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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


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.
 


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. 
 


Students Love Us!

 

     Abigail Shaw wears a bright yellow dress and a big smile; her guide dog, Kit, gazes quizzically at the camera

 

Abigail Shaw, staff member with Learning Ally’s College Success Program, with her guide dog, Kit


 

Students love Learning Ally!  Here’s a message from just one member of our ever-growing fan club:

 

I’m looking forward to this semester because for once I was actually able to get my textbook list ahead of time and found most of the books on Learning Ally, so there’s one less thing I have to worry about...I will enjoy my classes and they seem interesting so I’m looking forward to that.


 

College Success Program student

Sophomore from Long Island





 

 

Another big fan is Sadie Regardie.  A student in the Fairfax County Public Schools, Sadie read A LOT this summer, participating in our Summer Reading Together contest.  Sadie not only read at home--she even took her books on vacation! How many kids want to read on vacation? Sadie entered our social media part of the contest as well, and her entry shows how audiobooks can not only build enthusiasm for reading but also expose students to concepts and vocabulary.  Sadie says about Learning Ally, “...it has helped me persevere in reading. Makes the book make sense and makes reading more fun.” Click here to watch Sadie’s video entry:

https://spark.adobe.com/video/yjkTu48FpM4Sy


 

Sadie’s mother, Jenn Regardie, is a key influencer for Learning Ally in their school district, and will be a panelist for one of our upcoming edWebinars.  For more information about this educational opportunity, click here:

https://home.edweb.net/webinar/readers20190814/





 


 

Metrics Update for this week:

 

  • Our readers increased to 212,034

 

  • We had 47,285 reading at frequency*

 

  • Pages read by school readers increased by 63% over this time last year!



 

Happy Summer, and Happy Reading, everyone!





 

*at frequency = students are reading books multiple times during the school year, with a general target of thirty times (more for lower grades, less for upper grades).  Our data shows that most of these students read for at least 20 minutes each time.


"Log Hours" update! - New volunteer assignment choices

There have been some new updates to the Volunteer Portal. From this week onwards, when you visit the Log Hours page and log on to add your volunteer hours, there will some changes to the list of volunteer assignments. So when you click on [Post your hours] or go to the Time Sheet tab, the drop-down menu that gives options to the question “Which assignment did you serve in?”, will have slightly different assignment names. Please check out these changes below:

 

  1. Listener is now Literature Listener.
  2. Narrator is now Literature Narrator.
  3. QA/Catalog Review is now Literature QA/ Catalog Review.
  4. Checker is now Textbook Checker.
  5. Checker in the VHOC is now Textbook VHOC Checker.
  6. Project Guidelines is now Textbook Pre- Production.
  7. Reader is now Textbook Reader.
  8. TOCTool is now Textbook Pre- Production.
  9. Training Support is now Textbook Training Support.
 

These changes should make it easier to select the correct community and assignment, and we hope this will (in a small way) improve your experience at Learning Ally. If there are any questions or concerns with these changes, please contact Volunteer@LearningAlly.org. As always, we appreciate all the effort that you put into creating Learning Ally audiobooks!
 


The Volunteer Nation Community Portal: Our Volunteer Nation Home

Home Sweet Home!

The Volunteer Nation Community Portal is so much more than a place to log our volunteer hours. It is our Volunteer Nation Home. We encourage you all to make this your home. A place to visit anytime, it’s also a great place to visit before starting your work. After exploring, there are links out to both the Textbook project sites as well as the Literature Community Portal to find your projects. 

 

Come check out the blogs. You’ll find stories about the students and schools that we are helping. Get to know some of your volunteer peers, learn why they volunteer and what they’re up to outside of Learning Ally. Find statistics about all the students you are helping. Use this information to help spread the word. Remember to brag to your friends and families about the great things you do through volunteering.

 

There is a Resource link that will take you to some great training and support information, including documents and videos. 

 

Visit the Support link to find answers to FAQs. Your question not answered? You’ll find instructions there on how to connect to our Volunteer Support team. They are available to provide one-on-one help with your questions, ideas, and problems.

  

You’ll also find our Recognition page. In addition to the volunteers recognized here, we want you all to know your great generosity has had a profound and lasting impact on our students. Thank you all!


From the Training Center: What's VHOC?

Hello all! Our Storyteller course has taken off, and more volunteers are donating more hours to our at-home programs than ever before! If you're a Textbook volunteer wishing to show off your performer's voice, or a Storyteller volunteer looking to demonstrate your subject mastery, check out the Textbook or Literature communities on the Volunteer portal to learn more.

  

What is the VHOC?

We mention the Volunteer Hands-On Center at a few points in our training, but we still have questions about how it fits into the training program. The VHOC serves as an apprenticeship. There just isn't enough time (or patience) for us to cover all of the content you'll encounter in book projects, so you need to do some on-the-job learning and the VHOC is where you'll get that exposure but with more supervision.

 

Screen image of Volunteer Hands-On Center welcome page

 

While working in the VHOC you'll be limited to checking the reading of other volunteers. This serves several purposes:

  • More modeling of good and bad reading: The samples and examples in the training program are brief slices, and some errors can only be recognized as a part of larger projects. You'll be the first line of defense against errors in your work, so you need to recognize problems in anyone's work.
  • Broader exposure to reading conventions: Not only are there many more particular rules and standards than we can cover in the brief lessons on reading conventions, the infinite variety of books means we often need to make judgment calls in how we apply them. Seeing more examples of the conventions in the application helps you internalize the lessons. 
  • Building your schedule: The training lessons can be finished in a couple of hours but book production requires dedicating hours of your time on a regular schedule. While working in the VHOC you can make sure you can be available as needed for volunteering.

 

VHOC book projects are the same book projects you'll find in the catalog of the Textbook community. The difference is that you'll use a request form, so the staff knows what work you'll be doing and you'll end each of your volunteer sessions by filling out a form to notify them of your progress. They'll have another volunteer take a QA pass through your work and offer feedback. (Once you graduate from the VHOC and join the Textbook community you'll be allowed to sign up for your own projects and there's no immediate follow-up checking on your checking work.)

 

As you demonstrate your abilities and knowledge, the staff of the VHOC will need to give you less advice and you'll gain more independence. Soon after that, you'll be allowed to train for reading, and maybe even become a peer mentor to other trainees new to volunteering with Learning Ally.

 

Congratulations Training Grads

Textbook Course: Thomas S., John G., Jane S., John K., Jaime H., Nicole M., Clara H., Suchetas B., Donna L-J., Qamara B., T.A. N., Leslie G., Cindy S., Christina J., Lorraine L.
Storyteller Course: Sayafiq B., Demetrius M., Alice C., Terri B., Angela J., Suzanna L., Lakshmi B., Natalia E., Erica H., Kenye A., Debbie R., Christine D., Carman W., Mary B., Elizabeth B., John T. T., Victoria S., Rowena P., Grace I., Nichalia S., Mak S., Nicole C., Stephanie S., Maria D., Elizabeth VK., Heidi B., Janet S., Sarah F., Brendan S., Ryan K., Jonathan M., Marion H., Mike Patrick M., Doug B., Christina J., J.K. M., Wallis T., Maggie, Sarah L., Rebecca U.
 


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!!!