Focusky….shifting focus from PowerPoint and Prezi

Name: Focusky
Cost: Free (pay versions available)
Type: Download software (PC and MAC)
Rating: 3/5

Focusky logoI didn’t want to like Focusky, as it seemed to be just another version of PowerPoint and Prezi, which reminded me of the Emaze fail when I put a lot of work into a presentation that I had to remove from my classroom because students couldn’t get it to work right. Focusky, what could you possibly offer? Animations. Not like Disney or Dreamworks animations, though. I had thought that I’d be doing some cool animations with talking characters and the like, but no. Focusky animations are what I call transitions, where text and graphics can be timed to enter the screen at different times and different methods (e.g., slide down from the top). If you’re a PowerPoint guru, you’re probably saying, “Hey, PowerPoint can do all that.” Yep. But, PowerPoint doesn’t have the “dip and roll” transition; in other words, as you move to the next slide, the presentation zooms out and then pans over to the next slide to zoom in on the content. If you’re a Prezi guru, you’re probably saying, “Hey, Prezi can do that.” Yep. Focusky effectively merges many interesting qualities of PowerPoint and Prezi in order to create a more dynamic presentation.

Goal: Find another (free) option for presentations other than PowerPoint and Prezi

Focusky workspace view 1

Here’s where you can choose a template, though you can start with a blank version or upload a PowerPoint

Benefits:

  • There is a help document and tutorial videos
  • There are several free templates to choose from; they seem unique, as compared to what’s available for Prezi or Emaze, though limited for the free version
  • The workspace looks much like Prezi, so if you’re familiar with Prezi, then the same principles can be applied to Focusky, except that Focusky has an animation tool in its workspace
  • Once saved to the public cloud for sharing, a transcript is automatically created.

Drawbacks:

  • As you can see in the pricing comparison, there aren’t many option for the free version.
  • Although software is downloaded, templates are online…so you need an Internet connection to get started; it takes a minute or so to download the template and the fonts.
  • The thumbnail for the template is small, and once it’s loaded, I can’t find a button to change the template so I just start a new project to get back to the choose a template page
  • Making modifications to the template’s text can through off the other slides in the presentation, as the slides are all in the same general area of the workspace. So if I add a paragraph of text, it may overlap on to the next slide. (It took some maneuvering and editing text to get the look right.)
  • Editing the text in the template is temperamental…clicking, double-clicking, voicing commands, glaring at the computer screen, clicking again, all don’t yield a response sometimes.
  • The presentation “play” screen doesn’t always respond as expected. You have to click the Play button, and then click another semi-hidden play button to see the presentation as a video. The arrow graphics don’t always move the presentation ahead. I used the arrows on my keyboard, which were mostly effective.

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Scribus…scribbling would be more productive

Name: Scribus
Cost: Free
Type: Software (download)
Rating: 1/5

Scribus LogoMany many years ago, I started my PhD and was first introduced to InDesign through a document design course. I cannot adequately describe the wave of disbelief and frustration that washed over my peers and me as we started working with this desktop publishing software. None of us could afford to pitch the computers out a window, so we trudged through it and learned the basics of this software. Once we survived the basics, I started thinking about how I could use this software in my classrooms. And then, I saw how much the software cost. Yikes! Thus, my desire for a free or cheap desktop publishing option. Scribus is a good option for free, though knowledge of InDesign is needed, or you’ll be reviewing as many tutorials as you can find on the Internet.

Goal: Free version of InDesign to create one-page documents (e.g., posters, newsletters) to save as PDFs and post in my classroom

Scribus Workspace view

This is a blank, one-page document

Benefits:

  • It’s free. (If you’ve ever priced Adobe InDesign CC, then free is pretty much the best feature of this software.)
  • It is software that can be downloaded to a computer so Internet access is not needed beyond the initial download.
  • It works on the basic principles of desktop publishing software.
  • There is a wiki for help: http://wiki.scribus.net/canvas/Scribus

Drawbacks:

  • Takes time and patience to learn, and then some more time and patience. (I knew some of the basics of InDesign before using Scribus.)
  • Like GIMP, this is a no-frills interface without built-in guidance, though hovering over an icon will reveal the icon’s purpose
  • Right-click menus are not always intuitive in the phrasing of options
  • The built-in help is not very helpful.
  • Adding and editing text is a nightmare. I can’t see the font style I’m choosing, the spacing freaks out if I want to create two lines of text in one textbox, and there are two ways to edit text (both don’t make sense).

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Emaze….not as amazing as I’d hoped

Name: Emaze
Cost: Free (pay version gets storage and more templates)
Type: Internet tool
Rating: 2/5

Emaze logoPowerPoint? Been there–done that. Prezi? Tried it–liked it. I was ready for something new, and more dynamic, if possible. I also wanted to impress my students with my ability to show them “new” tools they could also use to be just as cool as me. Ultimately, the tool should rely on my existing PowerPoint content, allow me to add audio narration, and then up my cool factor by including video game like animations and transitions. Emaze seemed to be a good option, as it looked like PowerPoint and Prezi had a baby and called it Emaze. (There have been worse baby names by celebrities!) I took my PowerPoint slides and uploaded them, then had to significantly edit them to get them to fit the templates. I spent a few hours getting the look, transitions, and audio just right. I reviewed the final version and noticed a few glitches, but thought it was okay. Nope. EPIC FAIL. One of my students very politely told me that the presentation was “not working,” which was a nice way of saying: “Professor, the presentation is really screwy. The audio for different slides starts playing at the same time, and the content moves too quickly to understand. Going back to review previous slides sends you on a Dr. Who like journey where you won’t land where expected.”

Goal: Dynamic and engaging presentation that allows for transitions, audio, and embedded links

View of Emaze workspace

After setting up your account, this is what your initial workspace looks like.

Benefits:

  • Accepts PowerPoint files to base the presentation on
  • Several free templates with interesting graphics and backgrounds
  • A sort of 3D feel as the view swings around to the next slide, which my audience liked
  • Supports embedded links

Drawbacks:

  • Audio would not consistently sync with the slides. There were no audio controls during playback; in other words, I could not pause the audio for a slide once it started. The audio would overlap and play at the same time if the audience decided to go back one slide.
  • Firefox was quirky with this tool. For example, at one point it would only represent text in upper-case even though I didn’t have the Caps Lock set. I had to exit the browser and log in again.
  • No further dynamic features beyond transitions, such as animations that reveal or highlight information on the slide.
  • Some color themes are nice looking, but may be difficult to read for those with visual impairments

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Random Tip #2–Hitching a ride on the WAYBACK MACHINE

Wayback Machine LogoI have been researching my dissertation for so long that webpages have actually died of old age or other causes since I started gathering Internet sources on my topic. If I want to go back and see the page I have the address for, whether saved as a bookmark or cited in a source I’m looking at, I am left with a “sorry we missed you” sort of error message where the Internet page should be. Not even a ghost or echo remains. In dire situations, Google can’t find a newer version of the page. This is often the case with academic websites, where a professor posts a published article, but then doesn’t teach the relevant course any longer or has moved to a different university so the page is removed.

My first response is an aggravated scream at the Internet’s lack of fortitude to hang in there until I finally finish my research. My second response is going to the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine. Don’t get distracted by that first link to the Internet Archive, as you will get lost in this virtual “library” and never get to the second link that I want to show you. The Wayback Machine is a collection of saved webpages from the Internet’s entire life (…okay, not that long, but back into the 1990s).

Put in the URL (web address) for your dead webpage, click Browse History, and you’ll get a timeline and calendar with access to pages that were saved on certain days throughout the website’s existence. This isn’t the Holy Grail, though. If there are copyright restrictions (e.g., YouTube, CNN.com), then the page likely wasn’t saved or was removed once the copyright violation was detected. Also, there aren’t always saved screens for the exact time you need. In other words, the webpage you’re looking for was posted in March of 2005, but there isn’t a saved screen from that time.

While the Wayback Machine doesn’t always produce what I am looking for, it is better than nothing. It’s also fun to look at how far we’ve come in webpage design….maybe only geeks appreciate that sort of retrospect.

Link: https://archive.org/web/