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An Interview with Katie Gerstel, License and Learning Management Specialist

VictoryXR is dedicated to making content that helps make the lives of teachers easier. This is why we have an entire education department to consult on every product. Our VR content is made for educators, by educators.
Marketing Lead, Cassie Hauschildt, sat down with our License and Learning Management Specialist, Katie Gerstel, to discuss how having educators involved in the process helps create even better content.

Cassie: Okay, Katie, tell me why you were drawn initially to education.

Katie: Because I struggled as a learner growing up and that made me want to become a teacher even more because the teachers in my life worked so hard to help me grow as a person as a learner that I then wanted to do the same thing for others?

Cassie: Where is your experience in teaching primarily?

Katie: In elementary my licensure is k6 but I have had experience teaching both in and outside of the classroom in K12

Cassie: So you mentioned that you struggled as a learner? I think the obvious question I have to ask is if you had something like Victory XR do you think that you would have been a little more successful and needed fewer supports?

Katie: Absolutely. Yes, because I am dyslexic and so, the typical “read this understand it and regurgitate that knowledge” was not how I learned and it’s still not how I learned. But in the 90s, that was what was expected of every student regardless of their learning style or abilities. And so now, being able to have this immersive experience where I could go in and physically put my hands on things that I might not have had access to in my small public school would have given me the ability to learn in a way that worked for me starting at a much younger age.

Cassie: The place where you are unique here at VictoryXR is you’re currently running the initiative with our line of school grants. Currently we are starting to get our Tutoring Academy running in South Carolina. How is that going? Can you tell us more about that initiative?

Katie: So we got applied for and won a grant from the South Carolina Department of Education. We are using those funds to provide middle and high schools across the state of South Carolina with virtual reality headsets immersive curriculum and live tutoring sessions so far. It’s been going great. The students have loved being in these tutoring sessions live. The excitement and engagement is contagious. They are so excited to be there. Their teachers have said that students who have been disengaged pretty much since the beginning are starting to come back. And that was really the goal of this entire program, to address learning loss due to COVID and just the world in general right now, and we’re already at the very beginning of this program seeing an impact. And this is going to be a three-year program. So I think that the possibilities are truly endless.

Cassie: Can you tell us more about what exactly you’re doing in this program? I know that you’ve mentioned you’ve been going into headset and stuff, but can you give us more exact information? It’s not just a teacher going in with their class. It’s much more than that.

Katie: Yes, it is. So first of all each school that is part of our program was sent 20 Meta Quest 2 headsets along. They also received licenses for our VXRLabs platform and our VXRWeb platform and some of our VXR.Direct content as well. And so they have the ability to, like you said, use it with their teachers in a classroom. So maybe a science class is working on a certain chemistry topic, that teacher can take all of their students into headset and go run a chemistry lab virtually from the comfort of their school.

We are also running the Victory XR Tutoring Academy. And this is a time for students from all over the entire state of South Carolina to come together in small group tutoring sessions that are targeting learning loss, especially in Math and English Language Arts/ So one example is right now we have an algebra class going on. We have students coming in to headset twice a week for 45 minutes with a trained and certified teacher who is teaching them algebra content virtually. They’re doing hands-on the other day. They were working in our scales experience. So they were looking at different weights of objects and working through algebraic equations on using those materials.

Cassie: Can you tell me more about the differences you’ve seen between teachers just going in with their students and how the VXR Tutoring Academy has been happening where students are really going in and meeting new other students they’ve never met before?

Katie: So one thing that’s really cool is our tutors are from all over the world. They’re not based in South Carolina. So that brings in a whole new perspective and something that the students have really enjoyed learning about teachers they’re meeting and learning from. One of our teachers is based in Ireland. And one of the conversations I overheard wa, just kind of getting to know each other at the beginning of these tutoring sessions and learning about what his life is like in Ireland and comparing it to their lives in South Carolina. They’re also meeting students from all over the state and they are building relationships and connections that way as well. So this is a lot more than just academic content that they’re learning within the sessions. They are building relationships connections and experiences globally from their classroom. in South Carolina

Cassie: Even though you’re not in South Carolina with them, do you think these students are more excited to go to a tutoring session, which for many kids is probably not something they want to go to in a traditional sense. It’s probably a little embarrassing you’re obviously going here because you’re behind. Do you think that having this more fun and worldwide experience has made it something to look forward to instead of being something they’re ashamed of?

Katie: Absolutely, so I know that at least in the Middle School probably High School as well, PE and recess are the prime times of day. Those are the times that you do not want to miss. Those are the Social Hour. Our students were asking their teachers, “Instead of going to recess, can I join this tutoring session because I’m really interested in this topic?” And so I think that the fact that they are volunteering to come into tutoring sessions and missing out on other times throughout their day that they may be doing something that they previously thought was going to be more fun. 

Cassie: Is there any moment that has really stood out to you so far in your witnessing of these that is just something that you feel is going to? Not only carry you as you continue in your career, but you’re going to use this kind of inspiration going forward? 

Katie: Yes, so I got the chance to participate in one of these first tutoring sessions and I was in there with students who we ended up playing just a few games to kind of get used to some of the controls within VR and the spaces and we’re playing keep away with an Egyptian sphinx, which we could never do in real life, obviously, especially from South Carolina.

And the kids that in this session were so excited and so happy to be there and we’re starting to already make academic connections without any prompt from a teacher or any of the adults in the room. They were saying, “I’ve seen these statues in books before,” and then another student said, “Yeah, we read that King Tut book last year. I think that that’s what this is.” 

We were in our Luxor experience and students were looking at some of the writing on the wall in the room and they just started having their own academic conversation about the location that we were in that was completely authentic and made from what they were seeing and engaged by completely themselves. And so there was something about that that just really helped me realize that as teachers, a lot of times we’ll say that engagement is the hardest piece of Education. Once you’re able to hook students, the rest is going to come naturally. And I watched that hook happen without any involvement of any of the teachers in the room and that to me it gives me goosebumps. It’s magic.

Cassie: That’s really cool. So just by putting them in that environment and giving them the ability to interact they talked about what they learned about in the previous year.

Katie: Yep, and made connections and we’re excited and teaching each other things. without any involvement from anybody else

Cassie: That is so cool. Going forward knowing. What’s kind of on the radar? What are you most excited for in the rest of this school year, either with this initiative or in general?

Katie: I think with this initiative, I’m just excited to see more students experience this. I’m excited to see how teachers really start using it in their own classrooms. I’m excited to see more students and tutors come on board for the Tutoring Academy both in South Carolina and beyond I would love for this format of really the future of education to spread nationally and globally. I want just more students and teachers to have this opportunity because I really think that it Is the future of Education?

Cassie: Do you have anything else to add?

Katie: Just that I really wish we had this technology earlier. If this was something that was available to me growing up, I think that it would have changed my life then and it’s definitely changing my life now.

Cassie: Do you think that if a parent has a student who’s struggling, even if the school’s not utilizing this technology, it’s worthwhile to have at as an individual student?

Katie: Absolutely, I think for students who are struggling and those who are excelling. I think that this is something that helps engage students who may need just some extra excitement for learning. I think it’s a great opportunity for students who may need some support in certain academic subjects. I think it’s a great opportunity for students who are exceeding already academically where they’re at and offer extension for topics that they are interested in that maybe their schools just aren’t able to offer or offer yet. I think that the potential is Limitless, we can think about opportunities for test prep and things that are already options for tutoring in person and making it virtual makes it that much more accessible and exciting

Cassie: Perfect. Thank you so much Katie.