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Report suggests many Gen Z students do not know how to use a basic file directory

ZacoAttaco
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Summary

In this recent article from The Verge, (yes, I know the infamous "Verge"), Monica Chin describes a changing climate for professors and teachers as many technological concepts deemed common knowledge for previous generations of students is found to no longer be the case

 

She interviews several professors and lecturers who detail their experience of asking students to retrieve files from certain folders from their PC with a response of blank stares and puzzled expressions from their pupils. 

 

Quotes

Quote

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...

 

That’s approximately when Lincoln Colling, a lecturer in the psychology department at the University of Sussex, told a class full of research students to pull a file out of a specific directory and was met with blank stares. It was the same semester that Nicolás Guarín-Zapata, an applied physicist and lecturer at Colombia’s Universidad EAFIT, noticed that students in his classes were having trouble finding their documents. It’s the same year that posts began to pop up on STEM-educator forums asking for help explaining the concept of a file.

It seems this is not exclusive to psychology and physics students:

Quote

The primary issue is that the code researchers write, run at the command line, needs to be told exactly how to access the files it’s working with — it can’t search for those files on its own. Some programming languages have search functions, but they’re difficult to implement and not commonly used. It’s in the programming lessons where STEM professors, across fields, are encountering problems...

 

Guarín-Zapata was taught computer basics in high school — how to save, how to use file folders, how to navigate the terminal — which is knowledge many of his current students are coming in without.

One lecturer's courses even "include a full two-hour lecture to explain directory structure. He likens finding files to giving driving directions. He shows maps of directory trees and asks his students to pretend they’re guiding others to a highlighted point. He uses every analogy he can think of."

 

My thoughts

Now obviously, this should all be taken with a grain of salt. Gen Z can be categorised as anyone born from mid-to-late 1990s to the early 2010s and not every one of that sample size has trouble using file directory. But I do think it is a sign of changing times. Big tech companies are prioritising usability over all else, we notice this trend over the years, this generation spends most of their screen time on their smartphone and are therfore not exposed to the file directory system we are all accustom to. With Windows too, we see the inclusion of the Windows 10 Settings app over previously used Control Panel and the way programs like Steam and Epic handle the organisation of game installations by refering to an unassuming background folders as well as the wider tech sectors continous push towards simpler, sleeker design. Like everything in the industry however, people will adapt, whether that means companies refocus their design to suit a new generation of users and their unique limitations or training instutions changing their curriculum and methodologies accordingly.

 

Honestly though, to me, these companies efforts to make things simpler and easier robs some of the joy of computing in my opinion. Everything has become so uniform and sterile. To me, the personality of the industry has moved aside to make room for clean cut colour palettes and minimalist design.

 

What are you thoughts?

Thanks,

Zac.

 

EDIT: Sorry, it's been a while since I've posted on the forum so hopefully everything is up to snuff!

Sources

https://www.theverge.com/22684730/students-file-folder-directory-structure-education-gen-z

https://cseducators.stackexchange.com/questions/3535/introducing-file-systems-to-students-who-really-dont-understand?noredirect=1&lq=1

 

Edited by ZacoAttaco
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Not gonna lie: I've seen WAY too many first years just absolutely cripple trying to figure out where their pycharm projects are

 

This checks out

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Considering this is the generation that thinks that WiFi and LTE is the only way to get internet... I'm not surprised. 

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I can attest that there are indeed students who struggle with basic computer navigation, classmate of mine can't navigate word all that well. 

 

For the most part I'm not surprised, this IS the generation that either grew up with the smartphone or transitioned to it entirely.

Some people may never even use a desktop OS for a majority of their life.

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Yes, I agree. The whole folder/file structure is supposed to be analogous to a phyisical file cabinet (computer), drawers (each drawer could be seen as hard drive), folders inside the cabinet, files inside the folders inside the drawer, inside the file cabinet. Or at least that's how I learned it. I remember Windows 3.1 had icons that kinda went along with that idea. It's A hierarchy that makes sense.

 

Unfortunately, I wonder if Gen Z even knows how to use a physical file cabinet correctly.

 

I do not like this trend. Doing any major file manipulation on smartphone/tablet is a PITA. Big tech waters things down because older generation (older computer un-savvy boomers) struggled with basic computer concepts. But it's so watered down now, I've worked with people with 4yr IT degrees who don't seem to have a clue about anything regarding how the computer works (in terms of the hardware and software concepts) beyond...oh click here, click there, this goes in that slot, etc. It's a shame.

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As a person who uses the tree command fairly religiously, not having a proper grasp on basic file directory concepts is just kinda shocking. That being said, I never really grew up with a smartphone and it has surprised me just how folder unfriendly some apps are on my iPad. Google Drive, Notes, and even the apple sharing options just feel optimized for usage not involving folders.

 

25 minutes ago, Spotty said:

 

It's because everyone just watches porn in their web browser these days. They never learned to navigate elaborate folder structures to hide their porn stash.

 

I mean some friends I knew would do the same thing but with bookmark folders in Chrome… (Who am I kidding, I didn’t have friends back then)

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I'm not surprised. Almost everything nowadays can be accomplished in a way that doesn't require knowing how folders work. Everything is moving to the web, anything new on the web is optimized for mobile first since that's how most people use the internet now, and mobile likes to hide the file structure from you as much as possible.

 

I'd be willing to bet that in 10-15 years navigating folders is going to be one of those things that only old people and computer people know how to do instead of being necessary for everyone using any computing device. Just like what has happened to mounting disks. It used to be mandatory to know how to do that in the DOS days, and now it's all but extinct.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

 

 

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I blame us the older generations. We spoon fed them too much. 

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8 minutes ago, xAcid9 said:

I blame us the older generations. We spoon fed them too much. 

Every generation berates the younger and blames the older.     It's the great circle of modern civilization.    Just wait till these guys are all in their 70 and are listening to the youngest generation blame them for the cost of housing and education. 

 

 

Grammar and spelling is not indicative of intelligence/knowledge.  Not having the same opinion does not always mean lack of understanding.  

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Well already 20 years ago the talks was about moving away from the "classic" folder structure and just dump all files into one big pile to then sort and search for them by metadata tags. 

 

Looks like we might now be approaching this 🙂 

 

And no what I mentioned above is not stupid, because letting metadata dictate how it's shown is much more flexible than a folder system (at least in theory) since it allows you to reach and display files in multiple ways instead of one fixed folder system.

 

Lets say software A just dumps a bunch of files with this kind of system on your HDD. Each file still gets a metadata tag that it belongs to software A so if you want to see software As files you just sort for files from software A. I only want config files for software A, sort by only config metadata and software A etc. Also this way makes it easy to retrieve all files from software A in example when you want to remove it instead of how it is (most often) today where the files for software A is exploded on a variety of folders, in classic folder structures, outside the softwares main folder. 

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Huh, guess I'm part of the minority then.......

If you think I'm wrong, correct me. If I've offended you in some way tell me what it is and how I can correct it. I want to learn, and along the way one can make mistakes; Being wrong helps you learn what's right.

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58 minutes ago, BlueChinchillaEatingDorito said:

Considering this is the generation that thinks that WiFi and LTE is the only way to get internet... I'm not surprised. 

Wa.. wa ... wait.. It's not???

My grandfather told me he use to do a circular motion to communicate with people.

I told him he's crazy.

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I mean...if you struggle that much with basic file directories then please go into a non-technical major/field.  There are still good opportunities outside of STEM that I imagine people like this will feel more comfortable in.

 

At the same time, this is why a phone can't replace a desktop computer entirely.  Too small for extensive access to file directories to make much sense, and too small/slow for most kinds of intensive work & play.  It complements desktops/laptops very well, but it should never be your go-to device for productivity.

 

It still strains me to put myself in their shoes, though, because I can't relate at all.  I grew up surrounded by desktops (keep in mind I'm only 20) and understood GUI-based file directories and Microsoft Word by age 9.  Maybe earlier.  (Of course, this is a tech forum.  Might be the wrong place to look. 😉)

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8 minutes ago, Techstorm970 said:

It still strains me to put myself in their shoes, though, because I can't relate at all.

You should see my nephews edit movies in their phones.

Kids these days do everything on their phone, i'm not surprised if 10 years later mouse interface will be gone.

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1 hour ago, Spotty said:

It's because everyone just watches porn in their web browser these days. They never learned to navigate elaborate folder structures to hide their porn stash.

I know few people that hide their porn stash under their mask these days but otherwise they are still clueless about file directories.

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To give a concrete example connected to my previous post that is actually up and running in the real world. 

 

And don't shit on my for the example I will give because I know a lot of people on tech forums like to shit on it just hear me out. 

 

iTunes (now days Music app on Mac) is a great example that is really convenient using the thing I mentioned above. 

 

Already with the iPod people complained about not being able to drag and drop folders with music to their iPods but the thing is the same people totally missed the point. 

 

iTunes/Music was/is built on the principle that you do not need to arrange your music collection into a folder structure (as I described in my previous post). You just dump ALL of your music files into one place. In iTunes/music you set metadata to each song like genre/artist/writer/album/year/producer etc. Depending on what metadata you've given you can easily sort out what you want to either import to your iPod or just listen for the day. 

 

One day you might to want to only listen to Country, well just set sorting on Country and start listening. In this instance a folder structure would have been sufficient to do the same. 

But the next day you want to listen to songs written by Lemmy Kilmister, well sort on songs written by Lemmy Kilmistier and you get all the songs (if given the meta data) across all the artist and genres Lemmy wrote for. This you can't do easily with traditional folderstructrues (I took Lemmy as an example because outside of Mötorhead he wrote a lot for other artists and across genres). 

The third day I want to only listen to songs written in 1986, sort on it and you get songs form only 1986.

 

All this while the music files are just one big stinking pile in the classical folder structure.  

 

Of course if you start from zero the task of setting all metadata is a chore if you move in with a big collection, but once you are up and running the setup of each added album/song does not take longer than fiddling with folder structures. 

 

Aside from iTunes being a resource hog and poorly written for Windows, at least back in the days (yes I was a Windows user back in the days), as soon as I realized the power of using metadata to sort my music instead of folder structures I have never looked back. 

 

 

Folder structures suck for anything other than analogy to a file cabinet. 

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Obviously PC classes in some schools are still too late.

 

I suggest more distribution of budge linux PC/SBCs.

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2 hours ago, Spindel said:

To give a concrete example connected to my previous post that is actually up and running in the real world. 

 

And don't shit on my for the example I will give because I know a lot of people on tech forums like to shit on it just hear me out. 

 

iTunes (now days Music app on Mac) is a great example that is really convenient using the thing I mentioned above. 

 

Already with the iPod people complained about not being able to drag and drop folders with music to their iPods but the thing is the same people totally missed the point. 

 

iTunes/Music was/is built on the principle that you do not need to arrange your music collection into a folder structure (as I described in my previous post). You just dump ALL of your music files into one place. In iTunes/music you set metadata to each song like genre/artist/writer/album/year/producer etc. Depending on what metadata you've given you can easily sort out what you want to either import to your iPod or just listen for the day. 

 

One day you might to want to only listen to Country, well just set sorting on Country and start listening. In this instance a folder structure would have been sufficient to do the same. 

But the next day you want to listen to songs written by Lemmy Kilmister, well sort on songs written by Lemmy Kilmistier and you get all the songs (if given the meta data) across all the artist and genres Lemmy wrote for. This you can't do easily with traditional folderstructrues (I took Lemmy as an example because outside of Mötorhead he wrote a lot for other artists and across genres). 

The third day I want to only listen to songs written in 1986, sort on it and you get songs form only 1986.

 

All this while the music files are just one big stinking pile in the classical folder structure.  

 

Of course if you start from zero the task of setting all metadata is a chore if you move in with a big collection, but once you are up and running the setup of each added album/song does not take longer than fiddling with folder structures. 

 

Aside from iTunes being a resource hog and poorly written for Windows, at least back in the days (yes I was a Windows user back in the days), as soon as I realized the power of using metadata to sort my music instead of folder structures I have never looked back. 

 

 

Folder structures suck for anything other than analogy to a file cabinet. 

I actually agree with you on this analogy, but only for certain types of files where bit level data or minor details would probably matter very little when I am using that. I myself actually have always been a fan of how Google Photos or Apple Photos (still remember being floored by how Picasa made it super easy to manage all my photos) made management of my photos a lot easier, especially with regards to finding duplicates and even searching them in terms of location/event/occasion etc. Same with my music collection, which I don't really own anymore since I just stream. And that way of looking at the file does't hamper my ability to use those files all that much. 

 

But one key reason why this is really sensible instead of meticulously cataloging individual these files into a strict folder structure is also because of how we consume them. I search for a song, not a specific file; and even if I have two of those files in my collection (say I keep a compressed version and a lossless version) the metadata available is plenty enough to decide which one I'd like to use now. Same goes for a photo I took with my partner during a trip to a location, the only things I need to do to find the images I took during the trip is the location and who the photos have in them. Stuff like that literally takes us a minute to search for, because they are indexed correctly and the metadata is well defined. 

 

But the professional workflows of many STEM fields don't really work like that where an app owns a type of file or a particular file instance. Even the world of video or audio production would probably struggle to fully adopt that way of looking at data. Let's take a simple data export form a large DB of sales data. I may have just downloaded a CSV file form Shopify with lifetime sales form one of my stores. That file was created by my browser or the website (depends on how you look at it), but is going to opened by Numbers, Excel, Libre Office or any of the many spreadsheet applications I use. And here too, the meta data may help me. But what if I have downloaded 20 different files over the past few days but each for a different time period? Now the metadata needs to hold that information as well and all of a sudden Shopify and WooCommerce needs agree on some structure for the metadata on a CSV file. But things get even more vague when I want to pass that file I downloaded on to a python script that takes a command line argument to get the file to run the script on. I either have to write a far more complex script that takes bunch of metadata to find the file form an abstract "laundry basket" or I could understand a file structure, keep the script and the file in the same directory and then use a relative path. And unless the metadata includes the date range for which I downloaded the file, I could run the script for the wrong dataset and end up with all sort of wrong outcomes.

 

Things can get crazy if I don't follow a solid file structure for a large ERP project for example since there is a lot of relative references to libraries and things like these are going to be better off explicitly calling file instead of hoping a robot is going to find the file based on metadata.

 

I'm in no way implying that everyone needs to understand this and even within the STEM field, the level of understanding required it going to vary vastly between specific fields. A software engineer will need more understanding of the FS than a mechanical engineer probably will. And the general public is better off with less of these complexities, I have not used the file system of my Android phones for long time since I gave up on rooting. But the STEM field students will, for the foreseeable future, need a better understanding of a  File System and the tree structure than students from the arts field or journalism (only examples). We may eventually get to a point where the entire paradigm of computing changes and even software engineers would not need to know about any of this, but I feel that is a long way from now, if it ever happens. 

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8 minutes ago, PessimalManiac said:

But the professional workflows of many STEM fields don't really work like that where an app owns a type of file or a particular file instance. Even the world of video or audio production would probably struggle to fully adopt that way of looking at data. Let's take a simple data export form a large DB of sales data. I may have just downloaded a CSV file form Shopify with lifetime sales form one of my stores. That file was created by my browser or the website (depends on how you look at it), but is going to opened by Numbers, Excel, Libre Office or any of the many spreadsheet applications I use. And here too, the meta data may help me. But what if I have downloaded 20 different files over the past few days but each for a different time period? Now the metadata needs to hold that information as well and all of a sudden Shopify and WooCommerce needs agree on some structure for the metadata on a CSV file. But things get even more vague when I want to pass that file I downloaded on to a python script that takes a command line argument to get the file to run the script on. I either have to write a far more complex script that takes bunch of metadata to find the file form an abstract "laundry basket" or I could understand a file structure, keep the script and the file in the same directory and then use a relative path. And unless the metadata includes the date range for which I downloaded the file, I could run the script for the wrong dataset and end up with all sort of wrong outcomes.

 

A really interesting example. As I said in my initial post in theory meta data is more convenient than strict folder structure. 

 

The following that I will write is not to argue that you are wrong, take it more as an discussion. 

 

In your example above is the saving process that much different than when saving into a classical folder structure?

What I'm getting at is that in a folder structure you need to decide where the file needs to be (that contains some information about the file like if it comes from i e Shopify) and you need to decide what the file should be called in example what time period your file covers and to some extent what file type it is (if you are in windows, Linux and MacOS don't seem to give a fuck if you remove the file extension).

 

In the folderless file system the file just get dumped in the HDD with a unique but nondescriptive, in the dumping process you give metadata attributes basically the same data that you gave your file in the previous example but instead of a folder structure and file name the metadata will say stuff like this is from "shopify", "sales" and "time period xx-xx" etc. Basically the same data about the file as you build up with a folder/file name system.

 

The difference comes when you want to retrieve/browse the files. In a folder system you have the structure and it's rigid and there is no problems to go fetch the sales for period xx-xx from shopify. But hey I want to compare these sales data for the same period for WooCommerce, well go backward in the catalogue structure and then dive in to the next catalogue tree and dig up corresponding file. 

In the folder less metadata based system you just sort your files on metadata containing shopify, woocommerece, sales and period xx-xx and you get it all filtered. 

 

And for example command line giving some metadata to what you are looking for instead of path I see more upsides instead of memorizing long search paths. Of course this assume that the system you are building is built around this meta data approach (with proper indexing in example)

 

Below is just an stupid example of what you need to type to reach a file in command line (which in your case might be needed to be added to your argument). 

Quote

/Users/spindelwhichisnotmyrealusernameonthiscomputer/importantworkstuff/projects/customers/shopify/sales 2020.csv

 While with a metadata system it might look more something like this (and order will not be important all arguments just have to be satisfied):

Quote

"shopify" "sales" "2020" "csv" 

 

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4 hours ago, Spindel said:

To give a concrete example connected to my previous post that is actually up and running in the real world. 

 

And don't shit on my for the example I will give because I know a lot of people on tech forums like to shit on it just hear me out. 

 

iTunes (now days Music app on Mac) is a great example that is really convenient using the thing I mentioned above. 

 

Already with the iPod people complained about not being able to drag and drop folders with music to their iPods but the thing is the same people totally missed the point. 

 

iTunes/Music was/is built on the principle that you do not need to arrange your music collection into a folder structure (as I described in my previous post). You just dump ALL of your music files into one place. In iTunes/music you set metadata to each song like genre/artist/writer/album/year/producer etc. Depending on what metadata you've given you can easily sort out what you want to either import to your iPod or just listen for the day. 

 

One day you might to want to only listen to Country, well just set sorting on Country and start listening. In this instance a folder structure would have been sufficient to do the same. 

But the next day you want to listen to songs written by Lemmy Kilmister, well sort on songs written by Lemmy Kilmistier and you get all the songs (if given the meta data) across all the artist and genres Lemmy wrote for. This you can't do easily with traditional folderstructrues (I took Lemmy as an example because outside of Mötorhead he wrote a lot for other artists and across genres). 

The third day I want to only listen to songs written in 1986, sort on it and you get songs form only 1986.

 

All this while the music files are just one big stinking pile in the classical folder structure.  

 

Of course if you start from zero the task of setting all metadata is a chore if you move in with a big collection, but once you are up and running the setup of each added album/song does not take longer than fiddling with folder structures. 

 

Aside from iTunes being a resource hog and poorly written for Windows, at least back in the days (yes I was a Windows user back in the days), as soon as I realized the power of using metadata to sort my music instead of folder structures I have never looked back. 

 

 

Folder structures suck for anything other than analogy to a file cabinet. 

When I moved to iPhone, iTunes was a huge pain in my ass in every sense. 
 

My music wasn’t in some central location, it was kind of everywhere across a multitude of drives with varying quality of, or even no tags. I could just move whatever to my phone, and deal with tagging on-device as necessary. 
 

iTunes forces me to handle tagging and organization before moving them over, so more up front work. 

My eyes see the past…

My camera lens sees the present…

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I am not surprised. I don't think it's necessarily a gen Z thing either. I don't think my mom would understand a whole lot about the Windows file directory either. She might know that she can put folders inside folders and make a tree like that, on her desktop, but that's probably about it.

I feel like this is the natural evolution of computers. As we build more abstraction and easy to use tools for users to use, the less people will understand the underlying technologies that makes it work. Computer enthusiasts in the 70's were probably terrified to learn that people who programmed in BASIC didn't know how to program assembly, or punch cards or whatever.

 

 

This is a classic "wow, I can't believe someone doesn't know all the things I know. They sure are dumb for not knowing this!" circle-jerk piece.

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5 hours ago, Spotty said:

It's because everyone just watches porn in their web browser these days. They never learned to navigate elaborate folder structures to hide their porn stash.

What? Just have a dedicated HDD for that and throw everything on the root of the drive, duh.... lol

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Yeah it's sad. They don't know what Internet is, they only know WiFi in a crude way. They don't know what a PC is, only using touch smartphone with few basic degenerate apps.

Ryzen 7 3800X | X570 Aorus Elite | G.Skill 16GB 3200MHz C16 | Radeon RX 5700 XT | Samsung 850 PRO 256GB |Mousepad: Skypad 3.0 XL | Mouse: Zowie S1-C |Keyboard: Corsair K63 MX red | OS: Windows 11

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