources, and a dedicated space. By building confidence and reducing anxiety, LRCs contribute to motivating students and faculty.
  7. Development – Building on the expertise of the director and its staff, LRCs are the keystone in professional development and training opportunities for language departments.
  8. Sharing – LRCs provide open access to resources that would otherwise be sheltered by an individual. Many of these resources carry a heavy cost burden, but cost-sharing afforded by LRCs helps to alleviate this concern.
  9. Integration – LRCs are often the first stopping place for gathering ideas about integrating a new tool into language teaching and learning. LRCs are pivotal in housing examples for successful integration.
  10. Centrality – LRCs serve as an agent of consolidation at the center of language teaching and learning.

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Learning to Voki

I was fortunate to attend this year’s conference for the New England Regional Association for Language Learning Technology at Mount Holyoke College. Now that’s a mouthful. As a first-time attendee of the conference, I have to admit that I was quite impressed, especially by the intimate nature of the conference. Most people appeared to know each other and were familiar with each other’s work. There were members (faculty, language resource center directors, and instructional technology staff) from a wide variety of institutions, including from Ivy League schools, large state schools, and community colleges. And, as a result, the conference sessions included a range of topics, from instructional spaces to the design of virtual tours.

As they relate to the use of technology, academic conferences are a tremendous resource for gathering information, especially from people who have already experimented with particular tools. One NERALLT member described her use of voki.com to enable students to create short oral presentations. Voki is a web-based tool that allows students and instructors to create avatars, customize their appearances, add voice, and share with others. It’s an easy-to-use tool that is particularly beneficial for working on pronunciation and speaking skills. It features text-to-audio and audio recording, which offer students means to rehearse language skills in a less intimidating environment. Consider this example, which took less than one minute to create.

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Welcome!

With a constantly increasing amount of technologies available to foreign language educators a common dilemma is which technology to use and how to implement it meaningfully into your classroom activities. This challenge is further magnified by the varying tools, from basic email and discussion boards to social networking platforms and an array of web 2.0 tools. Often, we know how to use some of these technologies for personal use; however, many are unable to extend this use to their teaching practices. Regardless, the value of integrating technology is apparent when considering these tools offer the potential to create and enhance communication-based interactions including student-to-student, student-to-instructor, or student-to-other native speaker.

Layout 1With the challenge of integrating technology and the potential benefits in mind, this blog is designed to serve as a beacon to light the way for new and experienced foreign language educators. It is my hope that this blog will encourage you to think about how technology fits into your teaching methodology and challenge you to become a lifelong learner and user of technology. For this purpose each month I will post CALL tips, including general advice, tool overviews, samples for technology-based materials, and templates for technology-based lesson plans and assessments.

For the first LRC CALL Tip, I decided to start with something basic.

When attempting to integrate technology into your teaching methods and learning activities with the students, it is important to keep in mind your end goals. End goals are the learning outcomes that you absolutely will not compromise. These end goals, linguistic outcomes, should always drive the use of technology and aid to meaningfully select the appropriate tool for the task. Never start with the technology in mind; start with the linguistic outcomes and work backward. With the end goals in mind, you will be better positioned to select the most appropriate piece of technology and utilize it meaningfully.

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