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Tech Education

Twin Cities resources to help improve tech skills.

Technology Vocabulary

Accessibility – A term used to describe how easy or difficult it is for people with disabilities to use technology. Accessibility features might include subtitles for people who are deaf or hard of hearing, screen readers or dictation features for people who are blind or have low vision, and so on.


Airplane Mode – This is an option on most phones and tablets for when you’re on an airplane. Normally your device is always automatically searching for either a Wi-Fi network to form an internet connection with or a cellular tower to get cell phone service from, or both. Turning on airplane mode stops it from doing that, which is an important function to have when flying on an airplane. Be sure to turn airplane mode off when you’ve landed, however, as you won’t be able to use the internet, send text messages, or make phone calls when it’s on.


App/Application – A type of software that can be installed on a phone or tablet. Many social media sites like Facebook and Twitter have apps, and some businesses like McDonald's, Disney, and Target have them as well. These allow users to enjoy a more mobile-friendly experience when they visit those sites. When you open your phone, you'll likely see a lot of apps, ranging from Notes to Email, Weather, and more. They can be installed by going to the App Store and downloading them.  


Attachment – Something that's attached to an email, usually a document. If you want to send a Word document, photo, or PDF to someone, you could use the attachment option. This allows users to open the document or photo on their computer and saves you from having to copy and paste everything into an email. Be careful to only open attachments from senders you trust, since an attachment from a sketchy sender could contain viruses. 


Authentication/Two-Step/Multi-Factor Authentication – There are several names for this concept, but the principle is the same: You confirm your identity when logging into an account. When logging into a school or work email, for instance, you might enter your email address and password, and then enter in a code that the system sends to your phone through an automated call or text message. This helps keep out hackers and proves that the person accessing the account is who they say they are. Having this extra security step can keep your data safe.


Blog – A personal website or webpage that works as an e-journal. They are usually run by individuals, but some businesses have them as well. Blogs are regularly updated and can consist of articles about a certain topic or journal entries about the writer's thoughts or travels. They can be a great way to gain a following online or boost visitor numbers to a website.


Bluetooth – Wireless technology that uses radio frequency to send data between devices. This is commonly used to connect a headset or car player to a smartphone, enabling a hands-free mode.


Browser Extensions – These are little software programs you can add to your internet browser to make using the internet more fun. A popular example is AdBlock, which blocks some online advertisements. On Google Chrome, you can find and install them in the Chrome Web Store.   


Cache – Hardware or software that stores data to help apps, websites, and browsers load faster. The cache is what helps keep you signed in when you visit websites and what autocompletes your search results. If your computer is getting slow, it might be time to clear your cache since storing too much data can overwhelm it.


Chat – A function that allows users to send instant messages to each other, similar to email but faster and more efficient for quick messages. Some examples of common chat programs are Microsoft Teams, Slack, and Google Chat. 


Cloud Storage – This refers to any program that lets you save your data, like photos or documents, by uploading it to the internet. Some examples include Microsoft OneDrive, iCloud, and Google Drive. This is a way to back up your work in case your computer gets lost, damaged, or stolen. You can just log in to your account on OneDrive, iCloud, etc. from a different computer or from a phone or tablet and access your work that way. The advantage of cloud storage is that it can’t get lost or damaged like a flash drive. The downside is that it depends on an internet connection, and sometimes (though not often) these programs can be hacked.


Cookies – These are temporary files that a website stores in your internet browser. Usually, it’s a way to help websites remember you so that you don’t have to log in every single time. It’s how Amazon remembers what was in your shopping cart even if you close the website or the app. Websites often ask if you’re willing to accept cookies and may only let you use them if you say yes. Most cookies are harmless, but there is such a thing as too many of them. If your internet seems to be slower, it may be a good idea to clear your cookies.


Cursor – The little icon you see when moving your mouse. Depending on where you've moved your mouse, the cursor could look like a white arrow or a capital I.


Download – When you open something from the internet or app store and put it on your computer, tablet, or phone, that's a download. Common downloadable items are documents, photos, apps, music, and videos. For example, if I wanted to download a Netflix show onto my tablet, I could pull it up in Netflix, click "Download," and then it would appear in my Downloads tab so I could watch the show on my device without needing the internet.


Email – A communication function that uses the internet to send and receive messages. Common providers are Gmail, Microsoft Outlook, and Yahoo!


Ethernet – The opposite of Wi-Fi, ethernet is when you plug your computer in to a special outlet to connect to the internet. This is what many desktop computers use. The benefit of ethernet is that it’s typically much faster than Wi-Fi, doesn’t require a password, and is harder to hack. The downsides are that (1) it’s a little more difficult to set up since you need a special cable and outlet, and (2) it's not portable. You’re stuck working wherever the ethernet outlet is.


Flash Drive – A little technology stick sold at many stores that plugs into the side of most computers and some tablets. This  is a way to back up your documents, photos, and other data and take it with you in case something happens to your computer. You can just plug the flash drive into another computer and access your documents and photos that way. The advantage of a flash drive is that it’s easily portable and doesn’t depend on an internet connection. The downside is that because it's a physical item, it can get lost, damaged, or stolen.


Forward When you receive an email and want someone else to see it too, you can click the "Forward" option to send it on to them. If you receive a forwarded email, be sure it originated from someone you trust before clicking on it, as hackers will sometimes use emails to gain access to a device.


Hardware – The parts inside your computer, like its processor and memory. A better processor typically means a faster computer that can do more at a time. Hardware is what you would see if you took your computer apart to look at what’s inside. 


Hotspot – A portable wireless access point that lets you connect your device(s) to the internet when you're away from home. 


Hyperlink – A link is a method of quickly accessing a certain website, and a hyperlink allows for that link to be embedded in the text. Here's an example: click this hyperlink to go to the Google search page.


Internet Browser – What you use to access the internet. What do you click on when you want to go to the internet? Whatever it is, that’s your browser. It could be Google Chrome, Safari, Microsoft Edge, or Mozilla Firefox.


JPEG – Joint Photographic Experts Group (JPEG) is a common compression method for digital images. By compressing the data, it can retain some of the same quality of a professional photograph without taking up too much space on your computer. When you download a photo, you'll likely have the option to save it as a JPEG, among other file types.


Keyboard Shortcut – These are ways of performing common tasks more quickly by typing on the keyboard instead of clicking the mouse. If you want to save your Word document, you could type "Ctrl s" or "Command s" on your keyboard instead of clicking "File" and "Save." Some other keyboard shortcuts are "Ctrl c" for copy and "Ctrl p" for paste. If you're using a Mac, "Ctrl" will be "Command." 


Malware – Software that's designed to damage or hack your computer to steal or leak your data. The word is a blanket term for any kind of software made with malicious intent, and is typically installed over a network without the user's permission. Protect yourself from malware by never clicking on suspicious links, being careful about what software you download, and keeping your computer up to date.


Location Services – This is an option to make your location available so a program or website can know exactly where you are. Location services can be used to help a delivery or emergency service find you or to help a navigation app like Google Maps or Waze give you directions. However, Location Services can also present privacy concerns, so it’s important to turn this function on or off as needed.


Operating System (OS/iOS) – What your device uses to operate and run all of its software. On a Dell laptop, it would be Windows. On a Mac, it would be OS, and for an iPhone, it would be iOS.


Outlook – The email program developed by Microsoft. This is often included in their Office 365 software bundle.  


PC – This stands for “personal computer.” Usually the term “PC” is just a way to distinguish a computer from a phone or tablet, or a way to distinguish a Windows computer like a Dell or a Toshiba from an Apple or Mac computer.


PDF – Portable Document Format (PDF) is a universal file type that makes sending and sharing documents easier. When one person is using Microsoft Word on a Windows computer and another person is using Pages on an Apple computer, they might want to convert their documents into PDFs before sharing them between each other. This allows them to read each others' documents with all the same text and graphics despite using different computers with different software. 


Permissions – The ability to access something that's protected. Organizations sometimes put limits on who can access certain documents or accounts to avoid hackers and protect confidential information. If that's the case, users may need to be granted permissions to open the document. 


Phishing – A type of cybercrime where someone pretending to be from a trustworthy organization or company contacts you by email or text asking for personal information. Examples might include a phisher pretending to be your boss at work and insisting they need you to give them the password for the company database, or pretending to be your bank and asking for your credit card number. Protect yourself from phishing by always verifying the source, never giving out personal information over email, and not clicking on suspicious links.


Post – This refers to the act of publishing something online, typically on social media. The word can be used as a noun or a verb. ("Look at that post" or "Post this please."


RAM – This stands for “Random Access Memory.” It’s what your computer uses to keep multiple stuff open at once. For example, if you switch from the internet to a document, RAM is how the computer remembers what website you had up, even when you’re not using the internet. The more RAM your computer has, the more efficient it is.


Ransomware – A tool used by hackers to extort money from individuals or companies. They install the ransomware on your device (often by getting you to click or download something suspicious), and then lock you out of it. The hackers often demand a certain amount of money within a certain timeframe and threaten to delete all data from the device if payment isn't received. You can avoid ransomware attacks by regularly updating your devices, using multi-factor authentication, and being careful about what you click on. It's also good to back up your data to a flash drive or cloud storage just in case.


Right-Click – This refers to when you click on the right side of the mouse instead of the left. Right-clicking gives you options that normal clicking (or left-clicking) doesn't. For example, if you clicked on this page with the right side of your mouse, you would see options to save and print it.


Router – This is where the Wi-Fi comes from. When you buy an internet plan from a company like Xfinity, a router is what they’ll give you. You plug it in, tell your computer/phone/tablet to connect to it, enter your password if you have one, and then you can start using Wi-Fi, or wireless internet. 


Search Engine – What you use to find what you’re looking for on the internet. Google, Yahoo!, and Bing are common examples. The term "search engine optimization" (SEO) comes from this, and refers to the technique of trying to make your website or blog the top result in a search.


Slideshow/Presentation – Any kind of software that lets you do a presentation with slides that you can show to an audience. The most common example is Microsoft PowerPoint, but there’s also Google Slides, Keynote, Prezi, etc.


Software – The programs loaded on your computer, like Word, PowerPoint, Notepad, etc. Software is what you see on your screen when you turn your computer on and look at all of its programs. 


Spam – Unwanted emails that are usually from advertisers or scammers. Some email programs have a Spam folder to help filter these out, but sometimes they can make mistakes and put wanted emails in there too. Spam can also refer to when there's too much of something (i.e., "They spammed my inbox with too many newsletters"). Be careful about clicking on spam emails, as they can contain viruses.  


Spreadsheet – Any kind of software that lets you create sheets full of numbers with mathematical formulas. The most common example is Microsoft Excel, but there’s also Google Sheets, Numbers, etc.


Sync – A process devices use to keep their content up to date. If you clicked the option to "sync your contacts" in a new phone, for example, those names and phone numbers would be added automatically without you having to input them.


Tab – The sections of a browser window that keep track of the websites you go to. This guide that you're looking at is in one tab. If you wanted to look at something else, you could open a new tab and look at that thing while keeping this guide up in this tab. You can also close tabs when you're done with them, which helps the computer work faster.


Touchpad/Trackpad – This is the part of a laptop that you use to move and click your mouse. Be careful not to confuse this with a touchscreen, which is the screen of a smartphone, tablet, and some video game consoles.


Upload – When you put something from your computer into an online space, that's an upload. An example might be uploading an attachment to an email or an assignment to a homework portal. You can upload documents, music, videos, and photos.


USB – Universal Serial Bus (USB) is the industry standard for cables and other devices that connect to computers. Most desktops and laptops have USB ports for items like flash drives, card readers, keyboards, and mice to plug into, allowing you to do more with your device. Some tablets have them too.


VPN – A virtual private network (VPN) hides your IP address and encrypts your data to protect your privacy online and make it harder for others to track your data. 


Wi-Fi/Wi-Fi Network – This refers to wireless internet. Many hotels, airports, libraries, and some cafes or restaurants offer free Wi-Fi. Some Wi-Fi networks require a password for security purposes or may require you to agree to certain terms, like not committing crimes on their network. When you buy an internet plan from a company like Xfinity, they’ll set you up with your own Wi-Fi at home and will likely encourage you to set a password to keep hackers from using your internet.


Window – The part of your internet browser that shows your activity. This guide that you're looking at right now is in a window. If you were to open a new window, you would see a separate pane with a different page, likely Google or whatever your default page happens to be.


Word Processor – Any kind of software that lets you create, type in, and save documents. The most common example is Microsoft Word, but there’s also Google Docs, Pages, etc.