Students who grew up with search engines might change STEM education forever

The headline is oddly STEM-specific, but yes, it used to be that if you worked with computers at all, you had to understand your computer’s file directory structure, so all college instructors could expect that their STEM majors had probably learned this concept as part of their earliest computer training. But the “search” function on individual computers (and also the list of recently saved files that almost every software tool puts into its “load” menu) means generation Z usually doesn’t need to internalize the concept that a document exists at a single location on a hard drive.

I have recently created some assignments that require students to copy and paste the URLs of their blog posts, because I’ve seen some students who don’t understand that a URL that has “…” in the middle has been cosmetically shortened to fit into their browser’s window, and that they’ll need the full URL in order for it to work.

I remember a few years ago getting blank stares when I referred to the general term “word processor,” when I was talking about the differences between MS-Word, Apple Pages, and Google Docs.

But for me, the big moment was around 2007 when I heard a student in the hall outside my office say, “Email is for old people.” (She was playfully teasing someone in another office, but it had a big impression on me.)

Garland thought it would be an easy fix. She 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. —The Verge

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