We’re shortly to release some improvements to Financial Aid that we thought merited a heads-up:
- The aid application student view gives students a couple new tools. In the section where students can accept and reject aid award offers, they can now decrease the loan amount they wish to accept. Additionally, each award includes estimated disbursement dates.
- We’ve added a couple new ways to catch mismatches between the enrollment status on a student’s aid application and the student’s actual enrollment. There’s a mismatch indicator on the Aid Applications report to help you spot such students. Additionally, financial aid users can opt-in to receive emailed alerts of such mismatches.
- Financial Aid > Reporting now includes a FISAP report that lets you export the raw data.
- The built-in Stafford Loan has been renamed Direct Loan, to better comport with what it has been called for, oh, the past five years.
These improvements, plus some behind-the-scenes upgrades, should be going live in the wee hours of March 9, 2017.
Yet another J on the contact page: Josiah Frazier joined us here at Populi on January 2nd. He’s already providing much-needed help to Toby and Patrick with software testing and bugfixes.
It is said of him that there is no software program that he can’t flummox. Yea, you might say that software fears him: if there’s a way to copy-paste Moby Dick into a first-name field and break the whole site, he’ll find it. A mind like that is crucial to keeping Populi in fighting trim: if you can find the problem, you can fix it (even better: finding the problem before the customer does!). Skills aside, Josiah is something of a PR nightmare. He’s related by marriage to two other Populi employees, so when they come after us for nepotism, we’ll have to say, “Guilty as charged”.
Josiah is husband to Afton and father to Naomi, Mira, and Amos. When he’s not breaking our software, he’s often out in the forested wilds of Idaho doing as one does in said wilds: hunting, fishing, hiking, searching for hot springs.
We’re really happy to have Josiah here with us. And if you ever run into a Populi bug, you’ll be glad that he’s on the case, too.
We’ve added a few new features to courses over the past few weeks that we thought we’d highlight for you…
Replies to replies
You can now reply to replies in discussions. So, a student comments, another replies to her, and yet another student replies to that reply. In graded discussions, the next level of replies is included in any reply-based grading criteria.
We rejiggered how you grade incomplete students and mark them complete. In former times, you’d enter grades and switch the student back to enrolled all in one fell swoop. But that way of combining those actions didn’t really suit our users, and change was in order.
Now you can grade assignments for a finalized incomplete student on the Student Course Summary page—and you can grade them as they’re handed in, not all in one moment. Meanwhile, marking her complete (which changes her to enrolled and finalizes her grades and attendance) is a separate action. You also have options to fiddle with her pass/fail status during the incomplete phase. The new options will make handling incomplete students a lot simpler for a lot more of our users.
Miscellany: gradebook, Tin Cans, new audio player
We added a new action to the gradebook that lets you fill all empty assignment grades with 0’s. It’ll come in handy for situations where you have a bunch of ungraded assignments that you don’t want to excuse—with one click, you can enter 0 grades for each and every one.
You can now include Tin Can elements in lessons. Tin Can is a software specification that lets learning content and systems speak to each other. If your school is using e-learning content creators like Articulate and Adobe Captivate to generate online learning content, you can export that content as a Tin Can package and incorporate it into a Populi lesson. If you require students to complete the Tin Can, Populi will wait to hear from the element as to whether the student finished before letting him proceed to the next lesson.
Finally, we upgraded the audio player so every user gets the same playback experience regardless of browser.
We updated the 1098-T report with a bunch of new features last week. Here’s what you need to know…
First things first
On January 1 of every year, Populi takes all the billing and financial aid information you’ve entered for your students and automatically generates a 1098-T form. The 1098-T report lets you review, release, and export these forms with tools that, conservatively, save you days of work. We keep an eye on the IRS regulations and make sure that the forms Populi generates comply with whatever new rules and minutiae those industrious pencil-pushers have scribbled into existence. And with the new features, you now have more tools at your disposal to get these forms off your to-do list.
Simply put, Populi does all the rote stuff so you don’t have to.
Submitting a 1098-T to the IRS with a bad Social Security Number is what is known in higher ed accounting as a “big fat no-no”. We’ve done a few things to help prevent that:
- Populi flags students with no SSN or an obvious “placeholder” number (e.g. 123-45-6789). It then prevents forms from being released to students who are so flagged. Meanwhile, you know exactly who’s SSN’s you need to update.
- There’s a new checkbox that lets you indicate that you’ve complied with regulation section 1.6050S-1; said regulation requires you to hunt down the Taxpayer Identification Number (usually just the SSN) for your 1098-T students. This corresponds to the newly-scribbled-into-existence checkbox on the IRS forms.
- Before exporting, you have to release the forms! Exporting unreleased forms frequently leads to a lot of sorrow and heartache, and in the interest of sparing you, we’ve closed that door.
Sometimes, you just gotta adjust a 1098-T. This frequently happens with schools that get started with Populi mid-year or maintain financial records in something like Quickbooks. Now you can adjust the Populi-generated values for any unreleased 1098-T right on the report, a feat that used to require a support request. Changes are recorded to preserve the audit trail, and you can even indicate a voided or corrected form using the adjuster doohickey.
After releasing a form, sometimes you wish you could just… unrelease a form—perhaps you catch an error, or you realize the student doesn’t merit a 1098-T this year. Whatever the case, in former times you’d have to get Populi Support on the horn to do such a thing. Now there’s a new Hide/Unrelease function in the Actions menu that puts the task on your own timetable.
Thus, the new features (we also put out a bunch of under-the-hood improvements, too). For all the details and how-to’s, head over to the Populi Knowledge Base, or fire off a question to the support crew.
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.