October 13, 2019
August 2, 2019
July 2, 2019
June 4, 2019
April 30, 2019
The biggest, and probably most surprising news is that we have put audiobook volunteer recruitment on pause for the rest of the summer. The tremendous influx of volunteers through the spring has overwhelmed our ability to provide enough content to supply the demand of volunteers. Already, we see large groups of volunteers waiting for books to read or to check, and eager to jump in on that work the moment it's available. Unfortunately, that means many others are kept waiting for the next project and opportunity. They always say "it's the kind of problem you want to have," but that doesn't mean it's not a problem.
In the meantime, we will be collecting information from potential volunteers so that we can reach out to them later, when the program reopens. However, there are still some areas of our audiobook production program where we are lacking in volunteers!
We are still on the lookout for bilingual volunteers, particularly Spanish speakers, to work on foreign language textbooks. Professional voiceover artists are still needed for some of our dramatic and performed literature titles. We also have a number of African-American focused stories in our literature queue and are looking for authentic voices to record this content. If you can help us meet these needs, then reach out to a Learning Ally staff member, or email email@example.com
If you attended our last Volunteer Nation Live event, or if you've been keeping up with the blogs, you'll know about our plans to gradually transition our chat client over from Google Hangouts to Twist. This change has been a long time coming, and is even more necessary now as the number of volunteers in our programs has surged. Check out this video for the overview, or watch the recorded Volunteer Nation Live event for more background on why we chose Twist. We look forward to seeing (and chatting with) you there!
The school year, such as it was, is winding down in many places but our work continues. Maintaining a love for reading means always having a book at hand and we aim to meet that need. Whether it's summer reading assignments or just enjoying a graphic novel sitting on the porch, we want to make sure borrowers can find and access books as easily as anyone.
Image by John Phelan / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)
Every Thursday afternoon we have an Office Hours meeting with representatives of Learning Ally staff from the Training and Support, VHOC, Textbook, and Storyteller teams. These are open-forum online meetings without an agenda, intended to be your opportunity to ask questions about book production, but they are more than just informational sessions. Office Hours are also an opportunity to get to know one another as volunteers and people. Remote volunteering can feel isolating, especially before you've learned the ropes, so having some facetime can do a lot to remind you who we are and why we do what we do.
The increase in volunteers in our programs has led to us expanding the Office Hours webinars as well. We now make use of "breakout rooms" to create special subgroups for the discussion of particular topics. If you feel a general subject discussion isn't to your liking, or if you've already finished training programs and would like to talk about advanced training or user tips, you can join a breakout room for VHOC or Storyteller grads.
We set up our Office Hours meetings to support our trainees and recent grads, but these are not exclusive events. If you've got a free hour, feel free to visit the webinar and get to see some of the new faces
You can join our Office Hours Thursday afternoon at 3:30 PM Eastern Time, 12:30 PM Pacific. For links and password information, just check the Communication Lesson on any Course on the Volunteer Training Site.
Douglas C-K, Jeniffer R., Christine P-P., Erica B., Christopher B., Jerald H., Howie McD., Ben K., Alyssa L., Susan B., Mitchell H., Jo M., Jennifer M., Talha T., Thritha A., Audrey P., Giselle, Ann R., Almaelisa G., Sandra M., MJ J., Amandi, Andrew D-H., Kendell H., Latisha V., Jamie N., Vince R., Michelle B., Sabrina M., Sedi-Anne B., Michael W., Stacy C., Kadier C., Anita J., Kevin M., Wendy L., Maya N., Alinnette H., Emma N., Kristen Y., Pete J., Elizabeth W., Patricia C-D., Adrienne J., Jerry Z., Simon Y., Jessica D., Erica B., Claire T., Emily S., Carol P., Dai G., Debra S., Yvonne M., Charis G., Laura R., Aren F., Deema S., R. W., Kyle C., Stacy G., Melissa E., Irene A., Aaron H., Zoe L., Wilson A., Kyieta B., Sally H., Nicholas A., Gela A., Christopher C., Meg M., Sharon S., Olivia K., Mackenzie B., James H., Joy P., Rachel S., Dexter B., Melie V., Camari M., Sianaleen L., Shawkin K., Samantha K., Ursula M., Sadaf F., Marissa M., J. M., Christina L., Karen T., Ardent G., Pazam S., Christina W., Robin B., Maria G-J., Marty J., Chloe G., Kelly H., Arysta V., Alexa J., Chloe C., Bob A., Terrill D., Mark B., Sathya D., Riley K., Jean E., Marylou A., Claire Z., Pooh P., Paula M., Julia S., Taurin W., Cato B., Lily G., Muriel W., Emilie T., Seth McL., Claire A., Regina L., Alisha K., Rasleen D., Sara J., Kelly D.
On April 21st we had a very special Volunteer Nation Live event in celebration of Volunteer Appreciation Week. We were able to feature several students and teachers who use Learning Ally books in their schools who shared their stories of learning and growth with audiobooks, as well as answering questions from our volunteers in attendance. If you missed the event we strongly urge you take the time to watch the recording on our Resources Page.
We drive ourselves by asking Why: Why do we make the time and the effort to provide our services and resources? And we get our answer every time we see the people who benefit from our work. It's a beautiful reminder that we're doing more than making books - we're improving lives; offering success to people who would otherwise be forced to struggle. We bring out our best and afford others the chance to do the same.
One of the results of having so many new volunteers (over 100 training graduates this month) as well as volunteers with extra time to donate, is that we are actually experiencing a shortage of work in some places. While it's exciting to see that we are not falling behind on deadlines, we are also fielding many requests for book project assignments, particularly in QA and in Storyteller narration. If you are looking for a project in those areas, we suggest you use the contact forms for Learning Ally staff assistance, such as the Assignment Request form for Storytellers. We can earmark an appropriate book or project for you before we even list it in the catalog.
Please note however, we are still limited by staff hours and book acquisition budgets. We have had to establish a "waiting list" of sorts for high-demand subjects or large casting pools. We thank you for your patience as we try to keep up with demand. Remember that we are always working to meet the needs of our students, as well as those of our volunteers.
One way to help our Storyteller volunteers find more projects to record is to diversify your Learning Ally narrator skills. If you are a Storyteller narrator interested in helping us record textbooks, we've prepared a special course designed to fast-track experienced narrators with lessons on the specialized reading conventions and best practices for textbook narration. If you are interested in participating in this program please contact the volunteer training and support team by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are uncertain or curious about textbook projects, why not take a look through the catalog of books in production. You'll see that a wide range of subjects and grade levels are available.
Kourtney I., Trudi D., Luke B., Rohan B., BASIL G. S., Esme S., John B., Liza C., Rene R-R., Kylah F., Edita K., Sarah C., Julie M., Divyanshi S., Hermione P., neha K., Becky R., Colleen A-F., Ben H., Meredith S., Tim S., Chris G., Justin S., Hisham G., Arthur Q., Andy G-R., Latifah M., Carol B., Allison H., Shelby S., Laureanne P., David T S., Shaila M., Beverley H., Meghan L, Christopher C., Amy Z., Jaren J., Jennifer C., Ankitha S., Doris L-T., Oyindamola O., True T., Maureen D., Leslie E., JM J., Theo S., Estelle T., Lisa W., Heather S., Izzy L., April F., Richard K., Kai W., Jessica H., Kelly D., Ivy R., Swethaa R., Jenny S., Kathy O., Bo K., Belinda L., Mark C., Althea B., Priya K., Shyamala C., Anna C., AHUVA S., Haley K., Christina L., Richelle F., Janice O., Shayla B., Narineh S., Yvo S., khardema, Siya B., Smriti D., Jessica H., Michelle G., Edward B., F R., JM J., Erin C., Lisa W., Robyn W., Gustavo F., Mary A., Seattle S., Janet B., tolulope A., Neya G., Katie M., Abbie G., Sthiti P., Robert W., Mark C., Jennifer C., Belinda S L., Gary M., Maria F., Freya S., Rosalyn G., Becky C B., Lisa W., Dan E., Naomi P., Barbara F., Robert W., Shyamala B C., Alexis M., Melanie W., Heidi F., Wendy T., Sandra R., Zachary K-S.,
Cynthia Hamburger, COO and CIO of Learning Ally led a webinar to explain, in detail, what actions we are taking, and have already taken, to provide for our students and balance our business model. With school closures and more students learning at home, the usage of our Learning Ally Audiobook Solution has surged over ten times the numbers we saw last year. As schools recognize the importance and value of our learning tools, we are extending trial periods and contracts with those schools so that they can continue to offer our valuable solutions to students whose semesters have been disrupted.
For more information, as well as an explanation of how we are revising fundraising needs and our "sales" plan to reach new students, you can watch a recording of the full webinar presentation on the Resources page of the Learning Ally Volunteer site.
In times of difficulty we are always happy to see people rise to the challenge and give what help they can. And with the present conditions keeping many people at home, volunteer opportunities like our online book production have become an excellent way to help struggling learners. Not only are our volunteers continuing the educations of our students, they are providing more books to keep them engaged with reading and entertained in the hours when they most need the comfort of a good book and a friendly voice.
We have seen a massive increase in volunteer activity, with new volunteer applications at 250% what they were this same time last year. Our training programs and meetings are full of new names, new faces, and new voices.
All Learning Ally staff are now working from home. Fortunately, the online nature of our volunteering opportunity means our Production department has needed minimal adaptation to make this transition. Still, we are adjusting hours, availability, and workflow to support a large number of people with training and support needs in a very short time. We thank you for your patience and understanding as our efficient little team works to keep us all online and active.
If you have questions or concerns, be sure to reach out through the Volunteer Portal, Volunteer Training Site, Google Hangouts and Groups, and other channels.
Our big fundraising event begins this week and we need proud Macintosh users to lend a hand with our latest software projects.
Building Books for Student Success (BBSS) is here! This annual fundraising event is one of the best ways that you can help us continue to do our great work of helping students as well as their schools, teachers, and even parents. Our online program will guide you through putting together a page for collecting donations, sharing the story and goals of Learning Ally, and promoting your own efforts. Visit the Learning Ally Building Books Campaign page on the Learning Ally website to get involved.
If you have questions about the program, need assistance setting up a donation page, or would like to know more about Learning Ally donations, please contact email@example.com and put the phrase Donor Support in the subject line of your email.
Our EasyBooks developers are working to create a web application of the software: WebEB. This exciting development will let us keep EasyBooks entirely online, meaning no more downloads or version updates and no need for different versions of the software for Windows or Macintosh users. At present, WebEB is still in testing with a small group of users. But that's where you can help us! We need more users with Macintosh computers to join our test group and use the application.
WebEB functions just like EasyBooks with a few changes to the interface and some features still in a development state. Bugs are to be expected - this is a test after all - and you'll be asked to document those experiences and contribute to an online discussion documenting and correcting those flaws. If this project sounds interesting and you have access to the right computer equipment, please contact Eleanor Cotton for more information at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please note, this is a test of Mac OS desktop and laptop computers, not iOS devices like iPads or iPhones. Those are not compatible with WebEB and are not part of this test.
Maria M., CJ H., Kaumeshua H., Emily C., Megan H., Audrey K., Jenna S., Kurt H., Judy S., Dawn K., Christian L., Tania P., Aaron T., Alicia H., Therese B., Kristin L., Rick S., Brian H., Derek M., Madi T., Madison S., Bob M., Shannon K., Becky C., Rebecca H-P., Lisa J.
2020 has started strong for Learning Ally but we're just getting started.
Every year we ask our volunteers to join us in a special fundraising drive. This year March 2nd is the kick-off date for our campaign. Look for special messages with instructions on how to set up your personal fundraising page and reach out to donors. We'll have video demonstrations, reference guides, and even news about recognition rewards. However, you don't have to wait until BBSS if you don't want to! You can get started early if you go set up a fundraising page here.
The New Year always brings an outpouring of volunteer interest, and 2020 is no exception. If you see some of our latest additions to the volunteering team show up in the Google chats or on the volunteer portal pages, please say hello, introduce yourself, and let people know what you're doing to help us serve our students. Every year thousands of people make the resolution to get involved in volunteer work and your welcoming them to our team helps cement that Learning Ally isn't just a service; it's a community of people working together to better the lives of students.
We're always looking for experienced volunteers who are interested in taking some extra time to be peer mentors for our newcomers. Our peer mentors review auditions and coach new trainees. If you've volunteered with Learning Ally for over a year, or have a strong background in teaching or training and are interested in getting involved, contact email@example.com for details.
Kimberly S., Jason O., Lisa J., Sura S., Yvonnette C., Daisy B., Elaine N-B., Janet D., Richard K., Susan H., Jerald H., Buddy S., CJ H., Chris D., Lucy B., Julie N., Becky C., Jami J., Akracha B., Elizabeth B., Jason R., Jeremy D., Van H., Kyle D., Rachel S., Kenneth B., Karen W., Sonia S., Jason C.
Hello Learning Ally volunteers...we're glad to be back after our holiday break, and we have lots to plan for in the coming year!
We're continuing our Office Hours program, with a weekly free-form web meeting so that volunteers can ask Learning Ally staff about the training programs, EasyBooks, or other subjects of Learning Ally book production. In the new year, these meetings will be on Thursdays at 3:30 PM Eastern, 12:30 PM Pacific. Update your calendars.
The Literature Listener Training course is now ready. This course is intended for volunteers who want to get involved with our Literature community, but as reviewers and checkers rather than narrators. Because many of our Literature community narrators are voice-over industry professionals, we need extra help to ensure we make the best use their talents and the work meets our standards for high quality. You can do your part and enjoy the work of these narrators by becoming a Listener volunteer!
If you want to get involved, head right over to the volunteer training website and sign in to the Listener Course. You'll find a familiar but streamlined learning experience. It will help you get started listening, reviewing, and improving the "lighter fare" that keep our students engaged and builds their love of reading.
One of the challenges of software development is making software work on as many computers and devices as possible. To maximize the number of volunteers who can use our EasyBooks application we're developing it as a web app. Our web version of EasyBooks is an online interactive website, requiring only that the user has a browser that can open the page. This means it is "platform agnostic" and should eventually run on PC, Mac, iPad, and nearly any other computer or smart device.
We're starting with the basics, so this version does not have the ability to record yet and can only be used to listen to files and check them. There are plenty of features that need to be added and bugs that need to be chased down, but if you have the knack for some technical thinking, then you can get involved in this testing program and offer the feedback we need to move forward with this innovation.
To get involved in testing this next generation of our production technology, you can email Eleanor Cotton (firstname.lastname@example.org) and join the group of volunteer testers.
Henry M., Jim P., Michelle B., Mike P., Shawn V., Barbar H-W., Joan L., Kelley H., Kimberly S., Jason O., Cynthia M., Aaryan B., Samir K., Alison T., Bonnie H., Jamie L., Glenn K., Garry Z., Judi S., Sanjeev J., Chris J., DaKaylah J., Nick G.
No matter our background, most of us will very soon be celebrating New Year’s Day, even if it’s just the day we stop writing “2019” on checks (checks? how old-fashioned!). Have you ever wondered how January 1st became recognized as New Year’s Day throughout most of the modern world?
Image: Babylonian New Year’s festival of Akitu
According to multiple sources, the earliest recorded New Year’s celebration was a long time ago in Mesopotamia (c. 2000 BC). Then, the new year was recognized as beginning with the vernal equinox (mid-March for us today). Other cultures, such as the Egyptians, Phoenicians, and Persians, celebrated the new year at the autumnal equinox (our mid-September).
Image: Roman Colosseum
The Romans originally celebrated New Year's on March 1st of their ten-month, 304-day calendar (side note: the reason our last four months are named “SEPTember”, “OCTober”, “NOVember”, and “DECember” is because they were the seventh, eighth, ninth, and tenth months of the year). Somewhere around 700 BCE two new months, January and February, were added, but New Year’s was still celebrated on March 1st.
Around 153 BCE the Roman civil year began on January 1st, so many people started celebrating New Year’s on January 1st at that point. However, it was not an official change and many people continued celebrating New Year’s in March.
Image: Julius Caesar Image: Janus, God of Gates
The Julian Calendar was introduced by Julius Caesar in 46 BCE, along with a decree that New Year’s would be celebrated on January 1st, to coincide with the civil year and the celebration of Janus, the god of gates. So, January 1st was THE date...for a while, anyway…
In 567 CE the Council of Tours abolished January 1st as the date for New Year’s. Until the institution of the Gregorian Calendar by the Council of Nicaea in 1582, New Year’s was celebrated on a number of days throughout medieval Europe, often coinciding with major Christian feasts, ranging from December 25th (Birth of Christ) to March 25th (Feast of the Annunciation).
Images: front page of Gregorian Calendar; Pope Gregory XIII
HOWEVER...Pope Gregory’s calendar still didn’t unify Europe under one New Year’s celebration. For example, the British (and their colonies) did not switch to the Gregorian calendar until 1752. Today, most of the world uses the Gregorian calendar, and observes January 1st as the beginning of the New Year.
Modern countries that do not use the Gregorian calendar include Afghanistan, Iran, Ethiopia, and Nepal. Countries that use their own plus the Gregorian calendar include Bangladesh, India, and Israel. Countries that use modified versions of the Gregorian calendar include Taiwan, Thailand, North Korea, and Japan. China uses the Gregorian calendar for civil record-keeping but use the traditional Chinese calendar for the dates of festivals.
Image: polar bear plunge
All cultures that observe New Year’s have developed traditions around the celebrations. Some of these traditions include making resolutions for the New Year; dressing up for parties on New Year’s Eve, with a special toast and noisemakers at midnight; polar bear plunges into frigid water; eating special foods for luck such as black-eyed peas, lentils, soba noodles, or grapes; and singing “Auld Lang Syne” around a bonfire. Here in the U.S., it’s often a time to gather with friends and family to watch a bowl game on tv (or, if you plan ahead, attend one live).
Image: volunteer recording an audiobook for Learning Ally
Anyway you celebrate it, the New Year is always felt to be a time for new beginnings and fresh starts, a time for casting off the old and ringing in the new. What new and exciting things will you do this year? Maybe...help with more books for Learning Ally? Go through Reader Training and become a Reader/Narrator? Become a mentor to new volunteers? Maybe you’ll get some of your friends involved, and start your own local Learning Ally group? The sky’s the limit!
It’s going to be a wonderful year! Happy 2020, everyone!
Image: Eleanor Roosevelt with quotation, "The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams."
We hope you had a pleasant Thanksgiving holiday. We know that many Learning Ally students are thankful for the work that you've done, making their reading experiences engaging and valuable and expanding their opportunities. Your support and dedication makes our work more rewarding and even the challenges you bring us are more chances to excel. Thank you!
Our third training program launches in January: Literature Listener Training. In this program we'll train volunteers to be the quality checking team in support of our Storybook narration program. Though it is similar to the training for Textbook checking in some ways, there are other factors that need to be considered when evaluating dramatic works of fiction.
We're looking for some "beta testers" to get involved and help us look for flaws in the new lessons before they are released. Please contact email@example.com if you are interested.
The Listener Training program will be available to all volunteers on January 1st, 2020.
Please be aware that all Learning Ally offices are closed for the week between December 24th and January 1st. During that time there may be significant delays in email correspondence and the availability of chat support. Regular online meetings are also suspended that week. We hope you have a happy and safe holiday!
Learning Ally staff are online to answer your questions live on Wednesdays at 2 PM EST. You'll find links, and more information on the training site.
Wendy S., Tony J., Steven S., Stephen I., Shannon B., Michael L., Marti C., Lori B., Lisa B., Lisa B., Kayla H., Judi S., Joseph E., Joel S., Joanna S., Jack D., Christine L., Cassie M., Avery R., Anna L., Garry Z., Buddy S., Julie W., Mark M., and Nick G.
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.