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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.
 


From the Training Center - Ed Solutions and Office Hours

Greetings Learning Ally Volunteer Trainees!

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.  

 

Education Solutions

School Solutions team members huddle-up.

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.

 

 

Office Hours Meetings

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. 

 

 

 

Congratulations To Our Training Graduates

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.
 


Why Are We Recording Books That Are Already Available on Audible?

Recently there have been some questions from volunteers about Learning Ally and why we create audiobooks that are also readily available on other platforms such as Audible.  

 

Indeed, many of our books have existing audiobook versions. The reason for needing a new recording is related to copyright law. As an educational non-profit, Learning Ally has the right to create audio versions of copyrighted material because of the population we serve, those who struggle to read. This includes those with dyslexia, visual impairment, physical disabilities that make accessing text difficult, or other barriers to reading. We operate under the Marrakesh Treaty, which is an international copyright agreement designed to help ensure access to printed material to those that would otherwise be denied.  

 

So we rely on talented volunteers like you to record our books even when other versions exist. One additional and unique feature that Learning Ally provides is that our final product for Literature books is an ebook with sentence-level highlighting that is synced with your voice-- what we call VOICEtext. Other text-to-speech engines can do this, but not with human-read audio.

 

Also, using Learning Ally's catalog means that students can access thousands of books, most often through their school, without having to purchase individual audio-only titles, the combined cost of which would render them inaccessible to most of our students. So you should all know that by volunteering, you are creating a tremendously impactful experience for students who struggle to read, potentially changing their educational outcomes (and lives) in the process!

Here's an example of the finished product from a recent popular title.  It was made into a movie as well - The Hate U Give:

 

So.....what is this Marrakesh Treaty?

The Marrakesh Treaty is international copyright law. The treaty allows Learning Ally to produce and record copyrighted audiobooks because we serve kids with learning differences. Marrakesh Treaty, in particular, allows us to provide help to students with a reading deficit, blindness or visual impairment and other physical impairments such as cerebral palsy, etc. Once students are evaluated by qualified educators or medical professional, then they become eligible to use our services. 

                                                                                          

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Marrakesh Treaty, in particular, allows us to provide help to students with a reading deficit,
blindness or visual impairment and other physical impairments.

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Studies estimate that 20% of students may be eligible for our services, so the work we do every day is very important and we want to reach more students and individuals who can benefit from our services.

As always, Learning Ally is immensely grateful for the great work done by our volunteers and staff! 

 

 


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.


Volunteer Spotlight: Seyun (Alice)

Meet our young volunteer, Seyun, who recently went on a trip to Buryatia, Russia, where she taught English to young kids. She and other high- schoolers coordinated the events for these children and they did a wonderful job. Read on to learn about our volunteer...

 

What do you do at Learning Ally?

I am a reader volunteer at the Literature Community in Learning Ally. I first started out as a listener at the Textbook Community, though, after my first training as a Textbook listener. Then gradually, I became a textbook reader, and then slowly transitioned into the literature community.

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How long have you volunteered at Learning Ally?

I embarked on my journey as a volunteer at Learning Ally from June 2018, so it has been a little over a year since I volunteered at Learning Ally.

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What made you want to volunteer at Learning Ally? 

Currently, I am a rising senior in high school. During the first three years of high school, I have been participating in an Asia Pacific Forensics Competition, competing in Oral Interpretation and Solo Acting. I have always known about Learning Ally after my research online because I knew I wanted to assist those who struggle with education and words. By experiencing the power of words through my competitions, I longed to share the burden of those who grapple with words in their daily lives. In my prospective college, I want to study cognitive-linguistic science, psychology, and possibly education, but I did not start my Learning Ally volunteering until 2018 because I did not yet feel qualified to listen and read the books. However, after receiving two champions and one silver for Oral Interpretation and one champion for Solo Acting, I finally felt ready, and thus began my volunteer work at Learning Ally. In addition, meeting Hannah, my dyslexic friend, in January of 2018 influenced me to look into Learning Ally more and start volunteering.

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What's something people at LA don't know about you?

I am comparably a newcomer at Learning Ally, so there are various things I could uncover about myself.  One thing most people at Learning Ally do not know about me is that I am Korean-living in China, seventeen, and am left-handed (that looks like more than one, but they are all descriptions to the "Korean," so technically, it is one!).

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What do you like most about volunteering at LA?

Working at Learning Ally has taught me so much: time management, communication, passion, etc. The one thing I absolutely LOVE about Learning Ally is its volunteers. Although I have not been volunteering for a long time, every single person I communicated with throughout my one-year adventure has been helpful, encouraging, and polite. By knowing that I am volunteering with people who share the same passion of education for those who might be excluded in our everyday lives, I am able to both mature as a reader and a person. Whenever I was faced with a problem, I had people to talk to, who never failed to provide me with a solution or suggestion. Whenever I felt tired of reading the same line for the one-thousandth time, the emails from the volunteers reminded me of the smiles I will be able to bring to the students' faces, thereby, motivating me to do better. Without these volunteers, I would not have made it thus far, and I am delighted to be part of the community, and possibly that helper for other volunteers in the future.

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Do you have any advice for prospective LA volunteers?

  1. Communication is key! Do not stay silent. If you know you cannot make it to that deadline, communicate that information with your volunteers. They are extremely understanding and flexible in their schedule.
  2. Time management! Sometimes, I left my readings at the last moment, thinking that I could finish it quickly. Do not do that (: Schedule out your time wisely so that you can provide the best audiobooks for those listening.
  3. Enjoy and remember that there are a great number of people who are grateful to you and your work! Thank you, 谢谢, 감사합니다, спасибо, danke schön, gratias tibi!

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What is your favorite audiobook/ book if you have any?

This is a difficult question; I have so many favorite books! My three absolute favorites are Tuesdays With Morrie- Mitch Albom, The Neverending Story-Michael Ende, and The Shack-William P. Young.

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What do you do during your free time?

Read, watch movies, go to the gym. Books and movies for the soul + mind, and gym for the body. I adore food, so I like to think that by working out, I can excuse myself for my eating. 

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What is your favorite movie or TV series? 

My favorite movie is Inception directed by Christopher Nolan. The whole concept of the mind and dreams inside a dream completely stunned me when I first watched it in freshman year, with my sister. I have watched the movie seven times now and it infallibly shocks me every time.

 

 

 


Staff Spotlight: Abigail Shaw

Abigail Shaw

What do you do at Learning Ally?

My name is Abigail, and I’m part of the production staff (specifically literature) at LA. My job responsibilities include a mix of things: I oversee the QA process of our already existing titles--looking for ways to make the books we already have recorded even better, or if they need to be re-recorded--, interfacing with volunteers in the process of narrating and listening to literature titles, and creating conventions and processes surrounding graphic novel image descriptions for blind/visually impaired students.

How long have you worked at Learning Ally?

It's been just over three years that I’ve worked with the organization, splitting my time between production of our audiobooks, as well as coordinating our virtual mentoring program for visually impaired/blind college students in our College Success Program. Actually, if you include the fall semester I worked part-time as a mentor, October will be four years with the organization.

Why did you choose to work at Learning Ally?

Initially, I was just interested in giving back as a mentor for the College Success Program. Opportunities eventually opened up for me to coordinate the mentoring program, as well as to lend my skills with audio production. My bachelors is in music and audio recording, and because of a lot of experience with our College Success Program students, I am now pursuing my masters in social work.

What's something most people at Learning Ally don't know about you?

In March of 2012, I hiked part of the Appalachian Trail with a group of friends and my former guide dog, Alexa. If given the time and money, I would consider doing a through hike.

Any Hobbies?

In my free time, I occasionally pick out popular songs or practice classical music on my upright piano, affectionately dubbed Barb, and I’m a long-distance runner. Currently, I am training for a half marathon in September. 

What do you like most about working at Learning Ally?

Our mission, the volunteers, and my colleagues. Getting to see how all of our work impacts students is incredibly rewarding.

What is your favorite audiobook/book, if you have any?

It's always hard to pick just one! For reading, via braille or synthetic speech, “The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake,” by Aimee Bender, “Jane Eyre,” by Charlotte Bronte, and a commercially produced audiobook I really enjoy is the “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” by Jonathan Safran Foer.

What is your favorite movie or TV series?

Gilmore Girls. The dialogue and cultural references are priceless.

Kit: my preferred method of transportation in NYC


Staff Spotlight: Kevin Ziegler

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 Introduction

My name is Kevin Ziegler. I am the Digital Audio Coordinator with Learning Ally. In other words, I’ m the “audio guy”. I am in charge of QA (Quality Control). Basically, I handle all the audio as it is completed. In other terms, I strive to clean up and enhance all the audio. Lastly, through this blog, I was hoping to let everyone into my world and explain a bit about what happens in “post.”

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What is “Post- Production”? 

My primary focus is to level all the files across the entire book- which allows them to play smoothly without noticeable volume fluctuations. I also need to remove all the extra noise that can sometimes be introduced from different recording environments. After all of that, I “EQ” each title to best enhance the audio that is there--balancing the sonic frequencies to make it sound “good” to the ear.

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What do I utilize?

I use a program called Izotope RX7, which is an industry-standard audio editing and mastering tool. This program allows me to batch process (work with many titles all at once to save time) and customizes different options for dealing with common recurring audio issues.

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Is every title treated the same way?

Easiest answer is no. Most "classic audio" titles (textbooks and vocational-type books) are handled in the same fashion. As for the Voicetext, I listen to a sample from each book when it’s completed, and make a decision then about how to treat it, pulling from my different “recipes” as needed.

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What are the most common issues we encounter?

Mouse clicks, background noise, plosives (popping sounds on certain letters, esp. P’s and B’s), sibilance (harsh S sounds), electrical noise, & poor recording environments.

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 Setting a Proper Level:

I generally recommend that the light gray area of the Easybooks window be filled up with the level being set.

 

That being said, there isn't a precise min and max level. My suggestion is to always avoid any red in the recording level. Digital audio has a tendency to distort at those high levels. The other side if a level is so low it appears as only a blip in the window, it is more than likely much too low. I sincerely hope all this information makes sense. Also, if something looks or sounds wrong to you, point it out to the project lead.

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Important takeaway: While the tools I use are indeed very powerful and beneficial, I’m sorry to say, it cannot fix everything. This is especially true when we factor in time limitations and volume of titles we produce--all with our efficient-but-small production staff. That is why it is important to have the best possible audio signal at its source. I hope these answers help deepen your understanding of our process. If you have any questions, please email me at: kziegler@learningally.org and I will get back to you. Thanks again, for all your commitment and dedication towards Learning Ally.

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