New SRHE project on algorithms and literature searches

This month, I’m excited to be launching a new project (alongside my work at the EdTech Hub), which I’ll be working on during 2022. I was thrilled to discover in December that the project, ‘Sort by relevance’: Exploring assumptions about algorithm-mediated academic literature searches, had been awarded funding through the annual SRHE Research Awards scheme.

Through the internet, academics are presented with an increasing array of platforms which offer sources of academic literature and information sources. In contrast to more traditional scholarly databases, large-scale platforms – such as Google Scholar – often utilise algorithms in order to manage how search query results are prioritised and presented to searchers. This introduces an opaque layer to how academics engage with the literature, with potentially important implications for rigour and equity. This project will explore academics’ perceptions and assumptions of how processes such as the Google Scholar algorithm operate and influence their access to information. 

The project has just started, and I will be blogging as it progresses. The project will involve a survey, followed by a series of interviews. In preparation for the survey, I’m currently conducting a literature search for existing literature related to the topic. When the topic of study is Google Scholar itself, searching for literature is more challenging than a ‘typical’ project! I have started to uncover some papers on this topic, but if you have any recommendations they would be much appreciated – please do post a comment if so. (Note that I’m particularly looking for papers which relate to the algorithm, or users’ perceptions – not papers which discuss the size/coverage of different databases, for example).

“Google Scholar aims to rank documents the way researchers do, weighing the full text of each document, where it was published, who it was written by, as well as how often and how recently it has been cited in other scholarly literature.” (Google Scholar, 2021).

Also, while Google Scholar is the prime example of a portal which uses an algorithm to prioritise and rank results, any papers relating to other less well known platforms which use ranking would also be very helpful. Google Scholar dominates the landscape so any recommendations for other platforms to look at would also be very welcome 🙂


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