May 16, 2022

Project Information Literacy Begins National Study on Information Literacy Among College Students in the Age of Algorithms

Here’s the Full Text of an Announcement From PIL:

Project Information Literacy (PIL), a nonprofit research institute, is marking its 10th anniversary by launching a national study looking at the future of information literacy among college students. The research, conducted by Alison Head and Barbara Fister, will examine today’s information environment and the impact of one of its most defining features — algorithms — the endless lines of opaque coding that make lightening-fast calculations and decisions for and about us that affect the course of our everyday lives in both helpful and unhelpful ways.

Grounded in knowledge gained from PIL’s decade of large-scale studies on how college students find and use information for course work and in their personal lives, and more recently, on the interplay of journalism, new platforms, and trust in media, a special research report will summon educators to embrace the challenge of understanding new forms and channels of information beyond academia. A set of recommendations will be offered for three groups — librarians, educators, and journalists — that work where information and young adults intersect.

“When librarians and educators first adopted information literacy as an essential educational outcome, algorithm-driven platforms like Google, Facebook, and YouTube did not exist,” said Dr. Alison J. Head, the director of PIL and an information scientist and a senior researcher at the metaLAB at Harvard. “Now colossal online platforms with their invisible switches and filters have tremendous potential to influence our opportunities, what we see and learn, what we think, and ultimately, who we are.”

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and Harvard Graduate School of Education are supporting PIL’s latest research effort, the eleventh study for the influential PIL project. New data from interviews with more than 100 students and faculty on six different college campuses across the country will be included. Data will be collected about faculty and student awareness of black-box algorithms that are dramatically influencing the information they encounter and impacting their ability to distinguish facts from falsehoods in the news and information they may receive.

Concerns about the hidden power of algorithms have continued to mount in recent months for users of popular platforms. Early last year, a breaking news story revealed Cambridge Analytica used powerful algorithms to trawl through millions of Facebook profiles and develop a targeted campaign to sway users’ voting habits. More recently, Pinterest and YouTube are wrestling with decisions about content moderation in the face of misinformation about vaccines and the lightning-fast spread of extremist propaganda. Even platforms that control the complex proprietary code that determines what we see can be caught unprepared when the systems they designed to persuade shoppers are used to spread noxious ideologies. Students need to learn how algorithms affect the information that streams at them constantly throughout the day in order to be truly information literate in the 21st century.

“We are raising critical questions at a time when higher education needs to pay more attention to how profoundly our information landscape is changing,” said Head. “Our report will summarize key findings from a decade of PIL’s studies of more than 22,000 U.S. students while asking some deeper questions about preparing today’s students to participate in sharing and creating information responsibly as citizens in a changing and challenged world.”

The open access report, due out in mid-December, will shed light on these and other important issues and make recommendations for a way forward in the age of algorithms.

Source News Release

Learn More About the Project
2 pages; PDF.

A Selection of infoDOCKET Posts re: Project Information Literacy Research/Reports

“How Students Engage with News” (October 16, 2018)

Video: “When Searching Is Social: A Panel Discussion with Alison Head and Alex Halavais” (February 22, 2016)

What Happens After College? Project Info Literacy Releases Lifelong Learning Research Report (January 5, 2016)

“What Information Competencies Matter in Today’s Workplace? (May 13, 2013)

Listen Online: Dr. Alison Head on Modeling the Information-Seeking Process of College Students in the Digital Age (1/17/2012)

“How College Students Manage Technology While in the Library During Crunch Time” (October 13, 2011)

About Gary Price

Gary Price ( is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.