Teaching Digital File Organization Skills

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Learning to stay organized is a crucial skill for visually impaired students to learn, and that doesn’t change just because students may be using more digital technology these days! Students need to be able to organize handouts, readings, research, and assignments, and be able to quickly find information during classes and group work. The topic of efficiently organizing and finding files recently came up in a conversation with a colleague, so we thought we’d put together a post with ideas and strategies that students can explore with their teachers.

The Right View

In Windows and many mobile apps, there are several ways to view files including icons, thumbnails, or a list. Icons show the app that will be launched when a file is open; thumbnails show a small preview of the file (for example, a picture or document); a list shows a list with a small icon, the file name, the date created, and other details.

Often, icon, thumbnail, and similar views are arranged in a grid. While larger icons or thumbnails may be easier to see for students with low vision, a grid arrangement can be challenging to navigate if the entire screen isn’t visible at once (for example, when using screen magnification or listening to a screen reader). This is because, when navigating with the keyboard, the user may have to press any of the four directional arrows to reach the next file, depending on where they are in the grid. This can be challenging if a student can’t see whether they are at the end of a column or row. A list or detailed view, by contrast, is restricted to up and down navigation regardless of position.

Students can experiment with different views to determine which they find most efficient to use and navigate. In File Explorer on Windows, switch between eight available views by pressing CTRL + SHIFT plus the numbers 1 to 8. (These views can also be seen by activating the View Ribbon.) In Finder on Mac, switch between four views by pressing CMD plus the numbers 1 through 4. (These views can also be switched by clicking the four buttons on the toolbar.)

Organization Structures

It can seem challenging to quickly skim a long list of files and find the one that’s needed while in the middle of a hectic classroom activity! Folders can be used to arrange files into a logical structure depending on each student’s needs and preferences. For example, a student may prefer to organize files into a folder for each class with subfolders for readings, assignments, and handouts. Or they may prefer to organize files into dates. One of the great things about digital information is that it’s easy to adjust! Learning to copy and move folders can ensure students have the skills they need to quickly organize their files and adjust the organizational structure if something isn’t working well for them.

It can be helpful to discuss organizational strategies at the beginning of the school year. Experiment with the same files organized into different structures (for example, having a class folder with no subfolders, or having a class folder with lots of sub-folders) and see which one allows a student to quickly find the file(s) they need. Students can even play a file “scavenger hunt” where they use a timer with different organizational structures and strategies to objectively find which one is faster.

Searching for Files

A foundational computer skill everyone should learn is first-letter navigation. First-letter navigation allows a user to type in the first letter (or letters) of a file name they are looking for and instantly jump to files beginning with those letters. For example, if your Downloads folder contains 175 items and you are looking for a file called JAWSLessons.docx, pressing J (possibly followed quickly by A and W) will jump past a bunch of files and instantly land on the one starting with J-A-W. If there are multiple files starting with the same letters, they may have to be repeated a few times to get to the right file.

If a folder has many subfolders and a student isn’t sure which subfolder a particular file is in, they can use their file manager app’s Search function to search within folders and subfolders. For example, if they are in their Science folder and have organized files into dates, and need to find a file called Experiments.pptx but aren’t sure which subfolder (date) the file is under, they can search for Experiments and all files with that word in the name will be listed.

In File Explorer on Windows, press CTRL + E to search the current folder (and subfolders) for files and press DOWN ARROW to review the results list. In Finder on Mac, press CMD + F to go to the search field, type in text, and then press TAB to move to the list of files, and use the arrow keys to navigate. If a student can’t remember the file name, they can search the entire operating system (the contents of all files and folders) by using the Start Menu in Windows or Spotlight search on a Mac.

Do you have any activities or strategies you use when teaching students digital file organization and navigation? We’d love to hear about it!

About the author

Jen Jesso

I have worked in various roles in the field of visual impairment since 2007. In addition to working as a teacher of students with visual impairments, I recently completed coursework to become an orientation and mobility specialist. I have been fortunate to work with the fantastic team at PRCVI since 2014.

I enjoy many aspects of my role at PRCVI, but highlights include working with teachers of students with visual impairments and their students on outreach visits and working on PRCVI initiatives and projects.

Outside of work, my interests include reading, computer programming, swimming, and spending time with friends and family.

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