St. Pius High School Case Study

St. Pius X High School

Enrollment and interest in Michael Knight’s computer art and animation classes have seen a surge during the past five years thanks in part to the use of Serif PhotoPlus for creating and manipulating digital images. The high-schoolers are engaged in the class and their grades have reflected this excitement.

Students at St. Pius X High School in Albuquerque, N.M., are, in most ways, just like high school students across the country; classroom lectures often can’t hold their attention for long. But Visual Arts Teacher Michael Knight has found at least one way to keep his computer art students engaged throughout the semester – by using Serif’s digital image editing software program.

Knight, who previously taught traditional fine arts courses including painting, drawing and photography, introduced the computer art class five years ago to the private high school. What started with little more than a dozen students in a single class section has steadily increased enrollment to about 120 students last year in multiple classrooms being taught by Knight and other instructors. His computer art and animation classes are now among the more popular electives at the school.

Serif motivates my students because it keeps them active. They just want to work. Their end-of-the-year questionnaires said they enjoyed the class and they wished all subjects were like this.

— Michael Knight,
Visual Arts Teacher,
St. Pius X High School

“Serif motivates my students because it keeps them active. They just want to work. Their end-of-the-year questionnaires said they enjoyed the class and they wished all subjects were like this,” said Knight. “What I like about Serif’s products is that you can make them as easy or as complicated as you wish.”

Knight always begins his 18-week computer art course by teaching students how to operate Serif’s products including PhotoPlus, a program that enables students to change, manipulate and configure digital images in limitless ways. With Serif, students can develop the fundamental design skills upon which they can learn more complicated design techniques.

Students use their own images for their projects, Knight said. Using digital photos they capture as well as traditional hard copy photographs they scan into the computers or photograms (images created on special paper in sunlight), students are able to change the image in countless ways with PhotoPlus.

“They start by looking for photos with different patterns and textures such as what is found in architecture, portraits and animals. Some have gone to the zoo, and some have taken photos around campus. They cover a whole range of subjects,” said Knight. “Then, they use PhotoPlus to improve the contrast, or change the color basics of it, or invert it, or play with special effects. They create digital pieces of artwork.”

PhotoPlus’ tutorials and range of effects make it stand out from other programs, Knight said. For example, last year students created original print designs for silkscreening and abstract images of faces and still life works with PhotoPlus. They used the program to isolate single colors in an image, or to break a photo down into a black and white image.

“Anything you introduce in the classroom has got to be easy to use or else the kids will get bogged down with learning the program, instead of engaging in the activity. You’ve got to introduce easy things first and then build up from there. Serif is a good starting point and from there they can learn more in-depth manipulations rather than just a quick change of color,” said Knight. “With other programs the starting points are so complicated. It’s like beginning to study French with a fourth-year book.”

Recently, Knight’s computer art and animation classes were opened up to all students, not just seniors. Freshmen were up and running with the Serif programs quickly and found new ways to use the products that Knight had not anticipated.

“The world of education is really going to blow up in the use of computers in learning,” said Knight, whose own children, aged 13, 10 and 8, have used Serif products. “Since they are growing up using technology in education, it is not a foreign concept they have to learn. That’s where the evolution in education needs to focus – with young kids.” Computer art students have also learned how to use Serif ImpactPlus 5, the company’s 3D modeling software that can add new dimensions to Web sites, e-mails, movies and other documents. Last year, students used ImpactPlus 5 to build a computer game which would teach a young elementary student the alphabet, numbers, colors and some word sounds. Other projects have included adding mini movie clips to Web sites. (ImpactPlus is available for purchase directly from Serif.)

Knight, who has been teaching for about 45 years, said educators have to stay current with technology to understand what children will respond to in class. He came across Serif’s offerings while searching for 3D animation programs, many of which were too expensive for his tight budget. Serif’s reasonable prices and powerful features led his decision to recommend St. Pius X make a purchase.

Knight said he has seen an uptick in the average grades of his computer art students. He believes the success is due in large part to student’s becoming more interested in their projects while using Serif’s software. The school administrators and other educators have noticed how popular the class has become as enrollment numbers have climbed.

“I didn’t know anything about animation. So I had to learn it myself. I’m just an educator really. I’m just trying to give the kids the best tools possible to help them succeed,” said Knight.

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