Algorithmic literacy: Developing a heuristic for algorithmic literacy in the technical communication classroom and beyond



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This study explores the ways that Technical Communication students engage with everyday algorithmic platforms, such as Google search, Facebook, Amazon, and others. The purpose of this study was to 1) understand what types of algorithmic literacy practices students engaged in, 2) understand what the students knew about their own practices and engagements with the algorithmic platform, and 3) create guidelines for informed algorithmic literacy practices that could be implemented into the class room. To approach this study, I collected media journals from two classes of Technical Communication majors at a mid-sized Gulf Coast university taking one of two online writing courses over the summer of 2018. Within the journals the students were given specific prompts about an algorithmic platform and asked to reflect on the practices they engaged in during the journaling period. Following the collection of the journals, I conducted semi-structured interviews with a small subsample of students. The results of this study suggest that students have a basic understanding of the ways that algorithmic platforms function, yet they do not have significant awareness of the critical implications of these algorithmic platforms, nor do they quite understand the rhetorical moves available within their engagements that is until they were required to write about these engagements. The act of writing about their engagements improved their algorithmic literacy awareness. Further, in the follow-up interviews, I identified three conflicting beliefs about the roles that the algorithmic platforms played in their lives. This conflict suggests that the students had some awareness of the implications for their engagements, yet the convenience of using these platforms hindered the bulk of their desire to improve their algorithmic literacy practices.



Algorithm, Digital rhetoric, Online platforms