- Sharyn Merrigan, Katie Savinski
- Technology, Sociology
- Material Type:
- Activity/Lab, Homework/Assignment, Lesson, Lesson Plan, Teaching/Learning Strategy
- Middle School, High School
- Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike
Every Click You Make: Algorithms, Social Media and You (HS lesson)
In this presentation and discussion for high school students, students will learn a simple definition for algorithm and discuss the ways that algorithms shape social media content. Students will question whether the algorithms in their own social media allow them to pursue their interests or limit them. Students will explore ways to adjust settings, privacy and ad preferences to affect the algorithms in the platforms they use.
Overview and Purpose
Adapted from work by Jennifer LaGarde (@librarygirl) and Cassie White (teacher-librarian at TMMS in Olympia), the following presentation was used with high school students at a Media Literacy Symposium, at Avanti High School, Olympia, April 2023. Students learn what an algorithm is, how content that generates negative feelings tends to spread faster and further, and explore options and insights into their own social media algorithms on their phones.
This lesson and accompanying discussion can be completed in 45-60 minutes.
Washington Ed Tech Standards: Digital Citizen: Students recognize the rights, responsibilities and opportunities of living, learning and working in an interconnected digital world, and they act and model in ways that are safe, legal and ethical.
WA.ET.9-12.DC.2a - Students cultivate and manage their digital identity and reputation and are aware of the permanence of their actions in the digital world.
WA.ET.9-12.DC.2b - Students engage in positive, safe, legal and ethical behavior when using technology, including social interactions online or when using networked devices. WA.ET.9-12.DC.2c - Students demonstrate an understanding of and respect for the rights and obligations of using and sharing intellectual property.
WA.ET.9-12.DC.2d - Students manage their personal data to maintain digital privacy and security and are aware of data-collection technology used to track their navigation online.
Students will understand the basic definition of an algorithm and the role algorithms play in determining the content in their social media feeds
Students will apply two simple algorithms to hypothetical content to show how different types of engagement can drive the spread of information
Students will discuss ways in which their own algorithms may be determined by their online interests and activity
Students will learn where to look in their settings to get insights into and, to some degress, manipulate their own algorithms.
Whiteboard or other wall space
Scratch paper and pencils
Student personal phones/devices
Opener - Engage and relate to student social media use
|On the white board, interactive board, or other space, list popular social media platforms, such as Snap, IG, YouTube, Discord, Facebook, and others.Invite students to mark which apps they use regularly. The group can decide through discussion what “use regularly” will mean in this context.Make observations about the data and trends in usage.
Small group discussions - depending on size of class and level of engagement, either assign each group all three questions or jigsaw the discussionReport out highlights
|What different types of emotions/reactions have you experienced on these platforms?Do you think content creators intentionally design for these emotions/reactions? Why or why not?What are the specific actions that we take on social media platforms? [Prompt group with idea that actions might be liking, sharing, commenting, etc.]
Define algorithms in the context of social media
|Algorithms are a set of instructions, like a recipe. Social media companies do not disclose the exact algorithms they use - they are their trade secrets.
|Show video from beginning to 4:22
Small group discussions and share out
How do different types of engagement affect the spread of information?
|Students go to one side of the room or the other to indicate which post they think would spread more widely (slide 7)With scratch paper, students apply the algorithm to each post to determine which would be more popular.
Enragement → Engagement
|Discuss the findings that content that arouses strong emotion spreads faster and further. Why would this be?Share with students the top eight emotions that content creators incorporate to encourage sharing/engagement. What is missing from the list? Why?
Is the internet expanding your mind or limiting it?PBS Above the Noise, “Is the Internet Expanding Your Mind?”
|Ask students to create a t-chart on paper. One side is evidence that the internet is expanding your mind. The other side is evidence that it is limiting your mind. Evidence can come from the video with time to supplement with personal experience (Alternatively, use Sketch and Tell Eduprotocol)Show rest of video. Allow students to add notes and discuss with a partner.
How to take back control
|Share strategies for identifying and manipulating your social media algorithm
Where to get clues to your algorithms
|Share slides 15-18 or handout. Guide students to look for settings, privacy, and ad preferences in their favorite apps. Allow time to explore.
|Encourage students to share a tip that they discovered or an insight that they gained.
Use Eduprotocol Thin Slides in pairs or small groups. How is your social media feed shaped by algorithms? One word, one image, five minutes to create, one minute to share.