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Challenging the Presentation Paradigm: Bee Docs Timeline

A couple of weeks ago, Prof. Hacker kicked off a series called “Challenging the Presentation Paradigm” with a look at Prezi. This week, we’re going to look at Bee Docs Timeline as an alternative (or a supplement) to presenting lecture content with a more traditional, linear slide program (such as Microsoft PowerPoint or Apple Keynote).

Bee Docs Timeline (http://www.beedocs.com) comes from Bee Docs, a 2 person boutique software developer based in Seattle.  As its name suggests, Bee Docs Timeline allows you to create visually compelling (and somewhat interactive) timelines.  You can give your timeline a custom look (background, font, colors, etc.) or choose from one of the pre-designed templates (there are only 7, but they all look decent)

Content for your timeline can come from a bunch of different sources.  The easiest (and most flexible) way is to manually enter each item on the timeline (each item can include a title, a date range, an image, a text description, and a link to external content – a webpage)   The app also features built in support for importing data from a variety of 3rd party apps.  GTD apps like Things, The Hit List, and OmniFocus are all supported – allowing you to create timelines from your own personal to-do lists.  You can also import data from other 3rd party apps like iCal, iPhoto, and iTunes.  Imagine creating a timeline of your photographs or tracks within a playlist – you get the idea.

When it comes to actually displaying the timeline you’ve created, you can present from the app itself (in full screen).  Arrow keys or the Apple remote let you move backwards and forwards though events in your timeline.  You can also zoom in and out of your timeline – choosing to show specific details, or the overall scope of the timeline.  You can also export to  video (for Apple TV, iPods/iPhones, and as 1080p HD Quicktime), print (via PDF), and static images.  An added feature of Bee Docs Timline is the ability to import your timelines into Apple Keynote, and integrate them into an existing presentation.

Bee Docs Timeline features two presentation”modes”: 2D and 3D.  The 2D mode lets you present your timeline in profile.  The 3D version gives you the ability to present your timeline in a kind of perspective-based 3D.

Bee Docs Timeline 3D Presentation Mode

Bee Docs Timeline 3D Presentation Mode

You may have noticed that there has been a lot of talk about Apple Keynote and the Apple remote.  Yup, that’s right, Bee Docs Timeline is Mac OSX only.  Sorry Windows people, you are out of luck.  The other big issue is that, as of yet, Bee Docs Timeline doesn’t export to Flash.  This is a drawback, as being able to export as Flash and stick your timeline in a webpage is important.  The app exports to Quicktime video, which is good (for online deployment).  However, with Flash, you get files that are smaller than anything you could get with Quicktime video.  With Flash, you also open the door for incredibly rich interactivity (imagine being able to create something like the BBC British History Timeline in Bee Docs Timeline)

The bottom line is that those looking for a fully featured presentation app should really look elsewhere.  Bee Docs Timeline isn’t Prezi, PowerPoint, or Keynote – nor does it really intend to be.  However, those looking for an interesting (and visually compelling) way of presenting information chronologically, in a way that reveals connections and clarifies relationships might want to take a closer look at Bee Docs Timeline.

Bee Docs Timeline 2D Presentation Mode

Bee Docs Timeline 2D Presentation Mode

The irony is certainly not lost on me that in a discussion about changing the way in which we can ditch linear presentation models, I’m talking about an app that creates content that is pretty linear.  However, Bee Docs Timeline creates stuff that has a definite wow factor – and whether we like it or not, visual design has pedagogical value.  Compelling design can get you engagement and immersion – and that’s a good thing for lectures and student learning.

So, what do you think?  Is Bee Docs Timeline something you’d try out?  What about the larger question of compelling visual design having pedagogical value?

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