Course evaluations are here!

The crew here put in a late night October 3rd releasing our latest update to Populi. Here's what's new...

Our top Feature Request: Course Evaluations

Populi course evaluations let you gather your students' thoughts on your courses and faculty so you can dig into the results to gauge where your school is doing well and where it can stand some improvement. Here's how it works:

First, you design your course evaluation. It's a lot like building an online test, but with a different set of question types. You can set individual questions to required or optional and to apply to the course or the faculty. After you design the evaluation, you attach it to your courses.

Then you set evaluation availability on the Academic Term page. You can make it available to your students for any timeframe, with the option to lock their grades if they don't complete the evaluation by a certain date (they unlock it by submitting the evaluation). And to help preserve student anonymity, you can restrict faculty from seeing the results—or release them only after 60% of the course's students have submitted responses. If you need to adjust the availability for a particular course, you can do that on that course's Info tab.

Then, students get alerted to submit their evaluations. Taking an evaluation is just like taking an online test.

After students submit their evaluations, the results are aggregated in the Course Evaluations > Reporting tab. The report filter lets you drill down to see evaluations from different terms, programs, courses, campuses, and for particular faculty members. You can also export the results to integrate the results with other reports.

Common Cartridge

We've also added a Common Cartridge importer to Populi courses. If your school comes over to Populi from another LMS that supports Common Cartridge, Populi can now import your assignments, lessons, discussions, links, and tests from the other system. Just click the action gear in the course Info tab, select Import Common Cartridge, and check off the course elements you wish to import. This will save your faculty the work of manually re-entering all their info stored in your old LMS.

For those who don't know about Common Cartridge, "It's a set of open standards... [that] enable strict interoperability between content and systems." That is, if you design a test in one CC-compliant system, it will work in any other CC-compliant system. If you'd like to read more about Common Cartridge, there are worse places to start than the IMS Global CC FAQ.

The Populi Knowledge Base is public

Though not actually part of our software release, it's worth mentioning that the Populi Knowledge Base is now public—that is, anyone on the internet can come read it. It makes it easier to link to articles when we respond to support requests, and it also helps new users get on board. Of course, you need to be logged in to submit a new request or suggest a new feature—but the rest of it is wide open for anyone to read.

Fonts'n'stuff

We changed the font to the more-readable and more-biggerer Proxima Nova. For an example, check out the new login screen, which now lets Populi remember your username:

Course rosters: more accessible, more handsome*

Course rosters now feature student pictures. Additionally, students can now click the Roster tab to see other enrolled & auditing students.

The miscellany

You can now accept online applications for past academic terms—up to one year in the past (useful for modular and other open enrollment courses).

Catalog courses now have settings that let you create development courses. Development courses do not affect earned credits or GPA, but do count towards enrollment figures when it comes to calculating financial aid. Essentially, they let students attempt credits without ever earning them—if your school takes Federal financial aid and gives out athletic scholarships, you know of what we speak (there's also a corresponding setting for transfer courses, too).

Bulletin boards now have a 50,000-word per post character limit, and discussions have a 250,000-word per post character limit. Start typing!

W's now show on transcripts as soon as a student withdraws (that is, after the add-drop date and before the course is finalized).

* Provided, that is, that your student ID pics look good...

Coming soon to a Populi near you

We're busy prepping and testing the next major Populi release, which will feature a number of things that will improve your Populi experience. Here are a few things we thought you'd like to know about ahead of time...

New login screen

The first thing you'll notice is the new login screen and a new option that lets you check a box to have Populi remember your username. Should make logging in on your own computer that much easier.

New font

You might not notice it on the login screen, but you will once you're logged in: Populi has a new font! The new font is called Proxima Nova, which replaces old, reliable Lucida Grande. In addition to the font change, we re-did text sizes throughout Populi to make everything a little more readable.

...aaaaaaand... Course Evaluations!

Our top feature request is for course evaluations. With our next release, we're finally marking that one, DONE! Course evaluations let you create evaluations for courses and faculty, attach them to any number of courses in any term, allow students to take them anonymously, and then give you comprehensive reporting tools to help you get insight into your courses and instructors. Check out this brief video:

That's not all...

...but that is all we're gonna tell you about in this preview. We have a few more cool things that we're gonna get out there which should be a big hit with our users.

Still using Internet Explorer?

Yesterday, Microsoft reported on a security vulnerability in versions 6, 7, 8, and 9 of Internet Explorer that "could allow remote code execution", which is a nicer way of saying, "could allow someone to take over your computer".

To address the vulnerability, they list a number of complicated "workarounds" and "suggested actions", all of which seem to include continued use of Internet Explorer while it has a serious, un-patched security hole.

Since around 23% of our users choose to access Populi from Internet Explorer, we thought we'd offer a suggestion of our own: switch to Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox.

Cross-course cloning

We're pleased to release cross-course cloning. Academic Admins can now clone items (assignments, tests, files, etc.) from any course to any other course. For the most part, things look much the same... same interface, same red-letter warning message... but now with more cloning power than ever before!

We've been busy...

This is as good a time as any to update you on the other things we've released over the last several months. We have a nimble new development setup that lets us release new features more easily than we used to, so rather than bundling lots of little things into a few big-scale marquee releases throughout the year, we're now able to deploy several new features, one at a time, in a given month.*

Thus, this list of new stuff in Populi—some of which has been in use by our customers for several months now:

  • You can now unapply individual payments and credits from invoices
  • Online application fees are live!
  • Global "retire" status for Programs, together with Inactive/Delete options for individual student programs
  • You can now add and edit Library Loan Policies yourself
  • Gradebook export: you can now export it after a course has been finalized, and it includes basic course information
  • Refunds now only permitted for accounts with non-financial aid unapplied payments and credits (thus eliminating a HUGE headache for some of our customers!)
  • Campus now an option for Fee Rules
  • Emails sent to more than one person with the same email address now appear on all their Activity Feeds
  • You can now generate a payment link to let the billing office run a credit card to pay student invoices—if a student comes into your office wanting to pay by credit card, now you can easily accommodate him
  • "Close Discussions" date on Lessons
  • Financial Aid Batches now have an Email Students button
  • You can now accept applicants who don't have an email address
  • Added course and faculty names to Course Calendar print view
  • Financial Aid applications now let you track auto-zero and FISAP total income data from the ISIR

* None of this, of course, is to imply that we only work on small stuff now—we've got some pretty big things under development right now, which will also benefit from our new development/release setup...

Feature Spotlight: activity feed visibility

The profile's Activity Feed lets you keep a complete and accurate record of your history and correspondence with anyone in the system—and what's more, you always know where to find it.

Everything you post to the Activity Feed has visibility options. Say you upload a note with a file that pertains to a prospect's eligibility for a scholarship—by checking off user roles, you can set that item to be visible to everyone at your school who needs to see it.

Emails have the same visibility settings—when composing an email, you can check the roles to which you wish to make the email visible once it hits the Activity Feed:

The default visibility is set to Private. But if in the course of your workday you find yourself changing the visibility settings for every note and email (or forgetting to change them and "hiding" information from your co-workers!), there's a fix for that. Go to your personal Populi settings page by clicking Settings in the upper right of the screen:

Scroll down to Default activity feed visibility and check off the roles you normally want to see your items:

Once you save, your selections will be your new default, whether you're posting items to an Activity Feed or sending an email (both from Populi and from another client to your Email Dropbox)—giving you one less thing to think about in the course of your workday.

We're dropping the price on file storage

On August 1st, we're dropping the price for additional file storage* to just $1 per GB per month.

Additionally, we're no longer going to charge for storing your encoded media—so you'll get even more bang for that buck. But the service itself will remain the same: simple storage, backup, encoding, and streaming of your media files, together with tools that let your students watch videos and listen to audio right in Populi from almost any device.

We built Populi file storage so our customers would have a simple, inexpensive way to stream audio and video through their Populi courses. The infrastructure, know-how, and expense required to do this is out of reach for most small colleges. You'd need (at minimum)...

  • Servers to store your files
  • More servers to back them up
  • Encoding into multiple formats so different devices can play them
  • A content delivery network to optimize streaming wherever your students might be
  • An easy way to incorporate the media where your students can find it

All that, and the time and expertise to make those things work together. Most schools just don't have the resources to pour into building that themselves. So we conceived of file storage as a way to let schools offload that challenge onto us and designed it accordingly—all anyone needs to do is upload a file and start using it. That's it.

When we released file storage last year, we priced it at $2.50 per GB, putting this service within the price range of many of our customers for the first time ever. We based our price on estimated costs, anticipated usage, and a little sandbagging to ensure it wouldn't send our families to the bread lines. With a year of hard data and customer feedback to go on (and some lower costs from our vendors), we were happy to discover that we could lower the price and make the service even more accessible to our schools.

But it's not just a price drop—that dollar now gets you "more" storage than you were getting before. To explain: the encoding process creates multiple copies of your media file to make sure any device can play it back. We were counting those additional copies against your file storage total. So, you might upload a 300 MB video lecture and discover that the one file had eaten up 1GB worth of file storage! Our newly-rejiggered calculations now exclude the encoded copies from your storage total. If you've uploaded a lot of video, the next time you look at your file storage total in the Account section of Populi, you'll likely see that you're using "less"—in some cases, a lot less—than you were before.

The net effect: where $2.50 used to cover, say, one hour-long video, now $1 lets you store and stream three hour-long videos**.

You'll see the new pricing reflected on your August 1st invoice, and the new storage calculation on your September 1st invoice.

* Additional file storage is anything over the limit included in your pricing plan.

** Assuming that each video weighs in at around 300 MB...