July 2, 2019
June 4, 2019
April 30, 2019
March 24, 2019
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.
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
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org and I will get back to you. Thanks again, for all your commitment and dedication towards Learning Ally.
The Literature Community completed 56 Books in April! Thank you all for helping us record these books.
Books Completed in May, 2019
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!
There have been some new updates to the Volunteer Portal. From this week onwards, when you visit the Log Hours page and log on to add your volunteer hours, there will some changes to the list of volunteer assignments. So when you click on [Post your hours] or go to the Time Sheet tab, the drop-down menu that gives options to the question “Which assignment did you serve in?”, will have slightly different assignment names. Please check out these changes below:
These changes should make it easier to select the correct community and assignment, and we hope this will (in a small way) improve your experience at Learning Ally. If there are any questions or concerns with these changes, please contact Volunteer@LearningAlly.org. As always, we appreciate all the effort that you put into creating Learning Ally audiobooks!
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!
It’s been a great week at Learning Ally!
Our readers increased to 191,499, with 37,212 at frequency* and over 111 million pages read!
Pages read increased by 74% over last year for school readers.
It is often said that a picture is worth a thousand words….and a video is worth even more! Check out this video where Learning Ally Mom Karen tells us why our work is so important to her family:
*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.
Hello all! Our Storyteller course has taken off, and more volunteers are donating more hours to our at-home programs than ever before! If you're a Textbook volunteer wishing to show off your performer's voice, or a Storyteller volunteer looking to demonstrate your subject mastery, check out the Textbook or Literature communities on the Volunteer portal to learn more.
We mention the Volunteer Hands-On Center at a few points in our training, but we still have questions about how it fits into the training program. The VHOC serves as an apprenticeship. There just isn't enough time (or patience) for us to cover all of the content you'll encounter in book projects, so you need to do some on-the-job learning and the VHOC is where you'll get that exposure but with more supervision.
While working in the VHOC you'll be limited to checking the reading of other volunteers. This serves several purposes:
VHOC book projects are the same book projects you'll find in the catalog of the Textbook community. The difference is that you'll use a request form, so the staff knows what work you'll be doing and you'll end each of your volunteer sessions by filling out a form to notify them of your progress. They'll have another volunteer take a QA pass through your work and offer feedback. (Once you graduate from the VHOC and join the Textbook community you'll be allowed to sign up for your own projects and there's no immediate follow-up checking on your checking work.)
As you demonstrate your abilities and knowledge, the staff of the VHOC will need to give you less advice and you'll gain more independence. Soon after that, you'll be allowed to train for reading, and maybe even become a peer mentor to other trainees new to volunteering with Learning Ally.
Textbook Course: Thomas S., John G., Jane S., John K., Jaime H., Nicole M., Clara H., Suchetas B., Donna L-J., Qamara B., T.A. N., Leslie G., Cindy S., Christina J., Lorraine L.
Storyteller Course: Sayafiq B., Demetrius M., Alice C., Terri B., Angela J., Suzanna L., Lakshmi B., Natalia E., Erica H., Kenye A., Debbie R., Christine D., Carman W., Mary B., Elizabeth B., John T. T., Victoria S., Rowena P., Grace I., Nichalia S., Mak S., Nicole C., Stephanie S., Maria D., Elizabeth VK., Heidi B., Janet S., Sarah F., Brendan S., Ryan K., Jonathan M., Marion H., Mike Patrick M., Doug B., Christina J., J.K. M., Wallis T., Maggie, Sarah L., Rebecca U.