Sydney’s Miller Technology High School has served one of Australia’s most culturally diverse communities for over 45 years. A high percentage of the school’s 700 students come from non–English-speaking backgrounds, including many recent immigrants and refugees from war-torn countries. In 2009, Miller was selected to join Microsoft’s Innovative Schools Program due to its history of innovation across a range of learning and social engagement programs. One such program involved the construction of a new fitness centre. To encourage students to use the centre’s equipment correctly, the school used a Microsoft Research application – AutoCollage – to create a series of posters that featured the students performing the exercises correctly. The project spurred students to improve their fitness, while collaborating on the posters helped develop their communication and teamwork skills. The use and display of real photos of current students helped to personalise the new learning space.Situation
Located in Sydney’s southwest suburbs, Miller Technology is a comprehensive, co-educational high school. With over 80 per cent of its students from non–English speaking backgrounds, Miller serves one of Australia’s most culturally diverse communities.
“Many of our students are from families who are recent immigrants to Australia, and some are refugees from war-torn countries, who have often experienced horrendous personal tragedies and were fortunate enough to be able to come here,” says Andrew Histon, Personal Development, Health and Physical Education (PDHPE) Teacher, Miller Technology High School.
Consequently, the school has to adopt a more flexible and adaptive approach to education than many other schools, integrating students from the on-campus Intensive English Centre after one year of intensive language training.
“We have students going into Year 10 who might be as old as 20, but with limited or basic interpersonal skills,” says Histon. ”Many students have not been near a school for years, so a large part of our job is help them make a smooth transition into Australian society.”
Miller Technology High School takes great pride in its community and social engagement programs, including the Behaviour Attendance and Resilience program, a partnership with Fitness First Australia designed to build regular exercise into students’ daily routine.
Operating under the slogan “More children, More active, More often”, Histon and the other PDHPE teachers at Miller Technology High School spent nine months purchasing equipment and building a state-of-the-art fitness centre at the school, complete with an indoor rock-climbing wall.
The completion of the new fitness centre meant students needed to learn how to use the new equipment properly – to promote fitness and avoid injury. The school wanted to do this in a way that encouraged students into the gym and personalised the learning space.Solution
Microsoft Australia is Miller Technology High School’s primary technology partner. In 2009, the school was selected as one of 23 Innovative Schools in Microsoft’s Partners in Learning initiative, thanks to its record of innovation across a range of learning and community initiatives.
While attending a Microsoft Innovative Education Forum in 2009, Histon discovered Microsoft Research’s AutoCollage. The application is the result of pioneering work in facial recognition and intelligent pixel matching by Microsoft Research in Cambridge, England. It uses these technologies to automatically merge photos into a collage.
Histon came up with the idea of using AutoCollage to create a series of visually stimulating posters, that featured students at the school demonstrating proper exercise techniques and illustrating the full range of exercises that could be carried out on each machine.
Microsoft has made the AutoCollage tool available to schools as part of the Partners in Learning initiative.
“One of the aims of the Innovative Schools Program is to expose teachers to a range of new software applications, and encourage them to use them if and when they are appropriate to improving learning,” says Sean Tierney, Innovative Schools Program Manager, Microsoft Australia. “We can create all the best educational software, but ultimately, it is teachers who create meaningful learning experiences, and Microsoft software simply helps them innovate.”
Histon kicked off the AutoCollage project at Miller Technology High School by selecting students from Years 10, 11 and 12, and giving them a choice of either demonstrating the exercises or taking photographs with a digital camera.
Once the photos were taken, they were arranged into specific muscle groups and – using AutoCollage – arranged into posters that are currently displayed in the school fitness centre.
“For abdominal exercises, there are many different exercises that can be done in our gym, and these posters show the correct technique for all of them,” Histon says. “This lowers injury rates and helps the kids develop their muscles, which in turn helps to improve their self-esteem and confidence.”
While AutoCollage might be simple and intuitive to use, some very advanced technology is doing the heavy lifting behind the scenes.
“It’s the most sophisticated tool of its kind available to consumers,” says Tierney. “The software combines object recognition, face detection, image blending and other techniques to provide a seamless summary of the most interesting images within a group of photos.”
The students enjoyed using digital cameras to take photos of fellow classmates and Histon says they found the program very simple to use, despite the fact that most had little previous experience with computers.
“Using the program was very easy,” says Histon. “We just loaded the photos and the program is so user-friendly that it basically created the posters itself. Some of our students don’t routinely use laptops, digital cameras and programs like AutoCollage, so they were eager to participate and were very engaged.”Benefits
The technology has helped fulfil Miller’s ultimate objective, which was to get students into the fitness centre.
“We’ve definitely seen an increase in the number of kids who use the gym,” Histon says. “They’re healthier and they’re fitter and hopefully these behaviours and skills learnt will be carried over into other areas of their lives”.Improved engagement, collaboration
Using AutoCollage to create posters has also helped the school fulfil secondary aims.
“It’s a great piece of technology that the kids found very easy to use,” says Histon. “Because it was something they could pick up really easily, they are now more motivated to use other kinds of software.”
In addition, the project helped turn the experience from an educational challenge, to a cross-age team-building opportunity.
“Having all the students from a range of different years involved in the same project taught them how to work within a group,” says Histon. “It also helped their communication skills.”Creating 21st century students
At a wider level, Histon noted how the Innovative Schools Program has facilitated links between schools and encouraged ongoing communication and peer assistance.
“The Innovative Schools program has been fantastic for our school,” Histon says. “You can tap into the resources of the Innovative Schools community and ask someone in Western Australia about what they’ve been doing. It’s really good to be able to see what has worked and what hasn’t worked in other schools.”
“It’s also a massive motivator,” he adds. “Our role is to prepare students for life in the 21st century and in this program we are challenged to consider what that really means as part of a focused community. Being involved in this program not only helps you learn what other schools are doing, it also encourages you to push your own thinking and reconsider your limits as an educator.”Partners in Learning
Partners in Learning is a global initiative that is dedicated to enabling access to technology, supporting leadership and building community in Australian schools. Since its inception in 2003,* Partners in Learning has furthered the interests of more than 192 million students and over 8.5 million teachers and policymakers in 114 countries, with a total worldwide investment of US$500 million. In Australia, we have already reached over 142,000 students, teachers and leaders and will invest A$15 million in cash and resources by 2013.Innovative Schools Program
The Innovative Schools Program is a collaborative partnership between Microsoft Australia, Australian state governments and Australian schools
that explores how innovative schools can empower innovative learning. The program helps schools transform their learning in meaningful ways, by focusing on pedagogy, leadership, vision and culture. By supplementing the transformation with cutting-edge technologies, the program helps prepare the next generation to become innovative thinkers, effective problem solvers and more proficient contributors to a global society.
* All statistics correct as of February 2011.For More Information
For more information about Microsoft education products and services, please visit our website at: www.microsoft.com.au/education
For more information about Miller Technology High School, please call 02 9607 8669 or visit the website at: www.millerhighschool.nsw.edu.au
For more information about Partners in Learning, please go to:
For more information about Partners in Learning in Australia, please email:
For more information about AutoCollage, please visit: http://research.microsoft.com/en-us/um/cambridge/projects/autocollage/This case study is for informational purposes only. MICROSOFT MAKES NO WARRANTIES, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, IN THIS SUMMARY.