My work on the relationship between technological change and inequality in education focuses on the cultural processes that shape digital inequality in education, including two broad themes: 1) what it means to be good with technology and how that matters for inequality and 2) how organizations shape inequities in STEM education.

Overall, this work argues that researchers and policymakers should treat technological activity as contested terrain and critically interrogate how activity is valued and matched to social groups in order to better understand and address how technological change shapes categorical and intersectional inequalities and vice versa.

Technological Competence

The cornerstone of my research on the meaning of technological competence is my book, Redefining Geek: Bias and the Five Hidden Habits of Tech-Savvy Teens (April 2022, University of Chicago Press). Part of the methodological foundation for the research findings I describe in my book are based on a 15-item scale I developed called the Digital Adaptability Scale (Download PDF), which measures the depth and breadth of respondents’ technology learning habits by asking them to indicate what they do while learning new technologies. I published details of scale development in my 2020 solo-authored article in Social Science Computer Review.

Inequities in STEM

My work on cultural practices and inequities in STEM education examines how digital inequality functions both empirically and in broader theoretical terms. In a more empirical approach, in my 2019 solo-authored article in Harvard Educational Review, entitled, “CS4Some? Differences in Technology Learning Readiness,” I investigate to what extent schools play a role in the development of the five technology learning habits and, therefore, in preparing students’ for policies like the new computer science graduation requirement introduced in Chicago in 2016. Using survey data from the survey of 897 eighth grade students, I find almost no factors at school influence students’ technology learning habits. The one exception is schools that have technology plans, which indicate an organization-wide investment in technology learning. Instead, home practices influence adolescents’ learning habits more so than any other factor, suggesting schools fail to equalize differences in technology learning at home.

Extending this work on a more theoretical level, my co-authored 2022 article in Educational Researcher, entitled, “Sorting Machines: Digital Technology and Categorical Inequality” applies social reproduction theory to technology use in schools. In it, we argue that educational resources like digital technologies are sorted by schools much in the same way as social groups (race, class, gender). We show how educational institutions have long played a role in constructing the value of technologies to different ends, by constructing hierarchies of technological activity, like “vocational” and “academic” computer use, even activities are strikingly similar. We then apply this lens to three areas of inquiry in education research: the use of digital technologies for instruction, school use of student data, and college admissions. Overall, the paper provides a theoretical framework for understanding technologies as part of the reproduction of inequality in schools.

Other writing further my theoretical work on how schools sort technologies to unequal—and in some cases equal—ends. This includes a chapter with Dr. Rafalow in The Oxford Handbook of Sociology and Digital Media entitled, “From ‘Impact’ to ‘Negotiation’: Educational Technologies and Inequality,” which adds detail to the idea that schools sort both students and technologies and highlights the need for research that takes a critical perspective on the connection between school technology use and inequality.

Another article coauthored with Dr. Jennifer Nelson entitled “The Geek Instinct: Theorizing Cultural Alignment in Disadvantaged Contexts,” which appeared in Qualitative Sociology, looks at how schools sort technologies even in homogeneously low-income schools. Apply an organizational lens, the paper shows that the technology learning habits adolescents develop at home can open up technology learning opportunities in under-resourced schools, even when offerings are limited. However, students only gain access to additional technology learning opportunities if students are first deemed “good” and therefore deserving of these resources.

Turning to surprising cases of equity in STEM education, in my first-authored 2019 article in Teachers College Record with Dr. Brian Gravel at Tufts entitled, “Institutional Ambiguity and De Facto Tracking in STEM,” we examine variation in how schools sort technologies and learning opportunities in STEM fields by race/ethnicity and socioeconomic status. Specifically, we investigate why in a case study school in the Boston Area students’ mathematics placement—which is determined by students’ race/ethnicity and social class—also shapes students’ placement in computer science, but not engineering. We find that the equitable allocation of opportunity in engineering is based on what we call “institutional ambiguity,” where competing logics in the school ambiguously categorize engineering as both vocational and academic (higher and lower status) whereas computer science is distinctly academic (higher status).

Finally, in a forthcoming first-authored invited chapter in Gender Replay: Reflections on Youth, Gender, and Feminism entitled, “Making Space: Valuation and Gender Inequality in STEM,” also with Dr. Gravel, we add detail to our argument by describing how ambiguity invites the participation of groups historically marginalized in both vocational and academic forms of engineering, like a group of Haitian immigrant girls who are part of the main group of students that utilize the school’s makerspace and disrupt inequitable patterns of participation in engineering.


teachers in tech classroom with kids around a table working on a project


Keynote Address at Play Make Learn Aug 8-9, 2022

Keynote Address at Play Make Learn Aug 8-9, 2022

I'm excited to announce I will be a keynote speaker at the Play, Make, Learn Conference in Madison, Wisconsin Aug 8-9, 2022. Hosted by UW-Madison School of Education’s Department of Curriculum and Instruction and the office of Professional Learning and Community...

Emory Bookstore Book Launch April 21 at 4pm

Emory Bookstore Book Launch April 21 at 4pm

The in-person book launch is a panel discussion focused on equity in STEM education featuring Dr. Tamecia Jones, Assistant Professor of STEM Education at North Carolina State University and Dr. Kinnis Gosha, Hortinius I. Chenault endowed division chair for...