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The VictoryXR Show – Salim Ucan of Global Town Schools Joins To Discuss VR Education

Steve Grubbs: Welcome to the VictoryXR Show. I’m Steve Grubbs, your host. And today, we have a fascinating new endeavor, really a paradigm shift in the way education is delivered. And it’s about what is called Global Town School. And our guest here today is Salim. And Salim is both the founder and also running and managing the schools. Salim, you say it, Ucan?

Salim Ucan:  Yes, Ucan. Salim Ucan, yes. 

Steve Grubbs: Okay, perfect. And Salim, give us a little bit about your background and tell us what the school is doing and why it’s such a revolutionary step forward. 

Salim Ucan: Sure, absolutely. First of all, thank you for hosting me and giving me the opportunity to share not only about myself, but also about Global Town School. Steve, I very much appreciated. So, I call myself a practitioner with a PhD with some academic background. I have been in practice. I was a teacher, a school principal, and a superintendent. I’ve been in education for the past 26 years.

It was mostly in public education. And I had a short period of time where I was a principal of a private school in Chicago. Most of my career has been in Chicago. And I was more on the ed reform side of education. We developed schools, established schools before. I was the founding principal of a charter school in actually in Chicago, which became very successful. Now, it’s the highest-performing charter school in the state of Illinois. 

And we always were interested in developing models that were innovative, that were student-centered, that were effective in terms of producing results. And that was kind of the idea behind the whole charter school movement anyways. And then, from 2009 to 2016, I was the vice president of a large school network with 30 schools, 14,000 students in the Midwest. My responsibility was strategic growth and development. I was the spokesperson for the organization. 

And I stepped down from that role in 2016 to go back to school. And I, with my family, moved to Columbus, Ohio, and attended the Ohio State University for four years, studied full time in a PhD program in educational administration. I finished that right when the pandemic started in 2020. And then I took a superintendent position with another school network here in here in Columbus, to only, you know, leave that job to establish Global Town School in September of last year. So, it’s been almost a year that I have been working full time on establishing Global Town School. 

Steve Grubbs: That’s great. Global Town School sounds, just the name of it, sounds like a really big concept, a big idea. Now, I know that there have been online schools for 30 years, or 20 years, you know, the remote schooling. What you’re doing, how does it differentiate from what’s been in the market for a while? 

Salim Ucan: So yes, we studied the online school market, if you call it, for lack of a better word, you know, how many online schools are there, what do they offer, and how many students do they have? Because we kind of like came up with the model first, a flexible, a personalized model, that is highly flexible, very student-centered, but at the same time high quality educational experiences that delivers that type of experiences. 

And we wanted to offer something that not many other schools offer. So, we offer a full experience of students from sixth grade to twelfth grade. They can do full time with Global Town School or they can take courses. And the Global Town School provides a quality experience in a flexible and a very personalized way. When I say personalized, we’re talking about the curriculum being developed around the school, around the child. So based on the students’ interests, strengths, passions, and goals, that’s what the program is designed around. 

We do have, like still, we have some standards, minimum graduation requirements of 22 credits, but within the 22 credits, how those are designed is exactly based on students’ needs, goals, and interests. We are talking about flexibility. Students can determine their own schedule, they can determine their own calendar. No two students at Global Town receive the same education. 

Or we don’t have the concept of a school calendar because every student has their own school calendar. If you are a student who is involved in something serious outside the school, whether that be sports, music, art, acting, or horse riding, whatever, then you can make your schedule. We have some students right now, for example, they are running small businesses. So therefore, they dedicate Monday and Tuesday to their small business, but they work through the weekend on their courses with us. So that’s possible in Global Town. 

Steve Grubbs: So, let me just cut you off a little bit here. If you were to boil it down for our listeners, two or three things, can you just give us bullet points on those differentiators just so we can synthesize it all? 

Salim Ucan: Absolutely. Two of our differentiating factors. One of them is a comprehensive coaching program that we have, like that’s second to none. And we’ve talked about almost students having a life coach, someone who supports their not only academic goals, but also personal goals and personal growth. 

Steve Grubbs: [Inaudible 07:08] one.

Salim Ucan: So, that’s very…So the coach, which we call a success coach, is the person that the students deal with the most in our school. They meet on a regular basis multiple times a week, and then they develop goals and coach provides support to accomplish these goals. 

The second differentiating factor is we use virtual reality for two purposes. One, to enhance student learning, and second, to provide social interaction opportunities between students, between teachers, and to build a community. 

Steve Grubbs: And so let’s break those down. So, I love the idea of a coach. Typically, when I was in school, we just, “Oh, you’ve got a school counselor.” And you go and see your counselor and they’d say, “You’re on the college track. You better take these courses, blah, blah, blah. Or you’re heading into the trade, so maybe you better get into shop class.” So, it sounds to me like this is a little different than that. 

Salim Ucan: It is. It’s very student-⁠centered. And so if the students goal is to, you know, get into a certain specific college, or like I want to get into one of the top colleges, we start from that goal. The coach starts from that goal and kind of like reverse engineers a path, an academic path and a personal path to get the students there, starting from middle school and starting from ninth grade. 

That includes building a digital portfolio. To the extent, you know, what type of books you need to read to prepare for that outside the school. It focuses on soft skills, what internships, what other opportunities are there that we can match you with so that as you grow and take your courses from us, you can also be part of, you can also participate in these internships or in these other opportunities in your locality?

Steve Grubbs: So a more holistic approach, perhaps. 

Salim Ucan: It is. It is a more holistic approach. I can give you an example, like one of my students that I coach right now, he’s in ninth grade. And I want to put that in perspective in terms of what personal growth means. He came up with this goal of, goal by himself. He said, “In order to accomplish my long-term goal, I need to use my time better now.” “What do you mean? What does that mean?” “I think I spent too much screen time, too much time on social media.” 

And then get the data and then we develop a strategy to reduce that over time in a couple of weeks to reduce it to the level that he wants to be. He, himself, coming up with this goal. So that’s an example of how the coach helps even with personal growth, study skills, organizational skills, how to use your time better to accomplish your ultimate goal. 

Steve Grubbs: Yeah, okay. So, I’m going to use a couple of terms of jargon, education jargon, which some of our listeners will know, but some might not know. So asynchronous versus synchronous learning. And I would like you to talk about which parts of Global Town School are asynchronous, which are synchronous. 

And then just for our listeners, asynchronous just simply means the student is learning on their own. Typically, it is an online or remote course that they’re taking by themselves. Synchronous means it’s very traditional. You’re in a group setting. You can talk to others. You have a live teacher that you can interact with. So talk a little bit about how you approach both asynchronous and synchronous learning. 

Salim Ucan: Sure, absolutely. Most of our classes are asynchronous students. It’s self-paced, students study on their own. And another thing about Global Town School, it’s designed for high-performing students who do not necessarily want to complete seat time in a physical building. If you take Algebra One, and if you have the capacity to finish Algebra One in four months, in a physical, in a traditional school, you still have to sit in that class for the whole year to finish that course. Our school is course based, so you could finish it in four years and move on to the next course. 

So most of the class are asynchronous, but within asynchronous classes, 80% of the assignments and homework is auto graded, 20% are teacher grade. So, we still have teachers interacting with students, but not in a traditional sense. So, student teachers still grade assignments and give feedback to the students.

Another thing, like, as the coach works with each student, and if the student struggles with something, gets stuck in a topic, then the coach arranges academic support, utilizing our content experts and content teachers to get the help to that particular student. But our expectation is that students are going to be able to study on their own and progress on their own. 

Steve Grubbs: So, I’m going to pause you right there and just give you one little additional thing that we’re adding to our VictoryXR offerings, we will be adding. So, let’s say that the student is doing algebra, you know, I remember when I took algebra, there were questions I had in the moment when I was learning that I didn’t understand and I could raise my hand and ask my teacher. We are adding conversational AI teachers, so that if a student is in a one of our virtual reality spaces and they need to raise their hand and ask a question, they just ask the teacher, who only has knowledge of that subject and they can’t ask him about what’s happening in Pakistan, but they can ask them about algebra. And so that’s something that we think is going to make a big difference in the future, especially for asynchronous learning. 

Salim Ucan: Absolutely. And we look forward to utilizing these features that you’re building. We love it. And other than, you know, just go back to your question, which is also related to the personalization. Also, our teachers, based on students interests and what they want to study, they create synchronous classes as well. 

So, if you have two three students who are interested in the same subject, and it might be a unique topic, it could be a multi-disciplinary study, our teachers are able to create that course for the students and put three of them together so they can take that course in a synchronous model. 

Steve Grubbs: Great. Okay, so talk about how you integrate virtual reality and synchronous learning. 

Salim Ucan: Sure. And so the way we implement and utilize virtual reality is for two purposes. One, to enhance student learning, especially…So we are developing content, our teachers are developing content towards conceptually hard to understand topics in classes that our students are taking. 

So as a student takes a course, asynchronously or synchronously, they’ll come across an activity in that unit and say, okay, go to VR, go to VictoryXR and complete this activity with your teacher and come back. And these platforms, they speak to each other. Once the activity is completed in VR, the online learning management system that we use, puts a check mark that it’s been completed now that the student can move on to the next topic or next section. So that’s one purpose that we use it for. 

The second purpose, which—and these purposes, they kind of stemmed from challenges of online education that we faced, whether personally when our kids went through the online education during COVID or based on our professional experiences. The second one is to bring social interaction opportunities into online education to a certain extent. 

Of course, it never replaces the actual physical experience, but VR, as you know, makes it more immersive. It creates a whole different level of experiences than the kind of experience we have right now through Zoom, which is still on a flat screen. 

So we use the VictoryXR’s Academy. We also have another campus that we use. We bring students together. Those are purposeful activities, purposeful gatherings in those campuses, in different spaces in those campuses, whether that’s a classroom or an auditorium or a garden where students can come together and they can present to each other. They can collaborate with one another. And sometimes our coaches also conduct their coaching sessions in VR rather than over Zoom or Google Meet. 

Steve Grubbs: So, I love that. And I always tell people, the synchronous or group version of what VictoryXR provides, you can break into small groups, you can fist bump somebody, you can do all of these things that are interactive and social just like you would in the real world. 

And you should also know that we’re going to give you free access to VXR Labs, which has the IB chemistry, IB biology, and that type of thing to begin exploring and try. And we should be able to give you access to that by August 1st, if not before. So that will, I think, make a big difference when you want to learn chemistry and biology and those things in a group setting or in an asynchronous individual setting. So, tell us, Salim, if somebody’s interested in learning more about Global Town School, where would they go and how would they find out more?

Salim Ucan: So absolutely. I mean, as an online school, our website is our biggest asset, right? So, it’s www.global.town. So it’s global.town, our extension is town. They can definitely go to our website. There’s a lot more information about what makes us unique, what we offer, they can apply. Some of the things that we currently offer, like for example, parents can find out how much of a scholarship they may likely get from us before they even apply. They’re a call-to-action item on our website that they can click on and fill out a form, submit, and they can get an idea as to how much of a scholarship they are more likely to receive from us. 

We are looking for—again, our school is designed for student athletes, entrepreneurs, musicians, and actresses, and high-performing students who don’t want to complete seat time, they want the personalization, they want the flexibility. And based on their backgrounds and based on their academic performance, they can get scholarships from us. 

Our tuition is $16 ,000 for full-⁠time students. Students can take part-⁠time courses, which in that case, the pay per courses. But they can also get the coaching itself, which has another price. So they have three options: they could be full-time, they could take courses from us, or they could take coaching from us. Sometimes students are happy with their educational setting, but they don’t necessarily, as you mentioned earlier before…

And I went through this experience myself for my kids. I live in a suburb in a relatively high-performing district. Two daughters are in college now. Throughout high school, they met with their counselors once or twice. They never got that personalized attention, because on average, a counselor in a typical public school deals with 350 students, 370 students. 

Here, you get your own full-⁠time success coach starting early in 9th grade and even earlier and working with your child throughout the high school. If I had that type of service when my kids were going through high school, I would have paid for it. 

Steve Grubbs: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I think what you’re doing is the future. I think the future of education is going to be a lot that’s remote. The fact that you’ve integrated, you’ve solved the problem of hands-⁠on learning even though it might be online or remote. That’s a big part of the solution. So, Salim, congratulations. We look forward to watching your path to success over the next few years. 

Salim Ucan: Thanks. I appreciate it. We value our partnership with VictoryXR and look forward to, again, adding more, strengthening that relationship and utilizing more futures that you’re adding in your platform. 

Steve Grubbs: Excellent. Well, again, thank you. And to all our guests, thanks for listening today. We have another big podcast coming up with one of Steve Jobs’ sidekicks, as we learn about the new Apple headset. So check that one out as well. It’s with Barry Waitte. So, thanks all, and we’ll see you next time.