Populi

Heartbleed

On Monday, April 7, security researchers published information about a bug in the OpenSSL cryptographic software library. OpenSSL powers the encryption used to secure the internet—everything from websites to instant messaging to virtual private networks. The bug, called Heartbleed, could affect about 2/3 of encrypted internet traffic.

As of now, all Populi servers have been patched against this vulnerability, and we have no reason to believe that any of our clients’ data was compromised. Due to the critical nature of this issue, we performed the patching during business hours today—rather than after hours as we normally do—so our apologies to anyone who was affected! We’ll continue to monitor the situation and post further updates if necessary.

To the best of our knowledge, Populi has been locked-down against this bug and all data is secure.

Even more free file storage for everyone!

Do you remember where you were on June 18th, 2013? The last time we went and upped everyone’s free file storage limit?  We remember where we were: that day, we were upping your free file storage limit. This is kind of like that, except we’re not even waiting for the summer to . . .

. . . give everyone even more free file storage.

Every plan has already received more for the same—which is for free. It happened and you didn’t even notice!

Are you on the so-called small plan? Where you used to get a measly 50 gigs of free storage? Now you get 100 gigs of free storage.

The medium plan? Been wishing you had more than 100 gigs of free file storage? You’ve been gazing wistfully at the large plan’s 200 gigs? Now it’s yours. 200 gigs of free storage.

The large plan. You had 200 gigs of free file storage. Pretty good. What would be great? 500 gigs would be great, right? And that’s what you get. 500 gigs of free storage.

Our Plan Pricing remains the same. So all those extra gigs-per-month really are free.

Enjoy it. Use it. You’ll have even more room to store and deliver your video and audio lectures and materials. Start uploading dumb stuff—like daily videos of your coffee cooling, accompanied by in-depth commentary—just because you can.

This applies to all of our current customers and anyone else who has yet to jump aboard with Populi. That extra file storage is yours to use right now!

New course roster, plus enhancements to tests and Admissions

The new roster and finalize-by-student are now live! Take a look at the preview we published a few weeks ago, and get all the details in the Knowledge Base.

Here are some other noteworthy items we’ve released over the past couple months

Test availability

Tests can now have open-ended test availability dates. Choose from Available from (which gives you the usual date range), Available after or until, and Always available, which keeps the test open for the entire duration of the course. This makes things much simpler for our customers who run open-enrollment courses.

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Inquiries

You now have the option, when entering a new Inquiry, whether to email the comment to the student or keep it private. That, and the comment itself is now optional!

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Miscellaneous Admissions updates

Active Leads now get the Active Lead system tag. This makes it much simpler to, for example, include them in a Mailing List.

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When you accept an application, you can now add the Lead as a new user at the same time.

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Coming soon: the new course roster—new layout, new features, and finalize-by-student

Now simmering in the Populi kitchen: a new, updated course roster.

The current roster is a good, workaday tool that does the job for a lot of our users. It lets you manage course enrollment information—everything from student status to attendance hours—and gives you some simple group contact/export options. At the same time, it has a lot of room for improvement. The layout has gotten cramped over the years. Enrolling more than a few students at a time is a chore. And you can’t really work with a specific subset of students—for example, there’s no way to quickly contact, say, the course auditors (without also contacting everyone else, too).

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To tackle these problems, the new Roster introduces a new layout and some helpful new features while also preserving all your existing workflows.

Enrollment status

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The status column replaces the old roster’s Status panels. The new drop-down at the top filters the roster to show students of a particular status.

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Changing a status or leaving a note is simple as ever—just click the appropriate icon and go for it.

Adding students

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The new roster gives you two options for enrolling students: add them by name or import them from another course. Adding by name lets you search for and select multiple students; when importing students, you simply choose the term and the course and check the students you want to import.  Both options make it much simpler to, for example, bulk-enroll a specific cohort of students—all in about a minute.

Subsets of students

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You can also perform certain actions with a subset of students. Just check the boxes next to the students you want to include and click Actions. You’ll see new options to email selected students and export selected students.

Multiple course names on one roster

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Oftentimes, you’ll offer the same catalog course to the same group of students, with each student needing something different on his transcript. For example, you might have a general “Directed Study” course, with one student studying guitar and another taking piano. Previously, you had to create separate sections with different course names for each student, and then manage multiple rosters. Now, you can just create additional course names and descriptions on the Roster for specific students.

Finalize by student

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Finally, course finalization.* With the new release, you’ll be able to finalize individual students while leaving the course in progress for everyone else. You’ll still be able to finalize the course and all students at once… but you won’t have to.

Coming to Populi in about a couple weeks

The new roster gives you a lot more flexibility with course management and we’re excited to get it out there. It’s still a couple weeks out, give or take, but once we’ve corrected the seasoning, we’ll be dishing it up to everyone.

To prepare, Faculty and Teaching Assistant users should check out these videos and articles; Academic Admins and Registrars should head over to this Knowledge Base forum to learn how it will work for them.

* See what we did there? Huh? Huh? Didja?

Education tech: messiah or megaphone?

Elise Italiano at Public Discourse, in her article Community, Contemplation, and Computers: the Role of Technology in Education:

Though it is becoming clear that technology is changing the way we learn, it is not yet clear that it is improving it.

Though concerned with recent developments in K-12 education (especially in light of the White House’s ConnectED Initiative), there’s plenty here for higher-ed folks to contemplate regarding the relationship between pedagogy and technology.

Those who embrace the White House’s view of education share three main presumptions:

  1. Education should be highly individualized;
  2. Digital interaction with concepts and ideas is an effective and desirable means of learning;
  3. Education should be primarily geared toward helping produce students with skills for the workplace.

We, obviously, are in the education technology business. We really think Populi can help small colleges. But as we’ve written before, there’s a lot of hot air about online learning that has nothing to do with actually getting students a meaningful education.

The best presumption anyone can make about online learning is that it’s an amplifier: both in the sense that amplifiers get your voice out to more people, and in that small pedagogical problems are more likely to become big ones.

Online references

We just released an improved version of online references. References were introduced with the new Admissions release from last December, and after receiving feedback from customers, we found lots of ways to improve them.

New Admissions setting

You’ll notice a new tab in Admissions > Settings for Online Reference Forms. This is where you’ll create and edit your reference forms (you can have as many as you need).

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Default form for schools already using online references

If you’ve already included a reference form in your application, you’ll see a form called “Default”. That one is presently included in your application. It collects the same information as the one you’re already using: name, number, and an essay field. If that form is handling your needs, you don’t need to do anything: it’s already set up.

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Design a custom form

Many schools need a more complex form than the basic essay. You can now design that custom reference form right inside Populi (or update the Default form). It works just like building an application, and you have almost as many options in the reference form as you do in the application designer.

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How it works

Include it in an application when adding new fields.

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On the applicant’s side, it works just as before: he just enters an email address, and when he submits, Populi sends the reference a link to your online reference form.

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Keep an eye on the Admissions Dashboard for newly-submitted reference forms, and then process them just like you would any other application field (you can also edit the answers on submitted references).

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If you have any questions about how to use the new online reference forms, check out the Populi Knowledge Base or contact Populi Support.

A few application improvements

We’ve been improving the new Admissions features we released just before Christmas. Here’s a quick look at what we’ve done:

Insert new elements

We updated the application designer. Previously, you had to add new elements at the end of the application and then drag them where you needed them. Now you just click the + and add another heading, text block, or field and insert the new element wherever you need it.

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Also, now you can see what’s Required without having to look in the Preview tab.

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Application fees

Previously, you had one option with application fees: collect them when the Lead started the application. Now you have the option to collect the fee at the start, or to let the Lead wait until he submits the application to pay the fee.

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Importing field info to the profile

The new application fields make it simple to collect information from the applicant that you can import directly to the Profile. We’ve improved that entire process:

  • We re-worked the interface: first you select whether to link to an existing field; then you pick the field you want on the application. This lets you collect the exact information you need from the applicant to import to the Profile.
  • To import a field—say, a mailing address—just set it to accepted.
  • When you accept the application, you can import course of study information (program, degree, specialization).
  • Now you can collect gender information using an application field.

Populi welcomes Josh Stevenson

Populi is pleased to welcome Josh Stevenson. Josh will be joining our customer support team, taking calls, answering tickets, writing documentation, and making training videos. A writer and self-described competitive poet, he’ll also contribute to the blog and other writerly tasks. You know, once he’s up to speed. It’s his first week. Take it easy on him.

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Judging by the feedback we receive, our customers really dig our support. It’s something we work hard at—at last count we spend 56 cents of every dollar we take in on supporting and improving Populi. So it would be easy to think, “Well, we’ve got that part wired.” Instead, those compliments tell us just how important good support is to our customers.

To that end, we’ve been thinking about hiring a new CS person for some time. As it happens, our top choice for the role became available right when we started looking in earnest. Josh previously worked for EMSI customer support, most recently developing training and user certification programs for their web-based economics software. We’ve known him for years as a man who appreciates and shares our company values, and we’re really happy to have him join the team. 

New Admissions, new look, new reports… we’ve been busy

Early in the morning of December 17, 2013, we released the all-new Populi Admissions. No corner of Admissions went untouched—we refreshed everything from the functionality to the workflows to the technical framework that makes it all go. Additionally, we released a number of new features in Academics and—as you likely noticed—updated lots of visual elements throughout Populi.

Here’s what’s new since December 17…

Admissions

Applications are better in every way. The new design tool lets you build applications field-by-field and preview how it will look to applicants. Leads no longer need a user role or login to fill it out—they just go to their application’s unique URL. Application Questions let you communicate with your Leads about any questions they have along the way. If you have multiple applications, you can charge a unique fee for each one, and tie each one to a different academic program. And that’s just some of the big stuff with applications. Read all about them in our Knowledge Base.

We replaced the Prospects role with Leads. Leads are people for whom you can track Admissions-related information. You might find out about Leads any number of ways—including when they fill out the new Inquiry form or submit one of your new applications. The Lead Routing setting lets you set up a rotation among your Admissions staff to receive new Inquiries and Applications.

Admissions reporting is much improved: the standard reports come with a new filter that lets you get at your Admissions data from almost any angle. We also added a Funnel Report to help you analyze the factors that propel or dissuade your Leads in the admissions process.

Lead Sources give you specific insight into how your Leads learn about your school. You can include a bit of Lead Source data in the embed code for your Inquiry or Application form—so if you send out an email newsletter with an Apply Now link, you can get hard data on how effective that newsletter form proved to be.

A few other things:

  • The Admissions Dashboard shows all admissions-related activity (Leads, Inquiries, application activity, etc.) and lets you jump right to what you need to work on next.
  • The new Admissions Admin role creates an Admissions “super-user” with access to settings, application forms, and so on.
  • The Scheduled Events tab in Communications lets you see every upcoming communication plan event (to-do, letter, email), complete with tools to change due dates, cancel events, and even cancel plans.
Academics

The new Transfer Credits report in Academics > Reporting lets you look over all the transfer courses at your school. Run reports on what you’ve rejected or approved, or find all the pending transfer credits and change their status to approved.

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Term Student Fields let you track term-based custom information fields for your students. Say you have periodic “benchmarking” exams that your students take once a term—you now have an easy way to track that information over time.

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You can now add greater detail to your P/F marks with the Pass/Fail grade scale in Academics > Settings.

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Students can now see a detailed list of their attendance record for any of their courses.

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Customizations

The new Customizations tab lets Account Admins control a wide range of Populi settings. Check out this blog post for more details.

New Look

Maybe you noticed? From the login screen to various buttons and icons, Adam Sentz has refreshed Populi’s look in ways obvious and subtle.

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Behind-the-scenes

We’re always working to improve Populi’s speed, reliability, and resilience. A little before the big Admissions update, we upgrades Populi’s infrastructure with some amazing new servers and other back end improvements. Consequently, Populi is routinely handling twice as many logged-in users as this time last year—without even breaking a sweat.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from the Populi Team

Populi Team

From left: Christian Amos, Isaac Grauke, Joel Penney, Joseph Schoolland, James Hill, Mark Ackerman, Patrick Swanson, Josh Stevenson*, Nick Holloway, Brendan O’Donnell, Toby Robinson, Adam Sentz

Many thanks to all of our customers, new and old, for making 2013 a great year to work at Populi. Here’s to an even better 2014!

* Future employee #spoilers