Evaluating VR Solutions for immersive learning in a course created in Moodle (Learning Mall)
Designing and implementing immersive learning experiences capable to embrace the potentialities of Virtual Reality (VR) technology represents tremendous challenges for educators who need to create and integrate VR contents into the course design.
This article builds on a practice-based research study conducted at XJTLU during the summer of 2023 aiming to evaluate four different types of VR technology solutions for immersive learning when integrating VR contents into a course designed on Learning Mall (Moodle). The research study is carried out as part of the XJTLU Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship programme. The originality of the research project is to combine the competencies of two separate groups of student-researchers. One group is composed of postgraduate students with background in educational technology who contribute to redesigning immersive learning prototypes in Learning Mall (Moodle) under the supervision of an educational developer. The other group is composed of undergraduate students who participate in the process of creating and integrating VR contents into the course design as observers and independent assessors of this process. The research methodology combines qualitative and quantitative approaches to develop an evaluation framework containing several criteria against which VR technology solutions can be compared with each other. These criteria include, among others, the level of user-friendliness and efficiency of the VR software used for the creation, customization, and integration of VR digital content.
Challenges for Educators
From the early stages of the introduction of constructivist learning strategies, experts have claimed that using advanced digital technologies, such as artificial intelligence or virtual reality, would improve the design and implementation of immersive learning experiences. However, many challenges arise when incorporating digital technologies into teaching practice, for example when creating, integrating, and facilitating VR digital contents in a Learning Management System (LMS). Which instructional strategies and/or models are available to educational designers to create immersive learning experiences? To what extent does the integration of VR digital contents necessitate to rethink instructional strategies and methods? How to ensure that VR content integration in the course design is really effective so that it can enhance learning performance.
Progressive Approach
Integrating VR digital contents into an existing course in Moodle (Learning Mall) to create an immersive learning experience brings several advantages. Firstly, instructional design should be underpinned by constructivist learning and contextual learning principles of instructional design which are strongly supported by Moodle (Learning Mall). Secondly, instructional designers have the flexibility to combine VR content with other digital learning technologies in the learning environment and process in a variety of ways. Finally, this allows a progressive approach to learning where the immersive learning experiences can be developed, tested, and refined through iterative steps and reviews of the immersive learning experience without being constrained by the supporting technical infrastructure. Integrating VR contents into an existing course in a LMS can be seen as better suited for pedagogy-driven instructional design strategies compared with technology-driven strategies where learning design is heavily dependent on the virtual learning environment, like 2-D or 3-D worlds.
Instructional Design
To evaluate VR technology solutions, student-researchers were provided with several course templates in Learning Mall (Moodle) which had been created based on instructional strategies and models for immersive learning, such as dialogic, supportive, or exploratory instructional strategies. To recreate authentic contexts, Classroom-As-Organization instructional model was applied. CAO is a teaching method  that can provide students with actual organizational contexts and problems to deal with. The course templates replicate the working environment of a real-life organization using in a virtual constructivist learning environment where learners conduct projects as if they were members of the organization. The projects aim to address problems that can only be resolved through interactions among co-members of the organization and where decisions need to be made during the learning process. For example, one of the course templates includes a course on Chinese History. In that particular case, the student-researchers with background in pedagogy adapted the course design by rethinking: learning objectives, learning activities, in relation with VR digital contents. According to Bloom's taxonomy, the instructional objectives in the course design were categorized into cognitive, skills and affective aspects. To complement the immersive learning environments designed for the learners, several learning activities were added in addition to knowledge acquisition, such as games, storytelling, poetry forms, mind mapping, or other activities to be completed in groups or clusters. Each activity is evaluated in terms of how well it supports digital technologies and/or VR materials to improve immersive learning.
For example, a junior high school history teacher from Beijing was invited as a consultant for the project. In order to enhance immersive learning design, the course redesign was completed by two groups of student-researchers simultaneously. One group redesigned three separate lessons on three different topics, and the other group focused on one of the topics, explored it in depth, and then came up with three more lessons with careful consideration of details and connotations.
Evaluation Framework
The research study aimed to develop an intuitive framework to evaluate virtual reality (VR) digital technology solutions. This framework was developped using qualitative research methodologies (focus groups, interviews, etc.). Examples of criteria included in this framework are: 
Additionally, the successful integration of VR contents into the course design in Learning Mall (Moodle) is evaluated at three different levels of instructional design components, namely: learning environment, learning process and performance tasks, as detailed below:
Research Methodology
Researchers were divided into four teams, each team working on a different VR technology solution: H5P(Team1), Nibiru (Team2), Matterport (Team3) and Uptale (Team4).) and course templates with different immersive learning strategies. Each team followed the usual steps to create an immersive learning experience, which are outlined below:
Different types of VR digital contents and modes of integration into the course in the LMS can be categorized according to their nature, degree of integration in the Learning Management System as well as frequency of use by learners (asynchronous, permanent, synchronous or asynchronous, sequential according to timeline or synchronous/real-time), at three levels of the course design: Learning Environment, Learning Process and Performance Tasks. This may include:
Research Plan
Researchers in each team were assigned roles to complete the different tasks of integrating VR contents into the course design. Instructional designers' roles were in charge of creating and integrating VR contents into the course of LMS. Digital content designers roles were responsible for creating video contents and exporting contents into the VR platform. Researchers' roles were to prepare for the team to report to evaluate VR solutions in relation to immersive learning and participate in focus groups and interviews with researchers from other teams. To facilitate effective collaboration between student-researchers and efficient progress, the research plan scheduled several crucial activities throughout the 5-week project in terms of weekly project team meetings, brainstorming sessions, field camps, and panel review sessions with external peer reviewers. Each project team presented its prototype of LMS-VR integrated immersive learning experience to a panel of internal and external reviewers to get feedback for further improvements.
Weekly meetings are intended to prepare for discussion on how to match the digital contents available with the existing course design and develop suggestions for changes to the course design or creation of new digital contents (including 360-degree videos, 360-degree pictures, 2D videos, 2D pictures, 2D slides as well as audio and other 3D objects) with other members of your team. Student-researchers were required to work collaboratively using a storyboard in Canva.
One student researcher was assigned to coordinate and facilitate various tasks that were pertinent to the advancement of the research project on campus: organizing and scheduling the field camps, coordinating the logistics including the budget, time, and location, and participating in the production of video content by introducing the team to the VR software and instructional videos and sharing insightful observations and feedback.
Immersive learning plays an increasingly important role in supporting innovative pedagogical methods and new philosophies of Learning and Teaching, like Syntegrative Education, in Higher Education Institutions. Integration of VR digital contents into an existing course design on Moodle provides a valuable alternative to existing immersive tools like Virtual Worlds. They allow a more progressive approach to immersive instructional design; in addition this approach can also greatly benefit from the latest technological developments in interfacing Moodle with VR platforms.
Our research studies could greatly contribute to developing a progressive approach to immersive instructional design and exploiting upcoming advances in VR technology with Moodle-VR integration.

Dr Jean-Yves Le Corre, Educational Development Unit, Academy of Future Education, XJTLU

Shaozhe Xu, Department of Computer Sciences, XJTLU

Jiaxi Xie, Academy of Future Education, XJTLU

20 October 2023

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