Jeremy O'Shea

Applying Educational Technology in Technology Education

Category: Social Media and Personalized Learning

Overcoming the Roadblocks to Technology Education, STEM, and the Trades

Moving Beyond Cultural Barriers: Successful Strategies of Female Technology Education Teachers:

Moving Beyond Cultural Barriers: Successful Strategies of Female Technology Education Teachers by Ray McCarthy and Joseph Berger sets out to assess why female technology education teachers pursued the career path they did and explore why there is such low female representation within the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) and Technology Education fields of work and study. McCarthy & Berger used a qualitative research method by interviewing ten female participants of varying ages, all technology education (tech ed) teachers, and comparing their overall responses. The participants were asked questions over two interview sessions, focusing on their lives and upbringing and how they came to the decision to pursue a technology education/STEM career path.  A third combined interview concluded the interview process which allowed for the interviewees to discuss their thoughts and findings together. The interviewees were also tasked with keeping a journal over 14 days which documented influences and important transition points that may have led them to their career in technology education.

Pixabay, 2019

McCarthy and Berger (2008) concluded, based of the information provided by those interviewed, that the following should be done to encourage an increase in the growth rate of female representation in technology education and the STEM fields:

  • provide families and schools with information on the learning needs of girls
  • provide education for men and boys outlining the importance of including women and girls in STEM/tech ed.
  • Stress importance of male role models and encouraging female growth within STEM/Tech ed
  • Create opportunities for STEM to be used in the elementary school setting. Prepare teachers so that they are comfortable and confident with the subject matter and willing to share it with all students equally
  • Provide young girls, especially those without a male role model in their lives, with male modeling and support
  • Encourage more males to teach lower grades to balance the predominantly female teacher representation of lower grades.


Personal & Professional Connection:

For just over a decade I worked as a full-time journeyman carpenter.  I loved the work, but the job site can be a hot bed of sexism, among other things, like bigotry and racism. It is my belief that the extremely toxic culture on the work-site is largely one of the reasons many women do not feel comfortable there. As I reached my late twenties, I decided that I had had enough and that I wanted to help institute a change in the toxic work-site culture. I discovered the people I was working with were highly resistant to changing and felt very set in their ways. I concluded that change would need to come from a new generation. It was then I decided to pursue a career in education. There are, of course, other reasons for my career change but this one was very important to me and it is what drew me to the McCarthy and Berger’s article.


Interest, Problem, Purpose, Questions:

My experiences on the construction site have made me come to believe that “site culture” is far behind the times in regard to workplace equality/equity.  All too often there is a bigot, racist, and/or sexist, or group there of, who harass anyone who is “other” until they either quit or become one of them. It is because of this I became a teacher. My goals as an educator are to help change, not only attitudes towards women, but also for everyone on the job site, including LGBTQIA folks and people of all races, class, ability, religion, sex, and gender.

It is my predominant goal to help encourage girls/women to pursue a career in Technology Education, the STEM field, or Trades. I also wish to encourage others to let go of the toxic norms of yesterday which do not accurately reflect a woman’s value or ability. There are many ways I attempt to address this within my classroom. This could be as mundane as common daily interactions with students but can lead to full on lessons about the potential realities of the work site and respect for others. Daily, I endeavour to portray myself as welcoming and respectful to all my students. It is important that they feel comfortable with me, the other students, and the machinery they will be using. Everyone has just as much right to be there as anyone else. Everyone has the same right to design, make, and learn.

My inquiry into encouraging girls/women to pursue technology education, STEM, or trades naturally could expand to encouraging people of different sex, gender, race, class, religion, and/or ability to follow their passion for one of those disciplines. Technology Education, STEM, and trades, I believe, would be far better off with the addition of other points of view and ways of knowing.  Furthermore, it would help meet the growing need for people in those disciplines.


Collected Resources:

There has been several studies into women in STEM , tech ed, and trades.  Below are some resources I have collected and how they add to the discussion.  I have also added other resources which expand on my research for equity in my classroom.

  1. Men & Women and Tools by Marcia Braundy – Book & Video

This book dives deep into the toxic culture that can be found on the trades site and in technology education.  Using their experience and scholarly research, Braundy weaves a rich argument for change. Further, Braundy also created a drama which demonstrates the kinds of harassment and treatment women can experience on the work site.


  1. Toward Inclusive STEM Classrooms: What Personal Role Do Faculty Play?
    By Tess Killpack & Laverne Melon – Academic Journal

This paper sets out guidelines to challenge educators to overcome the cultural and implicit biases that are often held for STEM courses.  The authors provide a guide for educators to help assist in the adaption of syllabi, material, and approaches.

  1. Gender, interest, and prior experience shape opportunities to learn programming in robotics competitions by Witherspoon, Schunn, Higashi, & Baehr

This article examines girls’ interest in robotics and programming from elementary to high school.  The research highlights a drop off in female interest as they get older and concludes on potential ways to address that loss of interest.

  1. Googles Ideological Echo Chamber by James Damore – memorandum

This is a memo written by a google employee, James Damore, outlining why they do not believe that women will ever have equal representation to men in the STEM field.  I felt it was important to include this in my readings as it gives a very different interpretation that stands counter to my beliefs and many of the other articles collected.

  1. Considerations From Places Where Indigenous and Western Ways of Knowing, Being, and Doing Circulate Together: STEM as Artifact of Teaching and Learning By Borden, L. L., & Wiseman, D. – Academic Journal

This article challenges the Western assumptions and philosophies of teaching and learning STEM and presents STEM using Indigenous ways of knowing.

  1. Participation and achievement in technology education: the impact of school location and socioeconomic status on senior secondary technology studies By Steve Murphy – Academic Journal

Murphy explores the limitations put on STEM courses at rural schools caused by school location and socio-economic status.

Putting Social Media and Research Methods into Practice (Final Blog)

How Research Diaries Can be Used to Better Research and be Used Via Social Media/Online Blogs:

I have written diaries on and off in my life and I always find value in them. They are a great way to record your thoughts in the moment and to reflect on what you have been doing/learning in a meaningful way.  In the two summer courses I am currently taking, EDCI 515 & 568, I have been tasked with keeping an online diary (blog) of my reflections on the academic readings and class time. I feel this is a smart approach to the courses as it is extremely condensed, and the blog forces me to reflect daily, helping me articulate my thoughts and challenge my knowledge.

Research diaries, as discussed by M. Engin in Research Diary: A Tool for Saffolding, allow the researcher and opportunity to reconnect with earlier research in the point of view of the researcher when the observations were made. This prevents the researcher from retroactively altering the way they perceived their past research and allows them to connect with the research process in a stronger and deeper way.

Using a blog, such as this one, as a research diary throughout my master’s program will serve in a similar way, affording me the opportunity to reflect and reconnect with past work. Online and offline programs, such as OneNote, Diigo, Trello, or Zotero, can be used to aid in the moderation of research and organize it for later consumption.

I have used a diary system in the past in my robotics courses to help students keep track of their progress and to help them reflect on what they have and need to accomplish. I find that, despite initial resistance, students do find them useful and by the end are glad they put in the effort.  I intend employ the blog method in the coming semester, expanding on my previously offline method. It would likely ease the work load and allow other students to see what other groups are doing and respond to it, adding another layer of student critique, peer assessment, and the sharing of ideas.  This could in turn lead to further reflection and refinement of their projects potentially making them better.


Ethics, Online rights, and Responsibilities of Use:

The research and design diary system I have used in the past with my students has always been offline.  If I were to move it onto a blog based system or any other online method I would need to be sure to meet BC FIPPA Cloud Guidelines and be conscious of other online ethics concerns.  As a member of a public institute, I am required as a teacher and researcher to make sure my students’ personal information is kept safe from potential online threats. I would need to be sure to use either a service that keeps the information stored in Canadian servers or I would need to gain permission/consent from students and parents to allow for it to be stored elsewhere. This can be a problem when using sites like Google Classroom which are based in the United States.

I have a duty to my students to make them aware of the potential harms that can come with being online and sharing one’s personal information. They need to understand that what is posted to the internet can very rarely be taken off. They are leading the way into a new frontier and we are all playing catch up. They will be the first generation to have had the internet their whole lives and we are only now starting to understand the good and bad or what that means.

Continuing on the theme of research and ethics, Alexandra D’Arcy explores in IRBs, researchers, and the gathering of data from social media the importance of being an ethical researcher. We were fortunate enough to have Dr. D’Arcy, former head of the UVIC Ethics Board, join us in class to discuss ethics and research with us. She stressed the importance of maintaining high ethical standards in our research.  She made clear how difficult it can be at times navigating the line between private and public material/information when collecting data and when it is necessary to gain consent from the public to minimize harm, risk, and confidentiality breaches. I found it particularly interesting how, as a teacher, I can make observations of how lessons and projects go and then make changes based on the in-class research/assessment I do. But if I record that data and report it without consent from each individual student and their parent, I would be breaching ethical standards.  Her overall message was, if you aren’t sure it’s ethical you should ask the ethics board.


Professionals and Students on Social Media and its Potential Perceptions:

Research, such as George Veletsianos Public comment sentiment on educational videos and Women Scholars’ Experiences with Online Harassment and Abuse demonstrates some of the potential dangers that social media can pose for students and professionals. Velentianos’ research suggests that females generally receive more negative comments/social interaction when online. This research would make a great opener for discussion in a classroom on online social behaviour. Students could be asked: Do you believe these results are accurate? Why or why not? Have you experienced this personally? Have you been on both ends of online abuse? What can you do to prevent this kind of behaviour? I think it is safe to say that some social media like Facebook and Twitter can be toxic places and it is up to teachers/parents to inform ourselves and the next generation of how to properly navigate that negative space. It is equally important that we understand the potential abuse women and people of color can face in an online context.

In Twitter Use and its Effects on Student Perception of Instructor Credibility, the authors assert that students perceptions of their teachers/professors changed based on their Twitter use. Personally, I have always hesitated to use social media as a professional. This is perhaps due to my teacher education program instilling a healthy fear of teachers posting the wrong things and getting fired for it.  I think the growing pains of the wild west internet of yesteryear have passed though and it may be time to open myself up a little bit. I think, if utilized responsibly, Twitter and/or a professional blog, can make for a powerful way to connect with students and colleagues to share ideas and help one another grow.

Christine Younghusband, sets a strong example of how Twitter can be used in a positive way on her blog post Evolution of my PLN. Here she outlines the BC EdChat group and demonstrates how it can be used to improve ones teaching practice and network effectively online.


Inquiry Based Research / Learning in the Modern Era:

One of the many things that has drawn me to higher education is the opportunity to conduct a large inquiry project into a subject of my choice. A big part of inquiry-based learning is the research, so it is important to understand the different methods that can be employed. There are the more traditional quantitative and qualitative methods, as well as mixed method, autoethnography, action research, narrative inquiry, phenomenology, and metissage. All these methods have their benefits and draw backs, but I find myself drawn to the more people focused methods, such as autoethnography and narrative inquiry.  Education is a person driven profession and reducing people to numbers or objects does not adequately help the individual student. Perhaps in broad general terms quantitative methods would work best but to be precise in my research I would select another method with a more person centric focus. I find myself drawn to the narrative inquiry method as it, if written well, can pull the reader into the work and entertain while it educates. It can input more feeling and story where often most research is cold and attempts to be overly objective.

Higher based education is based on inquiry research and beginning to take roots at the lower levels of education as well. Jeff Hopkins, who has started the PSII high school in Victoria, or High Tech High in the USA have demonstrated impressive programs that are driven completely by inquiry based learning.  Much of the work I do is at least partially inquiry based as shop classes tend to favour that type of learning.  The practice of full on student led inquiry sounds amazing and I have had some students capable of it but certainly not the majority.  Some students refuse to take the reins to their education and need a lot of encouragement to be pushed into taking ownership of their projects.  Others have become too accustom to traditional teacher led educational systems up and get confused or lost when they are given the freedom to choose their topic of research/learning. Using the competency framework outlined by Jeff Hopkins and the inquiry structure of Trevor MacKenzie, I believe I can find more inquiry learning success in my classroom.

Oddly enough, I think I would need to create more structure in order to make it work.  Students need a clear outline of expectations and they will need proper scaffolding to get them there.  It will be on me to set them in the right direction with the right amount of resources to do the research they need to do.  They will need to learn how to research, work independently and thoughtfully.

Inquiry Based Learning in Practice

This last spring, I was fortunate enough to be a member of a school based ecological-literacy inquiry team. For one of our meetings we decided to visit a school on Saturna Island called the Saturna Ecological Education Centre (SEEC). There we met Martin Anevich, the programs lead teacher, and the several students under his care. They gave us a grand tour of their school’s property including dorms, a shared cooking/hang out area, and their solar panel set up which powers most of the small campus.

The students were encouraged by Martin to mingle with us, a group of teachers and administrators, and show us all the things they had been learning. Throughout the day I was shocked to see how engaged the students were and how motivated they were to be discovering new things about the environment around them and the visitors who had come to see their school. The students were dedication and had a desire to learn and inquire that really blew me away.

You can learn more about SEEC in the video below.

After watching Education as if people mattered, a TEDxTalk b

y Jeff Hopkins (@hopkinsjeff) and having an in class conversation with him, I wasn’t surprised to learn that Jeff was not too long ago the superintendent of the Gulf Islands School District.  This is the same district that the SEEC operates in. Jeff now is the principal teacher at the Pacific School of Innovation and Inquiry (PSII). PSII is a school based heavily on inquiry and self-motivated methods of learning/educating. As an educator I am always extremely intrigued and slightly skeptical at the success of heavy inquiry-based learning. In my experience, there are some students who thrive and excel in this kind of learning environment while others flounder and lose focus and even give up. I think a lot of the time the reason for students lack luster performance with inquiry-based learning is because they are not used to it and have not been trained to do it. For example, in my grade 11-12 woodworking classes students are given the opportunity to find their own project and pursue it. For some this leads to the chance to really test their skills and try something that they have wanted to do. For others, they can’t grasp why I am not assigning a project and ask me what they should make. I always try to work with them through a process of finding their own projects but there is often a small group of students who just refuse to take the reins of their education.

When I was at SEEC I noted that the students there all had to sign up for it and were not necessarily from the island.  These students chose to take on this specific kind of learning and for those that didn’t like it, they went back to their original schools.  I feel there is a lesson to be learned here.

After our class conversation with Trevor MacKenzie (@trev_mackenzie), (EdTech MEd student at UVic & Teacher at Oak Bay Secondary on Social Media to Support Inquiry) I realized that it is possibly a shortcoming of my scaffolding techniques that may be limiting my successful inquiry results. This did give me pause and force me to re-examine my inquiry methods. Next school year I plan to try and build from structured inquiry and work through a controlled and guided inquiry until the students are working at a free inquiry.

It wouldn’t take too much change and integrate this approach. Usually the first project we do we do it together. Next, I would provide students with demos, instructions, and other resources to guide the through their projects. The next project I would give them the goal (example: a table or horizontal surfaced piece of furniture) and the students would find the resources and instructions to design and build to that end goal. Lastly, they would come up with their own project and then design and build it.

Getting to meet and talk with Jeff Hopkins and learn from his experience as the lead of an inquiry school was very eye opening for me. It was interesting to see what he has managed to do and hear about the growth and changes that have taken place at PSII in the last 6 years since the schools opening. I was especially heartened to learn that his school does not pick and choose students to join but accepts students off all abilities and needs.  I love how the school encourages students to follow their own interests and encourage them to connect with community businesses and groups.  This is something I try to do in my own classroom, but I often am more limited in scope of people to connect with as Sooke, where I work, is a small community in comparison to Victoria.

Here is a link shared by Jeff which I intend to use to help guide me in the practice of inquiry:

Joining and Participating in Supportive Professional Online Communities

Blog Post: Evolution of my PLN

In her online blog, Christine Younghusband, shares her experiences in using a professional learning network (PLN) aka #bcedchat (Twitter) initially to find people wanting to develop professionally in her areas of her interest.  Those connections lead to the building of a support structure for her where she could connect, share ideas, and share support with others.

Christine describes meeting her Twitter colleagues in real life as an overall positive experience.  Because of Twitter and her online support group she was able to make quick real-life connections with group members and skip introductory pleasantries.  This allowed her to meet more people and have a deeper relationship with them, allowing for a more enriching professional development experience.

I am a member of a private Facebook collective for Technology Education teachers (members of the BC Technology Education Association aka BCTEA) which works in a very similar way to Christine’s Twitter support group and has seen a very similar evolution.  It started as a place to share project ideas and resources but very quickly grew into an online space to ask questions and professionally support one another in any way we can to better one  another’s teaching practice.  It has taken a rather loose knit community, that only met once a year at the BCTEA annual conference and helped many teachers within the province form strong bonds both professionally and personally.  For me it has been like a mentorship in that I can ask just about any professional question and I know that I will get many well thought out opinions in support of me and often in a very timely manner.

Much like Christine, because of this online group when members get together it is like we already know one another. We can meet as far closer friends than we ever would have when we only interacted once a year.

One thing the #bcedchat offers that the BCTEA Facebook group does not is the opportunity to set up guest online speakers and/or open moderated conversations to address varying topics for anyone who is interested in an online Twitter forum.  This is a great opportunity that allows teachers to professionally develop in a less traditional “professional development day” way and choose what they want to participate in based on their interests.  A fully laid out schedule of up and coming chats can be found here.  If you miss the conversation, they are catalogued here for later review.

I was fortunate enough to meet Christine in class via video chat.  Overall the experience was very pleasant and informative.  It was interesting to here her experiences with #bcedchat and how it had formed a community for her both professionally and personally.  Teachers need to support one another in their journey and #bcedchat is a beautiful way to do that, especially for teachers who may be for rural and secluded from other teachers.  IT also offers an opportunity to share all the differing styles and methods of teaching going on around the Province.

Most Likely to Succeed (2015) Film

The film Most Likely to Succeed (2015), directed by Greg Whiteley, documents High Tech High, a school with an alternative approach to education.  High Tech High operates under the belief that not all students learn the same way and that what students need to know is not the same as it was in previous generations.  They do this by focusing less on work sheets, text books, and testing and present students with bigger projects that encapsulate the learning outcomes.  The film generally depicts the school as forward thinking and leading students to the same or greater levels of success as other institutions.  Overall they depict the school in a very positive light.

It should be noted that the Most Likely to Succeed does have some flaws worth pointing out.  Firstly, the story mainly focuses on two students, one who succeeds and the other who initially does not meet his projects due date but then eventually manages to complete his work.  The school presents all the students as being as equally dedicated to their work but, based on my teaching experience, I find it difficult to believe that all students meet the same success shown in the film.  Secondly, the school is a charter school which may allow them to pick and choose their students which is not the reality of the Canadian schooling system.

In the Technology Education courses I teach (woodwork, electronics, robotics), I already employ many of the teaching methods that High Tech High uses, such as inquiry and project based learning.  Students are presented with a project or goal and then we work towards achieving it.  For example, in grade 9 Woodwork, students are challenged to make a cutting board.  We spend time researching design ideas and each student comes up with their own.  From there we learn about shop safety, machine use, and techniques needed to make the project.  This is all done hands on and with entire class participation.  From their the students work to make their project with guidance when required.  When we reach the end of the project students walk away with a new custom cutting board to bring home and they have learned how to use almost all the wood shops machines.  They might not know it then, but they have learned a great deal in a relatively short project which will come into play for nearly every other project they make.  This knowledge will help them think more critically when attempting future work.

Most Likely to Succeed talks about High Tech High’s focus on the soft skills, such as critical thinking, collaboration, learning from criticism, good work ethic, and how to work on your own.  All these skills are encouraged and developed in my classroom to the best of my ability.  It is extremely important to me that my students can overcome challenges on their own and in groups.   They need to work with respect for themselves, others, and the equipment they work with (which can be extremely dangerous).  A short coming of mine when helping students develop soft skills is that I often give answers too readily instead of allowing students work through the problem.  This is often due to time restraints.  I am getting better at not doing this, but I still catch myself giving students the easy road from time to time.

In the film there is some criticism about what High Tech High is doing.  Many parents are concerned about students doing well on academic tests that open doors to post secondary education.  I don’t believe this is nearly as much a problem in Canada as it is in the USA, but I can understand their worry.  They want their children to do well and go onto a successful career and low-test scores can hold you back.  Personally, I am not a believer in heavily weighted testing.  I have met too many smart people in their field who do terribly on tests to believe them to be a great indicator of knowledge learned.  That is further compounded by students cramming information before a test and then immediately forgetting it almost immediately after.  I have done this myself.  I consider myself lucky to teach a discipline (Technology Education) that rarely requires testing in the traditional sense.  I find that having a student build and work on a project to completion is a test in and of itself and is often far more fun and rewarding for the students and teacher.

One thing that it appears High Tech High does well is cross curricular education.  I have been searching for ways to do that with other teachers in my school, but it has been difficult to do with rotating blocks and a structured bell structure.  This coming school year I hope to team up with my school’s foods/sustainability teacher in making an automated garden with his classes and my robotics/electronics classes.

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