Tag: moodle for business

Sunday, February 13th, 2011

Looking Ahead: Web Accessibility and How It Will Affect eLearning Content

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Looking Ahead...I used to have eagle-eye vision.  One day, about 10 years ago, I was having trouble reading the mint stamp on a coin.  I assumed it was a double stamp.  My husband said it was perfectly clear. 

Huh? 

My eye doctor laughed and said there was more to come.  Sure enough, I began to have difficulty distinguishing between the shampoo and conditioner bottles in the shower.  Why are they making those labels so small these days?  It didn’t take too long before my computer monitor had vibrating fuzzies instead of words on it. Who changed my display settings? 

I can still see a bird in a treetop a half mile away.  But without computer-reading glasses, I can’t see what I’m typing right now.  

Imagine if special glasses didn’t help. 

Imagine if you could not see what was on your monitor, your iPad, or even a large screen.  Imagine not being able to read an email, see what others are saying on Facebook, get directions to wherever you’re going, or read this blog.  This isn’t just annoying, like having to put on glasses just to read a menu. It limits one’s ability to interact, share, communicate, and learn

Thankfully, there are people who came to this revelation long before I did - and they’ve been doing something about it.  They are creating standards for technology that will not only help the vision-impaired, but those who can’t use a mouse, combine keystrokes, or are otherwise restricted in their use of computer technology.  

The W3 Consortium Web Accessibility Initiative “works with organizations around the world to develop strategies, guidelines, and resources to help make the Web accessible to people with disabilities” and has developed guidelines to support this mission.  Other guidelines exist throughout the world, some of which are legally required.  

How can any of this possibly affect your eLearning courses? 

If eLearning is a component of your business, regardless of what that business is, you should be thinking about how what you do will fit with these standards. 

To give you just a hint at how what you do can affect the ability of your potential client base to use and/or enjoy your eLearning, read this great white paper from the Sloan Consortium that examined Moodle for accessibility.  A seemingly innocuous Moodle text string, “This quiz is limited to 1 attempt(s).” would be read by a screen reader as “This quiz is limited to two attempt open parenthesis ess close parenthesis.”

Yikes!  I had no idea!   

I encourage you to read the entire study; you will probably be shocked with the things that you take for granted.  I was.  I don’t have anything to do with the programming of Moodle, but I do create course content in it.  I have always taken learning styles into consideration, but I hadn’t given that much thought to how a technological interface meant to help someone with a disability might not be able to “get my meaning”.  I will from now on. It isn’t enough that the application you use is web accessible; the content must be as well.

Why should you care?

  • You could be missing a large number of potential clients - either for your eLearning or the products and services you sell that depend on online training.  Not to mention that in order to provide training (much of which is online) to any US Federal agency, that training will be required to meet Section 508 standards.  Similar government requirements will soon be in place throughout the world.
  • Depending upon your business, you could be opening yourself up for legal actions and bad publicity by creating learning (or any web) content that isn’t accessible to everyone who needs it.
  • The best reason:  It’s the right thing to do.   

I hope that I never need a screen reader, but I do appreciate web designers who use readable fonts and stick to non-vibrating colors.  I am most definitely going to make every effort to build my eLearning content in a manner that not only meets these guidelines and standards, but provides quality information that is as interesting and engaging as it is for those without disabilities. 

Please follow me on Twitter and/or subscribe to my RSS feed and newsletter.  I will be covering web accessibility in many posts to come…

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Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

Creating Customized Moodle Functionality

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I have a client who put this on his Moodle wish list last fall: some way for the participants to keep track of where they are in the course.  You see, this client (a big company) has a few hundred students in a completely self-paced course.  These are working adults, involved in a training program designed to span weeks or months.  There are no graded assignments, but there are dozens of tasks to be completed.  There are a number of pages to read and videos to watch.  It’s easy to lose one’s place. 

I found a couple of modules in the list of third-party contributed code that might fit the bill.   The client’s Moodle site is hosted and supported by ClassroomRevolution, so I asked Thom Caswell for a “background check” on these modules.  One, called Checklist, came up “clean”.  We decided to give it a try.  

The client was very happy with our initial testing of Checklist, but it still wasn’t quite what he wanted.  I said I’d see if the developer was willing to do some customizations. It couldn’t hurt to ask! 

I sent Davo Smith (the contributor of Checklist) a message through Moodle; I heard back from him within a few hours.  A few emails back and forth were all it took to explain what additional functionality we wanted and for him to begin working on it.  He had the first iteration to me in about a week.  With each iteration, ClassroomRevolution installed the module (which required some code knowledge), the client and I tested it, and Davo made the necessary tweaks. 

Despite the time of year (holiday season), it took only six weeks to have a fully functional Checklist installed on the live Moodle site.  It automatically brings in all resources and activities in the course, automatically checks off those resources and activities that the student has viewed, displays a list and a progress bar to both student and teacher, and gives the student control over several features.  Very cool.

To make a great story have an even better ending, this customization was not exclusive to the client.  It is available to the Moodle community, in versions compatible to Moodle 1.9x and 2.0.

I encourage all small businesses (and big ones, too) using Moodle to take this approach to customization.  It is a much faster and cost-effective way to add functionality than to hire a programmer to start from scratch to make something that is one-of-a-kind and proprietary.  (Unless selling software is your business, there’s no competitive advantage in having secret Moodle code all for yourself).  Just follow these simple steps:

  1. Search through the third party modules. If you can’t find exactly what you want, find something close. If you have engaged a Moodle Partner and/or a Moodle expert course designer, you can ask for help in the search.  Very often, they’ll already know about something that does whatever and you won’t have to search at all. 
  2. Read the reviews and comments made by other Moodlers.  I avoid the ones where users have posted comments such as “I installed this and now my pages are blank”. Yikes!  If you’re going this alone, make sure you are able to install the module yourself.  Some require code tweaking.
  3. Even if you are a brave soul and can install a module on your own, if you took my advice on hosting, ask for help.  Most Partners offer services that include installation of third party modules and other integrations.  They make sure you have compatible versions and that the installation is done properly (it works and doesn’t break your site!)
  4. Work with the module developer to modify it to your needs if necessary.  Don’t let time zone differences scare you but don’t expect overnight results, either. Many (most?) of these people have “day jobs” so consider that when setting expectations for turn-around time.   
  5. Be collaborative.  Allow the developer to post the modified version back to the third party contributed code.   

For a relatively small amount of money, you’ll have all the functionality you ever dreamed of and you can give back to the Moodle community by contributing that modification.  Everyone benefits!

If you’d like to contact Davo, his email address is moodle@davosmith.co.uk.  To learn more about Moodle hosting and support, visit ClassroomRevolution.com.

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Thursday, December 30th, 2010

The Year in Review – Using eLearning and Moodle in a Small Business

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The needs of a small business are different from that of a big business, and different still from those of a university.  Unlike accounting and human resources, eLearning functionality has not been used in small business applications for very long.  Consequently, service providers, advice, and options are much harder to come by.  Even understanding how eLearning can work in your business might be difficult to envision.  

These posts from 2010 offer some ideas on how to use eLearning in general and Moodle specifically, in your small business.  They also provide some guidance on what to look for and what to avoid. 

My picks for best small business advice:

Here’s hoping for a safe and happy 2011. Happy New Year!

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Thursday, December 30th, 2010

The Year in Review – Moodle Tips for Everyone, especially Small Businesses

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In the first year of Penny For Your Thoughts, I shared many of my “ah hah!” moments about Moodle.  The following posts share tips and advice on using some of Moodle’s many features.  Hopefully, they clear up some common points of head-scratching with Moodle.  Watch for more in 2011! 

My favorite source for Moodle happenings:

Here’s hoping for a safe and happy 2011. Happy New Year!

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Tuesday, December 14th, 2010

Demystifying Moodle Quiz Settings Part 3

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In the first two parts of this series on Moodle quizzes, we covered appearance and strictness.  This post discusses how much and what type of feedback we can provide to the students, with each question and for the exam as a whole. 

Part 3: Feedback Settings 

Review Options 

  • If you want to provide your students with feedback - both your comments and the right answers - check the first column “Immediately”.  If they can attempt the quiz again, obviously, they can use this feedback to get a better grade.  But if you have just one attempt, this is a great way to provide feedback while the questions - and the concepts - are still fresh in their minds. 
  • If you don’t want anyone to know the right answers until the test is closed for good, check the items in the far right column.  The quiz must have a close date for this to occur.
  • If you don’t ever want anyone to know, ever, uncheck all of the items.  

Overall Feedback 

  • Grade boundaries are the maximum and minimum grade received for each comment.  The highest (100%) and lowest (0%) are the default.  You can break that range into as many smaller categories as you wish.
  • Feedback is the text that will appear to the student when the quiz is submitted (if you have this checked in Review Options), according to his grade.  You can be as serious as you like (Excellent!), or silly (You’re so bright I need sunglasses in your presence).  Don’t be afraid to customize this feedback to match your content, both in topic and tone.  A play on words is another form of reinforcement…

The following are not part of the update quiz mode; these settings can be found in the question edit area.  What is displayed to the student is controlled by the Review Option settings. 

Question Feedback 

  • General feedback can be left blank or include graphics, links, and formatted text, using the HTML editor.  This feedback is on the question as a whole, not dependent on the student’s response. Use it to provide more information on the topic (including links and graphics).
  • Most question types provide the option of feedback for each answer.  If you have designed your questions with plausible wrong answers, this is a great opportunity to provide additional explanation on why that answer is incorrect.  Don’t just say “sorry” or “wrong”.  There’s no value in that type of feedback. 

I encourage you to play around with these settings, doing a preview each time.  Be consistent in your settings for each type of test.  To reinforcement concepts, be “lax”.  For final exams that really matter, be “strict”. 

All you need now are some well-written questions!  For more on testing in a business environment, check out these posts:

Go to Part 1: Appearance settings

Go to Part 2: Strictness settings

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Tuesday, December 14th, 2010

Demystifying Moodle Quiz Settings Part 2

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In Part 1, we covered settings that control the appearance of the quiz.  In this post, we’ll discuss the settings that control how much information is provided to the student, and when.  These settings provide us with the opportunity to give “open book” vs. “closed book” exams, “proctor help”, and “instant grading”, all very much like we could do in person.  This gives the Moodle quiz activity tremendous versatility because it can be used as a formal certification exam, an informal pop quiz, or anything in between.

Part 2: Strictness Settings

Timing

  • If you want to force students to take a timed exam, enter the number of minutes in the time limit field.  A really cool countdown clock will appear when the exam is started.  For business training not regulated by professional licensing or other certification rules, you’ll probably want to leave this disabled. Unless you just love the clock…
  • If you allow only one attempt (discussed later), the time between is irrelevant.  If you want to use this quiz to test reliability of your test instrument, you’ll want to put an appropriate delay in here.  

Attempts

  • You can practically give away the answers while still allowing only one attempt, so don’t be disillusioned into thinking that one attempt is the strictest setting.  If you want a measure of question reliability, you’ll need at least two attempts.  If you’re just giving an exam and don’t intend to measure the test itself, keep this at one.
  • Each attempt builds on the last, when checked, shows the student the answer he gave the last time.
  • Adaptive mode, when enabled, tells the student “no, that wasn’t the right answer”, so the student can keep trying until he gets it right.  This mode can also change the question, depending upon what the student submitted as an answer. 
    • In my experience, there is no need for this complexity (and often no one has the skill to do it) in business training.  Do not use this type of quiz unless it makes sense for your content, you can make good use of the information, and you have skilled test question developers to create it.
    • If you use adaptive mode, with no penalties and no change in the question wording, plus useful feedback on each question, you can use this quiz to reinforce concepts.  The grades won’t be of any value, but it can be a good teaching tool. 

Grades

  • With only one attempt, this is irrelevant.  The choices are fairly self-explanatory and I cant think of any “typical” one to advise you to use for business training exams.
  • Applying penalties is to keep people from guessing.  If they leave it blank, they’ll get no credit; if they guess it wrong, they’ll lose points.  I don’t like this choice, ever, because it makes it really hard on me to analyze grades. If you have allowed the adaptive mode (above) you must apply penalties to prevent everyone from getting 100%!
  • The precision of the grades is up to you, but the rule with decimal places is always that one more decimal place than existing in the original data.

You should now be able to create a Moodle quiz activity with the appearance and student difficulty level you desire. To review the basic appearance settings or to learn about feedback:

Go to Part 1: Appearance settings

Go to Part 3: Feedback settings

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Tuesday, December 14th, 2010

Demystifying Moodle Quiz Settings Part 1

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One of the beautiful things about the Moodle Quiz activity is that with a few clicks, you can create a “closed book, timed, seriously strict” exam (assuming your questions are good, too); with a few other clicks, you can produce a fun, silly, interactive memory jogger.  You can use the same questions in different quizzes with different “strictness” settings, having to create each question only once.  You can provide the right answers, with serious or funny feedback, or leave the students wondering if they passed or bombed.

I’ll split this discussion into three posts, according to what the settings control:

Part 1: How it appears to the students

Part 2: How “strict” it is on the students

Part 3: How much feedback is given to the students

What you choose for each setting depends on your overall training objectives and the purpose of each Moodle quiz you create.

Part 1: Appearance Settings

General 

  • The name you give it will appear in the course outline, so give it a meaningful name.
  • In the HTML editor you can create whatever you want your students to see.  I try to put a nicely formatted description in all quizzes, like this:  [click here for an example]
  • Timing 
  • If you have an ongoing, self-paced course, disable both the open and close dates this section.  If your course has a start and end date, your quiz available dates should correspond to the timeline of your syllabus.  

Display 

  • Everything I have read about this says “5″ is the best number of questions per page.  This is to reduce the load on the server. 
  • Shuffling is good if you think someone has this in his sleeve: 1.a, 2.b, 3.e, 4.c, 5.f…  It’s also useful if you’re doing a study where you’re trying to randomize the effect of the question order.  For most business applications, shuffling of questions or answers is not necessary.  

Common module settings 

  • The Group mode is the same as with all other Moodle activities.  If you don’t have groups set up in your course or if you want everyone to take the same quiz, regardless of group, leave this at no groups.
  • Visible is obvious.  If you want students to see it, you need to show it.
  • Grade categories are methods of aggregation (average, total, worst, highest) of the individual grades.  Frankly, I never use this.  I dump it all into Excel® and from there I do simple calculations and graphs; if I want more serious analysis (which I often do), I export it to Minitab®
  • If you set the ID number to something, you’ll have that as an extra field in your data file. 

Security 

  • Browser security is an attempt to stop cheating, but as the help file indicates, it isn’t simple.  I never, ever check this.
  • I’ve never quite seen the need for a password in the quiz, since the user has to have logged in to take it. 
  • The last option in this section is used only if you want to restrict where your students can log in from when they take the quiz.  If you want them to be at their desks, not in their living rooms, you’ll want to enter your company IP addresses here.  This is especially useful if there might be classified or sensitive information in the quiz. 

At this point, you have enough information to set up a Moodle quiz, using the defaults on the other settings.  You will, of course, have to upload or enter questions. That is not covered in this post. 

Go to Part 2: Strictness settings

Go to Part 3: Feedback settings

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Sunday, November 21st, 2010

Moodle Assignments – Which one should I use?

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There are four assignment types that come with a standard Moodle installation.  They appear very much the same to the student, but they have very different applications, especially for business training.  Knowing which one to use for your needs is important before you begin building your content, because assignment types can not be switched with the click of a mouse.  Each is its own entity; if you want to change type, you’ll have to completely redo the activity

The four types are:

  • Online Text
  • Offline assignment
  • Upload a single file
  • Advanced uploading of files

In order to determine which assignment type you want to use, you must first ask yourself what you want to achieve with this activity and how much of yourself you want to give to it.  It wouldn’t hurt to start with Purpose-Objectives-Goals for the course; this will help you determine your objective for each activity.

Online Text

This is great for short answers when you don’t care to save a copy of the file on your local drive.  It allows the student to enter an answer, using just about any type of computer (because the text is typed directly into the browser, not using any type of software like Word®).  As the instructor, you can grade and comment on this text, or you can simply use it to gather comments and ideas from your students.

Offline Assignment

I use this type frequently for my business courses.  Although grading is still an option with this assignment type, the uploading of files is not.  My rationale for using the Offline type in asynchronous, non-coached courses is that when a student does upload a file, he expects someone to read it!  If the instructor wants only to tell the student “this is an exercise to reinforce your understanding”, grading isn’t necessary.  Unless you (the instructor) are prepared to review and comment on submissions, I would stick with this type. 

One suggestion is to use the offline assignment type for your basic level courses; consider using the next two for your “premium” courses where fees include some personal coaching from you.

Upload a Single File

This assignment type performs up to its name.  Students submit their assignments as one file, in any format requested by the instructor.  When that file is submitted, it may be graded.  There is an option to allow the student to resubmit an assignment, which I think could get tricky if it happened all the time.  Use this assignment type if you plan to read, review, and comment on your students’ work. 

Advanced uploading of files

This is similar to the previous assignment type, but with some important functional additions:

  • Students may upload as many files as you allow in the settings (from 1 to 20)
  • They may delete uploaded files and add more (up to the limit)
  • These files are not submitted for grading when they are uploaded; an additional step for the student is to “submit for marking”
  • Notes may be added by the student, which are similar in feel to the Online Text assignment

This assignment type is perfect for project work, where there may be many files, of several types, completed over a period of time.  This assignment type allows the student to upload each file as it is ready, and send it to the instructor for grading when all are complete.  The ability to add notes only enhances the activity.

There are other assignment types in the Moodle contributed code.  Some look very promising, especially the ones for team (group) submissions.  I plan to play around with them this winter; I’ll let you know what I find out!

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Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

Jazzing Up Your Moodle Courses with Collaborative Activities

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Many of my clients are new to eLearning.  Some have 200 page books (all text) while others have material that is mostly video or slides.  Hardly anyone starts out with a blended learning syllabus that perfectly balances individual learning with group activities.  The hardest thing to do when converting these materials to eLearning is to keep the students involved and interested. 

Here are some ideas of how you can use Moodle collaborative activities to engage your students and provide opportunity for interaction with other students, without costing you a dime or adding more items to your to-do list: 

  • Instead of creating a glossary of terms for your students, assign them the task!  Give them a list of terms to define; let them choose a few or require them to define every term.  Allow duplicates and allow ratings.
  • Do the same thing with the Moodle wiki.  Assign students a list of topics – tell them to come up with their own – relevant to the course subject matter.  Grade them based on their writing skills, the quality and number of citations, or anything else you think is an important measure.
  • One of the best ways to learn a topic is to explain it to someone else. Instead of answering questions posed in forum posts right away, wait some predetermined time (48 hours?) until students have had a chance to help their classmates.  Or, assign a team of students to respond to forum posts for one week.  (You can always jump in and set the ship right if they get off track).
  • Even better, ask students to start discussions.  Have them monitor the replies and respond to questions.  Suggest that they “ask questions” that will bring out the most common misunderstandings of the topic so that the discussions will further reinforce the right interpretations.  I did this when I wrote my first Moodle courses in statistical analysis.
  • Hold a panel discussion each week (or month) using the Moodle chat.  Set a time and choose a general topic.  Have some things to say to get the ball rolling before anyone asks a question.  Don’t make the mistake of going in unprepared.  This chat should have a purpose, which generically, is to further facilitate learning.
  • Even better, ask students to be responsible for these panel discussions.  Let them choose their own topics or assign them.  Either way, explaining something is a great way to learn it
  • You can do the same thing with web meetings within Moodle.  There are several options that are free to use.  The advantage a web meeting has over a chat is that you can display anything from a histogram to a Rembrandt; from a map to a color wheel.  If a visual is important to your discussion, this would be better than a chat. 

In case you’re new to all of these, some quick descriptions of Moodle activities: 

  • Glossary: Dictionary of terms, with definitions.  Can included pictures, audio, etc., but typically the definitions are relatively short. This is an asynchronous activity.
  • Forum:  Threaded discussions that allow replies and ratings.  This is an asynchronous activity. 
  • Wiki: More like an encyclopedia than a dictionary. Wikipedia is the granddaddy of all wikis. This is an asynchronous activity.
  • Chat:  Online typing of questions, answers, and ideas.  Users are identified on the screen and what they type appears much like a movie script. 
    • Penny: I said this.
    • Pitcher73: I agree
    • Scarymary: I think it’s all very cool
    • Etc.

In Moodle, if at least two people “chat”, a transcript is saved.  This is a synchronous activity.

  • Web Meeting: More than a chat because there is typically audio as well, plus a virtual whiteboard (some or all of the participants can “write” on it and it is displayed on everyone’s monitor), a screen presentation, or video.  This is a synchronous activity. The free versions don’t always offer a recorded transcript, but this isn’t always necessary. (Confesssion: I never listen to or watch recorded transcripts of meetings, especially if I wasn’t there to start with.)  

For more on web meetings and other collaborative features, check out my previous post.  

Let me know if you have any other ideas to get people involved, interested, and talking!

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Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

Moodle Hosting: Why every business using Moodle needs a Moodle Partner

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This summer I have been on my soapbox, helping my clients (both current and prospective) convince their clients of the soundness of hosting their Moodle sites with a certified Partner/Moodle host.  I am not a Moodle Partner, nor do I want to become one, so I have nothing invested in my recommendation except doing a good deed.  And, of course, I don’t want to create content on sites that are not hosted by Moodle Partners

Why? 

The reasons your business should host its Moodle site with a certified Moodle Partner: 

  • They know Moodle and everything in the Moodle universe.
  • Partners not only know how to run cron jobs and back-up the database, but they do it.  I am told that these tasks, with any web application, can be tricky, time-consuming, and dangerous.  Luckily, I’ll never have to worry about them.
  • Partners provide the proper bandwidth and storage (although these do vary amongst the Partners) to run Moodle.  A $7.95/month hosting plan at HappyMamaHost.com isn’t going to be sufficient.
  • Partners know Moodle; what it can do, what it can’t do, and what it might do in the future.
  • Partners know what third-party modules are out there, what problems they solve, and how to install them so they’ll work on your site.  You won’t have to spend dozens of hours searching for a solution that might not exist or might be well-known in the community. 
  • Using Moodle for business usually requires a little extra support, such as single sign-on capability, e-commerce functionality, and perhaps a greater level of security for privacy reasons.  No one will be able to integrate these applications better or faster (which is usually cheaper) than a Partner.
  • HappyMamaHost.com doesn’t help you with any of the above, at least not for free. 

A few examples of why this Moodle knowledge, expertise, and technical support matters: 

  • Last winter, Moodle sites around the globe were upgraded for security reasons.  All admins were required to create new passwords, with some serious specifications.  If your site is hosted by a Partner, chances are this upgrade was done for you.  If your site is hosted at HappyMamaHost.com, chances are you weren’t even aware of the security risk.  It’s guaranteed that they didn’t do the upgrade for you. 
  • If you have a WordPress site, you’ll notice that annoying little button that says “Version 3.01 is available; please upgrade now”.  You probably also know that upgrading without first backing things up can be very risky.  Not all of your plug-ins will work.  Some content might be lost.  The same is true for Moodle, but HappyMamaHost.com will surely have that same little button this winter on Moodle installations “Moodle 2.0 is available; please upgrade now”.  That will be disastrous if you don’t know how to do a major upgrade!   
  • I spoke of impossibly slow load times due to bandwidth issues in Getting Started with Moodle.  Storage requirements (for your actual course content) can become quite large, too, if you have more than a course or two.  By the time you upgrade to greater bandwidth and more GB of storage with HappyMamaHost.com, you might exceed the cost of hosting with a Partner. 
  • I have one client who must have web meeting functionality in his Moodle courses.  I have many others who are considering it.  I poked around and compared prices, options, and Moodle integration ability.  I was still not sure, so I asked my Partners.  They gave me the real run-down on which applications required coding and which installed as easy as 1-2-3.  We settled on DimDim.  All I had to do was ask “hey, can you install some sort of web meeting application on the site?” 

If you’re still not convinced that it is penny wise, pound foolish to not host with a Partner, what else can I do to change your mind?  I am willing to jump up and down…

One caveat: I would like to say that I worked with one web host (in Eastern Europe) who didn’t know Moodle at all, wasn’t a Partner, but still maintained a well-run Moodle site.  I’m sure there are others like him around the world, and I don’t want to be disparaging of their service or efforts.  I’m also sure that they are not the mass-sellers of discounted hosting plans, which is really what I want you to steer clear of.

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