Teaching Structure

I had a great pedagogical conversation recently.  A friend and I were meeting and both whipped out our iPads to do some collaboration and decided to load the same application, Evernote, for notetaking or some reason which I’ve forgotten now.  I opened my "Notes" folder and tapped Evernote and was ready to go.  I watch my friend swipe to the search screen and start typing "E – V – E – R…" and the results started coming through and he tapped and loaded the application.

We immediately forgot what we were doing as I asked him if that’s how he loads all of his applications.  His answer was yes.  We then did a desktop comparison.  My desktop, as shown below, has two screens – one is composed of applications that I use all the time and are a single tap away.  The balance of my applications are on the second screen all filed away nicely filed away by type – Bookmarks – Browsers – Business – and so on.

As I looked on his iPad, it was screen after screen of random applications.  I asked how they were organized and he replied "Don’t know, don’t care, it doesn’t matter".  In fact, every application is launched the same way – by going to the search screen, type a few letters to find the document or application and open it.

I was a little taken aback.  Now, I go back to the days of working with QNX and DOS where we operated on the command line.  I had to learn and organize things and every computer that I’ve ever used had me typing instructions like:

  • mkdir doug
  • md doug

I think every computer I’ve ever owned has a directory named "doug" in it!  Notice that I’m using the word "directory" instead of "folder".  But, time and interfaces mark on and we use folders as a method of organization.  In fact, our discussion on this date got to a discussion of what do we need directories or folders for.  Just throw everything on the computer and use search to find it after the fact was his point.  I was agast and just couldn’t imagine working in a world like that.  I typically don’t start my editing sessions by opening a document, I open the application first.

I have another friend who I thought had a unique filing system.  She puts everything on her computer desktop.  Literally, she’ll work and add documents until there isn’t room for another icon.  I asked her once what she’d do if the desktop got full and she said that she’d upgrade to a new computer with a higher resolution to that it could handle more files!  That wasn’t true, of course; I caught her cleaning up her desktop one Friday afternoon.  But, that was her filing strategy.

So, I did a little reflection on this.  Am I just old school for wanting everything organized so that I can drill down to get what I’m looking for?  Do I need to get with the program and just use search to find everything?   I was about to end my discussion as a draw and accept the fact that the two of us just had different management skills.  Mine works for me and for others there is Spotlight on the Mac or Search for Windows and Gnome.

I’m sure this might have happened to you.  I wrap up the discussion and am driving home when it hit me.  You can’t search for everything.  You NEED to have a filing strategy.  Why?  Our discussions that day were very single computer oriented.  What happens when you’re connected to a Windows server with a home directory sitting at H:\ on the one hand and other files sitting in your Google account and other files sitting in your Dropbox and other files residing at … <fill in the blank>  A rush of relief fell over me as I realized that the answer is that you need to know where everything is in a connected world.  A single box, maybe you’ve OK, but with multiple shares, you need a better strategy than to simply search for everything. 

Now for the $10,000 question.  Are we teaching these strategies?  With all the accounts and resources that a person could amass for specific purposes, how do we ensure that students (and us!) can get back to a previously saved document.  Sure, it’s easy to remember where a document you worked on yesterday is.  But, how about something from months ago?

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  1. I’m a desktopper. My students laugh at my desktop because it is full of icons. However, I quickly find what I need. Also, I do not file email. Like your first friend, I simply use the search feature in email to find what I am looking for.


  2. I totally agree Doug and yes I sometimes miss the hands on control of dos and apps on dos, even if that dates me! Yes I teach organizing as a form of enlightened self interest; otherwise I spend all day helping kids find work or get apps to run that depend on folder organization such as moviemaker. In September I do little projects that on the surface are easy but involve a lot of filing and saving. It works! The other thing that goes along with this is file naming with date codes or initials, so that if they deposit into a class folder on the network their work is identifiable. Again to me this saves time and aggravation in the long run. Good post and I learned sOmething myself for my iPad!


  3. As a tech, our network doesn`t allow saving on the desktop – you reboot, you lose everything so we make sure users save on their H: Drive

    At home, I`m a mess on all 3 computers, shared folders have no orginization either, but hey…I`m a tech, we`re wired differently!! My iPad was the same until recently…the burden of scrolling through 8 screens of apps to find Angry Birds, or my note-taking app…Most are now stored in lovely folders, until the next time.


  4. I am so glad to have run across your “dilema.” I put everything in collections like you do (screenshot could be of my iPad) but have friends who only search. I can’t always remember what it is I want to search for so having items in a collection reminds me of what I have on that topic. I agree that we need to teach our students the importance of organization. Even if they only “search” I think it is vitally important in this cloud era that they know where things actually reside.


  5. Hi Doug, in my work I find three separate approaches work 98% of the time. For documents, folders and sub folders are my organizer of choice. Given that I apply the file names, they are meaningful to me and I rarely have problems locating what I need. For internet sites and apps, the “favorite” feature on my browser of choice (Chrome) works for me. For resident software, my tool set is limited and so I am comfortable using desktop icons and native Explore functionality.

    Now in the 2% of time where that doesn’t work, Google Desktop comes to the rescue.

    One other thing that I do that helps me is a very simple form of document management. Although I rarely retrace revision paths, I do want to manage versions. The simplest way for me to this is to add v## to the to track drafts. Given the to and fro-ing of documents amongst colleagues, this has been an invaluable and easy to deal with version control.

    Martin Goldberg


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