The purpose of this presentation is to define a new information literacy pedagogy that emphasizes the power of bias that manipulates the research process. Blending these theories transcends traditional information literacy pedagogies and provides librarians a path towards a curriculum that addresses power and bias in the information landscape by explicitly teaching computer code
By blending interdisciplinary theoretical frameworks and learning outcomes, this paper identifies the need to explicitly teach computer code as a socio-cultural phenomenon that reveals how human and computer-generated bias manipulates the research process.
The theoretical approach to this pedagogy is found at the intersection of Critical Race Theory (CRT), Critical Code Studies (CCS), and Critical Librarianship (CL) which examine socio-political power constructs of access.
This section is all about computer code, about 7 slides Before we tackle the theoretical, we need to spend a moment to examine what we mean by code . More importantly we need to think about how code influences the research experience.
Code is more than the seemingly innocuous binary sequences of 0’s and 1’s.It comes in many shapes and sizes and is written for many purposes.
Computer code is a generic term that refers to the collection of signs, symbols, and syntax that makeup a particular computer language.
The complete language set is referred to as code, or source code. Like natural language, code and has a set of rules, symbols, syntax, and rules for usage and is meant before anything, to be read and understood by humans. (Matsamuto, as cited in Chana, 2014, 114
Computer programming language is architectural and provides the instructions framework for a computer to perform tasks through a series of symbols and logic sequences. It provides instructions as to how a computer is to interpret various inputs (keystrokes, mouse clicks, etc.) and provide desired outputs.
Examples of programming languages include Java, C++, and Python.
Computer markup language is more a design language than a language to execute functions and tells a program how to label, interpret, or display information. HTML is a markup language that tells a browser how to display that information.
Code can also refer to the descriptive languages such as taxonomies and metadata that label information. Code also refers to the sets of logic functions found in algorithms that interpret machine generated descriptive languages or user input.
Quality code should is determined by “brevity, reusability, familiarity, simplicity, flexibility, and balance.” (Matsumoto, as cited in Chana, 112) Well written code avoids ambiguity and maintains order. Poorly written code leads confusion and entropy.
Unlike natural language, code is inherently dependent on literalness and predictability while maintaining lack of redundancy and ambiguity. (RLG, 2012, n.p.) The logic must be powerful enough to describe complex properties of objects but not so powerful that agents can be tricked by being asked to consider a paradox. (Berners-Lee, et al., 2001, 4-5)
When we talk about bias and human generated bias, we also need to address the fact that computer code is a language, and like any other language is a sociopolitical product.
Code is susceptible to many forms of human- and machine –generated bias. Bias enters code when it ignores order and contains predetermined entropy. (Mowshowitz & Kawaguchi, 2002, 146) It is in moments of ambiguity or redundancy where bias occurs. A particular function is skewed one way or another
Bias in code can be subtle, is often invisible an carries major impact on the functionality of information platforms.
human participation in the creation of code is one way in which bias enters into the syntax and structure of code. The people who write code, the languages they speak, the decisions they make, and the companies that employ them all influence code and insert some amount of bias. (Caplan & Boyd, 216, 4; Manoff, 520)
Subtle, often invisible
The information seeking process is a sociocultural phenomenon and access, and retrieval is directly dependent upon the quality and integrity of code.
When we talk about bias and human generated bias, we also need to address the fact that computer code is a language, and like any other language is a sociopolitical phenomenon.
Code retains many attributes of any other natural language, most important of which is the social semiotic systems that code represents. (Marino, 2006, n.p.)
Modern structural linguistics serves as at theoretical lens for understanding the social semiotic systems in code. For example, when a user interacts with code, a particular narratives emerges. Code controls the explicit and implicit meaning in that narrative.
This influence on cultural creation elevates code to be seen as a form of text, to be read as a narrative that describes a unique instance of implicit and explicit socio-historic events. These narratives involve the suite of events that the user follows in the process of searching and finding, the search, the results, and their interpretation and application.
In the infosphere, new narratives are constantly emerging between the information seeker and the information itself. Biased code controls emerging narratives between user and information
bias in code leads to constructs of power, and “underlying questions about ‘who controls” code. (Caplan & Boyd, 10)
For the user, code unknowingly plays a key factor in the research process by controlling the infosphere. In the infosphere Ambiguous code can bias results and skew search results.
In the infosphere, new narratives are constantly emerging between the information seeker and the information itself. Interacting with code directly impacts new knowledge through invisible pre-structured logic programs.
Acknowledging code as human and cultural product implicates its creators but does not exonerate the user. Instead, it serves as a caution against the constructs of power and bias in the information seeking environment.
Information can be defined as knowledge that is “communicated concerning some particular face, subject, or event.” (Striphas, 2015, 399)
User choice, whether in the search terms or the platform used leads to new narratives, and then to new information, and ultimately to new knowledge.
Successful communication leverages information to become knowledge. “Information upgrades to knowledge only if it can be correctly accounted for through an active process of questions and answers by the knower.” (Floridi, 2014, 71) That active process of questions and answers by the information user is the informed and strategic anticipation of bias in code and the strategies the user applies in the research process.
“undermine the value of search techniques that depend upon word use, but also impede the creation and transmission of knowledge.” (Manoff, 2015, 215)
The research process is a series of computational sequences to complete the research task and code controls access to that information
For the end user, code labels and interprets digital content and allows for access in a variety of infospheres, that is, the marketplace where researchers interact with information such as a library retrieval system, open search engine, or social media networks. The commodity in the information marketplace is code. Code is integral to any instances of human interaction in the infosphere. Success is heavily determined by the code that organizes, labels, retrieves, and display information. Not only is information affected, but knowledge is implied as well.
The sentiment that a “computer offers clarification” (Aitken, Bailey, & Hamilton-Smith, 1972, 226) is a bygone attitude established in an era prior to Web 2.0 and the dynamic web both of which compound the amounts of often unedited or unfiltered information. (Manovich, 2013, n.p.)
Computers can only offer clarification if the researcher knows what they are looking for and only if they understand the process.
Done with code, on to part II, which is to look at Critical Theories that serve as foundations for a transformative pedagogy By the year 2030, English Language learners will represent 30% of students in the primary and secondary American school system. (Flynn & Hill, 2005, p.1)
To ignore race and culture is to systemically normalize bias and racism.
I am addressing race from an American context. I want to be clear about that. CRT is about social power based on constructs of race. If we are to ignore multicultural and multilingual backgrounds of our students, then we are acquiescing to the status quo. It is also about bias in the environment that structure how students form identities.
From this Critical race theory (CRT) perspective, we can build a new trans-literacies and address the cyclical power constructs and challenge the socio-political status quo that emerge from those constructs in the infosphere.
Uncovering the bias that establishes power and diminishes access to information is highly relevant to information literacy librarians.
Critical Race Theory serves as the foundational theory that on which I identify a new set of literacy objectives for library classroom.
Race is established as a product of convenience and power as well as a construct of time, space, and social ideologies. Racism and racial inequality are the “means by which society allocates privilege and status.” (Delgado, 2012, 21) Systemic bias normalizes racial inequalities, renders racism mundane, and leaves power constructs unchallenged.
Overtly addressing power and race dismantles particular types of cultural, social, and racial threat to students that influences the way they see themselves and form self-identity.
One example is stereotype threat, which is the “concrete, real-time threat of being judged and treated poorly in settings where a negative stereotype about one's group applies” (Steele, 2003, 112) Stereotype threat is rooted more in social mistrust than in self-doubt. (Steele, 124) and can also be a reflection of how deeply invested the individual is in their social domain, caring enough about ‘a domain in order to be disturbed by the prospect of being stereotyped in it. (Steele, 120).
A way to overcome stereotype threat and establish an environment that builds trust and break down barriers is to overtly address power, the status quo, and race. Most important is that their academic performance will not be limited or tethered to a racial stereotype. (Steele, 123) Revealing and challenging systemic bias in computer code and overtly talking about power in the infosphere and research process are ways to neutralize the status quo and approach a “raceneutral” learning space. (Pawley, 2006, 162) Through explicit pedagogies and objectives, students are able to bolster self-confidence, reclaim their identities, and situate themselves in the information culture.
When addressing bias and power in code, discussion is then opened up to other ways power and the status quo influence student identity, globally and specifically such as in the information seeking process. Race is established as a product of convenience and power as well as a construct of time, space, and social ideologies. Racism and racial inequality are the “means by which society allocates privilege and status.” (Delgado, 2012, 21) Systemic bias normalizes racial inequalities, renders racism mundane, and leaves power constructs unchallenged. In the educational system, knowledge allocates privilege and status. Knowledge is treated as cultural and economic capital, and “accruing knowledge equates to accruing wealth.” (Frieire, 2002, 72)
While CRT focuses on the social constructs of privilege and access of race, CCT looks at privilege and power in computer code.
Addressing power and bias in code allows new ways for students to develop identities. When addressing bias and power in code, discussion is then opened up to other ways power and the status quo influence student identity, globally and specifically such as in the information seeking process.
Critical Code Studies builds upon Critical Race Theory and examines bias in computer languages by analyzing a particular set of code in a broader set of code, and their relationships.
CCS also looks at human interaction with code, from the human as creator of code to the information seeker as the user of code. CCS considers code as the primary text as a cultural product for interpretation which includes cultural and social analysis
With any cultural phenomenon, power paradigms are to be considered.
This predicates a critical approach to deconstruct the “hidden socio-cultural language.” (Marino, 2006, n.p.) found in code. “CSS takes the analytical approach of cultural studies and applies them to the source code.” (Marino, 2013, 283) and has developed “a set of methodologies that sought to apply humanities-style hermeneutics to the interpretation of the extra-functional significance of computer source code…” (Ibid.)
CCS focuses on the relationship of computer code and algorithms as well as on the ethical implications found in biased code and its impact when interacting with algorithms by “analyzing code [is] to better understand programs and the networks of other program and humans they interact with, organize, represent, manipulate, transform, and otherwise engage.” (Marino, 2006, n.p.)
In turning to the microcosm of the education setting, we are now pried ot look at power anc code in the infosphere. In a moment will will look at the research process as yet another focused analysis.
Code as a language, as a narrative, and as a singular interaction predicates a set of normative literacies that are grounded in an awareness of cultural power and bias.
Knowledge allocates privilege and status.
A critical pedagogy for literacy is an approach “that questions the social construction of the self” giving students ways to “examine … ongoing development, to reveal the subjective positions from which we make sense of the world and act in it.” (Schor, 1999, 2)
Sense of self is tangled up in the infospehere narratives. Though this definition ignores that which is central to critical pedagogies, the student sense of self and how they identify themselves and situate themselves in that community
Information literacy can be defined as “the ability to read, interpret, and produce texts valued in a community” and for post-secondary students, “academic information literacy is the ability to read, interpret, and produce information valued in academia—a skill that must be developed by all students during their college education.” (Elmborg, 2006, 196)
code predicates a set of normative literacies that are grounded in an awareness of cultural power and bias.
“Information science is oriented around the problem of connecting human generated knowledge to human users.” (Frazier, 2015, 1)
Critical information literacy addresses institutional social stigmas that that students carry with them, stigmas that threaten and compromise academic achievement.
Code predicates a set of normative literacies that are grounded in an awareness of cultural power and bias.
For the information literacy classroom, knowledge is closely connected to access to information.
Uncovering the bias that establishes power and diminishes access to information is highly relevant to information literacy librarians.
CIL focuses on the information seeking process as the lens by which we can analyze socioeconomic constructs of privilege and power. CIL considers ways in which librarians may encourage students to engage with and act upon the power structures underpinning information’s production and dissemination. “Critical information literacy is an approach to IL that acknowledges and emboldens the learner’s agency in the educational process.” (Tewell, 2015, 25)
The broad-scope ecosystem we use, the information we find, the process by which we find it, and the new knowledge that comes from it is profoundly linked to the construct of self and sense of agency. “In the critical information literacy model, source evaluation takes place from the moment results appear on the screen. Students must be able to recognize and choose from the various types of information (scholarly, news, opinion, etc.) to best meet their information need regardless of format.” (Swanson, 2004, 263)
The critical information literacy classroom, free of threat or risk, creates an environment where students, particularly those of historically oppressed groups are free to explore and develop autonomy, agency, and self-actualization
Now on to applying and identifying new learning objectives
Diversifying the curriculum in the information literacy classroom should also be a priority and code should be included.
For the information literacy classroom, knowledge is closely connected to access to information
A critical trans-media literacy acknowledges the hierarchy of power at play in the information literacy classroom, the elevated role of the librarian as an agent of change who combat systemic acquiescence and secure the role of the library as a space free from threat, and focuses on student bias in the research process while emphasizing code and algorithms in that process.
It is the information we use and find and the process by which that we find it that questions the social construction of the self and develops a sense of agency in the student through the information seeking process.
This requires responsive and meaningful socio-literate librarianship practices in the classroom in order to way to successfully navigate the dynamic multilingual/cultural classrooms in the coming years. “Understanding the cultural background allows sociocultural literate instructors to forge relationships with their students, establish a common foundation necessary for education, and teach them in the classroom “(Blas, 2014, p. 33)
There is a shared goal between librarian and user, that of finding evidence of extant knowledge for future knowledge.
It is through the critical process of construction of self that facilitates meaningful construction of knowledge that situates the librarian emerges as the agent of change. By acknowledging the hierarchy of power at play and diffusing socio-cultural threat in the information literacy classroom, the librarian as agent of change combat systemic acquiescence. Academic librarians have a unique role in that they pose no risk or threat to a student’s academic standing. since they are inherently detached from the formalized educational output and assessment system.
Therefore, the role of the librarian in the information literacy classroom is instrumental in challenging the socioeconomic status quo and power constructs of race, class, and gender. CRT states that change must happen at the institutional level and come from the top down. (Delpit, 292)
Through critical information literacy initiatives, librarianship has a “profession’s potential for fostering active citizenship” (Tewell, 29) in the classroom, on campus, and in the community.
The librarian manifests that institutional change due to a social contract between the librarian and information user. “To understand librarianship as stewardship therefore, is not to privilege information over users but rather to take a holistic, ecological view of the interaction of knowers (including library users or patrons) and their semantic environment.” (Fyffe, 2015, 281)
information seeker holds ontic trust in information and the information specialist, the librarian who has the professional obligation “as moral agent” between user and the information sphere in order to achieve knowledge. (Van der Veer Martens, 2017, 40, 45)
“…the database of choice from which narrative is constructed (the paradigm) is implicit; while the actual narrative (the syntagm) is explicit.” (Manovich, 1999, 90)
This paper finds that in blending these theories, librarians have a relevant framework on which to build a pedagogy that challenges the invisible socio-political status quo inherent in the bias that skews the information seeking process and weakens the integrity of information itself. Through willful ignorance of code, power and bias in the research environment remain unchallenged, leaving the researcher negligible. The practical and social implications include a transformative approach to information literacy that positions the librarian to become an agent of social change by raising awareness in the user, thereby equalizing power constructs in the research process. In addition to the theoretical framework, the value of this paper is found in the examples of tangible learning objectives for the information literacy classroom and sample curricular frameworks for humanities graduate students. a. The role of the librarian is elevated to an agent of change who combat systemic acquiescence. and focuses on student bias in the research process while emphasizing code and algorithms in that process. The library learning spaces remains free from threat.
Code in the IL Classroom: Moving towards a trans-discipline information literacy - Langan
The Hidden Code of
Bias and Power in the Infosphere
Moving towards trans(formative) information literacies
Kate Langan, Associate Professor
Western Michigan University
1. Contextualizing code as a cultural phenomenon
2. Reviewing critical theories of power, privilege, race, and agency
3. Applying these critical theories to the infosphere and the research process
4. Examining how code influences access to information and creation of
Purpose of Presentation
To define transformative information literacies learning objectives through the
• Computer code is a generic term that refers to the collection of signs,
symbols, and syntax that makeup a particular computer language.
• Above all, code is meant to be understood by humans. (Matsamuto,
as cited in Chana, 2014, 114)
Code has different functions
Structural – logic programming – architectural languages like Python
Operational –perform a task - algorithms
Descriptive – taxonomies and labels – metadata
Biased in Code
• Machine or Human Generated
• Bias enters code when it ignores order and contains predetermined
entropy. (Mowshowitz & Kawaguchi, 2002, 146)
• Leads to questions of power and control
Code as a Sociocultural Phenomenon
• Computer code is a product of human endeavor. (Berry, 2011, 5)
• Unique narratives constantly emerge as users interact with code.
• Biased code leads to questions of power and control of those
Code’s Narrative of Power the Infosphere
Acknowledging code as human and cultural product implicates its
creators but does not exonerate the user
Code influences access to extant knowledge and plays a prominent role
in the creation of new knowledge.
Code’s Narrative of Power in the Research
“To the unsophisticated user, databases or digital collections may
appear to be transparent and neutral frames providing access to
objective content. Yet databases and digital collections are shaped and
structured by a variety of competing influences.” (Manoff, 519) and can
equally “foster and constrain scholarly research.” (Manoff, 520)
By the year 2030, English Language learners will represent 30% of
students in the primary and secondary American school system. (Flynn
& Hill, 2005, p.1) To ignore race and culture is to systemically normalize
bias and racism.
Critical Race Theory
CRT focuses on the social constructs of race that regulates privilege and
access to power.
“To act as if power does not exist is to ensure that the power status
quo remains the same.” (Delpit, 1988, 292)
Critical Code Studies
CSS takes the analytical approach of cultural studies and applies them
to the source code.” (Marino, 2013, 283)
CCS also looks at human interaction with code, from the human as
creator of code to the information seeker as the user of code.
In education, knowledge is treated as cultural and economic capital.
“Accruing knowledge equates to accruing wealth.” (Frieire, 2002, 72)
Critical Librarianship & Information Literacy
“Information science is oriented around the problem of connecting
human generated knowledge to human users.” (Frazier, 2015, 1)
“Critical information literacy is an approach to IL that acknowledges
and emboldens the learner’s agency in the educational process.”
(Tewell, 2015, 25)
“Diversity and social justice must appear in some capacity
in the curriculum.” (Cooke, Sweeney, & Noble, 2016, 116)
A New Trans-media Literacy
A critical trans-media literacy acknowledges the hierarchy of power at
play in the information literacy classroom, the elevated role of the
librarian as an agent of change who combat systemic acquiescence and
secure the role of the library as a space free from threat, and focuses
on student bias in the research process while emphasizing code and
algorithms in that process.
Librarians as Agents of Change
The librarian has the professional obligation “as moral agent” between
user and information, to facilitate knowledge. (Van der Veer Martens,
2017, 40, 45)
Trans (formative) Information Literacy Objectives
• Bias in Algorithms
• Bias in Metadata and Taxonomies
• Bias in Search Engines & Retrieval Systems
1. This approach moves beyond critical librarianship and is a new lens by
which we can analyze socioeconomic constructs of privilege and power
in online information.
2. A critical trans-media literacy pedagogy acknowledges the hierarchy of
power at play in code and in the infosphere.
3. IL Learning objectives should include code and critical theories as a
way to empower students.