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


Tech Talk - How Do We Read Computer and Programming Books?

Learning Ally provides audio for a wide range of textbooks - from Music History to Economics to French Grammar to Geometry to Biochemistry! We have several specialized sub-fields within our Instructional Textbooks. Today, we’ll be taking an inside look at our Science & Technology Community, with our small but powerful Computer and Programming group.

 

What are these computer books all about?
Our Computer Science projects can be broken down into three main categories. The most common books are those that teach students how to use computer programs like Microsoft Word, Excel, AutoCAD, and more. Every now and then, we’ll get one or two books dealing with IT or computer service and repair. Finally, some of our more challenging projects are books on programming and markup languages like HTML, Java, and C++.

 

Help! How do I read  “⌘”?*

Sarah is confused by something on her Macbook. What is a Windows Key anyway?These Computer Skills and Programming books come with their own special challenges. How do we read a page full of program code? When do we use “hashtag” versus “pound”? You might be surprised to learn that there is actually a lot we don’t read in these projects. Most of our members are fully sighted, and many more have some usable vision. We don’t describe computer screenshots or read all of the punctuation in code. Our job is to focus on the textual detail, so that the students can focus on what they’re good at - thinking through code structure and building their tech skills.With our updated Computer and Code Guidelines, this Programming text isn't quite as difficult as it looks.

 

Our staff members can answer many questions, but we often rely on our expert volunteers as much as our own specialized knowledge and research skills. I’m Sarah Klipper, our Computer and Programming Text Lead. I work with our Science & Technology  Lead, Christine Hoffman, on everyday problems and tricky questions in our Science & Tech projects. To better deal with quirky computer lingo, I developed our Computer and Code Guidelines following Christine’s and the Science volunteers’ work on the Science Terms and Conventions as a guide. I’m grateful to have plenty of help with these Guidelines from our programmer volunteers, who know how some of these arcane terms are used in the classroom and in professional circles.

 

Google Hangouts are a big help with this kind of group collaboration; our Computer/Code Chat Group has been absolutely invaluable as we help each other figure out pronunciations and usage of coding syntax. Many thanks go to Ev Tate, Joseph “Old Joe” Clark, Ann Bouchard, and Kim Dauber for their contributions in this chat and various project Hangouts. Many thanks also to volunteer alumnus (and Staff husband) Michael Klipper for his help with Computer Science concepts.

 

A stick figure hero swoops in over a computer. Stand back, he knows regular expressions!Want to learn more about computers but too scared to try? We’re here to help…  and if we don’t have the answer, we can help you find one. ;-) 

 

*That ⌘ symbol is the Command key on a Macintosh computer.


Team Project Site

As our Instructional Production team begins to position ourselves for growth, we are piloting some new opportunities for increased involvement with our volunteers.  One of these new pilots includes our Project Guidelines Pilot, known also as “Team Project Site”.

 

Staff has been working to create our structure and processes to include:

  • Step by step procedures for creating project guidelines.

  • Creating a library of Project Guideline templates; organized by publisher.

  • Training and working closely with volunteers on the creation of our project guidelines.

  • New structure to our current Project Guidelines.  

 

Thank you to Team Project Site member Susan Wilson, who has been the first brave soul to start this pilot and has been doing great!  With Susan’s help, we have already added over twenty new projects to our Upper Instructional Community.

 

We’d like to welcome new member Kathy Cummings to Team Project Site. She is currently working with Upper Instructional, but will soon be joining the Lower Instructional group.

 

Here are some great new features in our Project Guidelines to keep an eye out for:

 


 

If you are interested in joining our Project Guidelines please reach out to Audrey in your Staff Hangout.  Once again, thanks for all you do!!!


Volunteer Spotlight: J.B. Kump Loves Travel!

 

The Kump family travels in childhood were limited to infrequent summer vacations from Missouri to Colorado and weekend trips to his grandparents farm in rural Missouri. It wasn’t until Kump joined the U.S. Air Force in 1968 as a recently married college graduate that the travels really began. Included in the couples travels are multiple islands in the Philippines, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Yugoslavia, The Czech Republic, Hawaii, Mexico, Cayman Islands, Honduras and all but about 6 States in the United States.

 

“As much as I enjoy travel; on planes, autos, RVs, boats, or horseback,” says Kump, “what I really love doing is reading to others. Learning Ally has given me a wonderful outlet for that gift and it has allowed me to help others learn in the process - what could be better than that?!”

 

Kump has used his reading and speaking interest in a variety of other ways over the years. He was an official spokesman for the U.S. Government in a series of overseas postings, during such international events as President Reagan’s visit to Berlin, Germany (see the side-by-side photos of Kump and his wife, Shirley taken at the same spot in Berlin 20 years apart; the first in 1985, in uniform as an Air Force Lt. Col. and the second as a tourist in 2006). Later, Kump served as a news media liaison for two major aerospace corporations during the Space Shuttle program at Kennedy Space Center. He has also served as an emcee for a number of non-profit fund raising gala’s and community events as Chairman of the local Chamber of Commerce. 


That speaking continues to come in handy in his role as Pastor in a local, non-denominational church near the couples home on the Space Coast of Florida.

 

“I can remember during reading time in grade school raising my hand hoping to be called on to read aloud,” said Kump. “It was the first thing I can remember being able to do with any success.” His reading ability caused him to be recruited for the debate team in high school and in competitive speech contests, helping him earn a scholarship to a college.  Later, Kump would use his reading abilities on stage in Summer stock and in college theater productions. 

 

“Reading allows you to travel anywhere in your mind,” says Kump, “And I love being able to take people to far places when I read to them.” When he earned a Masters degree in Education, Kump recognized that in most systems, learning takes place by reading. But not everyone has the same ability or interest in reading. “That’s why Learning Ally is so important,” believes Kump.  “Anyone can play a role in that process too. As much as anything, donors are needed to keep the service operating. Reading the comments from students who have been helped by Learning Ally makes it so rewarding.”


Updates from the Training Center for March 2019

Hello Volunteers!

March means it’s time for our annual Building Books for Student Success fundraising events. We aim to raise $100,000 by May 31st through the efforts of our Learning Ally staff, our parent community, and volunteers like you. Visit the Building Books for Student Success Campaign Homepage to learn more about the program and all the ways that you can help. Every $1,500 we raise provides a school, and all their students, with access to our library and educator support services. 

Fundraising page preview image.

You can set up your own fundraising page in three easy steps and get started right now!

 

Evaluation Study

This spring, we are sending out surveys and some interview requests to those who registered as a new volunteer or enrolled in a course in the last 6 months. This is part of our efforts to provide an excellent training experience for all, and we hope you are able to respond and provide honest and thoughtful feedback to help us improve the training process!

 

Congratulations Training Grads

Textbook: Nicole M., Clara H., Michelle S., Thomas S., Suchetas B., Donna L-J., Qamara B.
Storyteller: Joseph H., Maryfran A., Kristine R., Rowena P., Syafiq B., Nichalia S., Carman W., Makenzie S-R., 
 


Team TOCTool, At Your Service!

 

Do you ever wonder how the textbooks make it into EasyBooks?  How does THIS:

 

Page from Spanish-language social studies book: ¿Qué es una comunidad?

 

 

 

become THIS?

 

EasyBooks screen, showing headings from previous Spanish book image



 

In the past, only staff, and maybe a very few scattered volunteers, set up books for production.  In late 2017, however, Learning Ally created a Pre-Production Community also known as Team TOCTool.  Currently, eight dedicated volunteers work on setting up books, using the TOCTool program to transform the information from pdfs into .html files for EasyBooks. TOCToolers serve the community in a very special way, making the recording process easier for the other volunteers, and lightening the load for staff members, who still set up books as well, but now have some relief so they can focus on other tasks.


 


 

The requirements of this job are an eye (and love) for detail, some computer ability, regular time to devote to the task, patience, and a PC (sorry, no Macs right now--but we’re working on a new version of the program for the future).  Going through the pdf page by page, the TOCTooler types in every heading and its placement within the book, creating files along the way. One TOCTooler says, “It’s a great way to get to know the books very intimately, and to see ahead of time which books I might like to read or QC.”  

 

Volunteer Caren Snook smiles as she takes a break from setting up the language arts book (computer screen with book and TOCTool images in background)

Caren Snook is one of our most prolific TOCToolers, working steadily to provide the other volunteers with books to work on. Caren first joined the Learning Ally Athens (Georgia) Studio in 1973 and has put in well over 5,000 hours (not including undocumented hours from the “old days”).  Over her 46 years with Learning Ally, Caren has served as a TOCTooler, Reader, Checker, bookmarker, local Board President, events tabler--she’s seen it all! Caren says about TOCTool, “The logic is appealing and the attention to detail that is required fits my personality...I really enjoy reading, but my house does not include a good space for that.”  TOCTooling fits her schedule, and the house doesn’t have to be quiet for her to do it.
 

A former teacher, Caren’s love of Learning Ally led her recently to audit classes at the University of Georgia, classes required for the Graduate Certificate in Dyslexia.  While attending these classes, Caren had the opportunity to learn more about the needs of our learners, and that knowledge has made her even more focused on excellence in her volunteer work, saying, “...it is incumbent on every volunteer to do his/her best every time...take time to find out the correct pronunciation...to reread the conventions...Recognize that everyone makes occasional errors, and learn from yours...If you aren’t feeling well, give yourself a break and take a day off. Our students are depending on you!”
 

As a team in the last calendar year, the group set up over 200 books for the Textbook Community!  Other current members of TeamTOCTool are:
 

 
Jaqui 
Bradley,
a former cloistered Franciscan nun and ongoing kitten rescue volunteer who started at the Upland (California) Studio in 2007 and also currently serves as a volunteer mentor in the VHOC.


TOCTooler Jaci Collins smiling at the camera, wearing a boatneck white blouse, drop earrings, and a large pendant

Jaci Collins, who joined the Austin (Texas) Studio in 1998 and continues to read and QC as well.


TOCTooler Elizabeth DeLaney Hoffman, smiling at the camera.  She has short white hair, dark-framed glasses, and a thick necklace of varying shades of green that match her green top.

Elizabeth DeLaney Hoffman, who joined the Athens Studio in 2015 and also serves as a Volunteer Coordinator.


TOCTooler Pat Lim.  Street scene, before crossing street: arms spread, sunglasses on, smiling as she points to an exceptionally large ice cream shop sign across the street

Pat Lim, a freelance technical writer in the bio-pharmaceutical field who joined the Menlo Park (California) Studio in 2011.

 

TOCtooler Jim Siewert, outside in front of a large bush, wearing a dark green cap with a Green Bay logo

Jim Siewert, a retired Honeywell engineer who started volunteering at the Philadelphia (Pennsylvania) Studio in 2004 and whose primary TOCTool focus is books for the Math Community.
 

Susan Wilson, a former corporate lawyer and current law school instructor who joined the Athens Studio in 2016; Susan not only works on TOCTool but is also helping Audrey Santos pilot a program for volunteers to create project sites  (no photo available).

TOCTooler Beira Winter standing smiling in front of the Rose Bowl Parade float she helped with this year.  The float features a funky-looking house with crooked shutters, and a large cat in front playing the fiddle

Beira Winter, who first joined the Hollywood (California) Studio in 2000, and besides all of her work for Learning Ally, also helped with her community’s float for this year’s Rose Bowl Parade.

 

Think you have what it takes to become a TOCTooler?  Team TOCTool is open to any interested volunteer with the desire to try the task.  For more information, contact Stacie Court sCourt@LearningAlly.org,  or mention joining us in your STAFF Hangout.  We’d love to have you on Team TOCTool!

 


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!