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Volunteer Nation Blog

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


Help!

 

Album cover for The Beatles: Help!


 

Help!  I need somebody,

Help! Not just anybody,

Help, you know I need someone,

Help!...

Won’t you please, please help me, help me, help me, oh!


 

Hi, folks.  We need your help.

 

Sometimes we’re looking for someone with a specific skill set (ex. Classical Latin experience; fundraising background; technical development skills; etc.).  The easiest way for us to find these folks is through the entries in the Volunteer Portal. By keeping your personal information section up-to-date, you save us time and help us find you when we need you.

To update your information:

 

  1.  Go to the Volunteer Portal:  https://volunteers.learningally.org/


 




 

  1.  Click on Log Hours and log in:

 

 



 

  1.  Click on the My Profile Tab:

 



 

  1.  Scroll down and check off boxes that apply to you, and update any outdated information:

 


 

  1.  Continue scrolling and checking as applicable, click SAVE in each section:

 



 

  1.  Once you’ve checked and saved everything you’re interested in, scroll to the bottom and click Exit:

 



 

It’s as easy as pumpkin pie!  Thank you for keeping your information up-to-date.  Correct information improves our efficiency and helps us better serve the students we’re trying to help.


 

Pumpkin pie, complete with a dollop of whipped cream in the middle and with an edging of pie-dough autumn leaves


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 Spotlight: Donald Sheetz

                                                    Donald Sheetz

What do you do at Learning Ally? 

I am a reader and a checker. But over the last 18 months, I have been checking more files than reading. I find that I make more mistakes reading than I want to, but I really enjoy listening to a number of excellent readers who make few if any mistakes.     

                               

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How long have you volunteered at Learning Ally? 

I started with RFB&D, Learning Ally's previous name, in the spring of 2009 after I retired from the maritime and oil industries. I began in the New Haven office, then transitioned to the New York office when the NH office closed. I also had occasion to record in the Upland and DC facilities when visiting my sons living near those facilities. And once Christine and Stacie even allowed me to record one (yes, that's right, one) file in the Athens office! After moving to Florida in 2014, I became part of the virtual community.

 

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What made you want to volunteer at Learning Ally?

Certainly, part of my decision was based on the fact that my dear aunt was almost totally blind, and I wanted to "pay it forward" for her. I also had been doing "voice work" of one kind or another since I was 16, and as I was looking to volunteer somewhere after retirement, it seemed to be a "fit."

 

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What's something most people at Learning Ally don't know about you?

In line with the previous question, I was asked by school mates to announce the music played by the school dance band, but it would be silly of me just doing the announcing. So...I pretended to play the bass during the musical numbers and then before the next musical number announce what we had just done or what was coming up. Duh! I couldn't play a lick! That's me -- the great pretender -- in the accompanying photo.

 

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What do you like most about volunteering at Learning Ally?

A number of things: firstly, the sense that we, the volunteers, are doing something that benefits others. Secondly, working with a tremendous staff, learning from them. Thirdly, "meeting" both physically -- at times -- and virtually, other volunteers and staff. I have been very lucky that way in that I have been able to work at or visit a number of Learning Ally's brick and mortar facilities, attended a Gala dinner in Denver, been to the Princeton office, and meet once a year or so with other volunteers from the Southern California community for lunch or breakfast or whatever. That group has grown from 3 of us to a group of a dozen or more, although with time constraints, travel distances, etc., the group that actually meets is about 6 or 7, but growing.

 

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Do you have any advice for prospective Learning Ally volunteers?

2 things: Learn the reading conventions and don't be afraid to ask questions or challenge decisions. What we do changes with the times as do the conventions. 

Actually, there is a third piece of advice: don't take things personally. Edit notes are not personal attacks. They are meant to improve the overall product that we are putting out. Okay, okay, okay! One last piece of advice: thank the staff for what they do! They do a great job! 

 

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What is your favorite audiobook/book if you have any?

Books, in general, not audiobooks: I love almost anything Michael Connelly writes but there are so many other authors that I like I could fill the page with them. And I much prefer to hold the book in my hands and physically turn the pages. No Kindle or mp3 player for me.

 

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What do you do during your free time?

Actually, I spend most of my time volunteering, whether it is with earning Ally or other reading services, tutoring at a local elementary school (2nd and 3rd graders mostly, learning to read), calling BINGO once a month, doing other non-profit voice work, etc. I am also the disembodied voice at two maritime conferences in Connecticut telling attendees where to go and what to do next and have for the last few years been the house announcer for the Orange County Children's Theater (California) reminding folks about photography, food, etc. I have also voiced several online courses for two maritime not-for-profit entities, In fact, I average about 150 hours a month of volunteer work -- when not traveling -- doing this type of "work." 

 

When not doing that, my wife and I like to travel. We are lucky to have been able to visit about 100 countries -- for work or pleasure --  between the two of us. I envy some of the places she has been and she would definitely not like several of the places I have been.

 

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What is your Favorite movie or TV series?

In the overall scheme of things, I don't watch "that much" TV but when I do, I binge watch programs like Chicago PD (my home town!), Law and Order SVU, or Bosch (I told you I like Michael Connelly, the writer).


This Weeks Highly Recommended Titles 10/23

This Weeks Highly Recommended Titles 10/23

We will be highlighting some of the books that our incredible Volunteer Nation has worked on! These are the selections for this week...and keep an eye out for next week's three-book selection for Halloween! This information is collected weekly by Christina Trejos, Digital Production Coordinator at Learning Ally.


Grade Band: K-3
Melia And Jo by Billy Aronson (NC084)
Narrated by: Nikola Zakocs
Book Trailer: https://drive.google.com/open?id=1pXy0RwFYS61u034fyTT-HZ0X23MWjGil
Synopsis: 
Melia and Jo will be to STEAM what Rosie Revere is to STEM. Melia is scientific and loves to create things in her backyard laboratory, but something is missing. Her inventions just aren't quite right. Enter Jo, her new friend with an artistic spirit. When you add the arts to sciences, something magical happens This whimsically illustrated picture book is the perfect introduction to the benefits of STEAM-focused curriculum.

 

Grade Band: 3-7   
The Ship is Dead: Magnus Chase and The God's of Asgard: Book 3 (NA576) 
Narrated by: Michael Fryar
Author: Rick Riordan
Book Trailer:  https://drive.google.com/open?id=1RqKlXvdVGyN855t0UuO6J6lDwW27UWRe
Book Link: https://learningally.org/BookDetails/BookID/NA576
Synopsis: 
Magnus Chase, a once-homeless teen, is a resident of the Hotel Valhalla and one of Odin's chosen warriors. As the son of Frey, the god of summer, fertility, and health, Magnus isn't naturally inclined to fighting. But he has strong and steadfast friends, including Hearthstone the elf, Blitzen the dwarf, and Samirah the Valkyrie, and together they have achieved brave deeds, such as defeating Fenris Wolf and battling giants for Thor's hammer, Mjolnir. Now Magnus faces his most dangerous trial yet. His cousin, Annabeth, recruits her boyfriend, Percy Jackson, to give Magnus some pointers, but will his training be enough? Loki is free from his chains. He's readying Naglfar , the Ship of the Dead, complete with a host of giants and zombies, to sail against the Asgardian gods and begin the final battle of Ragnarok. It's up to Magnus and his friends to stop him, but to do so they will have to sail across the oceans of Midgard, Jotunheim, and Niflheim in a desperate race to reach Naglfar before it's ready to sail. Along the way, they will face angry sea gods, hostile giants, and an evil fire-breathing dragon. Magnus's biggest challenge will be facing his own inner demons. Does he have what it takes to outwit the wily trickster god?

 

 

Grade Band: 8+   
La Belle Sauvage: The Book of Dust Series: Book 1 (NA473) 
Narrated by: Paul Morgan
Book Trailer: https://drive.google.com/open?id=1RqKlXvdVGyN855t0UuO6J6lDwW27UWRe
Synopsis: 

Malcolm Polstead and his daemon, Asta, are used to overhearing news and the occasional scandal at the inn run by his family. But during a winter of unceasing rain, Malcolm finds a mysterious object—and finds himself in grave danger. Inside the object is a cryptic message about something called Dust; and it’s not long before Malcolm is approached by the spy for whom this message was actually intended. When she asks Malcolm to keep his eyes open, he begins to notice suspicious characters everywhere: the explorer Lord Asriel, clearly on the run; enforcement agents from the Magisterium; a gyptian named Coram with warnings just for Malcolm; and a beautiful woman with an evil monkey for a daemon. All are asking about the same thing: a girl—just a baby—named Lyra.   Lyra is at the center of a storm, and Malcolm will brave any peril, and make shocking sacrifices, to bring her safely through it. 


Tech Tips: Volunteer Sitemap

A Common New Volunteer Story

As a new volunteer excited to start helping our struggling students, you may start at our main website and fill out a registration form, but you then get sent to another site for training. You get an email response with the same links just in case you lose them, but maybe that email gets buried by others and although you logged into the training center and started a course, you're not sure how to get back to it, and what is this volunteer portal you've heard about as well and are you supposed to go there for training? And why can't you log in at LearningAlly.org to continue your training? How can you find your way?!

 

We know our various sites and resources can seem like a maze! Navigating our volunteer system can be challenging at times and producing audiobooks is not a simple task. We started weekly Training Office Hours meetings where new volunteers and recent graduates can tune in and ask questions and get answers right away. We are also available through our Training chat for quick questions, and both communities also use their own Google chat channels for communication too (Virtual Water Cooler, Literary Salon, Textbook Staff hangouts, etc.). And there's always email as well. Paula Restrepo and Lori Leland also reach out to volunteers via email and phone to ensure they have what they need to succeed as volunteers. We wish we could be there looking over your shoulder to help when you're stuck, but our virtual volunteering system doesn't allow us to be there with you physically. 

 

What is virtual volunteering?

We use the term "virtual volunteering" sometimes to describe what you do since your volunteer activity is done online and from your own home. However, we do NOT consider you a "virtual volunteer"! You are very real and gracious folks who give your time and talents to help others succeed and we really, really appreciate you! We are here to help you navigate and figure out how you can help our students.

 

Try our new Volunteer Sitemap!

To alleviate some of this confusion, we created a Volunteer Sitemap mini-lesson that explains our various sites and what they do. New volunteers get a link to this in their initial emailed registration response, and it's also in our Virtual Training site dashboard and in the Volunteer Portal's Resources section at the bottom of the page. Traditionally, a sitemap is a map of a single Internet site, but out Volunteer Sitemap is designed to help you navigate all the sites you may encounter in our volunteer community. We hope this helps and feedback is always welcome!

 

Please reach out to us if you have any questions...we are here to help!


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.


Why is Logging Hours important?

We get asked often, why logging hours is important. To help answer, here are some ways the data is used in managing our volunteer program. 

 

  • Volunteer Recognition! We appreciate everything you do. This data helps us recognize milestones and outstanding service!
  • Program Health. We can use this data to evaluate the health of our volunteer program. We can see the effort that goes into audiobook production and other Learning Ally initiatives that volunteers support. We can project how many new audiobooks we can produce during a year, measure volunteer retention, and build recruitment plans to grow and fill areas of need. 
  • Reporting. The value of your donated service is required in our financial reporting. We can also provide reports, when requested, to companies that give to nonprofits where their staff volunteers, and to foundations that are interested in our volunteer program.

 

Some cool numbers based on logged hours that you might find interesting. From July 1, 2018 to June 30, 2019, we had 604 volunteers donate a total of 57,143 hours to Learning Ally -- an average of almost 95 hours per volunteer! Many in more than one role…

 

  • 244 volunteers donated 12,373 hours Narrating new audiobooks in the Literature Community.
  • 94 volunteers donated 5,241 hours Listening and checking those new audiobooks for our Literature Community.
  • 61 volunteers donated 452 hours performing Quality Assurance testing on audiobooks completed in the Literature Community.
  • 216 volunteers donated 24,034 hours Reading new textbooks.
  • 201 volunteers donated 10,436 hours Checking those new textbooks for the Instructional Text Community.
  • 141 new volunteers donated another 1,738 hours of Checking as part of our Virtual Hands-on Center (VHOC).
  • 36 volunteers donated 2,248 hours performing Pre-production tasks for the Instructional Text Community. This included tasks like ToCTool, writing project guidelines, and PDF bookmarking for textbook production.
  • 17 volunteers donated 115 hours providing Career Development Support to graduating Blind or Visually Impaired students from our College Success Program.

 

Gathering volunteer service hours is not unique to Learning Ally. This is something that most volunteer programs do, especially those of our size. However, speaking for Learning Ally on the subject, without you logging hours, we would not be able to truly understand or recognize the work and effort that you all put into providing students with the tools they need to succeed. With that in mind, I will finish with text straight from our Recognition Page on our Volunteer Nation Community Portal:

 

You matter. You make a difference.

 

Your great generosity has had a profound and lasting impact on our students. Your willingness to share both your time and your talent says a lot about each of you as human beings. Your willingness to give selflessly to help others speaks to both your strength and the quality of your character.
 

When you volunteer, you are making a commitment to share that most precious of resources – your time – to make life better for those who are in need. The fruits of your labors make a tangible impact, of course, but perhaps it is the fact that you are willing to share your time and talent to lend a helping hand and to show kindness and caring that makes the greatest difference in the lives of the individuals who learn to love reading from listening to the audiobooks YOU help produce.
 

While we know that you choose to volunteer selflessly and without expectation of being recognized or rewarded, we want to take the time to let you know just how much your dedication is appreciated and to make sure you know that everyone at Learning Ally is forever grateful to each of you. Whether you are a long-time volunteer or if you got involved fairly recently, and regardless of how many hours you choose to give, it’s important for you to know that what you do makes a difference.
 

Words cannot adequately express the gratitude that we wish to express. Please know that your service is recognized, appreciated, valued and cherished. We thank you and look forward to continuing to work with you in the future.