Algorithm Literacy 101: A study by Project Information Literacy

A recent study, conducted by Project Information Literacy, looks at how college students see, use, and navigate the complex online information world, specifically the increasing use of algorithms to "shape and filter content."  Most students know that sites like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Google, use algorithms to collect personal data, however they find these sites too useful not to use.  The issue of these algorithms within social media and search engines is rarely mentioned in the classroom.  The Executive Summary, written by Alison J. Head, Ph.D., Barbara Fister, and Margy Macmillan, offers the following research takeaways and recommendations:

1. College students have an ambivalent bond with algorithm-driven platforms.
2. Students use defensive practices to protect their privacy.
3. Trust is dead for many students, and skepticism lives. 
4. Discussions of algorithms rarely make it into the classroom.

1. Use peer-to-peer learning to nurture personal agency and advance campus-wide learning.
2. The K-20 student experience must be interdisciplinary, holistic, and integrated.
3. News outlets must expand algorithm coverage, while being transparent about their own practices.
4. Learning about algorithmic justice supports education for democracy.


Report Title: Alison J. Head, Barbara Fister, and Margy MacMillan (15 January 2020), Information literacy in the age of algorithms: Student experiences with news and information, and the need for change, Project Information Research Institute.

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Beth Staats

Beth is one of three Reference Outreach & Instruction Librarians with Minitex. She holds a BA in History from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, and a Master's Degree in Library and Information Studies from the University of Wisconsin, Madison.  You can reach her by phone at 612-624-7873 or email at