What does it mean for “technology to work for you”? (Bonus blog)

Something I feel like I’ve learned through my work in this program (Digital Education Leadership M.Ed. at Seattle Pacific University), which has drastically changed the way I approach and/or think about technology, is what it means for “technology to work for me.” It’s definitely a phrase I’ve heard, though I don’t know that I could identify where. It sounds like it could be a slogan or a motto or something: “Making technology work for you!”

In the past, it was a rather meaningless phrase for me, but now I feel like I have examples that shows what it means – though first, I’ll state what I think it means. And I want to highlight that my description might be no different than what it would have been in the past, before I felt like I understood; my understanding is not in my description, but in my ability to identify examples of it and in the way I now attempt to make technology work for me. My description:

Making technology work for you: seeing a task you need or want to do, and using technology to somehow improve or make possible the doing of the task.

My description is based on the accumulation of my work and interactions in my program; it’s hard to really cite anything specific at this point.

Example 1: Text-to-speech (tts)

I think I first understood this idea when I was working on my text-to-speech (tts) blog (here). To recap what that was all about: I needed to read a history book for a class, and I really needed to find a way to have it read to me because it was taking me a very long time to complete and retain the reading, unaided. I had never used that assistive technology before. I still had to read along while it was read out loud to me. At the moment, I don’t know how to explain the difference that it makes or why I feel like I need it, but my favorite tts reader that I found (a browser extension, compatible with Chrome and Safari, TTSReaderX In-Page Text to Speech) has changed the way I do the activity of reading. Sometimes I really need it and it makes me capable of getting through a reading. Sometimes I can read just fine without it. But the technology is working for me in the way that the tts reader improves my ability to read.

Another way I use the reader is to have it read my own writing back to me, to watch and listen for errors. I read that as a tip somewhere, and by golly, it works! I never post a blog without listening to it on ttsreader.com. No browser extension is needed to copy and paste into the website – again it’s built to work in Chrome and Safari. I say a silent thank you every time TTSReader works for me in this way because it is doing something I can’t do: voicing my writing, in not my voice, exactly as written. Technology is working for me in the way that it improves my ability to proofread my own writing.

Side note: TTSReader has a statement about not ever collecting any of the data you pass to their readers.

Example 2: Arranging pictures with associated text

My second example comes from a recent request. My mom asked me if I knew a good way to organize pictures with text. Specifically, she wants to have a picture of a piece of pottery that she made, with a description of the glazes she used, so that she can keep track of how she glazed a pottery piece and what the glaze looked like when done. Additionally, she wants to be able to print off these pictures+descriptions in a list-like way so that she can mark off what she’s sold when she does a pottery sale. What technology would be good for helping her do this?

Based on a few more needs and parameters, I suggested that she primarily use PowerPoint, and also use Facebook and Windows’ Snipping Tool (built-in program in Windows 7 and after).

PowerPoint allows you to group a picture and a text box so that you can easily move them around together. You can put multiple pictures+text boxes on one slide, and then print multiple slides on one piece of paper, making it easy to print a “list” of pictures+text.

My mom would use Facebook as a way to quickly save a picture and text on the fly. When she’s in the studio, she can make a private post to her FB page (so that her work is only visible to her), with a picture of her piece, and she can either write her glaze recipe right then, or later. Then she can easily copy the picture and text to PowerPoint once she’s on her computer. (And she can move that picture into a private FB album to keep her pictures organized on FB.)

She can use the Snipping Tool to snip the picture+text from PowerPoint, to make a picture which includes the text box in the picture itself. I’m not sure the exact reason she wants to be able to do this, but the Snipping Tool is a great way to do that on Windows computers.

In this example, my mom has a few things she wants to be able to do, and we tried to pick a few programs that could work together to suit her needs. We’re making technology work for her by trying to optimize her ability to save, organize, and print her work through the use of technology.

Closing remarks

Again, the difference in my understanding is hard to articulate. It’s not like I wouldn’t use a tts reader or be able to help my mom find tools that help her accomplish her task without this “new found understanding.” But I am much more active in the way I try to make technology work for me. I think harder about how different steps in my task could be optimized or made easier, and I think harder about my needs. I feel like I can imagine more. I feel encouraged to dream up what I could do, instead of recall what I can do. And isn’t that what cutting edge technology is all about?: dreaming up what we could do if only there was a piece of technology that did x, y, and z.