Digital Essays

Prezi is not new, and by now you’ve heard about it and have already decided whether or not you like it. (Of course when you say you don’t like it, you mean you don’t think it’s an effective learning tool, right?)

The draw is simple enough: novel presentations that tell stories or relay arguments and ideas. It is marketed as the “non-PowerPoint”–the software that allows you to “jazz up” presentations (while making you seasick in the process).

But focusing on its novelty misses the power of a digital essay: multimodal (and multimedia), non-linear narrative and argument sequences that can support text, images, voiceovers, YouTube videos, music and more while using the background and pathways themselves as layers of additional meaning. Learners can express ideas, then reinforce select details, a thesis, or even a narrative event by having free control over the “camera” and where the readers eyes go. This can be very, very powerful if done correctly.

As Simple Or Complex As You’d Like

Digital essays on prezi can be used as very simply–to copy/paste typed pencil/paper essays, or in far more creative and interesting ways.

To show what’s possible, I’ve gathered up 21 of the more interesting (and academic-focused) presentations so that you can have a look-see. You can use them in your classroom for their content, or use them as models for students to see what’s possible.

Note that even with the digital essays below, each are interesting for different reasons, but even many of these are guilty of the occasional gratuitous zoom and spin. But before you hate prezi for this, realize that just because others abuse the spin and zoom doesn’t mean your students have to. Let them know ahead of time–no gratuitousness, unnecessary spinning or zooming; give a badge to the student that shows the most restraint here, they’ll figure it out.

They’re all embedded below–hopefully it doesn’t crash your browser.

21 Amazing Digital Essays You Can Use In Your Classroom

1. Reimagining Public Education

2. Social Media 101

3. Digital Portfolios

4. Heart of Darkness

5. Prezi & Mobile Learning

6. Plot Diagramming

7.  How Prezi Works

8. Syria: The Basics

9. 30 Things About Me: A Personal Essay

10. Martin Luther King, Jr.

11. Android 101

12. A Visual Overview Of Typography

13. Artificial Intelligence

14. The Destruction Of Non-Linear Learning

15. Sensation & Perception

16. What’s A Prezi?

17. Cyberbullying

18. The Theory Of Relativity

19. From Assignment To Research

20. Everything That Rises Must Converge

21. Operations With Fractions

Bonus: This is a rambling, opinion-based but thorough look at the intersection between population growth, culture, and public education I wrote last year. It’s very long. Brownie points if you make it all the way through.

Your second main writing project for this course is to compose, revise, and present a digital essay—a piece meant to be read online and that makes strong use of the affordances of the web. You will post the final version of this essay to this website and present it at our last meeting to the other members of the seminar.

An affordance is an aspect of an environment, technology, or object that allows an individual to do something. An affordance of writing, for instance, is that it allows us to make our thoughts visible to ourselves—to note something down on a page. An affordance of print is that it allows us to circulate our thoughts to a much larger readership—to publish. And some of the affordances of the web are . . . well, finding that out is one of the main points of this assignment. But, clearly, one thing the web affords is the opportunity to combine modes of expression—to mix prose with images, hyperlinks, audio- and video-files. The structure of web texts also sometimes seem less linear than print ones—that is, they seem to encourage us as readers to choose our own paths through the materials they present rather than follow a single consecutive route through them.

So, another way of putting this is to say that your task here is to compose a digital essay in which you do something you could not do—or could not do as evocatively or effectively—if you were limited to printing out your work on paper. (Let me emphasize the term digital in the previous sentence. Your task is to produce a text meant to be read onscreen. There are many other forms of multimodal expression that involve the fashioning of objects, events, costumes, sets, etc., but they’re not our concern in this course.)

One of the most striking examples of a digital essay that I’ve seen is Welcome to Pine Point, by Paul Shoebridge and Michael Simon, and produced by the National Film Board of Canada. Clearly I won’t expect your work to rival the production values of this multilayered and polished text, but I do think that looking at how Shoebridge and Simon make use of both writing and the space of the screen will offer you some ideas about what you might attempt in a digital essay of your own. Your work on this project, then, will start with a brief response (r5) in which, after reading Pine Point, you locate another essay that you feel makes strong use of the affordances of the web. We’ll also talk in class about some of the digital essays that students wrote for this course in Spring 2011.

Beyond that, there are few limits to this assignment—other than to say that your project should be substantive, researched, and imaginative, and that the final form of your essay should be carefully composed, designed, and edited.

Good luck! I look forward to seeing what you attempt!


  1. Tues, 2/21: r5, a digital essay that interests you
  2. Fri, 3/16: Project proposal
  3. Fri, 3/30: Draft one (to be workshopped on 4/03)
  4. Fri, 4/13: Draft two (to be workshopped on 4/17)
  5. Tues, 4/24: Presentation of final project
  6. Fri, 4/27: Archival version, posted to this site




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