A Prezi Toolkit

a prezi infographic demonstrating how prezi works

Image via BGC DML

By Scott Garbacz

Note for Instructors and Students: This is not a lesson plan as such, but rather a non-comprehensive “tool box” of tricks and techniques you can use to make memorable, comprehensible, and above all interesting visual presentations. I am also aiming at some basic, easy-to-implement strategies aimed at academic purposes. Click here for a primer on more elements of Prezi design. On the other hand, if you’re just wanting the very basics of Prezi, their official introduction to the service may be helpful.

A Workshop from a Visionary about Data Visualization


Source: Mark Andrew Goetz

 About 2 months ago Austin was lucky enough to be among the handful of cities selected as a stop on a one-day presentation and workshop featuring Mr. Edward Tufte.  What's more: The DWRL agreed that covering the cost of admission for a few of their staffers to be money well spent (thanks, Will Burdette).

For the uninitiated, Mr. Tufte is the granddaddy of all things related to visual representations of large amounts of data, complicated concepts, historical trends, and- quite literally- just about anything else you could think of.  Hailed as “The Leonardo Di Vinci of Data," by the New York Times.  Tufte was synthesizing massive amounts of information into beautiful visuals before the term “big data” had even pushed “the cloud” out of the way as the buzzword(s) of the moment. 

Visual Rhetoric Introduction PowerPoint Presentation

Introduction to Visual Rhetoric
Teaching Guide
by Nate Kreuter

~About the Presentation~

Any introductory presentation like this one is going to have its limitations. This document, in addition to providing a teaching guide to accompany the PowerPoint slide show, seeks to make explicit some of those limitations, so that you as an instructor can consider them and decide how best to deal with them in your own classroom.


The introduction to visual rhetoric available for you to download here has been created under a Creative Commons license. We have assigned a license that allows you to share, remix, edit, and change the work, under the following conditions: 1) attribution--you must attribute credit to respective authors, both to the original author of this presentation and to the individual authors of photos in the presentation, who have already been credited where appropriate; 2) noncommercial use only--you made not use this presentation, explanatory document, parts thereof, or derivative works for commercial gain- noncommercial use only; 3) share alike--you must license your own derivative works based on this presentation under a similar share alike license. For all the legal boilerplate, click here. For a quick explanation from the good folks at Creative Commons, click here.

The version of the presentation available for download here is composed entirely of images in the public domain or licensed under similar Creative Commons licenses. Unfortunately, not much advertising is licensed through Creative Commons, for obvious reasons. However, adding advertising images to this presentation for use in your own classroom clearly falls under the purview of fair use, and we encourage you to do so. But we also recommend that you do not freely distribute versions of the presentation containing any copyrighted images. We’re not lawyers, and you shouldn’t take ours as legal advice, but you risk making your life significantly more complicated if you agitate the wrong copyright holder. Use your own discretion.

We hope you will also feel free to modify this presentation in ways appropriate to your own rhetoric or composition class. Some images simply lend themselves to different modes of analysis, and so if, for example, your class is particularly focused on issues of gender and sexuality, the presentation could be tweaked to focus exclusively on those sorts of issues. The presentation goes out of its way to bring current political figures, as well as issues of race, gender, sexuality, and commercial consumption into the presentation.

You will quickly notice that much of the content of this presentation could be construed as quite political. That’s because it is. What it isn’t though is a political soapbox. We feel our students are smart enough to decide their own politics, but that doesn’t mean that it’s wrong to be political, or bring up political issues in the classroom. We live in a politically divided world, and so it seems one of the responsibilities of this presentation not to shy from such realities. And again, whatever you see here that you don’t like, you can change, thanks to our nifty Creative Commons licensing.

The purpose of this presentation is to get students thinking about how to read images rhetorically. Really, all we’re hoping is to show students that the rhetorical concepts they’ve already learned to apply to written texts are similarly applicable to visual texts. The presentation is designed to elicit student responses, not to be lectured from. The following notes for each slide are intended to help show you what we hoped to accomplish with each side. The comments offered here for each slide are sample readings, as much as anything else, and ideally you might ask students to generate their own, collective readings of the images in the presentation and what those reading might signify for broader American (rhetorical?) culture. You may see something different, either in the content of the slide, or in terms of a teachable moment or point that the slide brings up. In the future we hope to post a video of one of our instructors giving the presentation in a rhetoric class and interacting with students, so that you can see how at least one other teacher combines prompts and very brief periods of lecturing with elicitations of student responses. We’ll post that video here once we have it.

Thanks, and use, modify, remix, remake however you like. And if you do, we would love to hear about it.

~Slide 1~
Just your standard, boilerplate introductory slide. Feel free to modify this and give yourself credit too if you modify the presentation. There is one, little thing though. Even on this introductory slide there is an attempt to show how visuals can signify, with the Creative Commons icons mingled with the text. The lack of other visuals, and the bold icons themselves emphasize the different significations of the graphics and the text.

~Slide 2~
When presenting this opening slide, I ask students whether or not images can make arguments without the aid of written language. In this image, the warning signs are accompanied by text, but in a language unknown to 99% of American students. Typically, when looking at this slide students respond that, yes, pictures can make arguments. So, we begin the presentation seeing that images do, or at least can, make arguments. How much of that student response comes from context though, from the background images of a fence and what looks like some sort of fuel or propellant container that we would expect signs to be warning us away from? Is it really the images on the signs, independent of their texts and contexts, that make a “keep out” argument to us viewers?

~Slide 3~
In an attempt to answer that last question this slide is stripped of context. At this point I like to have the students “read” the signs, to tell me precisely what it is they think the signs mean. Moving from left to right the students usually say that the signs mean “warning,” “danger, explosions,” and “stop.” Or something very close to those three. So it does appear that these images make simple arguments even independent of text and context that we as viewers can quickly interpret or intuit.

~Slide 4~
I love these images. I call them lawnmower people, because you always see them on warning labels on things like lawnmowers, always dying in the most horrific ways. I ask the students “Do THESE images make arguments independently of the text surrounding them?” Responses tend to be mixed between the affirmative and the negative. While the images do depict certain causal relationships, they are so foreign to most of our experiences that I’m not sure the images can actually make coherent arguments without the help of the associated texts. So images can, but don’t necessarily, make arguments. As with so many things in rhetoric, the answer is “it depends” . . .

~Slide 5~
Here we see four very different depictions of President Obama. I like to ask the question of students “if we were the art directors of the New York Times, how would we decide which image of the president to run?” The answer is, I hope, contextually dependent on the story that the art would run with.

~Slide 6~
This slide isn’t intended to promote condemnation of the former president. Well, no so much as it is intended to show how images are combined and recombined to come up with entirely new images, and new visual claims. We have the familiar Jolly Roger pirate flag, and the familiar presidential press conference photo—but when combined, as this graffiti artist has in the third photo, we have an entirely different, and quite unmistakable, argument about the character and morality of the former president. Is the third image convincing, or does it only affirm the beliefs of those who already agree with it? Is it clever referencing, or cheap criticism? Is it political speech, or defamation? Could it incite actual political action, or is it throw-away hipster attention seeking?

~Slide 7~
This slide is intended to show how images are modified and adapted to make different arguments, or to at least motion towards changes in culture. Here we have Grant Wood’s famous American Gothic painting, and four reinterpretations of the painting. The first, directly below, adapts the painting itself to make a, perhaps, cynical commentary about our current era. The other images don’t adapt the painting so much as they reference it. Is the middle picture two guys clowning around, or a serious commentary on gay rights and the contemporary American social landscape? In the other two images we have assuredly comical references to the original painting, with a man holding a cat litter box scoop, accompanied by admiring his urban guerilla partner, and the smoldering pile of suburban leaf waste in the background. And in the final image Wood’s pioneer, no longer a resourceful yeoman farmer, is reduced to grillmaster, while his partner provides an additional visual puns with her perfectly positioned (water)melon. So, we have some images, ripe for discussion, that students should be asked to reading (rather than simply giving them these readings) and that might say some interesting things about our own contemporary visual culture and its priorities.

~Slide 8~
Here we see some aesthetic differences in an iconic piece of American culture. Each one of these images could be included in a patriotic or Washington, DC themed calendar, but they each depict the Washington Monument in importantly different ways. The top left image is populist, with the crowd as much a part of the photo as the monument, indeed the milieu in which the monument is almost literally set. The top right image is almost disgustingly trite, the stuff of the free calendars distributed by your local insurance company, the monument set among cherry blossoms, completely divorced from the larger realities of American culture for which it stands. The bottom right image is perhaps the most overtly patriotic, because of the flag, but is also the one that abstracts the monument the most, perhaps with interesting implications. The bottom left offers a perplexing and near perfect mirroring, and is symmetrical in almost every regard, a sharp contrast to a culture that is anything but symmetrical.

~Slide 9~
These four images show four very different, and very differently gendered, depictions of women at work. I think it is valuable to have students explain those differences, and then talk about how the images may reinforce or confront traditional gender stereotypes.

~Slide 10~
Like the previous slide, this one is intended to open issues of visual depictions of gender, and gender roles for discussion, but here regarding depictions of men. Arguably, even the separation of men and women in these two slides makes a, possibly even problematic, argument about gender in our culture.

~Slide 11~
Here we see five unique depictions of mothers and motherhood. The top left image is the iconic Dorothy Lang Depression-era photo, “Migrant Mother.” The other four photos are more contemporary. The top right photo would have been almost unthinkable for the migrant mother as a mother and her daughter zip through a clean, vibrant city on a scooter, as they enjoy leisure and each others’ company, seemingly without any of the more mundane concerns that would have weighed on the migrant mother of Lang’s photo. The bottom right photo has obvious parallels with the Lang photo, but with the marked difference that this is a minority family, and, judging by their faces, faces far less daunting travails. Such a depiction marks the changes in American demographics since the ‘30s, and more significantly, the increased visibility of the minority cultures that have always been a part of our nation. The middle picture is interesting, reading in at least two possible ways. It could be seen as the liberation of modern mothers. No longer the lone domain of fathers, this mother appears to be teaching her young son to play baseball. In this light, the photos seems a nice comment on increased equity in gender roles, as the mother instructs her son in a skill that has historically been the purview of only fathers. But there might be a more cynical reading, in which mom fills the traditionally masculine role because dad isn’t around, either because he can’t be drawn away from work long enough to go to the park, or isn’t even a member of the family anymore, a sad comment on fatherhood in contemporary America. The last, bottom left, photo, is perhaps the oddest, with a hyper-sexualized mother and child in an obviously posed shot. The sexualized she-mom is posed as an animal, a lioness transporting her cub. That even images of maternalism can be so sexually charged in our culture surely must indicate something significant, right?

~Slide 12~
To contrast with our depictions of contemporary motherhood, here are some depictions of contemporary fatherhood. The top left image contrasts the natural, unmodified baby with the tattooed father’s arm, a bare babe, and a hairy-chested adult. The child is simultaneously being cradled, or lifted like a weight. The tattoos, unthinkable for most fathers a generation or two ago, are commonplace now. In the top right we see an image that is simultaneously sweet and formal. There is no affection displayed directly, but the small son’s mimicry of his father’s body language suggests admiration, affectionate respect. But he’s also training to one day become a work-a-day commuter, just as his father already is, as they both wait for the train. In the bottom-center image we see GW Bush not as president, but as first-father. But the picture is obviously posed. This is a reflection of American weddings, and how they are often exercises of formality, rather than uninhibited celebrations, as they are in many other cultures. The final image, bottom-left, leaves us with a very different image of paternal and filial affection, with both father and son apparently thrilled to be enjoying an outing together. But even this is a very contemporary depictions, as American men have only in the past several generations of fatherhood become comfortable with such frank depictions of emotion. This picture seems a lot less likely to have been taken 50 years ago, as the family would have been less likely to be able to enjoy such leisure and such outward displays of affection between fathers and sons were less frequent in a more rigidly paternalistic culture.

~Slide 13~
National Geographic photographic wrote an essay in which he argued for categories of images that he called “mature” and “immature,” and in which he argues, quite rhetorically, that the categorization of an image depended on the audience viewing it. He gave the example of a flyer advertising a mountaineering guide service. For an immature audience, Rowell argued, that is, an audience unfamiliar with mountaineering, you would be better off to use an immature photo, like the one of the left, which is easier for an immature audience to read. The photo, with its smiling Sherpa guide depicted near a peak, quite obviously alludes to mountaineering. The second picture is more appropriate for a mature audience, one familiar with mountaineering and that would be bored with the visual platitudes of the Sherpa image. With this audience the photographer (read, rhetor) can present a more sophisticated image, and trust the audience to connect it with the subject at hand, mountaineering. In this case it is a detailed shot of a ram’s skull, the type of sight that a traveler might expect to see on their expedition.

~Slide 14~
Here we have an example of branding, with the University of Virginia’s current and former logos on display. When asking students which logo they prefer, they almost universally prefer the newer logo. They are often hard pressed to say why. I suspect it has something to do with its symmetry, and the more explicit aggressiveness of the crosses sabers. I ask the students to speculate as to why the school would have reinvented its logo, risked its brand. They point out that the old cavalier is distinctly white, and male, and may have thus led many UVa students, women and minorities, feeling excluded from its representation. They also think the cavalier looks effeminate, and that the old logo is too complicated. Don’t forget also more cynical motives—UVa stood to make a lot of money with the sale of new logo-laden apparel when they made the switch, but they also risked their brand in the process.

~Slide 15~
Here we deal with race explicitly. Most of your students are two young to remember this episode of American history firsthand, but these two magazine covers demonstrate and important relationship between race and media sensationalism in this country. Both magazines have run the same booking photo on their covers, but Time has darkened OJ Simpson, presumably to make him appear more menacing to their predominantly white readership. One of my students pointed out, quite astutely, that the Time cover has the more sensationalized photo, while the Newsweek cover has the more sensationalized text. I typically don’t point these things out to the students, but ask them about the two covers until they notice some of these details themselves. I have found that, as with written texts, a lot of analysis begins by simply convincing students to slow down and notice the details of the text.

~Slide 16~
These images from the war in Iraq are the types of images we were led to expect prior to the invasion. We see apparently mutually friendly interactions between US soldiers and Iraqi children, but significantly, not between the soldiers and the children’s presumably more politically aware parents. But notice the Flickr.com source of these photos—they have been provided by the US Army. How might that affect our reception of the photos? Our acceptance that these photos might accurately reflect the situation in Iraq? How does the source impact our reading of their meaning?

~Slide 17~
Here are three very different representations of our war in Iraq. How do they represent the war differently than the previous three images? What does it mean that these images come from very different, and presumably less official, sources? How do we know which depictions are “accurate” or “true.”

~Slide 18~
These are propaganda pamphlets that the US dropped over Iraqi military positions prior to the 2003 invasion. These pamphlets are made up of images that quite literally must be read in order to grasp their meaning. I like to lead students through each pamphlet and have them read the cause/effect arguments that have been presented to the Iraqi soldiers, whose literacy levels must have been in doubt for US propagandists, and thus the use of images rather than text.

~Slide 19~
Pictures have the capacity to convey tremendous emotional impact, and here are a few middling examples. You might consider replacing these images with some that are both more powerful, and more famous, but that due to copyright restrictions couldn’t be included here.

~Slide 20~
I like to call this logos images, because they are examples of how some images really efficiently convey vast amounts of data, far more efficiently than text our tables could. We’re used to such images, indeed inundated with them, but I think it’s worth pointing out how constructed they are, and dependent upon data synthesized by human minds. They may be packed with data, but they still aren’t as objective as many students tend to think of them as.

~Slide 21~
These are both heavily data driven images, in both cases used to make public policy arguments to US citizens. Ironically, they were both used as evidence for specific and controversial foreign policies, made by very different presidential administrations. What are the risks of offering such specific data to a public that by and large does not have the expertise to analyze or interpret that data themselves?

~Slide 22~
Here are more logos-driven images, this time from the medical community. Here it is worth pointing out that even such medical imaging requires human interpretation, and even highly trained doctors will argue over their readings of such images before agreeing on a course of treatment for a patient.

~Slide 23~
Finally, here is another format in which we are used to receiving data. But such graphs can easily mislead. Their authority, though, comes from their clean lines, and doesn’t encourage us to question that data. Is there any data, or a relationship between data, that is suspect here?

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