The Development of a Collaborative Learning Environment:
Supporting the Traditional Classroom

Adrian Sallis, Grant Carran, Jenny Bygrave
Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand


This poster describes a collaborative learning environment that is being used to support traditional classroom teaching. This system has been developed and implemented at the Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand. This system has so far been used in the Master of Business Programme, as well as for a paper in Advanced International Business at the Undergraduate level.


At the beginning of last year, the Faculty of Business at Auckland University of Technology launched an investigative research project into online learning. The objective of this investigation was to examine existing literature and authoring systems that could be used to generate online courses and support structures. It was hoped that an approach would be found that could augment existing courses while retaining the teaching strategies and pedagogical goals of the Faculty.

The survey indicated that while a number of authoring tools existed none met all the requirements of the investigation. As a result it was decided to develop a new system from scratch that would have the flexibility and functionality required by the Faculty.

The System

The core functionality of the system is a collaborative environment that contains integrated chat and discussion forums, areas for students and staff to upload and download files, a roster or timetable that staff can edit to schedule class activities as well as hyperlink course material. The interface caters for users with varying abilities of computer literacy and provides an user friendly online environment.

The system comprises of four main sections; Library, Forum, Tools and Help. The library contains the Roster, course notes, references and links. The Forum contains chat, discussion, messaging and profiles. The Tools menu contains calendar, files, my profile and my preferences. The Help menu contains ask for help, tutorials, glossary and contact information.

The Front Page

Figure 1. Main Page

When a student logs into the course they are presented with a roster for the week and their mailbox. The mailbox is an internal messaging system that is particular to the course and allows students and staff to send messages to each other or groups. This feature was deemed to be more useful than relying on email because most students have more than one email address and some accounts may not be accessible from everywhere. This feature also means that students log in to the course more often. Also on the first page, is the week's roster. This roster provides students with information on class readings, preparation, class activities, tutorial information and assessment that is to be covered during the week. At the bottom of the page is a link to an introductory tutorial that is presented by a talking parrot, an MS Agent character.

The Library

Figure 2. File Storage Area in the Library Menu

The library menu contains the semester's weekly roster, a file storage section - where both lecturers and student's can upload and download material into folders, the course handbook and reference material.

The Forum

Figure 3. Chat and Discussion Facilities in the Forum

The forum menu contains links to items that allow students and staff to communicate with each other. There is a chat room for synchronous communications as well as a discussion forum that lets students participate in asynchronous (delayed) discussions with other members of the class in online debates and discussions. There is also a messaging system, and a profiles section that brings up information from the database and displays the students' details including a personalized introduction and a photo.

My Tools

Figure 4. Preferences in the My Tools Menu

The "my tools" menu item contain links to a calendar which allows students and staff to schedule seminars, study groups and social events. There is a journal which allows that student to enter and save notes, links or references that they may come across during the year. There is also a link to 'Profile' where students can change their own personal information including password and self-introduction. Finally, there is a preferences section that allows students to change the "skin" of layout and background of the course by choosing from a number of graphical themes.


Figure 5. Interactive Agent in the Help Menu

The help menu contains a help agent that processes student queries and returns an answer to them in a similar way to the Microsoft Office help wizard. The tutorial section contains a number of tutorials to help students use the course. There is also a glossary and staff contact information.


Evaluation of students online experiences has been carried out by surveys and from the student's reflective statements about online exercises. Discourse analysis of the students' comments is currently being undertaken and initial responses indicate that students have reacted positively to the online environment and learning experience. Further evaluation is underway on staff survey's to make sure that the environment caters to their teaching methods. Other studies such as usability tests based around cognitive walkthroughs and task based exercises are being held to ensure that the interface is as intuitive and user friendly as possible.

Further Development

This semester four courses are being supported using this environment. Three of the courses make up the Master of Business degree. Development for next semester includes integrating the course database with the University Registry database so that student enrollment and the course creation process will me more automated. Development will also include a report menu so that students can track their progress and staff can get reports on student usage of their courses. This will give further insights into the course and how students participate online.

Auckland University of Technology is currently investigating options for a "standard" online model that can be used by staff to publish their courses online. Buy focusing on the "big picture" and clearly identifying criteria and guidelines to fulfill the University's needs it is hopped that this tool will eventually be deployed across the University. This will not only save hundreds of thousands of dollars that might be spent on an off the self product but will also promote the University, it's research capabilities and it's identity in Cyberspace.


  1. Demo Course
  2. AUT CALC Home Page
  3. Auckland University of Technology