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“You make a living by what you get. You make a life by what you give.” ~Winston Churchill


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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Literature Books Completed in April, 2019

The Literature Community completed 56 Books in April! Thank you all for helping us record these books.


Textbooks Completed in May, 2019!

                                                                             Books Completed in May, 2019 

No: Shelf Number Title   Readers     Checkers TOC Tooler Project Guidelines
1 NB478 Trouble at Silver Pines Inn Ian Thomas Don Sheetz
2 NB587 Exceptional Learners: An Introduction to Special Education, Fourteenth Edition Adam Spohrer, Ed Beck, Jane Loose, Jane Sanford, Ken Klinkner, Mary Blackwell, MaryT Schiavone, Sheila Damens, Heidi Bindhammer Christina Jones, Cindy Strickland, Diane Nawrocki, Donna Lloyd-Jones, Dottie Liston, Juliet Jones, Leslie Gallagher, Linda Tejada, Marcia McDermott, Mary Hays, Mary Lou French, MaryT Schiavone, Michelle Buchecker, Sally Susinno
3 NB134 Cambridge Latin Course Unit 3 Cynthia Shelmerdine David Berkenbilt, Joe Clark, Stacie Court
4 NB840 En avant! Beginning French, Third Edition Mary Braunagel-Brown, Halina Bustin David Berkenbilt, Mary Braunagel-Brown, Halina Bustin, Cathy Jones
5 NA854 Digital Marketing Adam Spohrer, Ben Schmitke, Dave Bebko, David Welp, Greg Young, John Kain, Karen Schindler, Norval Galloway, Stephanie McDaniel, Teresa McPeat, Tom Hammell Barbara Kadlec, Bayard Van Hecke, Diane Nawrocki, Don Sheetz, Donna Lloyd-Jones, Dottie Liston, Harlan Hively, Jeremiah Curran, John Sandlin, Juliet Jones, Leslie Gallagher, Lorraine Laubscher, Lynn Wassenaar, Marion Hopkins, Mary Lou McGee, Michelle Buchecker, Pat Beachamp, Sandi Meier-Western, Suchetas Bokil, T.A. Niles, Vicki Davis Susan Wilson
6 NB698 Northern Lights: The Stories of Minnesota's Past, Revised Second Edition Marsha Poppie Louise Maillett Caren Snook
7 NB472 I'm Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness Ashley Amukamara Diane Nawrocki Susan Wilson
8 NB490 Positive Psychology: The Scientific and Practical Explorations of Human Strengths, Third Edition Ian Thomas Don Sheetz Jaci Collins Kathy Cummings
9 NA806 Criminal Investigation, 12th Edition Cat Denison, Darrell Blandford, Don Savarese, Ian Thomas, Janet Schoor, Jim Connell, John Kain, John Sandlin, Karen Clayton, Karen Schindler, Keith Nichols, Marsha Poppie, MaryT Schiavone, Norval Galloway, Russell Oliver, Stephanie McDaniel, Thomas Scheurich, fp kouri Amelia Reid, Anna Marshall, Charlotte Gnessin, Cindy Strickland, Diane Nawrocki, Dottie Liston, George Kuhlman, Harlan Hively, Jane Seaton, John Sandlin, Kathi Jensen, Linda Tejada, Mark Wolff, Mary Straub, Michelle Buchecker, Roger Majchrzak, Shirley Nute, Vicki Davis, Yvette Pratdesaba Susan Wilson
10 NB276 NB276: Issues and Life Science, Second Edition Jeff Engel Diane Nawrocki, Nola Bragg, and Al Kendziora Susan Wilson
11 NB264 Everyday Mathematics, Student Math Journal, Vol. 2, gr. 6 Joseph Hurley, Barbara Mavro Martha Takats, Susan Kropiewnicki, Jim Myerberg, Myra Parker
12 NB839 Core Connections Integrated II Marilynn Steffen, David Welp Martha Takats, Janet Cappers, Marilynn Steffen, Valerie Pettiss, Nola Bragg
13 NB750 California National Geographic Reach Grade 1, Level B, Volume 2 Kathy Lee Shelley Cincotta Caren Snook
14 NA719 Exploring Social Psychology, 8th Edition Betty Schreiner, Bill Painter, Bonnie Patterson, Ed Beck, Liz Frechette, Marsha Poppie, Stephanie McDaniel, Susan Nilsson-Weiskott Cindy Strickland, DIane Nawrocki, Diane Nawrocki, Donna Lloyd-Jones, Dottie Liston, Jeremiah Curran, Lynn Wassenaar, Mary Lou McGee, Michelle Skowbo, Shirley Nute, T.A. Niles Susan Wilson
15 NB693 Go Math! Volume 1 Marilynn Steffen, David Welp Janet Cappers, Nola Bragg, Jim Myerberg, Susan Kropiewnicki, Martha Takats Jim Siewert
16 NA711 Interviewing: Principles and Practices, 15th Edition Ben Schmitke, Jenn Ellis, Jennifer Klein, Karen Schindler, Paul Morgan, Thomas Scheurich Cindy Strickland, Clive Morrick, Diane Nawrocki, Donna Lloyd-Jones, Dottie Liston, Earl Goetze, Harlan Hively, Kathi Jensen, Leslie Gallagher, Lorraine Laubscher, Lynn Wassenaar, Shirley Nute, Suchetas Bokil, Virgil Howarth, George Kuhlman Susan Wilson
17 NB493 World History: Preparing for the Advanced Placement Examination Bob Smyk, Bruce Mishkin, David Frens, David McAlary, Diane Martin, Don Savarese, Jim McCullough, John Kain, Paul Morgan, Prudence Breitrose, Russ Oliver, Scott Smith, Sheila Blunt Barbara Kadlec, Christina Jones, Clive Morrick, Diane Nawrocki, Kathy Cummings, Linda Tejada, Mary Lou McGee, MaryT Schiavone, Michelle Buchecker, Michelle Skowbo, Nola Bragg, Olivia Brown, Paul Morgan, Roger Majchrzak Jaci Collins
18 NB089 NCCER Welding, Texas Student Edition, Volume 2 Bonnie Marcus, Cliff d’Autremont, Jeff Engel, Brian Hill, Christian Selden, Don Sheetz, and John Gass. Kathy Cummings, George Kuhlman, John Gass, Zihui Zhu, Bill Lindstrom, Tom Lockhart, Staff, Al Kendziora, Rick Sayers, Don Sheetz, and Brian Hill. Pat Lim
19 NB515 Be My Disciples, Grade Two, School Edition Deirdre Schiefen Sarah Brands Susan Wilson
20 NB588 Introduction to Communication Disorders: A Lifespan Evidence-Based Perspective, Sixth Edition Don Sheetz, Tom Purinton, Teddy Pavlin, David Frens, Marsha Poppie, Brian Hill, Wanda Stitt-Gohdes, and Barbara Goldman Diane Nawrocki, Brian Hill, George Kuhlman, Tisha Keagy, Anna Marshall, Staff, Bill Lindstrom, Amy Grimm, and Shirley Nute Jaci Collins
21 NB263 Everyday Mathematics: Student Math Journal Vol. 1 (gr.6) Myra Parker, Jim Meyerberg Susan Kropiewnicki, NolaBragg Jim Siewert
22 NB560 Educational Psychology, Sixth Edition Adam Spohrer, Adrean Rivers, Ally Bilbray, Betty Schreiner, Don Savarese, Ian Thomas, Jane Loose, Jennifer Canady, Norval Galloway, Prudence Breitrose, Sarah Steele, Sheila Damens, Stephanie McDaniel Charlotte Gnessin, Cindy Strickland, DIane Nawrocki, Diane Nawrocki, Dottie Liston, Jaime Hunt, Jane Sanford, Jeremiah Curran, John Gass, John Sandlin, Kathi Jensen, Lynn Wassenaar, Mark Wolff, Mary Lou McGee, Michelle Skowbo, Suzi Ataei, T.A. Niles, Thomas Scheurich Jaci Collins Susan Wilson
23 NB699 Realizing the American Dream: A Manual for Homebuyers, Fifth Edition Albert Friedman Adele Phelan, Donna Lloyd-Jones, Michelle Skowbo, Natalia Eklund, T.A. Niles Susan Wilson Susan Wilson
24 NB738 Big Ideas Math, Course 2 Jim Myerberg, Barbara Mavro Susan Kropiewnicki, Martha Takats, George Vella-Coleiro, Nola Bragg Jim Siewert
25 NB877 Financial Algebra: Advanced Algebra with Financial Applications David Welp Don Kovar, Janet Cappers, Martha Takats, Juliet Jones Jim Siewert
26 NB385 Women Across Cultures, A Global Perspective, Fourth Edition Betsy Sherer Diane Nawrocki Nova Todd Susan Wilson
27 NA787 The Man in the Iron Mask Richard McCurdy Halina Bustin
28 NB274 Issues and Physical Science, Second Edition Jeff Engel and Bill Painter Nola Bragg, Christina Jones, George Kuhlman, Al Kendziora, and Baynard Van Hecke Susan Wilson
29 NB446 One Perfect Life: The Complete Story of the Lord Jesus Kathy Lee Susan Snookal Jaqui Bradley  

From the Training Center - Be A Good Listener

A novelty statue owl wearing headphones works at a laptop.

 

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.

 

Building Books for Student Success is a Success!

 
We reached our goal! A borrower listens to an audio book on a tablet computer while his mother reads along.

 

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. 

 

A Record In Virtual Book Production

 

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!  

 

Congratulations to our Training Graduates

 
Storyteller Course: Aisha B., Alfaiyaz I., Andrew U., Anna Z., Chantel T., Demetrius B., Ethan J., Izzy M., Janique J., Jennifer C., Kayla A., Mary S., Mary Louise H., Meital F., Michelle G., Mike P., Mitch V., Paul M., Penny W., Renee A., Ruth G., Shantayah M., Syreeta P., T K-D., Tim H., William G.
Textbook Course: Lisa T., August R., Tim H.

"Log Hours" update! - New volunteer assignment choices

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:

 

  1. Listener is now Literature Listener.
  2. Narrator is now Literature Narrator.
  3. QA/Catalog Review is now Literature QA/ Catalog Review.
  4. Checker is now Textbook Checker.
  5. Checker in the VHOC is now Textbook VHOC Checker.
  6. Project Guidelines is now Textbook Pre- Production.
  7. Reader is now Textbook Reader.
  8. TOCTool is now Textbook Pre- Production.
  9. Training Support is now Textbook Training Support.
 

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!
 


From the Training Center - Google Hangouts

Are You Using Google Hangouts? 

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!

Screen shot of the Training Center lesson on Google Chat with link to the Hangout

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:

 

  • Join the right groups. Hangouts are for groups of people who are sharing in the same task, so they can better work together. If you have a question about a task, make sure you're asking the right group. Likewise with your replies. 
  • Chats are best suited for conversations, so limit yourself to a sentence or two with each post. You want to give people time to catch up with your ideas, so covering too much ground in one post may confuse them. 
  • Allow time for replies. Though people may see the notification right away, they aren't always in the right opportunity to respond. 
  • Remember that your posts are permanent. Write with care and respect. Review your words before posting.

 

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.

 

Congratulations To Our Training Graduates!

 

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: Our Volunteer Nation Home

Home Sweet Home!

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!


One Mom's Message to You

 

 

 

Learning Ally Mom sits at her computer smiling.  Meanwhile, her teenage daughter has snuck up from behind, throws her arm over her mom's shoulder, and waves happily at the camera.  Both mother and daughter have big smiles on their faces.

 

 

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:

https://youtu.be/7e_bWTHCPc8

 

 

*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.


From the Training Center: What's VHOC?

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.

  

What is the VHOC?

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.

 

Screen image of Volunteer Hands-On Center welcome page

 

While working in the VHOC you'll be limited to checking the reading of other volunteers. This serves several purposes:

  • More modeling of good and bad reading: The samples and examples in the training program are brief slices, and some errors can only be recognized as a part of larger projects. You'll be the first line of defense against errors in your work, so you need to recognize problems in anyone's work.
  • Broader exposure to reading conventions: Not only are there many more particular rules and standards than we can cover in the brief lessons on reading conventions, the infinite variety of books means we often need to make judgment calls in how we apply them. Seeing more examples of the conventions in the application helps you internalize the lessons. 
  • Building your schedule: The training lessons can be finished in a couple of hours but book production requires dedicating hours of your time on a regular schedule. While working in the VHOC you can make sure you can be available as needed for volunteering.

 

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.

 

Congratulations Training Grads

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.