October 13, 2019
August 2, 2019
July 2, 2019
June 4, 2019
April 30, 2019
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 (email@example.com) 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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
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.
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…
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.
Schools are opening all across the country once again, and teachers and students are settling in to their new year's routine. Likewise, we have some volunteers returning to our training programs along with our new arrivals.
So you've signed up to volunteer and got sent a link to a training site. What now? Well, the good news is that the site begins with a lesson on lessons. So, start reading! (You'll be doing an awful lot of reading as a Learning Ally volunteer, so you may as well start now.) One of the most important things you'll find is a short (less than five minute) video: How To Use This Course. If you don't see it right away, just scroll down the page a little. The following image is what one of these videos looks like and they can be found in the Textbook and Storyteller courses in our Virtual Training Center.
The training video will explain the different parts of the lessons, what kind of content you'll find there, how to complete lessons and move forward. Note that some of the steps are automatically completed by reading lessons, watching videos, and interacting with links, but there are some steps (like auditions) that require feedback from a staff member or peer reviewer.
Need more information? Visit the Course Resources page for Textbook or Storyteller training. It's a library of documents and links that we'll refer to throughout our training program.
Don't forget, 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.
William C., Tammy L., Suzanne M., Shiou-Yun L., Sally W., Patrick M., Misty R., Marli W., Lorraine G., Lora R., Linda W., Kelly G., Kay A., Kathy O., Kari W., John C., James T., Gary C., Daoud B., Christine W., Chelle C., Blake V., Beth K., Asha L., April C., Andrea H., Amy S., Amy B., Alex M., A. B., Timothy S., Rebecca D., Emma M.
We're in the season we call "peak" around here, but the end is in sight as the new school year begins. Peak is the time of year that we see the greatest demand from our students. New and school accounts are being set up, reading lists finalized, and book requests fulfilled. It's an especially busy time for Education Solutions.
Learning Ally is a full-service learner support system, and that means training for teachers and software solutions for them as well. You may be acquainted with how students use our software - logging in, picking books, and downloading them - but it's our Educator Portal that lets us reach whole classrooms and schools. Teachers add books to students accounts and use that system to check up on their students' reading progress.
As you can imagine, using that system requires support and that's one of the duties of our Customer Success teams. They build relationships with teachers. They coordinate to help them set up these systems, show them how to use the systems and best practices for them and answer questions to keep things running smoothly. Right now they are hard at work with 17,000 schools across the country, changing the educational journey for our students.
If you want to know more about our solutions and support there's an entire section of the Learning Ally website devoted to the subject.
We've instituted a series of Office Hours Webinars. These relaxed and casual meetings are meant to give you more opportunities for facetime with Learning Ally trainers and staff, without the structure of our Volunteer Nation events. During Office Hours, you set the agenda. Bring your questions and comments to us, and we'll even let you use your microphones to ask them! You'll find the Office Hours meetings announced in the Communication section of your course on the Voltraining Website. When it's meeting time you'll find a link there to join in.
Crawford A., Nancy C-J., Etienne D., Mary D., Terry F M., Ariana G., Joseph G., Justin G., Lorraine G., Jan H., Marcia H., Scott H., Jaimi J., John J., Nick J., Janette K., Jordan K., Laura M., Sean O., Sandy P., Stephanie P., Kathy R., Richard R., Alison S., Bob S., Elizabeth S., Gary S., Jackie S., Rachel W., and Tom W.
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.
July begins a new fiscal year at Learning Ally, so it's the time when we look back at our accomplishments of the past year and forward to our goals for the next. This has been a year of great successes for Learning Ally! Our students are reading pages at record numbers, we’ve exceeded book production for the first year since going to a virtual production system, the Building Books for Student Success campaign exceeded goals, and we launched new training programs for Storytellers, Quality Assurance review, Fast-track for audio industry professionals, and the work-in-progress Literature Listener course.
In the coming year we plan to continue to expand online volunteering with more book projects and a focus on special topics. Our Literature Listening program, once completed, will provide another avenue for new volunteers to get involved. In addition, changes to international copyright treaties have opened up the opportunity for us to deliver books in new markets like Canada.
Our volunteer webinar series has been a success and we are planning even more online meetings starting with an event later this month that focuses on what is done to a book project before and after you see it in production! Soon we will be using online meeting tools to have "office hours" when training staff will be available for assistance and questions from trainees.
We thank you all for your continued dedication to our mission and our borrowers. We look forward to working with you in the months and years ahead.
Tom H., Tiffany J., Stephanie L., Sarah B., Rick Y., Rachel R., Patrick K., Paige E., Margaret H., Lance L., Kimberly W., Katrina J., Jake P., Dorothy T., David V., Cat D., Calvin N., Bruce B., Alev B., Adam M., Jake P., Katrina J., William G., Jenny H., Paul H., Philip S.