Some students don't understand the concept of computer files and folders

midian182

Posts: 7,166   +65
Staff member
WTF?! To readers of this site, the idea that some students on courses ranging from engineering to physics don’t know what files and folders are might seem strange, but it’s true. According to a new report, the fault lies with popular modern operating systems and devices that include all-encompassing search functions or hide file structures from plain view.

Those of us of a certain age will be familiar with maintaining a nested hierarchy of files, having grown up with the likes of Windows 3.1 and relying on MS-DOS. But as highlighted in a new report by The Verge, the advent of smartphones, tablets, search functions, and cloud storage made the need to understand what a directory is less critical.

“The first internet search engines were used around 1990, but features like Windows Search and Spotlight on macOS are both products of the early 2000s. Most of 2017’s college freshmen were born in the very late ‘90s,” writes the publication. “While many of today’s professors grew up without search functions on their phones and computers, today’s students increasingly don’t remember a world without them.”

Saavik Ford, a professor of astronomy at the Borough of Manhattan Community College, said it best: “I grew up when you had to have a file; you had to save it; you had to know where it was saved. There was no search function.” She added that among her students, “There’s not a conception that there’s a place where files live. They just search for it and bring it up. They have a laundry basket full of laundry, and they have a robot who will fetch them every piece of clothing they want on demand.”

Generational issues are not something new, of course. Peter Plavchan, an associate professor of physics and astronomy at George Mason University, noted that while some of his students have over 1,000 files in the same directory, one of his own professors was amazed that people didn’t know how to solder a chip onto a motherboard. This writer, meanwhile, recalls a 1990's lecturer who thought all GUIs were the devil's work.

Plavchan is considering offering an entire course based solely on directory structure, but is such a thing even worth it? “I imagine what’s going to happen is our generation of students [...] they’re going to grow up and become professors, they’re going to write their own tools, and they’re going to be based on a completely different approach from what we use today.”

Addressing fellow educators who look on aghast at students unable to comprehend filing systems, Plavchan warns, “This is not gonna go away. You’re not gonna go back to the way things were. You have to accept it. The sooner that you accept that things change, the better.”

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kiwigraeme

Posts: 566   +430
Most of us have sock/underwear & shirt draws - but a lot of things are cultural - how many colours in the rainbow 7??? really - is time analog or digital - In my travels asking some villager in the mountains how many hours to next village - was a wrong question - maybe would I get there before the sun goes down ?.
Still seems weird - they are brought up in a western culture - your seat is entrance C, row z , number 47
I mean you don't have to know addresses now , your phone can do it for you .
Still you have the capacity to learn - I mean Matrices and Vectors , transformations - we get that stuff when 14 , 15 years old at school - thats harder than file structure .
Surely you would see tree diagrams , schemas .
well maybe they don't need to know , just know search systems
The OCD - yes there's hope there - but is it Beach Boys, The or The Beach Boys ?
I mean libraries - do they visit them - no well supermarkets - Häagen-Dazs yeah that's in the frozen folder
 

Dimitriid

Posts: 1,138   +2,160
People usually get on my case when I try to explain why I believe the Personal Computer as a mainstream device for the general public has no future, but stories like this is why: you underestimate just how many young people have no interest in computers.

In the past, even if most people could grow up without having to deal with computers at all many eventually got acquainted since it was a requirement for so many jobs but I also believe thin clients and tablets will quickly replace the work computer/laptop paradigm as well unless you're explicitly a developer of sorts: most office tasks like email, excel files, interacting with CRM or ERP systems, etc. Can already be done in a perfectly serviceable way with just a tablet so I wouldn't be surprised if most people's work will revolve around a docked tablet at best but often just a tablet device, certainly no need for a full operating system.

And as for home well, numbers don't lie: statistically most people online already don't have a laptop or computer at all and maintain their entire online presence through their mobile phones and tablets entirely, gaming and leisure fully contained on those and maybe a gaming console on top of it. It's hard to believe for people on a site dedicated to technology and focusing mostly on computers but overall we're the niche, the future developers: don't expect businesses that depend on computers being mainstream devices to continue for much longer it will be either really low or really high end devices with no middle ground and not a lot of these super convenient midrange systems we used to be able to purchase easily in the past.
 
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dangh

Posts: 283   +396
I would never have imagined this news could even exist.
That a generation raised surrounded on tech, can't even understand something as basic files and folders.
Exactly because they are surrounded by tech, they do not have to project ancient folder drawers, folder and files onto structures of data in their OS. They have quick search function. They do evolve and adapt to the environment so fast, the people remembering world without smartphone will have difficulty to understand and accept.
It is like saying, people using GUI can't even understand bash / DOS commands...
 

Kosmoz

Posts: 419   +750
I'm not surprised at all, unlike some people, I can clearly see how humanity is getting more stupid every generation, in general, as a whole.

The trend is downwards and if identity politics, all the new *****ic ideologies, and all the other stupid things that exist and are pushed forward harder since the last 10-20 years - if these things are not sings enough, than those that don't see them are in the middle of the problem themselves.

We will see worse and worse times going forward and there is no cure or stopping what's coming...
 

theruck

Posts: 382   +216
I'm not surprised at all, unlike some people, I can clearly see how humanity is getting more stupid every generation, in general, as a whole.

The trend is downwards and if identity politics, all the new *****ic ideologies, and all the other stupid things that exist and are pushed forward harder since the last 10-20 years - if these things are not sings enough, than those that don't see them are in the middle of the problem themselves.

We will see worse and worse times going forward and there is no cure or stopping what's coming...
that is complete bs what you have just written.
who is humanity? the majority or minority? do you really believe that 200 years ago humanity was more educated in general or that the most educated people were more educated than todays most educated people?
just the fact that part of the western population goes more consumer life style does not mean that the mankind gets more stupid in any measures. if something it might show the rotten educational system failing in its objectives or maybe it is just adapting to the needs so it is absolutely ok. most of the things I learned in schools is not needed in my life and I had to study the topics I was interested into on my own.
 

winjer

Posts: 235   +900
Exactly because they are surrounded by tech, they do not have to project ancient folder drawers, folder and files onto structures of data in their OS. They have quick search function. They do evolve and adapt to the environment so fast, the people remembering world without smartphone will have difficulty to understand and accept.
It is like saying, people using GUI can't even understand bash / DOS commands...

Correct.
But the concept of files and folders is very simple to understand.
Much simpler than using a command line ambient.
 

theruck

Posts: 382   +216
Correct.
But the concept of files and folders is very simple to understand.
Much simpler than using a command line ambient.
the concept is as much virtual as it can be. its nothing physical. it does not exist in your dimension.
how much do you understand storage virtualization technology? sounds basic knowledge to me. might be more challenging to others.
 

dangh

Posts: 283   +396
I agree concept of folders and files is simple to understand. But maybe there is simply no need to use such a concept if access to file is simplify. if you want to work on 'assignment on nuclear power' you simply get the document and work on that, not: go to my school folder, year 3, assignments, physic folder.
It kinda makes sense for me to have this structured in nested way, but it is actually only my perception as I do remember world without smartphones, and I am pretty amazed to see that people without my limitations can use the technology in a way that suits them better without unnecessary historical artifacts.
 

Wrinkle

Posts: 75   +53
People have never understood this, even in the olden days. A big part of the problem is that the analogy to the real world is flawed.

In the real world I can put 10 identically named folders on a desk with 10 identical printed files in each. This does not apply to filesystems which mandate unique file or folder names on a certain tree level.

In IT we're all about structuring data, be it in a directory, a database or even an excel file. How can we expect people outside of IT to have a firm grasp on this? Thinking in specific structures is something that has to be taught.
 

winjer

Posts: 235   +900
the concept is as much virtual as it can be. its nothing physical. it does not exist in your dimension.
how much do you understand storage virtualization technology? sounds basic knowledge to me. might be more challenging to others.

You are talking about two very different levels of difficulty.
How long did it take you to understand the concept of files and folders? Probably just a few minutes.
How long to understand storage virtualization technology?
Months or maybe years?
 

Kosmoz

Posts: 419   +750
that is complete bs what you have just written.
who is humanity? the majority or minority? do you really believe that 200 years ago humanity was more educated in general or that the most educated people were more educated than todays most educated people?
just the fact that part of the western population goes more consumer life style does not mean that the mankind gets more stupid in any measures. if something it might show the rotten educational system failing in its objectives or maybe it is just adapting to the needs so it is absolutely ok. most of the things I learned in schools is not needed in my life and I had to study the topics I was interested into on my own.
I said in the last 20 years, compared to before that, like 30-40-50 years, not 200 years ago.

Also education and intelligence while they do have common grounds they also have different ones.

There are a lot of "educated" people that believe in a lot of stupid/irrational or just wrong things. Access to knowledge and technology does not equal intelligence. It's what you do with that knowledge and technology that defines you as being more or less intelligent.

You don't have to believe me when I say the majority of people are more stupid now because of technology, because of ideologies and these so called politics, you just have to be alive 5 years from now and 10 years from now to remember how 2021 was and how worse it will be then...
 

dangh

Posts: 283   +396
In IT we're all about structuring data, be it in a directory, a database or even an excel file. How can we expect people outside of IT to have a firm grasp on this? Thinking in specific structures is something that has to be taught.

That's why is I think the best to let the young ones to create something great on the foundation of old structures. If folders are meaningless to them and they still can do the job, that's great.

The modern structure of databases is changing as well. Column based compressed structures where third nf is actually an issue is one of the changes. Instead of wasting a millions of rows with values like "male" and "female" only 2 nodes. Instead of relative DB a datacubes. Everything is changing and evolving in a way even some people inside IT can't follow fast enough.
 

Dimitriid

Posts: 1,138   +2,160
Correct.
But the concept of files and folders is very simple to understand.
Much simpler than using a command line ambient.
It is, but only if you have the context for it: remember that the concept of file and folder literally comes from filing cabinets for physical papers. Do you know many people outside of an entrenched government bureaucracy that still uses those?

If you never even got familiar with the concept of a filing cabinet you used to order physical papers and started using documents since he point in history in which everything is 100% digital and you just name it and then later search that name then thinking about a filing cabinet to organize documents it's just alien: You don't need the abstraction you just need the name and being organized can be summed up with just having a naming convention for example: "Chemistry - Semester - Date & specific subjec matter here" is intuitive enough for most people to figure out without needing to know what's a documents folder and what are the sub-folders, etc.
 

Neatfeatguy

Posts: 499   +838
I would never have imagined this news could even exist.
That a generation raised surrounded on tech, can't even understand something as basic files and folders.

Schools in UK are removing analog clocks because some students (and these are high school kids) are having so much trouble reading them that it causes undo stress and anxiety.

Basic things that should be known and should be simple are starting to be phased out. This bit of news doesn't surprise me.
 

Neatfeatguy

Posts: 499   +838
Well, what do you know - "smart"phones make people less smart.

Same goes for everything. I remember seeing some schools nowadays allow calculators for primary school exams, while during those days, we perform how we have trained our brains.

Smart-tech make people become lazy and stupid.

This has been an issue for quite some time when it comes to doing math without a calculator.

My last job was tech support for POS provider - we had to troubleshoot hardware and software that was provided by my employer to the customers.

I can't even count how many times I've had a store call in because power was out or just came back up and registers weren't working.....employees that were on the other end of the phone didn't know how to figure out a customer's total without a computer or calculator. They couldn't figure out how to add, subtract or (a slightly more challenging one) add tax to an order without the register doing the math for them. Countless times when I'd be on the phone with these places the only one smart enough to do the math, 99% of the time, was the manager on duty. While I'd be trying to help these people resolve whatever issue was causing their system to not work, I'd also be doing the math for them in my head as they mumbled numbers while trying to write them down - this included the tax.

Why think for yourself when you can simply have a computer do it for you?