NARRATE: learNer Agency emeRgence thRough Algorithm liTEracy

PROBLEM: Algorithmic systems shape every aspect of our daily lives and impact our perception of the world. Actions we perform online are governed by algorithms, from the news we see to the products we buy and interact with, often needing an awareness of exactly when and how we are influenced by algorithmic decision-making. Despite their technological origins, algorithms are increasingly considered autonomous actors with power as emerging tools of public knowledge and discourse with the power to shape realities and societies. Leading scholars insist that algorithms be considered embedded within a complex ecosystem with shared agency between humans and software that continuously shape each other.

Algorithms are used in education to improve teaching, assessment, and feedback. For example, algorithms analyze student data to personalize learning and create customized curricula tailored to students. Intelligent tutoring systems use algorithms to give students instant feedback and guidance as they complete assignments. In assessment and grading, algorithms automatically grade multiple-choice tests and analyze student writing to provide grammar, spelling, and style feedback. However, Algorithm literacy –an awareness of algorithm use, knowledge about algorithms, ability to evaluate algorithms critically, and ability to apply coping behaviours when engaging with algorithmic systems  – is a vital competence for navigating life in the 21st century.

CONTRIBUTIONS TO RESEARCH: Our conceptualization of algorithm literacy extends beyond algorithmic thinking by including the analysis of algorithmic bias and equity and incorporates the concept of digital Bildung – – the process of digital self-cultivation, self-education, and personal development through education and cultural experiences. If students are to become capable of identifying credible information, applying ethical values and attitudes in their communications and interactions, and establishing a reflective relationship to cultural differences, values, and rights; they must develop algorithm literacy to protect from digital manipulation. Through this SSHRC Insight Development grant, this project aims to examine how middle school students experience and perceive algorithms as a part of everyday life. Algorithmic systems, such as social media, raise the question of the extent to which individuals have sovereignty and autonomy over Self in this human-algorithm relationship. This project explores the human-algorithm relationship with middle school students, including whether students know about algorithms, how they factor into their everyday lives, and what algorithm literacy they possess.

IMPACT: The potential of this research to make a considerable impact on education is manifold. This project will deepen our understanding of algorithm literacy among middle school students, provide evidence for the importance of educating about algorithms and their impact on everyday life, provide formative feedback to teachers about their student’s algorithm literacy level, and educate teachers on how to take the next steps in learning and then educating about algorithms for themselves and their students. Ultimately, the NARRATE project will contribute empirical evidence of how middle school students engage with algorithmic systems, such as social media, and provide insight into the extent to which middle school

Project Team

Jillianne Code, PhD

Principal Investigator
Rachel Moylan

Rachel Moylan

Co-Investigator & PhD Student


Research Assistant

Made possible with funding from

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