The Verge reports an intriguing and fascinating story. It seems that students all over the world are struggling with basic computing concepts such as file and folder hierarchy. In their minds, the idea of hierarchic file system is fading away, being replaced by laundry basket storage. No more files in folders inside bigger folders, all neatly labeled. Instead, all my stuff is piled up somewhere and fetched by search when needed. Moreover, many don’t understand the difference between local storage and cloud storage.
[Catherine Garland, the professor] asked each student where they’d saved their project. Could they be on the desktop? Perhaps in the shared drive? But over and over, she was met with confusion. “What are you talking about?” multiple students inquired. Not only did they not know where their files were saved — they didn’t understand the question.
Gradually, Garland came to the same realization that many of her fellow educators have reached in the past four years: the concept of file folders and directories, essential to previous generations’ understanding of computers, is gibberish to many modern students.
Professors have varied recollections of when they first saw the disconnect. But their estimates (even the most tentative ones) are surprisingly similar. It’s been an issue for four years or so, starting — for many educators — around the fall of 2017.
The whole story can be seen here: https://www.theverge.com/22684730/students-file-folder-directory-structure-education-gen-z
Some would call this digital illiteracy. Others say it’s just a paradigm shift, coming from computer use totally different than what we’ve been doing in pre-internet times. Both might be right.
I personally find it a little disturbing. File systems, folders and files aren’t going away any soon. No matter what handy search tools we put on top of them, we’d better get a grip of these concepts. Especially when studying in STEM field ;-) On the other hand, it’s fascinating. The problem clearly shows growing need for better ways of organizing our digital heritage. Files and folders might feel old and rusty, but ‘laundry basket’ model won’t get us far either. Programmers, take this as a challenge!