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


Russell Collins
Russell Collins
Russell Collins's Blog

BBSS and WebEB

Greetings Learning Ally Volunteers,

 

Our big fundraising event begins this week and we need proud Macintosh users to lend a hand with our latest software projects.


Building Books for Student Success Is Live 

 

Building Books for Student Success (BBSS) is here! This annual fundraising event is one of the best ways that you can help us continue to do our great work of helping students as well as their schools, teachers, and even parents. Our online program will guide you through putting together a page for collecting donations, sharing the story and goals of Learning Ally, and promoting your own efforts. Visit the Learning Ally Building Books Campaign page on the Learning Ally website to get involved. 

 

BBSS Home page on Learning Ally website

 

If you have questions about the program, need assistance setting up a donation page, or would like to know more about Learning Ally donations, please contact volunteer@learningally.org and put the phrase Donor Support in the subject line of your email. 


Macintosh Test Users Wanted 

 

Our EasyBooks developers are working to create a web application of the software: WebEB. This exciting development will let us keep EasyBooks entirely online, meaning no more downloads or version updates and no need for different versions of the software for Windows or Macintosh users. At present, WebEB is still in testing with a small group of users. But that's where you can help us! We need more users with Macintosh computers to join our test group and use the application.

 

WebEB functions just like EasyBooks with a few changes to the interface and some features still in a development state. Bugs are to be expected - this is a test after all - and you'll be asked to document those experiences and contribute to an online discussion documenting and correcting those flaws. If this project sounds interesting and you have access to the right computer equipment, please contact Eleanor Cotton for more information at ecotton@learningally.org. Please note, this is a test of Mac OS desktop and laptop computers, not iOS devices like iPads or iPhones. Those are not compatible with WebEB and are not part of this test.


Congratulations Recent Training Grads

 

Maria M., CJ H., Kaumeshua H., Emily C., Megan H., Audrey K., Jenna S., Kurt H., Judy S., Dawn K.,  Christian L., Tania P., Aaron T., Alicia H., Therese B., Kristin L., Rick S., Brian H., Derek M., Madi T., Madison S., Bob M., Shannon K., Becky C., Rebecca H-P., Lisa J.


New Volunteers and Students Need Your Help

Hello Volunteers!


2020 has started strong for Learning Ally but we're just getting started.


Building Books for Student Success

 

Building Books for Student Success Logo

Every year we ask our volunteers to join us in a special fundraising drive. This year March 2nd is the kick-off date for our campaign. Look for special messages with instructions on how to set up your personal fundraising page and reach out to donors. We'll have video demonstrations, reference guides, and even news about recognition rewards. However, you don't have to wait until BBSS if you don't want to! You can get started early if you go set up a fundraising page here.
 

New Arrivals


The New Year always brings an outpouring of volunteer interest, and 2020 is no exception. If you see some of our latest additions to the volunteering team show up in the Google chats or on the volunteer portal pages, please say hello, introduce yourself, and let people know what you're doing to help us serve our students. Every year thousands of people make the resolution to get involved in volunteer work and your welcoming them to our team helps cement that Learning Ally isn't just a service; it's a community of people working together to better the lives of students.

 


Interested in Mentoring?Computer Mentoring
 

We're always looking for experienced volunteers who are interested in taking some extra time to be peer mentors for our newcomers. Our peer mentors review auditions and coach new trainees. If you've volunteered with Learning Ally for over a year, or have a strong background in teaching or training and are interested in getting involved, contact voltraining@learningally.org for details.


Congratulations To Our Training Graduates!


Kimberly S., Jason O., Lisa J., Sura S., Yvonnette C., Daisy B., Elaine N-B., Janet D., Richard K., Susan H., Jerald H., Buddy S., CJ H., Chris D., Lucy B., Julie N., Becky C., Jami J., Akracha B., Elizabeth B., Jason R., Jeremy D., Van H., Kyle D., Rachel S., Kenneth B., Karen W., Sonia S., Jason C.


2020 Brings New Volunteering Opportunities

Welcome to the New Year!

 

Hello Learning Ally volunteers...we're glad to be back after our holiday break, and we have lots to plan for in the coming year! 

 

 

Office Hours Has a New Day and Time

We're continuing our Office Hours program, with a weekly free-form web meeting so that volunteers can ask Learning Ally staff about the training programs, EasyBooks, or other subjects of Learning Ally book production. In the new year, these meetings will be on Thursdays at 3:30 PM Eastern, 12:30 PM Pacific. Update your calendars.

 

ListeneFrom the Listener Training - What to listen for - Accuracyr Course is Live

The Literature Listener Training course is now ready. This course is intended for volunteers who want to get involved with our Literature community, but as reviewers and checkers rather than narrators. Because many of our Literature community narrators are voice-over industry professionals, we need extra help to ensure we make the best use their talents and the work meets our standards for high quality. You can do your part and enjoy the work of these narrators by becoming a Listener volunteer! 

 

If you want to get involved, head right over to the volunteer training website and sign in to the Listener Course. You'll find a familiar but streamlined learning experience. It will help you get started listening, reviewing, and improving the "lighter fare" that keep our students engaged and builds their love of reading. 

 

EasyBooks Web App 

EasyBooks Web Application Interface

One of the challenges of software development is making software work on as many computers and devices as possible. To maximize the number of volunteers who can use our EasyBooks application we're developing it as a web app. Our web version of EasyBooks is an online interactive website, requiring only that the user has a browser that can open the page. This means it is "platform agnostic" and should eventually run on PC, Mac, iPad, and nearly any other computer or smart device. 

 

We're starting with the basics, so this version does not have the ability to record yet and can only be used to listen to files and check them. There are plenty of features that need to be added and bugs that need to be chased down, but if you have the knack for some technical thinking, then you can get involved in this testing program and offer the feedback we need to move forward with this innovation. 

 

To get involved in testing this next generation of our production technology, you can email Eleanor Cotton (ecotton@learningally.org) and join the group of volunteer testers. 

 

Congratulations to our training graduates!

 

Henry M., Jim P., Michelle B., Mike P., Shawn V., Barbar H-W., Joan L., Kelley H., Kimberly S., Jason O., Cynthia M., Aaryan B., Samir K., Alison T., Bonnie H., Jamie L., Glenn K., Garry Z., Judi S., Sanjeev J., Chris J., DaKaylah J., Nick G.


We're Thankful for You!

Greetings Volunteers,

 

We hope you had a pleasant Thanksgiving holiday. We know that many Learning Ally students are thankful for the work that you've done, making their reading experiences engaging and valuable and expanding their opportunities. Your support and dedication makes our work more rewarding and even the challenges you bring us are more chances to excel. Thank you!

 

Listener Training Coming Soon

 

Our third training program launches in January: Literature Listener Training. In this program we'll train volunteers to be the quality checking team in support of our Storybook narration program. Though it is similar to the training for Textbook checking in some ways, there are other factors that need to be considered when evaluating dramatic works of fiction.

 

I like Learning Ally because it has so many great books to read. When I listen to books I get to learn lots of new words. - Gabriel, 4th grade 

 

We're looking for some "beta testers" to get involved and help us look for flaws in the new lessons before they are released. Please contact voltraining@learningally.org if you are interested.

 

The Listener Training program will be available to all volunteers on January 1st, 2020.

 

Happy HolidaysHoliday Closures

 

Please be aware that all Learning Ally offices are closed for the week between December 24th and January 1st. During that time there may be significant delays in email correspondence and the availability of chat support. Regular online meetings are also suspended that week. We hope you have a happy and safe holiday!

 

 

Office Hours Meetings

 

Learning Ally staff are online to answer your questions live on Wednesdays at 2 PM EST. You'll find links, and more information on the training site.

 

Congratulations To Our Training Graduates for the month of November

 

Wendy S., Tony J., Steven S., Stephen I., Shannon B., Michael L., Marti C., Lori B., Lisa B., Lisa B., Kayla H., Judi S., Joseph E., Joel S., Joanna S., Jack D., Christine L., Cassie M., Avery R., Anna L., Garry Z., Buddy S., Julie W., Mark M., and Nick G.


Book Marking - From the Training Center

Book Marks

 

Probably the most abstract concept in an audiobook, marks are what tie the audio of a book to the text. They are the time information that guides our Learning Ally solution software to the pages, headings, and sections that make up a book. When a borrower wants to skip to page 43, it's the "Page 43" mark that tells the program where to go. 

 

How many marks are in a book? That varies from book to book but you'll always find them on headings like chapter breaks and the start of each page. In books with on-screen text, the marks may go to the paragraph level for older projects, or just pages, headings,and before and after images in more recent projects.

 

Make Your Mark

 

Narrators recording in EasyBooks are responsible for recording the mark information, usually as they record the audio although some prefer to record everything and insert marks later. Our EasyBooks software doesn't only record audio, it can record marks as well, creating a list of timings that will be used when the audio is synced to the sentence level for our VOICEtext audiobooks. Recording those marks is as easy as pressing an on-screen button (or better yet, the quieter "M" key) while recording the audio.

 

Animated demonstration of marking an audiobook with EasyBooks

 

Notice how the mark is represented by a line that appears on the display? You can also see the mark as a length of time number in the mark list on the left. Also, note how that mark sits in a small silence. The narrator makes the mark in the pauses that naturally reflect the punctuation at the end of sentences. That means each segment of the book will have a clean start. 

 

If the audio has been recorded with some other software, it will not have mark timings and they are added as part of the review process. The files are converted into an EasyBooks project. Then the reviewer listens to the recording, using the Mark controls to add them. If the narrator hasn't left those comfortable pauses on the ends of sentences, they need to edit in small spans of room tone from silence recorded by the narrator. This adds a lot of tedious work to reviewing, so narrators need to take care with phrasing and pace when recording.

 

Editing and Fixing Marks

 

Once the marks are in the file we can manipulate them. We can adjust the timing to perfect it, so that when the borrower skips to the second paragraph on page 43 the narrator says "I shook my head," and not "-ook my head." Making these changes is as easy as clicking and dragging the lines on the display. 

 

Animated demonstration of moving a mark in EasyBooks

 

One of the more complicated errors that we encounter happens when a narrator or reviewer makes a careless delete that goes over the boundaries of two marks. With no distance between them, the marks collapse to the exact same time.

 

Animated demonstration of deleting too much audio in EasyBooks
 
 

The mark line in the waveform display turns into this double-arrow line, indicating two marks with no time between them. In addition, the mark index shows a zero time length:

 

Doubled arrow in the EasyBooks display     Mark list with missing time entry       

 

 

Fortunately there is an easy fix. By clicking and dragging on the mark line, you can separate the marks. Now you just need to figure out where the marks belong and drag them into place.

 

Animated demonstration of separating overlapped marks in EasyBooks

 

Fixing a double-mark error can be especially tricky if the section has been completely recorded. After all, a stacked mark isn't gone, just hidden. It might look like the work is incomplete, but the Mark button is grayed out, meaning there are no marks left to place. In that case, the reviewer needs to look for blanks in the mark index to see where the marks have been collapsed, separate them by dragging one of the marks, and you may need to copy and paste some silence or room tone to give you the spacing you need.

 

For more guidance on marks and marking, including ways to move groups of marks for faster edits, refer to Storyteller Lessons 3-3, Textbook Lessons 3-1 and 3-2, and Course Resources for Checking. 

 

Office Hours

 

Learning Ally staff are online to answer your questions live on alternating Wednesdays at 2 PM EST. You'll find links, and more information on the training site.

 

Congratulations To Our Training Graduates for the month of October

 
Thadeus S., Susan C., Sherwin L., Sandy O., Neslihan S., Louise C., Kimberly C., Katerina D., Jessica M., Ellen Q., Eli F., Blair K., Ben C., Anna F., Alison S., Aishah J-E., Bailey W., Amanda W., Jessica L., Katerina D., Benjamin C., Garry Z.

Volunteer Nation Live

Volunteer Nation Live

 

Have you been a part of our Volunteer Nation Live! events? Each month we're exploring another aspect of Learning Ally, from volunteering and reading best practices, to the user experience. Last month Amy Leona was our guest, explaining and demonstrating the Learning Ally Audiobook Solution, our application for delivering audiobooks to our member borrowers. In addition, she showed us how teachers can use the software and websites to assign books to students and track their reading progress.

 

If you'd like to watch a recording of the presentation you can find it here.

 

Volunteer Nation Live September 18th 2019 The Learning Ally Audiobook Solution

 

Remember, these events are also an opportunity to have your questions answered, either live or in follow-up messages. Here are some questions answered from our last webinar.

 

David W. asked: Does text highlighting apply to our textbooks as well?

 

Answer: Our textbooks are typically Classic Audio, which means that they are human-narrated with no highlighted text on the screen. For a multi-sensory experience, we encourage our students to follow along in the traditional textbook, as they listen to the audiobook.

 

John A. asked: If synchronized text is the most valued feature, (of our audiobooks) why are we still doing so many "classic" format books.

 

Answer: We are in fact producing many more VOICEtext books with synchronized text these days, twice the number of Classic Audio books we produced this past year. Textbooks, however are much more complicated in terms of layout and non-text content. Creating a navigable version of the such books would be extremely time and resource intensive, delaying books for weeks or months. Besides, the majority of our borrowers are reading along with their physical textbooks at school or home.

 

Recording and Reading a Classic Audio Book

 

Here to provide more detail on the how and why of Classic Audio is Jeff, a 42 year veteran of Learning Ally volunteering. Watch his video here: Classic Audio demo

 

Classic Audio Reading and Listening

 

Office Hours

 

Learning Ally staff are online to answer your questions live on alternating Wednesdays at 2 PM EST. You'll find links, and more information on the training site.

 

Congratulations To Our Training Graduates for the month of September

 

Jim R., Suzanne M., James M., Daniel F., Susan K., Lisa T., Craig J., Bonnie H., Aishah J-E., Anna F., Blair K., Samantha H., Mark M., Jenny B., Brian W., Carmen C., Catherine M., Brianna W., Wendy S., Jamie P., Kim W., Hamilton C., Michele N., John B.


From The Training Center - How To Use This Course

Hello Learning Ally Volunteer Trainees,

Schools are opening all across the country once again, and teachers and students are settling in to their new year's routine. Likewise, we have some volunteers returning to our training programs along with our new arrivals. 

 

Getting Around the Training Lessons

 

So you've signed up to volunteer and got sent a link to a training site. What now? Well, the good news is that the site begins with a lesson on lessons. So, start reading! (You'll be doing an awful lot of reading as a Learning Ally volunteer, so you may as well start now.) One of the most important things you'll find is a short (less than five minute) video: How To Use This Course. If you don't see it right away, just scroll down the page a little. The following image is what one of these videos looks like and they can be found in the Textbook and Storyteller courses in our Virtual Training Center.

 

 

 

The training video will explain the different parts of the lessons, what kind of content you'll find there, how to complete lessons and move forward. Note that some of the steps are automatically completed by reading lessons, watching videos, and interacting with links, but there are some steps (like auditions) that require feedback from a staff member or peer reviewer. 

 

Need more information? Visit the Course Resources page for Textbook or Storyteller training. It's a library of documents and links that we'll refer to throughout our training program. 

 

Office Hours

 

Don't forget, Learning Ally staff are online to answer your questions live on alternating Wednesdays at 2 PM EST. You'll find links, and more information on the training site.

 

Congratulations to Our Training Graduates

 

William C., Tammy L., Suzanne M., Shiou-Yun L., Sally W., Patrick M., Misty R., Marli W., Lorraine G., Lora R., Linda W., Kelly G., Kay A., Kathy O., Kari W., John C., James T., Gary C., Daoud B., Christine W., Chelle C., Blake V., Beth K., Asha L., April C., Andrea H., Amy S., Amy B., Alex M., A. B., Timothy S., Rebecca D., Emma M. 


From the Training Center - Ed Solutions and Office Hours

Greetings Learning Ally Volunteer Trainees!

We're in the season we call "peak" around here, but the end is in sight as the new school year begins. Peak is the time of year that we see the greatest demand from our students. New and school accounts are being set up, reading lists finalized, and book requests fulfilled. It's an especially busy time for Education Solutions.  

 

Education Solutions

School Solutions team members huddle-up.

Learning Ally is a full-service learner support system, and that means training for teachers and software solutions for them as well. You may be acquainted with how students use our software - logging in, picking books, and downloading them - but it's our Educator Portal that lets us reach whole classrooms and schools. Teachers add books to students accounts and use that system to check up on their students' reading progress.

 

As you can imagine, using that system requires support and that's one of the duties of our Customer Success teams. They build relationships with teachers. They coordinate to help them set up these systems, show them how to use the systems and best practices for them and answer questions to keep things running smoothly. Right now they are hard at work with 17,000 schools across the country, changing the educational journey for our students.

If you want to know more about our solutions and support there's an entire section of the Learning Ally website devoted to the subject.

 

 

Office Hours Meetings

We've instituted a series of Office Hours Webinars. These relaxed and casual meetings are meant to give you more opportunities for facetime with Learning Ally trainers and staff, without the structure of our Volunteer Nation events. During Office Hours, you set the agenda. Bring your questions and comments to us, and we'll even let you use your microphones to ask them! You'll find the Office Hours meetings announced in the Communication section of your course on the Voltraining Website. When it's meeting time you'll find a link there to join in. 

 

 

 

Congratulations To Our Training Graduates

Crawford A., Nancy C-J., Etienne D.,  Mary D., Terry F M., Ariana G., Joseph G.,  Justin G., Lorraine G., Jan H., Marcia H., Scott H., Jaimi J., John J., Nick J., Janette K., Jordan K., Laura M., Sean O., Sandy P., Stephanie P., Kathy R., Richard R., Alison S., Bob S., Elizabeth S., Gary S., Jackie S., Rachel W., and Tom W.
 


From the Training Center - It's July!

Happy summer volunteers!

July begins a new fiscal year at Learning Ally, so it's the time when we look back at our accomplishments of the past year and forward to our goals for the next. This has been a year of great successes for Learning Ally! Our students are reading pages at record numbers, we’ve exceeded book production for the first year since going to a virtual production system, the Building Books for Student Success campaign exceeded goals, and we launched new training programs for Storytellers, Quality Assurance review, Fast-track for audio industry professionals, and the work-in-progress Literature Listener course. 

 

In the coming year we plan to continue to expand online volunteering with more book projects and a focus on special topics. Our Literature Listening program, once completed, will provide another avenue for new volunteers to get involved. In addition, changes to international copyright treaties have opened up the opportunity for us to deliver books in new markets like Canada.

 

Our volunteer webinar series has been a success and we are planning even more online meetings starting with an event later this month that focuses on what is done to a book project before and after you see it in production! Soon we will be using online meeting tools to have "office hours" when training staff will be available for assistance and questions from trainees.

 

We thank you all for your continued dedication to our mission and our borrowers. We look forward to working with you in the months and years ahead. 

 

Congratulations To Our Training Graduates

 

Tom H., Tiffany J., Stephanie L., Sarah B., Rick Y., Rachel R., Patrick K., Paige E., Margaret H., Lance L., Kimberly W., Katrina J., Jake P., Dorothy T., David V., Cat D., Calvin N., Bruce B., Alev B., Adam M., Jake P., Katrina J., William G., Jenny H., Paul H., Philip S.
 


From the Training Center - Be A Good Listener

A novelty statue owl wearing headphones works at a laptop.

 

Our Listener focused training course is under development and has us focusing on ways we could all do more to help keep quality a top priority with Learning Ally audiobooks. The new Listener course is designed to get volunteers involved in checking the work of our Literature community narrators. While similar to the Checking process of our textbooks, there are some special distinctions that need to be made as we evaluate the presentation of literary works. Word accuracy and pronunciation are still essential but we also need to evaluate the performance of characters that bring life and energy and keep a student engaged in their reading. You can see some of our work-in-progress lesson materials on the Training Site. Just look for the Listener Course on the Courses page and you can contact VolTraining@LearningAlly.org for an access key if you want to take a look.

 

If you're eager to get involved with more opportunities to listen but don't want to wait for the new course, you can always help us provide quality reviews on some of our older book projects. There are still dozens of books looking for listeners and feedback. Visit the QA section of the volunteer portal for more information.

 

Building Books for Student Success is a Success!

 
We reached our goal! A borrower listens to an audio book on a tablet computer while his mother reads along.

 

The Building Books for Student Success campaign raised more than $100,000, thanks to our staff and volunteers’ efforts. In addition to the donations and outreach of various organizations and individuals, over 40 volunteers created personal fundraisers asking their network of family, friends, and colleagues to donate, acquiring 290 new donors and reaching far beyond our own network of followers. This year we also partnered with Such A Voice, an online school for voice-over artists that aligns perfectly with our mission.  Such A Voice raised close to $10,000 for BBSS and we look forward to working with them more closely in the future for volunteer recruitment. 

 

A Record In Virtual Book Production

 

This May we produced 82 VOICEText Books and 27 Classic Audiobooks. The combined total of 109 produced last month is more than we produced in October 2017, the last month before we went virtual. It's quite an achievement for our at-home volunteers but also an inevitable outcome. Since we moved to virtual production, all sorts of new avenues for volunteer involvement have opened up and as we introduce new programs, our volunteers move to fill them. Thank you for your continued work and devotion to our mission!  

 

Congratulations to our Training Graduates

 
Storyteller Course: Aisha B., Alfaiyaz I., Andrew U., Anna Z., Chantel T., Demetrius B., Ethan J., Izzy M., Janique J., Jennifer C., Kayla A., Mary S., Mary Louise H., Meital F., Michelle G., Mike P., Mitch V., Paul M., Penny W., Renee A., Ruth G., Shantayah M., Syreeta P., T K-D., Tim H., William G.
Textbook Course: Lisa T., August R., Tim H.