Populi

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Your data is yours

Tuesday, June 7th, 2016

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.

2. Confirm

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.

Bookstore returns, discount codes, and other good stuff

Thursday, April 7th, 2016

Populi Bookstore has a bunch of great new features this morning. As part of a general rewrite, we gave Bookstore improved return/refund processing, discount codes, and better inventory management (plus lots of interface improvements and upgrades). Here’s  a look at the new stuff:

Returns and refunds

Bookstore now makes it easy to process returned items and refunds (let’s be honest: it was not easy before). Returns are handled in Point of Sale: just click Return Items, scan or search for the items to return, and connect the returns to the original order. You can handle the entire refund right there, too: just pick your refund method from the drop-down (you can even refund to a student account) or use the refund to reduce the amount of a new purchase. Bookstore now also handles credit card refunds—it contacts your processor and reverses the charge without you having to do anything.

Discount codes

Discount codes let you offer your customers price breaks on items and shipping costs. You can specify a dollar or percent discount, whether the code applies only to certain items or customer types, minimum order amount, expiration dates, and more. Codes can be applied by customers at the online checkout or by you at Point of Sale. So now you can offer, say, free shipping on all online orders over $50, or give faculty and staff a 10% employee discount on books and apparel.

Inventory improvements

Bookstore now features a number of improvements to inventory management.

  • Each item segment now has better inventory tracking. Inventory batches let you record when you received a new shipment and the cost-per-item. Adjustments let you correct inventory for things like loss/damage or clerical errors. Each sale and return is also figured in so you know for sure what’s in stock.
  • The new Inventory tool in Admin lets you add inventory batches for any item, while the Returned Items report lets you manage which returned items go back to your stock and which are counted as shrinkage.
  • On the accounting side, new settings let you specify your inventory cost flow method (FIFO or LIFO) as well as accounts for purchases, shrinkage, and COGS.
  • Of course, all those lovely reports have been updated to take all the new data into account.

We’re really happy to get these Bookstore improvements out to our customers. They give you more control over your inventory, make everyday tasks easier for your Bookstore staff (and your school’s accountant), and let you offer even more to your customers.

For more details, have a look at the Populi Knowledge Base.

Library shelf view

Friday, March 4th, 2016

Also new in Populi: Library Shelf View. Shelf view shows you what’s in the physical vicinity of the resource you’re currently looking at. Just scroll to the bottom of any resource page and there you’ll see it; click the left/right arrows to wander your way through the library shelves. The view is ordered by call number and makes it easy to discover resources you might not have thought to search for.

Texting everywhere!

Thursday, March 3rd, 2016

There are a lot of new buttons and links in Populi today, and just about all of them say… Text.

Texting is now almost as common in Populi as email. Formerly, it handled emergency notifications and password retrieval for staff and faculty (of course, it still does that!). Now, it does a lot more. Need to tell a prof’s students that he’s out sick and class is canceled? Text his students right from the course roster. Wanna send a quick thank you to your $100-$250 donors? Use the Text donors button in the Donations report. Have an accepted applicant you want to tell the good news? Now you can send her a text right from the accept application dialog.

The new features give your admissions staff swifter ways to communicate with leads. When an inquiry or applicant fills out the initial form, they can verify their mobile/text number on the spot. You can then respond to their questions via text, and they can reply in turn. And when you accept an applicant, you can import her verified number right into her profile.

We want to make communication at your school as friction-free as possible, and we’re really pleased to give you these new texting features. If you’d like to get your Populi user account set up to receive text notifications from your school, read this article. And if you want to keep an eye on how many texts your school has sent so far this month, have a look at Communications > Campus Notifications (remember that additional texts are 2¢ each).

New attendance report and test question analysis

Wednesday, February 24th, 2016

We recently released a couple new academic reporting tools.

Attendance report

The new Attendance report in Academics > Reporting lets you look at every detail of every attendance record at your school. You can look at attendance by student, by course, by term, and even get a report of all your attendance data—every term, every course, every meeting, every student. Use the spiffy new reporting filter to narrow down your searches and then export anything you find to XLS or CSV.

Several of our users have asked for more detailed attendance reporting, and we’re pleased to make this available.

Test question analysis

The new Analysis view in tests shows you the big picture of how your students are faring against your online test questions. The data helps you evaluate whether your test questions are enough of a challenge—or too much of a cakewalk—for your students. It can also help you pinpoint your students’ strengths and struggles in a way that overall assignment grades can’t.

For example, your students average 75% on the mid-term exam. Test analysis reveals to you that they bombed the short answers from one particular textbook (but otherwise did just fine), and that’s what dragged everyone’s grades down. So now you know that you either need to spend more time reviewing that text or ditch those questions when it comes time for the final exam.

Populi welcomes Jordan Smith

Monday, February 1st, 2016

Man, our contact page is going bananas. Emily Hoos came aboard in October to bring order (and an unreal beverage selection) to our office. And now, three months later, behold: Jordan Smith, our new support representative, who officially came aboard January 1st and made an appearance at our 2015 Christmas party. We’ve known Jordan for many years. Most of us worked with him back in the EMSI days, and he’s Joel Penney’s brother-in-law.

Jordan brings with him years of troubleshooting and technical support. As Help Desk Team Lead at EMSI, he kept everyone’s laptops and Salesforce integrations in fighting trim; as owner-operator of Palouse PC, he did IT consulting for a variety of small businesses and institutions here in Moscow, Idaho. While still getting the hang of everything Populi does, he definitely knows what our customers need. He’s already essential to handling support alongside Isaac and Josh.

A native of Amityville, Long Island, New York, (yup, that one) Jordan is the husband of Kara and father to Isla. We’re really happy to have him working with us!

Forgetting the Internet

Wednesday, January 27th, 2016

Listening in on a sales demo the other day, it struck me: we no longer need to explain web-based software the way we used to. Back in 2008, a good chunk of Nick and Joseph’s time was spent telling schools about the ABC’s of web-based software: browser-based, hosted on our hardware, available anywhere, maintenance and updates on us. The Internet was not new, nor was Populi on the cutting edge of cloud-based software. But the notion of a small school getting real work done using the web was novel enough that we gave it a whole page on our website.

In 2016, the web is part of everything. It’s not just that we’re used to web-based productivity software—it’s that the Internet is applied, seemingly, to all problems. Think of it: in 2008, the web was largely accessed via the desktop browser. In 2016, we use it just as often on our phones. And we use those devices not just to check email and look at websites, but to control network-connected things like light bulbs, refrigerators, and, wonderfully, diapers.

Image credit: Engadget

So, yeah, if the baby poops, we want the Internet to tell us. The web is enough a part of life that people will throw money at this idea expecting to make it all back. So of course schools now come to us taking it for granted that we’re web-based. That means that the web is something that we now expect, a utility like electricity or running water that we don’t notice unless it’s not working. Benedict Evans observes this phenomenon:

Our grandparents could have told you how many electric motors they owned – there was one in the car, one in the fridge and so on, and they owned maybe a dozen. In the same way, we know roughly how many devices we own with a network connection, and, again, our children won’t. Many of those use cases will seem silly to us, just as our grandparents would laugh at the idea of a button to lower a car window, but the sheer range and cheapness of sensors and components, mostly coming out of the smartphone supply chain, will make them ubiquitous and invisible – we’ll forget about them just as we’ve forgotten about electric motors.

Before everything had a network connection, you thought about the Internet more. But as it’s shoved into every object imaginable, it becomes invisible. And that’s when it goes unexamined. Unexamined things can change us in ways we will not see. We now expect the world to work a certain way, a way that replaces a brief sniff test on the diaper with a Bluetooth notification on the phone.

Here’s how unexamined it is already. A moment ago, I said that we “expect the world to work a certain way” and you didn’t notice. Earlier I wrote that “the web is part of everything”, and you didn’t care. I’m going to let Alan Jacobs take us to task:

“Technology is shifting our way of seeing the world.” “The internet really has changed the world completely.” Pray tell, what is “the world”? Seriously, I want to know what people mean by this. If “the world” has been changed completely, why does the silver maple outside my window still stand as it has for decades? Why is the gazpacho at Emilio’s as good as it was when I first tasted it, twenty-five years ago? Why does the prose of Sir Thomas Browne still delight me as it did when I first encountered it at age nineteen? Why do I still love my wife?

If you answer, “Well, that’s not what they mean by ‘the world,’” I counter, “Then what do they mean? Because all those things I just mentioned are in the only world that I know.”

Jacobs concludes:

No more essays about how “technology” or “the internet” is “changing everything.” They all say the same thing, which in the end amounts to: absolutely nothing. So let’s get down to cases. What technologies did you rely on today? What did they help you do? What did they allow you to avoid doing? What did they prevent you from doing that you wanted to do? Specify. As the proverbs tell us, both God and the Devil are in the details.

Another sage, Nicolás Gómez Dávila, once put it thus: “Intelligence consists not in finding solutions, but in not losing sight of the problems.” Jacobs’ questions keep the problems in sight, and as the web is woven into every solution and the din of modern life, this is what we must remember when telling people about Populi.

What problems do we solve? What new problems might we create? Can we address new issues and things we can’t predict? Will we remember the world apart from the web? It’s where the low winter sun catches the roofmelt off the grain elevator. Where the cheese on a Humble Burger fuses just so with the sauce. Where Thomas Tallis wrote a 40-part motet. Where sons dash across the surf as the Pacific crashes into California.

Image credit: Humble Burger

Nothing is better for a man than that he should eat and drink and his soul should enjoy good in his labor.

Merry Christmas and a Happy 2016 From Populi!

Thursday, December 17th, 2015
Populi Christmas 2015

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

From everyone here to all of you who made 2015 a great year to work at Populi, we wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

* Future employee #spoilers

Test proctoring

Friday, December 11th, 2015

Just in time for Christmas, something new for you: test proctoring!

Test proctoring lets you require that a third party keep an eye on your online students when taking a test. It uses SMS messaging to give the proctor codes to “check in” and “check out” to verify that he was there the entire time the student was taking the test. Here’s how it works:

  1. When setting up the test, you can specify whether or not to require proctoring. You can also require proctoring for specific students by adding a proctoring exception.
  2. The student goes to take an online test in Populi as normal.
  3. Before he can start the test, Populi asks for contact information from the proctor, including a mobile phone number. The proctor fills it out right there—no separate login required!—and submits it.
  4. Populi sends the proctor an SMS with a check-in code. The proctor enters the code and lets the student back on the computer.
  5. The student takes the test.
  6. After the student submits the test, the proctor receives another SMS with a check-out code. After entering the code and checking to confirm that the student took the test without cheating, it’s all done!
  7. If everything is above-board, then no further action is needed. But if the proctor has concerns, she can contact the school; likewise, the course faculty will find the proctor’s contact info attached to the test.

Test proctoring should come in handy for schools of all stripes, especially those that administrate a lot of online tests. Read more about proctoring in the Populi Knowledge Base.

We released a bunch of other new things alongside test proctoring. Take a moment to look at this week’s Release Notes (and while you’re at it, subscribe to the forum so you don’t miss anything new!).

The miracle

Thursday, October 29th, 2015

You’re reading this because it is possible to transmit information around the world by making electricity move through melted sand in a particular way.

Paul Ford:

A computer is a clock with benefits. They all work the same, doing second-grade math, one step at a time: Tick, take a number and put it in box one. Tick, take another number, put it in box two. Tick, operate (an operation might be addition or subtraction) on those two numbers and put the resulting number in box one. Tick, check if the result is zero, and if it is, go to some other box and follow a new set of instructions.

The near-infinite possibilities of computing come down to little numbers in little boxes getting added to or subtracted from one another.

Because of this basic fact, at its heart, software is as rigidly and uncreatively literal as one of Archimedes’ levers, pulleys, or wedges, but made out of electricity that moves in mysterious pulses through melted sand.

The near-infinite possibilities contained within a human being—let alone humanity itself—are manifestly not the product of little numbers in little boxes being manipulated by basic math.

There are two kinds of problems encountered with software. The first is that when software works, mighty labor is involved in making what is essentially a lever, pulley, or wedge communicate meaningfully with a human that skipped breakfast because he was making his infant daughter laugh at him. The second is that when software breaks, it’s because at some point, a human skipped breakfast after getting his infant daughter to laugh at him, and then sat down and wrote some code.

When you buy software, you’re really buying someone’s promise that the code he wrote after skipping breakfast to make his infant daughter laugh one more time will reliably, predictably cause the result(s) you’re after.

When software is broken, the problem is referred to as a bug. That’s because a moth once got caught in an old tube-based computer and made the thing stop working.

An error message simply means that the command, “[IF A, B, or C happens, THEN produce ERROR message]” worked. That’s because software is rigid, literal, and uncreative. When something’s wrong, the software doesn’t know that. It also doesn’t know when anything is right, either. If the power’s on, it just goes.

A moth’s flight is erratic and unpredictable. Software bugs, while appearing to be random and disorderly, are actually predictable and repeatable if you know how to trigger them. They’re usually as predictable and repeatable as the parts of the software that are working properly. A bug means that code was successfully executed; it’s just that a human wrote code that did something unreliable, undesirable, or unpredictable.

We write code and fix bugs in Populi using software that itself has bugs and produces errors. We design Populi around bugs in web browsers, errors in programming languages, and the limitations presented by an extremely literal line of code that must meaningfully communicate with a human who is sleepy from too much breakfast and a night spent comforting an infant daughter with a cold.

It’s frankly a miracle that anything works at all.