Faculty Spotlight: Xiaowei Zhao – Using PowToon to Create Online Presentations

Instructor: Xiaowei Zhao, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Psychology

Course: PSYC1501 General Psychology

About the Project: The skill of delivering good presentations is very important for students’ success both at school and for their future career. It needs to be honed from the very beginning of their college years. However, given the relative larger size of 1000-Level class (35 students per section at Emmanuel) and the time limit, traditional oral presentations might not be easily practiced.

In addition, we are in a computer and Internet era now, after graduation, many of the students (even from social science) may face technology challenges in their career. As a “computer guy” Dr. Xiaowei Zhao strongly believes that an in-depth training on information and technological literacy is a MUST and a PLUS for our students to better prepare them for the challenges at their future workplaces.

Finally, General Psychology is an important requirement for all psychology majors, and usually the first psychology course they take at the College. A challenge of teaching this course is how to ensure these new college students to have a clear understanding of several fundamental psychology concepts in a relatively short period.

Facing these challenges, beginning from the Fall semester of 2013, Dr. Zhao has integrated an online presentation (explainer video) project. Students are asked to prepare a short animated digital presentation to explain an interesting phenomenon in general psychology. By doing this project, students can get a better understanding of the topic and learn how to present it in an efficient/interesting way. Students’ performance on this project is evaluated by the instructor and their classmates in terms of accuracy, clarity, depth, and organization/design.


1) To train students on their presentation skills in their first year of college
2) To improve students’ level of information and technological literacy, and
3) To enhance students’ understanding of basic psychology concepts

Technology Requirements: The platform of this project is PowToon.com, an online program to create and present animated presentations. It is easy to use, with a large library of animations/visual effects, and most importantly, free!


This is a 10-weeks project and the instructor helps students to build their familiarity/confidence on this project step by step.

Week 1: Introduce the project: Students are shown a task statement created via PowToon to get a “taste” of it.


Week 2: Students create a free PowToon account, get familiar with the tool. Many thanks for ATIG to provide a guideline (PowToonInstructionGuide)

Week 3: Students choose a topic, start research on it

Week 4 – 6: Students work on creating a StoryBord (A concept borrowed from the film industry) of their topic. A template parallel with a sample presentation is provided. Feedbacks are provided.

Week 7-10: Students work on the technical details. Assistances are provided by the instructor. Two most challenging things at this stage are: 1) students record voice over for the presentation (in mp3 format, and 2) synchronize their sounds with the transition of the slides. Free software like Audacity is very useful.

Finally, students’ performance on this project is evaluated by the instructor and their peers in terms of accuracy, clarity, depth, and organization/design.

Many students demonstrated great creativities and understandings of the topic. Some good examples could be shown upon request.

Students generally thought it as a challenging but interesting project and a positive experience. Below are some selected students’ feedbacks regarding the project (Notes: More may come after the finals):

I wanted to let you know that I think it is a great assignment and helps us learn more about particular topics and how to make a proper presentation.

Interested in using PowToon in your courses? Contact ATIG with questions.

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18 Responses to Faculty Spotlight: Xiaowei Zhao – Using PowToon to Create Online Presentations

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  15. Outcome: Many students demonstrated great creativities and understandings of the topic. Some good examples could be shown upon request.

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