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The text is reading you: teaching language in the age of the algorithm

Jones, R. H. ORCID: (2021) The text is reading you: teaching language in the age of the algorithm. Linguistics and Education, 62. 100750. ISSN 0898-5898

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1016/j.linged.2019.100750


Most accounts of the way digital technologies have changed practices of reading and writing have focused on surface aspects of digital texts (such as hypertextuality, multimodality and the development of new registers). There are, however, less visible aspects of digital communication environments that have had an equally profound effect on reading and writing – namely the algorithms that lie behind texts that monitor the actions of readers and writers and alter the form and content of the texts they are exposed to. Algorithms have the potential to affect not just local communication practices, but also broader social practices, as they work to encourage and reinforce patterns of language use, communication and consumption. This paper describes the results of a two-year long participatory project, in which university students in Hong Kong and the United Kingdom explored the communication and inference forming practices they engage in when interacting with algorithms. The participants articulated six primary metaphors through which they and their classmates understand how algorithms work: 1) Algorithm as agent; 2) Algorithm as authority; 3) Algorithm as adversary; 4) Algorithm as communicative resource; 5) Algorithm as audience; and 6) Algorithm as oracle. Engaging learners in articulating the ‘folk beliefs’ that govern people’s interaction with algorithms, it is argued, can contribute to the development of the kinds of digital literacies they will need to better understand the ways algorithms affect the kinds of information they are exposed to, the kinds of inferences they form about this information, and the ways their own acts of reading and writing can be used by algorithms to manipulate them.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Interdisciplinary Research Centres (IDRCs) > Centre for Literacy and Multilingualism (CeLM)
Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Literature and Languages > English Language and Applied Linguistics
ID Code:86057


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