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January begins with New Years Resolutions and that means folks looking for ways that they can make the world a better place. At Learning Ally, we always see an increase of interest in volunteering and an uptick in new people joining our programs. You'll likely see some new names and faces in group chats, at Office Hours meetings, and on the Facebook group. Be sure to say hello and welcome them to the Learning Ally family.
Do note however, that we are still working to balance our intake of volunteers with the projects that we need to produce. On the updated volunteer interest page you'll find a concise breakdown of current needs and volunteer roles. If you've got a friend or family member interested in volunteering and you think they'd be a good match, send them a link and let them know how they can help students in need.
Would you like to help us to manage our new arrivals? If you're an experienced volunteer looking for more ways to use your skills then why not become a peer mentor? You remember the volunteers who helped you through your own training, providing feedback and guidance for your test projects and coaching you through your first live books. You can do the same for others and help our staff to be in more places at once.
People with a background in teaching and instruction are especially valuable for these programs, but we encourage anyone from subject matter experts to voiceover training tutors to reach out. Contact the staff leaders of your book production teams if you're interested in learning more.
This month we resume our Volunteer Nation Live events with our 21st webinar. We'll take this beginning of a new year as a "reset" of sorts, as we review the ongoing mission of Learning Ally. In our December blog post we teased how Learning Ally is looking at new strategies and tools to help with early literacy. In this webinar you'll get a first look at some of the concrete plans we have to help these young learners. You'll find more information, including registration links in follow-up messages in our newsletters, on the Facebook group, and through Twist channels.
Speaking of Twist, we want to make sure more of you are using Twist, and using it well. If you haven't already signed up for Twist, be sure to join the conversation.
Remember these basics to make the most of Twist: Use @ mentions to contact staff. If you want to call attention to a message then type "@" and begin typing the name of the staff member then select their name in the popup. Now your message will be at the top in the staff member's Inbox with a notification to check it out. You can also click the Star icon in the top right of a thread if you find it interesting or if it relates to one of your book projects. Whenever that thread gets updated you'll see it in Starred section. No need to go hunting through threads for those updates!. Update your notification settings as well. Though you could have Twist send an email or phone message every time a post comes in, you're more likely to find notifications useful if they only come in from @mentions and 1:1 messages only.
Check out this Learning Ally Twist reference guide for instructions on how to set your preferences and for more user tips for Twist.
Laura F., Galit W. B., June W., Davida B., Paula H., Serina D., Elizabeth C., Shreya V., Aquapella M., Wayne M., Alonzo L., Revanth T., Mijo F., Kristina R., Aara C., Afridi M.
How do I post messages in the Twist project channel?
Please click the relevant thread and type in your comment in the field at the bottom, then click Post. Please don't start a new thread each time you post.
Remember to use @mentions (@ then type in the person's name you wish to notify in particular).
Where do I find project channels for Textbook Community projects?
We have not yet moved textbook community project communication to Twist. They will still use Google Hangouts which are accessed using the Hangouts link at the project site (for now).
I'm lost...where do I find my project channel?
If you logged into Twist directly instead of coming to it through the project site and can't find your project channel, remember to look in Channels. It will start with Project and channels are listed in alphabetical order:
If you use Twist on a mobile device or smaller screen, the channels may not appear until you hover over/tap the left side of the app.
Why are we doing this again? (I don't like change!)
Our communication methods prior to Twist had several issues, i.e., user caps on Google hangouts, login issues and user conflicts with Google Groups, inability to edit or delete comments in Google hangouts, etc.
We really appreciate your understanding and patience so much as we make this switch!
How will I know when my narrator/listener makes a post?
If they used an @mention with your name and you set Twist to email you when you have an @mention post, you should receive an email notification from Twist when there's a new post. Notification settings are accessible using the bell icon at top right in the Twist app.
When I click on the Discussion Group tab, it pops up a message that says to check my email.
If you're new to Twist, you'll need to click Join Now in the confirmation email from Twist. Click the Continue with Google button and choose any other channels you'd like to join and then click Join Channels. You'll see the project channel on the left; the channels are listed alphabetically. In addition, the Discussion Group link at the project site will work now that you've joined Twist.
The link to join Twist is here: https://twist.com/j/2abbc2863c6e85d3502548e77f1f59e0 Please join the conversation!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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!
You may have noticed that we use a lot of Google products: Google login, Hangouts chat, Google Groups, Google Drive cloud storage of audio files, Chrome browser (recommended), etc. It is a ubiquitous platform that offers a lot of flexibility and is very low-cost for nonprofits. We understand that others have a preference for other browsers or email clients for whatever reason, but using Google makes it much easier for us to develop and maintain our production systems. Almost everyone has a Google account these days and you can create one or easily tie a different email account to a Google account as well.
We use Google login for the Training Site, EasyBooks, and the Literature Portal. However, we see some common issues with login in the Literature Portal that we'd like to cover today. Here are the troubleshooting steps we recommend if you're not seeing what you expect in the portal, i.e., missing PDF Download button or Google Group, or nothing in the My Projects tab when you have assigned projects:
We are very pleased to announce a new EasyBooks release!
This new version 4.020 offers several new features that we think you will like:
Links to the installation instructions are here and also linked from the EasyBooks homescreen (you may need to scroll down a bit):
EasyBooks for PC 4.020
EasyBooks for Mac 4.020
Not sure which version you have? Check the top bar and it will show which version you have. Please contact Vol-Support@LearningAlly.org if you need any help with the update or installation.
For more detail, please see our EasyBooks version doc.
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):
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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:
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:
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!