Select the search type
  • Site
  • Web
Search


Volunteer Nation Blog

rss

“You make a living by what you get. You make a life by what you give.” ~Winston Churchill


Tech Tips: Audio & Microphone

Let’s talk about audio and selecting the correct recording device! We do have Recommended Equipment lists for each community in the Resources section of this website, but I wanted to talk about some recording and microphone tips.

 

First of all, I'd like to thank our pro and semi-pro narrators...we really appreciate you lending us your wonderful voices for some pretty awesome juvenile fiction titles that engage our students! One thing we do ask is that you not condition your audio before you send it to us...don’t adjust the volume after recording, normalize, remove noise, etc. We have our own post-production audio processing that will take care of minor audio issues, and if you do anything to it as well, it comes out sounding over-processed and artificial. Be sure to use the correct audio format and sample rate as well. Here's a recent example that sounds over-processed (great narration, but definitely some audio issues):

 

Another common issue is not realizing which recording device is selected. This is an easy mistake that can happen in any recording software. When you play back your recording, listen carefully and if it sounds “roomy” or distant, it might be using the wrong recording device. In Audacity, the microphone is selected at the top of the screen:

Audacity's mic selection is shown

 

 

The place to select the recording device differs in other audio software, of course. 

 

In EasyBooks, look at the bottom of the screen where it says Input:

EasyBooks bottom of screen where Input is shown

 

 

 

 

If it’s blank or doesn't look right, click the settings gear icon on the left and choose a different input device and click OK. 


We hope this helps but don't hesitate to ask for assistance if you're not happy with your audio quality...we are here to help!
 


Literature Books Completed in January!

The Literature team completed 53 Books in January!  Thank you for the hours of narrating, listening, teamwork and talent that makes this possible!

Shelf Number Book Title Narrator Listener
NB271 Chocolate : Sweet Science and Dark Secrets of the World's Favorite Treat JB Kump Les Wiesenfelder
KZ716 Hear the Wind Blow Barry Kaufman Joe Clark
NA599 The Fixer Lindsey Dodson Virgil Howarth
NA673 Bravo! : Poems About Amazing Hispanics Lenny Delgado Susan Smith
NA135 The Dark Prophecy James Sie Susan Newman
NB534 The Meltdown Grant Patrizio Susan Smith
NB279 Out of Wonder : Poems Celebrating Poets Michael Burgess Halina Bustin
NB204 The Great Pet Escape Elena Muntean
NA169 Voice of Freedom : Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement Leesha Saunders
NB509 The Illusion Queen Judith Lanzinger
NA482 The Firefly Code Cindy Kay Halina Bustin
NB165 The List Sue Heisner Halina Bustin
NB123 The House of Tailors Christine Kessides Les Wiesenfelder
NA769 Johnny Appleseed Maryfran Annese
KQ503 Flowers Paul Morgan
NB312 Be Quiet! John Martinez
NB028 Krakens And Lies Paul Morgan Halina Bustin
NB459 Who Were the Tuskegee Airmen? JB Jump Bill Payne
NB307 Prince Ribbit Maryfran Annese
NA944 Who Was Pete Seeger? Jerry Byrd Matt Armstrong
NB309 Click'd Erin Setch Bill Payne
NB504 Chasing King's Killer : The Hunt for Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Assassin Jerry Byrd Bill Payne
NB230 Search for the Lightning Dragon Sara Parlier Jim Strong
NA505 March of the Mini Beasts Sue Heisner Bill Payne
NB172 Confessions of a Former Bully Kate Fitzgerald Beira Winter
NB063 Don't Forget, God Bless Our Troops Maryfran Annese
NA980 Race to the South Pole Joanne Pittman Helene Alalouf
NA167 Chester and Gus Vincent Oddo Maier Fox
NB066 Anne of Avonlea Sybil Johnson Bill Payne
NA145 Marty McGuire Digs Worms! Judith Lanzinger Betsy McClure
NA780 The Fire Cat Reynolds Washam
NA051 Rise of the Isle of the Lost Savannah Newton Bill Payne
NB551 I Am Peace : A Book Of Mindfulness Lynda Kluck
NA900 Smart Cookie Judith Lanzinger Thomas Keleher
NA593 Things Too Huge to Fix by Saying Sorry Myra Parker Les Wiesenfelder
NA079 Horizon Chris Abell Paul Morgan
NB496 Dog Man: A Tale of Two Kitties Grant Patrizio Susan Smith
KZ344 Say Cheese - And Die Screaming! Adrianne Ondarza Clyla Boykin
NA955 Who Are the Rolling Stones? J.B. Kump Bill Payne
NB497 Orphan Train Girl Lois Hofer Beira Winter
NA536 My Dog, Bob Jim Connell  
NA155 Bailey's Story : A Dog's Purpose Novel Vincent Oddo Bill Payne
KZ861 The Ghostfaces Paul Morgan Les Wiesenfelder
NB453 Escape from Saigon: How a Vietnam War Orphan Became an American Boy Ken Pruchniewski Frances White
NB318 Jabari Jumps Darrell Johnson  
NB227 Flight of the Moon Dragon Sara Parlier Susan Snookal
NB450 Juniper Berry Sharon Martin Jim Strong
NB439 One Last Word : Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance Clyla Boykin  
NA796 Ghosts Krysta Gonzales  
NA960 Who Were the Three Stooges? J.B. Kump Susan Crawford
NA954 Who Is Ralph Lauren? J.B. Kump Bill Payne
NB159 Flute's Journey : The Life Of A Wood Thrush Maryfran Annese Betsy McClure
NA759 How The Camel Got His Hump Elizabeth Klett  
We encourage you to take a listen to any of these books in our Learning Ally Link App.  If you don't see a book in the App that you have read and want it added, please contact gFranklin@learningally.org.

Updates and Improvements On the Voltraining Website

New sign in page for the Learning Ally volunteer training siteHello all! We've begun the new year with many updates and changes to the volunteer training website, both large and small.

 

Our most noticeable change is the new Welcome page on the training website. We've made these changes so the site is easier to use for first-time visitors, so they can avoid confusion about how to get set up with a Google account. If you're a returning trainee, you'll still use the link in the top right to sign in. 

 

Once you log in, you'll notice that the new Storyteller Course is now open. If you're interested in recording and editing juvenile fiction and literature, then you can enroll in this course with the links on screen. Not sure which course is for you? There's a link to our Volunteer Fit Quiz to help you decide. 

 

In the Textbook Course, we've replaced the old checking audition with a new project that's a better fit for our current needs and standards. We removed the sample of a novel from the audition since we now have a Storyteller course and will soon have a course for Literature community Listeners.

 

We think these changes will go a long way to improve your training experience. But it doesn't end there! You can expect to see more updates, upgrades, and improvements in the coming year as we work to bring our old reading training lessons up to our new standards. Stay tuned!

 

Congratulations Training Graduates! 

Textbook course: John K., Jason G., John G., David G., Kevin V.,  Crismario S., Ripley J., Lauren D., Linda T., and Natalia E.

Storyteller course: Christina F., Leah L., Karen W-G., Kayla A., Shelley C., Andrea P., Sheila N., April S., Lindsey D., David S., Hilda C-G., Nikita N., Robin B., Jeffrey H., John K., Jim C., Amita M., Josie M., and Joseph H.


Plosives: What They Are and How to Keep Them Out of Your Recordings

Our audiobooks at Learning Ally aren’t exactly live performances—such as panel discussions or story telling events—and they aren’t footage captured from out in the field. However, some of the issues that podcasters and public media folks encounter in these instances also apply to the recording process for you, our volunteers in your virtual studio spaces. The issue we’re going to look at today is plosives. Jeff Towne has a terrific article that covers what plosives are, how to avoid creating them in your recordings, some gear recommendations, and techniques for breathing.

See the full article on Transom [ imbed: https://transom.org/2016/p-pops-plosives/]

 

What exactly are plosives?

Getting close, about 3-6 inches from the microphone, is usually suggested for voice recording. This helps to capture an intimate and warm sound from the “performer,” or narrator in this instance. There are some negative effects that arise in trying to capture that warm sound, however, specifically plosives. Towne describes them as,

“…a bassy, often distorted sound, that results when an air blast from the mouth goes into the microphone. The most common source is the letter P, which is why plosives are sometimes generically referred to as P-Pops.”

 

It’s best practice to position the microphone off to the side, instead of directly in front of your mouth, to avoid some of the air that occurs when pronouncing those words that start with P, S, B, or F sounds. Towne also mentions the option of positioning the mic slightly above your mouth with the grille pointed towards you. This allows the air from your voice to go underneath instead of directly into the mic.

Right now you can practice breath control that will help eliminate plosives in your recordings. Put your palm up in front of your mouth and pronounce words like popcorn, sister, or friend. Being aware of the air that you expel when pronouncing some of these plosive offenders will help your recording narration. The goal is to get to a point when you pronounce these plosive heavy words with less air. Towne also mentions how some of our exhaling through our nose sends air out in varying directions, and why positioning the mic slightly off center can help avoid capturing plosives in our recordings.

 

Technical ways to get around plosives.

Wind screens can make a tremendous difference in eliminating plosives. Towne provides several options, and the article includes some test recordings. I encourage you to visit the link to hear the with and without sound bites to learn some of the differences.

Although suggestions for how to edit and EQ audio waves is also included, we strongly suggest that you coordinate with some of our engineers at Learning Ally prior to performing any severe treatment on your audio. Our post-production process is fine-tuned, and we have discovered that getting a wonderful performance from the narrator first and foremost, rather than drastic editing during the recording process, yields the best audiobook product.

 

What is working in your virtual studio space?

We would love to hear some of the ways you are mitigating plosives in your recordings. Share in the comments some of your own techniques so we can all benefit from shared knowledge.


One small step for man...Es un paso pequeño para un hombre...

Spanish-language Weekly Reader pages discussing the Bill of Rights

Raise your hand if you remember Weekly Readers, those wonderful little newspapers we used to get years (and years!) ago in Social Studies class.  I don’t know about you, but I absolutely loved them: the content was varied and interesting, presented in language I understood, with plenty of illustrations to pique my interest.

 

But...what if you can’t read print material?  What if your first language is Spanish? Or what if you’re attending a magnet school for Spanish, with all materials in that language?  What then?

 

da-da-da DAH!  It’s David Alper to the rescue!  David has been reading Spanish language materials for Learning Ally for nearly eleven years, first with the Athens (Georgia) Studio, and now with the Foreign Language Community.  Over the past year, David read 192 (!) of these gems, all in Spanish, spending hours and hours (over 200!) making sure every detail was executed perfectly.


Spanish-language Weekly Reader cover showing kindergarten girl smiling her biggest smile while hugging an inflatable globe of the world; the topic of this Weekly Reader is The Earth.

The Weekly Readers, along with many other projects Learning Ally records, are part of our contract with the Texas Education Agency (TEA), which supervises primary and secondary public education in the State of Texas.  According to Ed Bray, National Director of Government Relations and State Initiatives for Learning Ally, volunteers (maybe you?) who work on these projects “help us provide a comprehensive collection of Texas-adopted educational materials, including these Weekly Readers.  The collection ensures students can access this broad set of curriculum materials.”


Volunteer David Alper enjoyed reading the Weekly Readers!  In this photo, he is smiling a big smile and holding up a fifth-grade copy about the 1969 moon landing

David, who has a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology, works long hours each week, traveling across three counties to serve as a School Psychologist for multiple schools.  He first heard of Learning Ally through an ad in a local paper. He found that he really enjoyed combining reading aloud with helping others improve their reading comprehension and reach their educational and life goals.  Volunteering with Learning Ally gives David a great deal of satisfaction, and being able to use his Spanish skills to help others, either through reading or quality control work, gives him a sense of purpose--and, he says, helps him maintain and even improve his Spanish through consistent practice--a great bonus!

 

David’s message to other volunteers:  Work on what gives you pleasure and is a priority in the studio.  Be positive and show appreciation toward your fellow volunteers. Attend live and online volunteer events as you’re able, and participate in the Hangout chats.  Spread the word far and wide about Learning Ally!


The Multiple Benefits of Virtual Volunteering

In 2019, we all know how important one’s time is. There are always errands to run, calls to join or meetings to attend and a seemingly long workweek has passed by in a flash. Yet there is something so special about the feeling we get when we set aside time and donate to a mission we believe in. Truly, there is no better feeling than when we can see the impact of our donated time and efforts in real, life-changing situations.

 

We have seen in many cases that our time spent volunteering is often more appreciated and recognized than our regular work. This satisfaction and sense of positive impact, that come from volunteering is hard to get doing other activities.  At Learning Ally, our volunteers are influencing the lives of individuals who struggle to learn every day. After experiencing the benefits of our solutions, our students feel part of their learning community again and gain the confidence and skills to lead a successful and normal life.

 

As you all may know, Learning Ally’s Volunteer Nation is virtual. We are proud of this unique virtual volunteer model with its amazing Volunteer Nation Portal that will guarantee all resources needed by volunteers are in just one place.

 

Here are some benefits of virtual volunteering:

Flexible

Considering our busy lives, long days at work, family commitments and all the responsibilities and different activities we have to complete every week, we sometimes feel we are not doing enough for society. Having to drive weekly or monthly to a place where you want to volunteer is becoming more and more difficult. Virtual volunteering offers a solution to this problem – you can eliminate transportation time and gain the flexibility of volunteering from the comfort of your home.  All our Learning Ally volunteering opportunities are now performed online.

Broader Community of Volunteers

Virtual volunteering empowers a wider group of participants to give back. In person volunteering events will always be limited by space and resources. Our volunteers will not face these restrictions; in most cases, all of the work can be done using technology.

Service is not limited to particular geographies

Our volunteers can contribute skills and service to projects no matter where they are located. A volunteer in Seattle may support an organization’s mission or client in North Carolina, or in any place in the world!

Volunteering is Skill-Based

Most virtual volunteering engagements are skill based and require a level of technical knowledge. An active or retired professional can mentor a client interested in growing his/her business in a similar industry to their own. Similarly, at Learning Ally, an experienced math teacher can record books for struggling learners anywhere in the U.S.

Volunteers are part of a Virtual Community

Your network opportunities in a virtual community of volunteers grow exponentially. When you belong to a private Google Hangout, LinkedIn or even Facebook group of professionals who volunteer, “you can easily connect with hundreds of like-minded people with in-demand skills” (Raber, huffingtonpost.com)


 


Volunteer Spotlight: Beira Winter and the Rose Parade

Rose Parade float detailImagine having something you have created seen by millions of people around the world. That’s what happened for me on January 1, 2019 during the annual Tournament of Roses Parade.  Here’s the story.

 

While the large, elaborate floats are commercially built, there are 6 smaller floats that are “self-built.” That means that all aspects of the float are handled by volunteers. I have friends who are volunteers with the Burbank Tournament of Roses Association. Each year they design, create, build and decorate the Rose Parade float that represents the City of Burbank.  

 

Much as I would love to be part of that, I am a complete disaster when it comes to glue or paint. Not to mention the more skilled tasks like welding, sculpting, animating, and well, you get the idea. But last year, there was something I could do that none of the regular volunteers could do. I can spin fiber into string.

 

If you saw the Rose Parade on New Year’s Day, you may remember the Burbank float presented cartoon animals who brought their instruments together to jam. It was an eclectic collection with a saxophone playing pig, a bass drum playing skunk, a huge bear with a concertina, and an alligator playing a washboard.  

 

Then there was also a hound dog playing a banjo. A wolf playing a fiddle and a HUGE white rabbit playing a string bass. That’s where my contribution came in. One of my friends who works on the float knew about my spinning, and asked me if I could spin strings from raw cotton for those instruments.  

 

Spinning is easy, but cotton is hard, because the fibers are short and they tend to ball up instead of lying flat. But with patience, I came to a compromise with the cotton and was able to produce custom strings for each instrument.  The fiddle strings were thin, the banjo strings were more funky, and the string bass had thick strings. The bass strings took the most time because I had to spin 4 threads then ply them together.  

 

Spinning was something I learned when I was working in a living history center in Maryland.  We used antique wheels to demonstrate making wool yarn, therefore, I never learned to use modern tools.  That was unfortunate for the float because the rabbit was supposed to be covered completely in cotton “fur.” I had to help the decorators find a woman with the machine that could produce batts (flat plates) of cotton. She prepared over 4 pounds of cotton batts needed to completely cover the 6 foot tall rabbit.

 

No, I didn’t go to the parade, I watched it on TV. But after the parade, all the floats are parked together to allow people to see them up close.  I had seen the pieces while they were being built and decorated, but seeing the completed float with my strings on the instruments was breathtaking. Building a float takes thousands of hours by many talented people. Being a very small part of something as big and amazing as a rose parade float is a memory I will treasure.  

 

From Staff:  Beira has been a volunteer since 2006 and has managed to rack up almost 1700 hours of time as a listener for Instructional Text and the Literature team.  


New Volunteer Nation Manager

I am Paula Restrepo, and I have been working with Virtual Volunteer Communities in the U.S. for more than 13 years. I personally have recruited more than 2,500 volunteers while simultaneously creating a  unique model of virtual volunteering for nonprofit organizations.

 

I am originally from Colombia and have a background in Engineering and Nonprofit Management…I know that could be strange, but the combination of backgrounds and experiences have been essential in my career. This combination allows me to understand different sides of the equation and to think outside the box. I am a “people” person and I love interacting with volunteers - making sure they have a positive experience while accomplishing our important mission.

 

I have experience with voice recording as my husband and I host a podcast. Our weekly podcast BetterVida is oriented to the skilled Latino immigrant community in the U.S. Through this podcasting experience, I have learned so much about recording, editing and making sure our sound quality improves with every new podcast. I can relate to your challenges when recording or doing quality control of our audiobooks.

 

Learning Ally represents an amazing professional challenge in my career.  I want to build a solid, easy to navigate virtual community. My goal is to shape a community that simply recreates what we feel when we belong to any community that interacts in person. We all know organizations are becoming “more virtual” every day and the solutions that Learning Ally currently offers to struggling learners are based on virtual technology. Our volunteers need to be prepared and equipped for this big change and, most importantly, feel comfortable working virtually.

 

I want you to be in constant contact with me. I want you to help me better understand your needs and challenges. We want to create processes and community structures that are dynamic and flexible and become more efficient at producing audiobooks that are engaging and useful for struggling learners. Our differentiator is the human voice! Your voices make us unique and engaging. I want to hear your voice not only in our audiobooks, but also telling me how we can do things better. Please keep an eye on things that we can improve and feel free to share your thoughts with me.

 

My email is prestrepo@learningally.org and my direct line is 609.243.7099

 

I look forward to working with you all!


New Checking Audition Coming Soon

Seasons Greetings to Our Volunteers!

As we end the year we look back on what we have completed and forward to the tasks we have waiting for us. Our standards and training have been steadily updated through the year, but our checking audition project is in need of a serious update. While it still reflects our needs for standards and quality, we've learned a great deal about the errors our home readers encounter, and want new training to reflect that. The training will be better focused and more successfully with examples that demonstrate those frequently reported issues and what steps the checker can take to correct them. 
 
A new checking audition sample will be released early in January. If you are already in the process of auditioning, then please finish your work on the current version. If you haven't yet begun, you may choose to delay starting over the holidays and audition with the new audition project. Please note as well that we'll be phasing out the old checking audition project, and it will no longer be available by the end of January, so if you are already working with it then please finish your auditions and revisions promptly. 
 
Please direct your questions to the usual channels, either through email or chat, and thank you for volunteering! 

Highlighted Text

 Reminder Tip:: If the text is bold, highlighted or in italics, use your voice to highlight it. Pause, say the word, slightly lesser pause, continue reading.