Redefining Geek: Bias and the Five Hidden Habits of Tech-Savvy Teens (Paperback)
A surprising and deeply researched look at how everyone can develop tech fluency by focusing on five easily developed learning habits.
Picture a typical computer geek. Likely white, male, and someone you’d say has a “natural instinct” for technology. Yet, after six years teaching technology classes to first-generation, low-income middle school students in Oakland, California, Cassidy Puckett has seen firsthand that being good with technology is not something people are born with—it’s something they learn. In Redefining Geek, she overturns the stereotypes around the digitally savvy and identifies the habits that can help everyone cultivate their inner geek.
Drawing on observations and interviews with a diverse group of students around the country, Puckett zeroes in on five technology learning habits that enable tech-savvy teens to learn new technologies: a willingness to try and fail, management of frustration and boredom, use of models, and the abilities to use design logic and identify efficiencies. In Redefining Geek, she shows how to measure and build these habits, and she demonstrates how many teens historically marginalized in STEM are already using these habits and would benefit from recognition for their talent, access to further learning opportunities, and support in career pathways. She argues that if we can develop, recognize, and reward these technological learning habits in all kids—especially girls and historically marginalized racial and ethnic groups—we can address many educational inequities and disparities in STEM.
Revealing how being good with technology is not about natural ability but habit and persistence, Redefining Geek speaks to the ongoing conversation on equity in technology education and argues for a more inclusive technology learning experience for all students.
About the Author
Cassidy Puckett is assistant professor of sociology at Emory University.
"Redefining Geek will serve as an essential guide for a generation of educators who are grappling with how best to teach and lead in this technological age. Puckett draws on a deep data set to redefine what it means to be competent with technology, bust a pile of myths much in need of busting, and offer clear steps for helping students develop the habits they need to succeed in life, work, and play. This book will guide how we tackle digital inequality and support the learning process of young people of all races, ethnicities, and genders for years to come."
— John Palfrey, president, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
"Puckett is a terrific writer with a broad, precise, empathetic, and thoroughly researched account of technology education and where it falls short. In Redefining Geek, Puckett carefully dispels myths about natural technological ability and grit that perpetuate existing inequalities. She offers practical and innovative ideas to make STEM more inclusive. Providing fresh analysis with new stories and actionable examples, Redefining Geek is a smart, engaging look at what needs to change about education in order to bring about technology that benefits us all."
— Joanne McNeil, author of Lurking: How a Person Became a User
"Redefining Geek is essential reading for educators. Using evidence from extensive fieldwork with students and teachers in STEM programs across the US, Puckett deftly dismantles popular assumptions about the origins of technological ability. Through poignant quotes and engaging stories, Puckett reveals that neither 'natural' talent nor 'grit' can explain why some students are able to navigate the changing technological landscape and learn new technology tools and platforms. Instead, and building on prior research in the science of teaching and learning, Puckett shows that technological competence is the product of five key habits. These include: 1) being willing to try and fail, 2) knowing how to manage frustration and boredom, 3) using models to think through difficult problems, 4) asking why things work the way they do (design-based thinking), and 5) asking how things can be done more quickly or more easily (efficiency-based thinking). By uncovering the habit-based origins of technological competence, and by revealing how successful programs cultivate these habits in students (including in low-income students, Black, Latinx, and Native American students, and girls of all backgrounds), Redefining Geek offers a new way forward for those interested in tackling longstanding inequalities in STEM."
— Jessica McCrory Calarco, author of Negotiating Opportunities
"Through her solid research and her experiences with working with diverse student learners, Puckett does an exemplary job in helping readers understand and rethink what it means to be technologically competent. This is especially important considering our world is more reliant on technology due to the COVID-19 pandemic and having tech skills is essential. This knowledge and her guidance—coupled with a thorough examination of how our biases can further exacerbate the digital divide—is beneficial in designing tech educational curriculums and programs that are more inclusive and supportive to the diverse communities that they are serving. A must-read for any professional seeking to improve and advance technology education."
— Susanne Tedrick, author of Women of Color in Tech
"Cassidy Puckett understands that the learning disposition--how students feel about learning—as well as their perceptions of their ability to learn--a sense of efficacy—are critical to learning outcomes. In Redefining Geek, Puckett introduces a set of learning habits to help students develop a growth mindset in STEM learning. Through sound research and sharp insights, Puckett makes a convincing case that it’s not only important that students learn how to use the technology available to them today but that they develop the habits and mindset that will support their ability to use and design with the technologies of the future."
— S. Craig Watkins, author of the Digital Edge: How Black and Latino Youth Navigate Digital Inequality