Compiled and annotated by Michael Saar, Peter Brunette, and Natalie Haber, members of the ACRL DOLS Research and Publications Committee.
Algorithms have become increasingly influential in shaping the way we access, evaluate, and use information. This collection of article summaries delves into the topic of algorithms and its implications for information literacy. The articles highlight the need to understand and critically engage with algorithms in order to navigate the complexities of online information, combat misinformation, and promote algorithmic literacy among students. The summaries discuss the impact of algorithms on truth, bias, and inequality as well as underscore the importance of integrating algorithmic literacy into information literacy instruction. These articles provide valuable insights for distance learning librarians to effectively equip students with the skills needed to navigate the challenging new world of online information seeking.
Bakke. (2020). Everyday Googling: Results of an observational study and applications for teaching algorithmic literacy. Computers and Composition, 57, 1025770. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compcom.2020.102577
This article, published in 2020, examines how search engines—particularly Google—affect people’s everyday research habits. Writing to inform composition instructors, Bakke (2020) reviews current literature on algorithms and search engines and questions whether traditional information literacy instruction practice meets the challenge of finding credible information on the internet. The author describes their in-depth observation study where they had participants use the internet to answer general health and medical questions, asking them to talk through their thought process and reasoning. The observations reflected that participants defaulted to and trusted Google, the search terms used affected the search process and results, and the ranking, familiarity, credibility, and relevance of sources affected what participants clicked. To complement information literacy with algorithmic literacy, Bakke recommends a search reflection assignment where students record themselves searching on topic and analyze the recording by making a search map.
- Students should be wary of giving too much trust to Google, as little is known about its algorithms, its data may reflect bias, and its main goal is to make profits rather than provide the most accurate or credible results.
- Algorithms are not neutral and can lead to harmful information, yet instead of avoiding or banning algorithms, we must become aware of how they operate, their limitations, and how we can change our reliance and use of them.
- Since most students rely upon search engines like Google to find information, and search engines use algorithms to provide results, instructors need to incorporate algorithmic literacy into their information literacy instruction.
Cotter, K., & Reisdorf, B. C. (2020). Algorithmic knowledge gaps: A new dimension of (digital) inequality. International Journal of Communication, 14, 745-765. https://ijoc.org/index.php/ijoc/article/view/12450
The study examines users’ knowledge of algorithms in the context of search engines. Algorithms have become powerful gatekeeping tools, which shape online search results, and are influenced by social, cultural, political, and commercial factors. The authors investigate how socioeconomic background plays a significant role in individuals’ understanding of algorithms. The study found that individuals with higher socioeconomic advantages, such as education and income levels, exhibited greater knowledge about how algorithms work compared to those with lower socioeconomic status. It also suggested that direct experience with online search provides opportunities for users to learn about algorithms, but socioeconomic disparities impact the frequency and breadth of search engine use, which in turn affects algorithmic knowledge. The study emphasizes the importance of understanding algorithms for information literacy and critical thinking in the digital realm, particularly in the context of online search.
- Algorithms used in online search engines are shaped by various factors and lack transparency, so librarians should educate students about their limitations and potential biases.
- Socioeconomic background influences individuals’ knowledge of algorithms and online search behavior, so librarians should consider and address potential knowledge gaps related to socioeconomic diversity.
- Hands-on activities and interactive learning experiences with online search can help students develop a better understanding of algorithms and become more critical users of online information.
Head, A. J., Fister, B., & MacMillan, M. (2020). Information literacy in the age of algorithms. Project Information Literacy, 15. https://projectinfolit.org/pubs/algorithm-study/pil_algorithm-study_2020-01-15.pdf
This 10th anniversary report from Project Information Literacy focuses on algorithms and their impact on information literacy education. The report includes a lengthy literature review which situates big picture transformations in the information landscape with the rise of algorithms alongside shortcomings of higher education in preparing students for navigating complex news and information flows. Results of student focus groups and faculty interviews had several interesting conclusions, including college students’ awareness of and concerns about algorithms. They found that many students worry about privacy and reinforced inequalities, and that “discussions of algorithms barely, if ever, make it into the classroom,” (p. 22). Recommendations from the report were somewhat far-reaching, but excellent to stop and think on for a bit. Most realizable and actionable was the recommendation for an increase in educational efforts about algorithmic justice.
- Algorithms have changed the information landscape, influenced heavily by big data collection, automated decision making, and artificial intelligence.
- Findings of student focus groups and faculty interviews reveal student awareness of algorithms and concerns.
- The report makes a call for increased knowledge of and education about algorithmic justice in a systematic way across all levels of student learning.
Lloyd, A. (2019). Chasing Frankenstein’s monster: information literacy in the black box society. Journal of Documentation, 75(6), 1475–1485. https://doi.org/10.1108/JD-02-2019-0035
This article, published in 2019, takes a conceptual approach to the examination of algorithmic culture and its implications for information literacy research and education. Lloyd (2019) works to weave together definitions of ‘algorithmic culture’ from a variety of perspectives in order to help answer the questions, “what do we need to attend to when considering algorithms and how do we provide information literacy education that provides resistance to the expansionist claims of algorithms, while at the same time ensuring that people harness the power of this culture?” The author provides an excellent overview of algorithms in relationship to truth and trust, to the social world of power and position, and its unavoidable subjectivity to cultural biases. She suggests building intentional algorithmic literacy into information literacy lesson planning, through the lenses of bias, trust, credibility, opacity, diversity, social justice, commensurability, and performativity.
- Algorithms work in the background of everyday life and lack transparency; and while algorithms make significant and positive contributions to society, there is a consequence and impact on social power and discourse.
- There is a critical need for people to develop the capacity to question and to understand algorithms.
- In order to address the concept of algorithmic literacy in information literacy instruction, librarians must take a critically reflexive approach to pedagogy.
O’Hara, I. (2022). Automated epistemology: Bots, computational propaganda & information literacy instruction. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 48(4), 102540. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.acalib.2022.102540
This article studies how algorithms and bots are used to push misleading information through social media and how information literacy instruction can address such propaganda. Through the lens of epistemology, or how we know what we know and how we assess our beliefs based upon new information, O’Hara (2022) explores how bots are used to manipulate what people think or believe for social or political reasons. The author identifies four “cognitive deficits” that assist the spread of disinformation: reception, information acceptance, cognitive integration, and sharing. Considering the ACRL Framework for Information Literacy and critical information literacy, O’Hara then addresses how each of these deficits can be addressed by information literacy instruction and active learning with concrete examples. The article calls for librarians to create instruction and work with students to recognize and address disinformation they may come across on social media.
- As individuals seek more information on social media, propagandists use bots in disinformation campaigns and drive users to engage with and share false content.
- Computational propaganda continues to grow and is capable of negatively affecting social, political, and economic issues on a worldwide scale.
- Librarians must reconsider how they provide information literacy instruction to cover algorithmic literacy and cognitive pitfalls that lead students to believe disinformation.