Skip to Main Content

Algorithmic Literacy: Activity

Explore the impact of unseen algorithms on the online content we see and the ramifications on privacy, discrimination, and political polarization.

Algorithmic Literacy Teaching Activity

Begin with a brief discussion of algorithms using the guiding questions below:
•    What do you already know about algorithms? What is an example of an algorithm you’re aware of?
•    What impact do algorithms have on you personally?
•    What impact do algorithms have on society?

Next, watch the Algorithms & Echo Chambers video, then give students the following directions:

1.    Log in to your Google account on your phone or laptop.
2.    Click the Data & Personalization tab.
3.    Scroll down to Ad Personalization and click the link to “Go to ad settings.”
4.    Under “How your ads are personalized,” scroll through the personal information Google has collected about you including your presumed age and gender, shopping habits, and interests.

Allow students some time to browse through the categories listed in their Google profile. Ask them to think about whether or not these categories are true to their identity, and what implications these categorizations might have on them personally. 

Seek out an article about how algorithms are at play in your discipline. For example, you might choose an article on college admissions algorithms for an education course, an article on criminal sentencing algorithms for a criminal justice course, or an article on healthcare algorithms for a pre-med course. Give students a link to the story or a printed copy; have them examine the story in groups and respond to questions such as:

•    What are the benefits of algorithms in [discipline]? What are the negative or harmful effects of algorithms in [discipline]?
•    What are the societal implications of algorithms at play in [discipline]? 
•    What can [members of discipline; e.g. educators, doctors, etc.] do to challenge or resist the influence of algorithms? What can you do to challenge or resist the influence of algorithms?
To conclude, watch the Algorithmic Literacy Strategies video and discuss how students might apply these strategies in their own lives.

Credit: This teaching activity was inspired by Dr. Abigail Koenig, College of Business, University of Louisville

Creative Commons License CC by NC 4.0

Citizen Literacy was created by Robert Detmering, Amber Willenborg, and Terri Holtze for University of Louisville Libraries and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-Share Alike 4.0 International License.