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


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, Literature 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!


Guide to Understanding the Updated Reading Conventions for Textbook Community

The Textbook Community’s Reading Conventions are an essential starting point for the ways we lay out and navigate through all of the elements on a page in a book. It’s not possible to remember all these guidelines, so it's important that we have these "living" documents to reference while we record. We utilize volunteer feedback, observations of common errors, and member feedback to craft all of our guidelines documents. 


All Textbook Community Staff from every recording community gather together at least quarterly and if not more to review new suggestions for guidelines improvements and to discuss the common errors or areas in recordings that need better instruction. The main two documents every Textbook Community volunteer should consider are our Conventions WIKI, and the Figure Description Crib Sheets (FDCS). These main documents will not be updated more than once per year, and when they are, we like to follow a release either during the months of June, or January.This time, we released the updated Conventions WIKI and FDCS  on July 31st.   


There are several specific SUBJECT area guidelines to review as well. Some areas just demand a deeper dive. For example, we recently released the Writing/Style Guide Conventions, which were crafted by our wonderful staffer, Stacie Court, and volunteer, Elizabeth Hoffman. These guidelines will be essential to tackle the upcoming English Language texts that will be flooding our communities in the upcoming school year. Staff will likely enlist the help of other volunteers when needed to help with guidelines, so if you are interested, let us know and we'll be sure to reach out when we need the help.


We also currently have Computer and Code Guidelines (updates sent 6/13/19), Math Reading Guidelines (expected review and update on or before 10/1/19), Science Terms and Conventions, Foreign Language WIKI (released 7/31/19), and  Common Abbreviations (updates sent 6/13/19) documents. The revised Common Abbreviations document is arranged in alphabetical order and there are two columns, with one column showing the symbol’s name and the other column highlights how these symbols should be pronounced. All are or will become available on our Volunteer Portal under the Resources Tab. 


We welcome feedback and suggestions for our conventions in the Suggestions Form and as noted above, we'll add them to our annual review. It takes many minds and resources to pull together the guidelines and we hope they are helpful to all as they navigate the books that serve so many of our student learners! It’s only because of our great volunteers and staff that we are able to help students in their education. 
 


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!

 


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.


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!