Fragment: Basic Computing Concepts for Students – File Paths

A widely shared blog post – File not found – has been doing the rounds lately that describes how for a large proportion of students, the question of “where” a file is on their computer is a meaningless question.

We see this from time to time in a couple of modules I work on, even amongst third year undergrad students, where the problem of not being able to locate a file manifests itself when students have to open files from a code by referring to the file’s address or file path. “Path? Wossat then?”

Orienting yourself to the current working directory (“the what?”) and then using either relative or absolute addressing (“either what or what?”) on the filesystem (“the f…?”) to move or view the contents of another directory are just not on the radar…

In the courses I work on, the problems are compounded by having two file systems in place, one for the students desktop, one inside a local docker container; some directories mounted from host onto a path inside the virtual environment as a shared folder. (If none of that makes sense, but you laughed at the thought of students not being able to reference file locations, then in the world we now live in: that… And: you…)

I used to think that one of the ways in to giving students some sort of idea about what file paths are was to get them to hack URLs, but I could never convince any of my colleagues that was a sensible approach.

I still think they’re wrong, but I’m not sure I’m right any more… I’ve certainly stopped hacking URLs so much myself in recent years, so I figure that URL patterns are perhaps changing for the worse. Or I’m just not having to hack my own way around websites so much any more?

Anyway… the blog post immediately brought to mind a book that was championed folksonomies, back in the day, a decade or so ago, when tagging was all the rage amongst the cool library kids, and if you knew what faceted browsing was and knew how to wield a ctrl-f, you were ahead of the curve. (I suspect many folk have no idea what any of that meant…). The book was, David Weinberger’s Everything is Miscellaneous, and pretty much every one who was into that sort of thing would have read it, or heard one of his presentations about it:

I would have linked to it on Hive or bookshop.org.uk, but a quick naive search on those sites (which are essentially the same site in terms of catalogue, I think?) didn’t find the book…

Anyway, I think getting students to read that book, or watch something like embedded video above, where David Weinberger does the book talk in a Talks at Google session from a hundred years ago, might help…

See also: Anatomy for First Year Computing and IT Students, another of those crazy ideas that I could never persuade any of my colleagues about.

Author: Tony Hirst

I'm a Senior Lecturer at The Open University, with an interest in #opendata policy and practice, as well as general web tinkering...

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