Algorithms are everywhere; we depend on them to filter information for us. There is so much information produced every day on the internet that we need help to sort through it, to find the important information and bring it to our attention. Every time we install a new app on a device or sign up to an email list we are activating an algorithm and giving it permission to send us information often based on preferences we assign.
When we use an app we also give it permission to collect data on us. Spitz (2012) advises us that mobile phone companies collect data on us, such as phone logs, location based data, contacts etc. all of which could be used to create a profile of our daily lives and movements and networks. In essence, it is a trade – our data in exchange for filtered information.
Algorithms do more than just filter data. There are learning algorithms (Zarkadakis, 2015) that are teaching the next generation of robot to become smarter. They can be creative – write poetry and stories (Podolny, 2015), or play music and dance (Bretan, 2015). They are even giving us, humans, cause to make physical changes to the environment so that they can work more efficiently (Slavin, 2011).
But is the field of education keeping up with the rest of society in its use of algorithms? Or are educators ‘behind the times’? (Selwyn, 2011). With the relatively recent advent of MOOC style courses we now have a resource of ‘big data’ that can be used to identify and categorise student behaviour (Knox, 2014).
MOOCs are generating vast databases of information for researchers to interrogate, but inevitably, anything new has ethical implications that need to be dealt with.
Bretan, M. (2015) “What you say” – A robot and human musical performance. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O-bjTfYILPs [Accessed 15 March 2015].
Gillespie, T. (2012) The Relevance of Algorithms. In: T. Gillespie, P. Boczkowski, & K. Foot (eds.). Media Technologies. [online]. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Available from: http://www.tarletongillespie.org/essays/Gillespie – The Relevance of Algorithms.pdf.
Knox, J.K. (2014) Active Algorithms : Sociomaterial Spaces in the E-learning and Digital Cultures. Campus Virtuales. 3 (1), pp. 42–55.
NYTimes.com (2015) Did a Human or a Computer Write This?. Available from: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/03/08/opinion/sunday/algorithm-human-quiz.html [Accessed 13 March 2015].
Podolny, S. (2015) If an Algorithm Wrote This, How Would You Even Know?. Available from: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/08/opinion/sunday/if-an-algorithm-wrote-this-how-would-you-even-know.html [Accessed 13 March 2015].
Selwyn, N. (2011) Does technology inevitably change education? In: Education and technology: key issues and debates. London: Continuum International Pub. Group. pp. pp. 20–39.
Slavin, K. (2011) How algorithms shape our world. Available from: http://www.ted.com/talks/kevin_slavin_how_algorithms_shape_our_world [Accessed 16 March 2015].
Spitz, M. (2012) Your phone company is watching. Available from: http://www.ted.com/talks/malte_spitz_your_phone_company_is_watching [Accessed 13 March 2015].
Zarkadakis, G. (2015) Games Arcade Spurs Robot Evolution. Available from: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/george-zarkadakis/garobot-evolution_b_6837378.html [Accessed 13 March 2015].