From everyone here to all of you who made 2016 a great year to work at Populi, we wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
* Future employee #spoilers
We released a number of improvements to courses, including new design features for lessons, activity tracking in discussions, new assignment types, and better reporting. Here’s a look:
Lessons are now easier to design and give your faculty a lot more options for how to structure their content and control your students’ flow through the course material:
- Lessons now consist of sections of material—headings, content, assignments, discussions, and files—that can easily be added and re-ordered. The new Lesson design tool works much the same way applications and course evaluations do, letting the instructor assemble various course elements as a sequence. You might add a heading and some content, then require the students to participate in a discussion—after which they’re quizzed on the material the class just covered. You can even create multi-page lessons to better divide and structure the material.
- You can now set up “gated” lessons using the new availability options. When setting availability, you can keep the lesson closed off from a student until he completes all of the required materials from the previous lesson. There are also options to make the lesson available on the course start date or at a date and time that you specify.
- The new Student Progress view lets you see how far each individual student has progressed through each lesson.
It’s now a lot easier to keep track of discussion activity.
- Each comment and reply has a read/unread indicator. A blue dot next to a post indicates unread; as you scroll past they flip to an empty circle indicating read. If you need to come back to a post, you can toggle it back to unread by clicking the circle.
- Discussions now include a filter to let you see posts by Oldest/Newest, Unread posts, those with Recent activity, or those with the most activity (a comment with a lot of replies, for example).
There are three new assignment types: essay, peer review essay, and peer review file.
- Essays give your students a WYSIWYG text editor that they can use to produce fully-formatted documents. The essays are auto-saved once every minute, and the student can return to the page at any time up until the due date (or when she submits it).
- Peer review files and essays let other students weigh in on the student’s work with comments, reviews, and even grades. There are lots of options with these assignment types—peer grades, anonymous comments, among many others—giving faculty the flexibility to set up the peer review process however they like.
Reporting and some miscellany
In addition to the aforementioned Student Progress report in Lessons, we also added more detail to the time-tracking report in Course > Reporting. It breaks out the time students spend on lessons, discussions, other course pages, and playing media files. We also gave it a better filter so you can more easily sift the information.
Students can now see at a glance whether they’ve submitted an assignment by looking at the main Assignments view.
The course calendar has two new settings that let you control:
- How tests show on the calendar—the entire availability range, first day available, or last day available
- How many days before an assignment is due should a dashboard alert be shown to students
Save for a few page layout differences, your existing lessons are unaffected by the updates. To begin taking advantage of the new features, have a look at the documentation. Meanwhile, all of your existing discussions have the new read/unread indicators and the activity filter; the new assignment types are ready for you to start using whenever you wish.
We’re really pleased to release these improvements—they’ll make it a lot easier to conduct courses with Populi. As always, if you have any questions about the new features, get ahold of Populi Support.
We released a number of new security features last night that give your school’s Populi users new ways to keep their accounts protected. Here’s a look at what’s new:
Login approvals send you a text message with a one-time use passcode whenever you log in to Populi on a new browser or device. In addition to your username and password, you enter the passcode to log in. Populi then recognizes your account as approved for use on that browser or device, and there’s no further need for the additional passcode for future logins.
This protects your account by requiring you to have your mobile phone with you when you log in. Typically, the person with your phone is gonna be you—and when you enter the passcode, you’re assuring Populi that the person logging in is you, and not someone else. So, even if your login is compromised—someone gets ahold of your password, say—it’s useless without the passcode sent to your phone.
Account administrators can now manage all kinds of high-level security settings for your school’s Populi account in the new Account > Security view. We’ve moved some old, familiar settings there (ID photos, who can view SSN’s, et. al.), and have added a few new ones. Most important is Login Approvals, where the Account Admin can allow or require various user roles to use login approvals for their Populi user logins. For example, you might allow all users to use them, but you require it of Academic Admin, Financial Admin, and Financial Aid users.
Since login approvals require that the user have a verified text notification number, if any affected users do not have a number, they’ll immediately receive an email that lets them set one up. You can also look at individual role pages to see who has a verified number and who doesn’t.
User access updates
We moved the user access controls out of the Profile > Info view and stuck it next to the new menu button. Besides making it easier to see at a glance whether someone is a user, it also gives you a few new options related to login approvals. The user dialog now lets you require or disable login approvals for individual users. You can also send the user a link to reset his text number (which works just like the reset-password email).
Every user now has a new Security view in their personal account settings. Security includes reset-password fields, a chunk for setting up a text notification number, and a new Devices section that lets you view and manage your approved devices—browsers and devices on which you’ve logged in.
You can even set a device to trusted. On trusted devices, once you’ve logged in, you can stay logged in. To trust a device, you verify that it’s password-protected, accessible only to you, etc. Afterwords, you’re logged in on that device until you log out or an account admin changes a login approval setting.
Set it up!
The new security features will go a long way towards helping secure your school’s data. We strongly encourage your school’s account administrators to enable login approvals. Account administrators can read more about the new security features and Populi users can learn about their new personal security settings in the Populi Knowledge Base.
After releasing transcript requests a few weeks ago, we heard a lot of good ideas from our customers about how we could round out the feature. So last night we released a bunch of handy upgrades to official transcript requests:
- Students who aren’t in Populi (say, a 1960’s-era alum whose transcript has to be mimeographed) can now request and pay for an official transcript. You can fulfill the request outside Populi, but then keep a record of the request and its completion—even if the student himself isn’t in Populi at all.
- Custom delivery methods let you handle “rush” requests. Just create a delivery method and tie it to a fee rule—and now you can properly charge for that transcript the student needs to be overnighted to Stockholm University.
- Web transcripts are now disabled when the student has a grade/transcript or financial lock. There’s also an access counter in the export history so you can see how many times they’ve been downloaded.
- The request detail page now shows you any locks and outstanding financial balances that might make you want to not complete the request. It also has a new cancel/refund function for credit card charges.
- You can embed the request form within another web page and use custom CSS to make it match.
- A new academic setting lets you customize the email that’s sent when a transcript request is fulfilled.
Get all the details in the Populi Knowledge Base!
After announcing transcript requests about a month ago, we quickly realized that we needed the feature to do a better job handling requests from former students and others who don’t have a Populi login. So, when the feature is released tonight (October 11), it will include a public-facing form that lets people submit official transcript requests.
Here’s how it works:
- In Transcript Requests > Settings, you enable the public transcript request form.
- You can then link to it from your website or pass the URL along to your former students who need an official transcript.
- The requester goes to the form and enters her last name, SSN or SIN , and date of birth. Populi uses this information to match the requester to one of your student records (we can’t have Jane Smith ordering a transcript for the other Jane Smith, now can we?).
- Once matched with a student record, the requester enters the request details (recipient, etc.) and pays for it by credit card (depending, of course, on your payment settings).
- The request enters the queue in Academics > Transcript Requests, where you can review it and fulfill it.
To learn all there is to know about Transcript Requests, have a look at the Populi Knowledge Base!
Arrivederci, action gear
With this release we’re also loading the Profile’s gear onto the funeral pyre and putting a lit torch to it. In its stead: a new menu icon, together with context-specific actions links.
What this means:
- The action gear is gone! Here’s the new menu icon, located just above where the gear used to live:
- The menu icon contains everything the gear used to give you on Profile > Info: Export ID Card, Reset Password, etc.
- The context-specific actions formerly contained in the gear have moved into the individual views in the Profile. So, you’ll see Record Payment and Print Statement (etc.) in Profile > Financial > Dashboard. You’ll see Export Schedule, etc. in Profile > Student. And so on.
We fully appreciate that everyone clicks the gear a zillion times a day, and us changing a much-used feature will initially be very annoying. We understand! That said, the new design makes the previously-hidden actions easier to find, and the menu icon now consistently shows you the same group of actions wherever you are on the profile. It’s more consistent and makes more sense than the old layout, and it clears the way for us to make additional improvements on the Profile.
A few other behind-the-scenes improvements will go out with this release, which we’ll describe in our Release Notes this Friday (have you subscribed to those yet?). Of course, if you have any comments or questions about the updates, we’re eager to hear from you.
Coming soon: official transcript requests! While our crack coders apply the finishing graces to them, we thought we’d give you a preview of the upcoming features.
Your students will soon be able to request an official transcript right from their Profiles. Their requests will be queued up in the new Transcript Requests view in Academics; from there you can review and fulfill them with a few quick steps. Here’s the whole story:
First you’ll configure a few transcript request settings.
- Delivery methods include print/mail and email. You can offer one or the other—or both.
- Do you charge for transcript requests? You’ll choose a fee and optionally set up fee rules to cover particular kinds of requests—for example, you charge one amount for a printed transcript, and another for an emailed one. You’ll also have the option to not charge.
- Charge for requests either by charge-to-account or by having your students cough up a credit card number upfront.
- In general academic settings, you can enable web transcripts (more below).
2. Students submit requests
After you’ve enabled official transcript requests, a student will go to his Profile > Student view. From the new Transcript Actions button, he’ll select Request Official Transcript. After entering information about the recipient and handling your payment arrangements, he’ll submit it.
3. You fulfill the request
You’ll find all of your students’ requests on the new Transcript Requests view. To fulfill a request, you’ll go to the request’s info page. There, you’ll choose a layout for the transcript, preview the document, and take care of the delivery details—emailing the web transcript link or printing a mailing label for a paper copy.
Web transcripts and a few interface updates
A few new items accompany transcript requests. The aforementioned web transcripts create a unique URL from which an up-to-date PDF transcript can be downloaded. This is handy for when you email a transcript link in March while the student’s Spring courses are still in-progress—come June, after they’re all finalized, the transcript recipient can just visit the URL to see how the student fared that semester. Once you enable web transcripts, every transcript you export will contain its own unique URL in the footer.
We’ve also placed the utilities gear onto the funeral pyre. We’ll replace it with action links and the new Transcript Actions button; the gear on the Profile > Info view shall meet a similar fate.
We’re pretty excited to get Transcript Requests out to all our customers. They’ll replace some pricey standalone transcript request services some schools are using. And as with all new Populi features, they won’t require any software integrations or other wiring-together. Just set ’em up and let ’em rip.
Populi recently participated in a beta version of Stripe.com’s ACH product which allows many of our colleges* to easily accept tuition payments and donations at a much lower rate (0.5% + 25¢) than credit cards (2.9% + 30¢).
Stripe recently brought their ACH features out of beta and published new pricing. So, as of August 1st, 2016, we’re pleased to announce a major rate decrease for larger transactions! The new rate is 0.8%, with a 25¢ minimum transaction fee and a $5 maximum transaction fee.
For small transactions this new rate may be slightly higher, but for larger transactions it’s a huge cost savings. For example, for a $5,000 tuition payment:
$5,000 * 0.5% + 25¢ = $25.25
$5,000 * 0.8%, with a 25¢ minimum and $5 maximum = $5
Either rate represents a substantial savings compared to credit cards (accepting a $5,000 credit card payment via Stripe would cost your school $145.25), but in this example your college would now pay one fifth of the old ACH rate!
We’re confident this price change will allow more of our clients to benefit from the convenience of accepting online payments and donations, without the substantial fees associated with credit card transactions.
*Because of regulations regarding the ACH network we’re not able to offer this service to all colleges; typically only to established, accredited colleges. Please contact support to see if your college qualifies.
New in Populi: localization. Localization lets you translate the various interface elements—text, buttons, links, and so on—so your non-English-speaking users can access Populi in their own language. Here’s how it works:
1. Go to the new Localization view in Account
Your school’s Populi account administrator goes to the new Localization view in Account > Account Settings. He’ll name the localization and select the language to which Populi will default for untranslated words. Finally, he’ll choose a flag to go along with the translation.
2. Start translating
The translation section is straightforward: find the base text on the left, enter translations on the right. You can translate Interface Text (every field, button, column heading—everything that we’ve given a name to) as well as your own text (application field names, tuition schedules, and so on). As you translate, Populi saves your entries automatically.
3. Continue translating
I’m not gonna lie to you: it’s gonna take awhile! There are around half a zillion named things in Populi, and the developers are adding more all the time. If need be, you can just translate certain areas of Populi—for example, translate courses and financial info so foreign students can take classes and pay their bills.
4. Assign locales
Once a localization is completed (or complete enough for your needs), you can set up individual users so that they’ll see the translated version of Populi when they log in. All you need to do is click the flag icon below a person’s profile photo, select the locale, and click ye olde Save button (you can do this for yourself, too!). The localization will take effect immediately.
We’re really pleased to get this out to all of our customers. Many schools have been using Populi to serve international students—conducting courses in German, for example, or setting up applications in Portuguese. Localization lets you complete the experience for your non-English speaking users.
One caveat: worldly and seasoned as we are, we remain unrepentant English-speakers here (a few of us know a little Latin and Greek), and new development will remain in English. So, when we develop new features or heavily rewrite existing ones, you’ll need to update your translations. Likewise, we’ll also conduct customer support in English and we’ll have to assume you’re asking about Populi as we wrote it (not as you may have translated it). If you’ve translated every instance of the phrase “Academic Term” to “Melon Baller”, understand that we probably won’t know what you’re talking about when you write in with a problem on the Melon Baller report.
That said, we look forward to seeing what you’ll do with localization!
Your data is yours. We really mean it.
Let’s say you want to stop using Populi and you need your data imported into another system. Populi lets you download your core data once every 24 hours from Account > Backups. The backup file includes:
- Academics—everything from transcripts to transfer credits, from course lessons to the course catalog
- Financial transactions—invoices, payments, financial aid, and donations
- Admissions applications and all the information you have for your leads
- All the people in your system together with all their contact and other personal info
- Your entire Bookstore and Library
Here’s how you (well, your school’s account administrator) can get your data out of Populi:
1. Go to Account > Backups
After logging in, click Account and then go to Backups. If it has been more than 24 hours since your school last retrieved this file, you can click Request a Backup.
Before creating the backup file, Populi asks you to confirm that you want to do this. Remember: this file contains a bunch of sensitive data—academic records, financial information, Social Security numbers, and a lot more! You’ll want to take special care with this file, and this confirmation is one part of that.
3. Wait and download
The backup file can be pretty big and so it may take a little while to generate it (up to several hours). The moment the file is complete, Populi sends you an email. Once you receive the email, go to Account > Backups and download the file.
(You can also use the API to download data backups—see the API documentation for details)…
And that’s it! The backup file with all your Populi data is in your hands, no strings attached. You can keep your own secure backups (in addition to ours) or load it into your school’s new system… or whatever else you might need.
We’ve worked with a lot of schools that needed to get their legacy data from their old system. Many software companies really made them work for it. Some didn’t provide backups in the first place—they had to improvise a way to extract the data from their system. Others provided data that was missing crucial items (transfer credits, anything entered before 1996, you name it). Some had “business” in mind and charged schools to retrieve their data. One avaricious outfit compels their schools to sign another year-long contract!
Lock-in tactics range from the lazy to the vile. Our business plan—no long-term contracts, month-to-month billing, customers can cancel any time—means we have to win back all our customers every month. Free, no-strings-attached, comprehensive data backups mean we’ve made it easy to leave, and that we’ve got work to do if we want you to stay.
Update (June 8, 2016)
We’ve been asked about how the backups you can download relate to the regular data backups we already perform. Here’s the low-down:
- There are two kinds of backups: Customer-requested, which are what is described above; and our Regular backups, which we automatically perform on an ongoing basis.
- Regular backups are securely stored in a separate location and are meant to restore your data in case of emergency and provide historical data “snapshots” for various uses. Customer-requested backups are meant for your own needs and uses.
- We perform these backups as follows: Hourly backups for 36 hours, daily for two weeks, weekly for 30 weeks, and monthly for 10 years. Each backup is a complete copy of everything in your Populi database; there are up to 200 backups per customer.
- Think of it like an actively-curated photo album: At any given moment, this photo album contains 36 pictures of the last two days, 14 of the last two weeks, 30 of the last 30 weeks, and 120 of the last ten years. As time moves on, a portion of your older snapshots are deleted, but new ones are always being added.
- We keep your data around as long as you’re a customer; if you cancel your use of Populi, we delete your archived data after 90 days.
You can now link people to donations using a soft credit. A soft credit lets you acknowledge someone for a donation besides the actual donor. For example, a wealthy tycoon donates $50,000 to your scholarship fund and you want to make sure that when you thank him, his wife is included in the acknowledgement. Or a donation comes in from a local corporation thanks to the efforts of a graduate who now works there—you can now give her the soft credit for the donation. Soft credits are awarded on a donation page right below where you link the donation with the donor. The Donors report and its communication actions have been updated to respect soft credits as well.
This was one of our customers’ top requests for Populi Donations, and we’re very pleased to get this out to everyone.