August 2, 2019
July 2, 2019
June 4, 2019
April 30, 2019
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.
Our Listener focused training course is under development and has us focusing on ways we could all do more to help keep quality a top priority with Learning Ally audiobooks. The new Listener course is designed to get volunteers involved in checking the work of our Literature community narrators. While similar to the Checking process of our textbooks, there are some special distinctions that need to be made as we evaluate the presentation of literary works. Word accuracy and pronunciation are still essential but we also need to evaluate the performance of characters that bring life and energy and keep a student engaged in their reading. You can see some of our work-in-progress lesson materials on the Training Site. Just look for the Listener Course on the Courses page and you can contact VolTraining@LearningAlly.org for an access key if you want to take a look.
If you're eager to get involved with more opportunities to listen but don't want to wait for the new course, you can always help us provide quality reviews on some of our older book projects. There are still dozens of books looking for listeners and feedback. Visit the QA section of the volunteer portal for more information.
The Building Books for Student Success campaign raised more than $100,000, thanks to our staff and volunteers’ efforts. In addition to the donations and outreach of various organizations and individuals, over 40 volunteers created personal fundraisers asking their network of family, friends, and colleagues to donate, acquiring 290 new donors and reaching far beyond our own network of followers. This year we also partnered with Such A Voice, an online school for voice-over artists that aligns perfectly with our mission. Such A Voice raised close to $10,000 for BBSS and we look forward to working with them more closely in the future for volunteer recruitment.
This May we produced 82 VOICEText Books and 27 Classic Audiobooks. The combined total of 109 produced last month is more than we produced in October 2017, the last month before we went virtual. It's quite an achievement for our at-home volunteers but also an inevitable outcome. Since we moved to virtual production, all sorts of new avenues for volunteer involvement have opened up and as we introduce new programs, our volunteers move to fill them. Thank you for your continued work and devotion to our mission!
Hangouts Chat messages are still the best way to get immediate responses to your questions about training. It's also a great way to see who else is involved in volunteering with you. You'll be using the Chat frequently in book production so take the time to get acquainted.
One of your fist steps in training is to sign up for our Google Hangout Chats, so make sure you don't miss it!
The instructions on installing Hangouts will also give you an introduction on how to use it. We have an instruction document and mini-lesson on how to use Hangouts in the Textbook Community, but much of it applies to any use of hangouts. Make sure you use chat the right way, playing up on its strengths:
You can learn more in the lessons and by referring to Google Hangouts help.
You'll find links to join various groups on the volunteer portal and project sites, like this one for the QA team:
Ask questions, offer answers, and get involved. Say "hello" every now and again in the water cooler and even in your project Chats. Your voice is what makes this a volunteering community.
Storyteller Course: Vance A., Jamal J., Gina L., Ripley J., Juliet J., Sam K., Jennifer B., T.A.N., Kian A., James R., Bruce S., Janique J., Kelly C.
Textbook Course: Lynn W., Juliet J., Marion H., Kate J.
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!