Friday, 24 September 2021

Have students lost the ability to mentally organize hierarchically?

There's an interesting article in The Verge titled "FILE NOT FOUND: A generation that grew up with Google is forcing professors to rethink their lesson plans." Apparently college faculty are increasingly finding that students are confused about the concept of hierarchical organizing.

(The professor) 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. (Another professor) noticed that students in his classes were having trouble finding their documents.

According to the article, the mental model that most of us use to keep things organized is known as "directory structure." For example, it’s the idea that a modern computer doesn’t just save a file in an infinite expanse; it saves it in the “Downloads” folder, the “Desktop” folder, or the “Documents” folder, all of which live within “This PC,” and each of which might have folders nested within them, too. The directory structure connotes physical placement — the idea that a file stored on a computer is located somewhere on that computer, in a specific and discrete location. That’s a concept that’s always felt obvious to the professor but seems completely alien to her students. It’s a difficult concept to get across. Directory structure isn’t just unintuitive to students — it’s so intuitive to professors that they have difficulty figuring out how to explain it. “Those of us who have been around a while know what a file is, but I was at a bit of a loss to explain it,” lamented one educator 

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