Monica Chin, writing on The Verge:

[Astrophysicist Catherine Garland] 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.

There’s a generation that grew up using smartphones and cloud-based apps as their primary computing experiences, and who have no firsthand experience with “traditional” computer filesystems. The concept of documents stored in local folders is alien to these folks, making some basic computing tasks challenging.

I haven’t encountered this issue (yet?) in my teaching. But I won’t be surprised when I do. As I’ve written before, we can’t assume everyone shares the same mental model.

Despite relatively recent developments, the main conceptual model for data manipulation in smartphones has been centered on apps as opposed to directories in a filesystem. Those of us who grew up using file/folder systems have an entirely different mental model of how computers work.

Personal experience informs this understanding, which makes it surprisingly difficult to explain in theory — especially if it’s something you take as a given. As the article puts it,

Directory structure isn’t just unintuitive to students — it’s so intuitive to professors that they have difficulty figuring out how to explain it.

But there are limits to what you can store with the “laundry basket” (as opposed to the “cabinet drawer”) model — at least if you want to be able to find stuff later. A rediscovery of the “traditional” model may be in order.

Kids who grew up with search engines could change STEM education forever - The Verge