A. Finn, K. Fraser, H. McArdle

AUT University (NEW ZEALAND)
A recent research presentation at the Nation Library of Australia (Finn & Fraser, 2012) confirmed that there is wide interest in value adding to the ‘clunky’ look and feel of the basic Blackboard Academic Suite ™ software package used by many universities worldwide. This paper discusses the opportunities and challenges involved in developing a virtual learning environment (VLE) as a part of an ongoing Learning and Teaching Fellowship project in Aotearoa (New Zealand). In the context of this research, geographical isolation from the international research community remains a factor for places such as New Zealand and Australia, thereby the development of effective virtual delivery methods offers the potential of overcoming these barriers. This practice based action research involved the design and implementation of a Blackboard Academic Suite™ Course with a focus on exploring alternate methods of delivery which incorporate low cost (or free) technologies such as Skype ™. This paper reflects on the ad hoc customisation that was required to facilitate the delivery of a course via this online platform. The outcome was a re-designed version of the standard template which was able to support the experimental digital content that was being developed for fashion and textiles students at Auckland University of Technology (AUT). As a result of this experience the authors propose a set of heuristics for the effective re-design of such systems in order to make them more user-friendly and appealing to a new generation of students for whom technology is becoming increasingly ubiquitous.