New paper out on “How Variation in Internet Access, Digital Skills, & Media Use are Related to Rural Student Outcomes: GPA, SAT, & Educational Aspirations” with Craig Robertson, Laleah Fernandez, Inyoung Shin, and Johannes Bauer. This extends our work at the Quello Center with our partners at a dozen Michigan school districts, and Merit Network, Inc. There is a lot in this one, but the highlights include:

  • For education outcomes, the benefit of using social media, video games, etc., for building digital skills outweighs any negative influences of excessive use.
  • Gaps in access and digital skills, not a homework gap hurts rural student educational performance. Social media skills (and digital skills in general) predict higher SAT scores but not classroom grades.
  • Dropping SAT for college admissions may hurt rural students. Discrepant SAT performance allows students with digital skills to demonstrate additional potential for success in higher education.
  • Rural students who spend more time on sports receive higher grades and have higher educational aspirations than those with more digital skills (but digital skills, not sports predict SAT scores)… fixing divides in rural broadband access only part of the challenge.
  • Rural students whose Internet access improved during the COVID-19 pandemic likely experienced lower academic gains than peers who already had broadband access, due to preexisting gaps in digital skill and experience with everyday media use.


Some have pointed to divides in the availability of fixed home broadband Internet access as a contributor to rural students’ lower levels of educational attainment. Based on standardized exams (SAT Suite) and a survey of rural Michigan students in grades 8–11, we find that rural students with broadband home Internet access are more interested in school and leave homework incomplete less often. However, the relationship to classroom grades (GPA) is relatively trivial. Yet, we find that students who are not dependent on a cell phone for Internet access and those with higher digital skills, especially social media skills, rank considerably higher on the SAT. Rural students with broadband Internet access are able to participate in a more diverse array of online media activities, which supports building digital skills. Any negative relationship between time spent on social media, video games, other digital media and educational outcomes is outweighed by the benefit to digital skills. However, aspects of rural culture; including the emphasis on activities such as sports, as a path to postsecondary schooling and upward, social mobility; may be stunting the positive relationship between access, digital skills, and educational aspirations. Whereas extra-curricular sports have no direct relationship to SAT performance, students who spend more time on sports receive higher grades and have higher educational aspirations than those with more digital skills. We discuss the implications for rural students’ access to human capital and how the unequal relationship between digital skills and performance in the classroom and on the SAT may perpetuate inequalities.

Excited to share my new paper published in the journal Social Networks. “A restricted multiple generator approach to enumerate personal support networks: An alternative to global important matters and satisficing in web surveys“.
Yes, it’s a mouth full. In short, this paper deals with a number of methodological issues related to the use of name generators for egocentric network analysis. Suggests a new name generator approach, addresses issues with current practices on Web surveys, and argues that this new approach may reduce mode effects across Web, phone, and in-person administration of name generators.


Overlooked issues in the selection and presentation of name generators may lead to extreme measurement errors in Web surveys. This paper compares networks elicited from the standard “important matters” (IM) name generator, which records alter names on one or five boxes per page, with a two-generator design and an alternative approach, the R5D. The R5D consists of five name generators focused on a range of topics commonly discussed as important matters. Each generator is restricted to recording one alter. Generally accepted practices in egocentric surveys result in inaccurate measures of network size and composition. They include the use of the stand-alone IM generator and advice to present a single name box to record one alter name per page. The use of a single name box encourages satisficing. The R5D is a parsimonious alternative with stronger construct validity. It has less measurement error, provides measures of social support, and enumerates alters with less slippage in importance than other approaches.

I’m a little behind on sharing recent publications. In collaboration with my colleagues at the Quello Center, we recently published a paper on digital inequality in Detroit, and a report on digital inequality in rural Michigan schools.

“Mobile Phones Will Not Eliminate Digital and Social Divides: How Variation in Internet Activities Mediates the Relationship Between Type of Internet Access and Local Social Capital in Detroit,” was published in Social Science Computer Review. This paper is the result of a study of four Detroit neighborhoods. We explored the relationship between type of Internet access, the variety of online activities that people participate in, and the relationship to local social capital. We found that breadth of access predicts participation in a larger variety of online activities, which is associated with higher levels of local social capital. Neither public Internet access, home broadband, nor Internet access through a mobile phone data plan alone affords participation in a full range of social capital-enhancing activities. The findings highlight the potential problems of initiatives that assume equivalent social outcomes through nonequivalent modes of access, such as providing Internet access through mobile phones in place of home broadband.

Broadband and Student Performance Gaps” was published as a report of the Quello Center in collaboration with our partners at Merit Networks. You can find a summary of the report here. The goal was to better understand the costs associated with poor or no home Internet access on rural student performance in grades 8-11. Based on surveys, home speed-test data, and student SAT scores, we looked at how differences in the type and quality of home connectivity (e.g., broadband vs. cell phone) and digital skills related to educational outcomes. We found that students who do not have access to the Internet from home or are dependent on a cell phone alone for access perform lower on a range of metrics, including digital skills, homework completion, and grade point average. They are also less likely to intend on completing a college or university degree. A deficit in digital skills compounds many of the inequalities in access and contributes to students performing lower on standardized test scores, such as the SAT, and being less interested in careers related to science, technology, engineering, and math. The timing of this report helped us contribute to the early policy response as schools moved online in response to COVID-19. Here is a link to our Checklist for K12 Schools Considering Online Teaching in Response to COVID-19.