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.

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...

Feature Spotlight: Billing

Consisting of three components—Billing, Accounting, and Financial Aid—Populi Financial gives you a simple, uncluttered way to manage your school's receivables. In Billing, you set up tuition and fees and use the real-time reporting tools to stay on top of charges and payments; Billing is supplemented by student profiles, where the most of the action happens.

As part of a complete accounts receivable package, Billing ties in with financial aid and accounting, which lets you connect your A/R to your overall accounting package.

First you set it up

You start in Settings, where you create Tuition Schedules, Fees, and Payment Plans. Tuition Schedules can have custom brackets, refund policies, and be attached to particular academic programs. Fees can cover almost any situation; set up Fee Rules to automate charges when students trigger them (auditing a course, for example). Room and Meal Plans handle—you guessed it!—special charges for dorm rooms and cafeteria grub. And Payment Plans give you structures to allow your students to pay their invoices over time, complete with custom payment schedules, additional plan costs, and late fees.

These settings don't just establish dollar amounts and schedules—they set up automated billing activities that will save you a ton of time. For example, you can set up a Lab Fee to trigger every time a student enrolls in a lab science course—sparing you the work of tracking all those students down and charging them manually.

Get your students set up and start charging and taking payments

The financial tab on student profiles is the center of a lot of the action in Billing. You can invoice charges, record and apply payments, and get students set up with tuition schedules and other plans. And, of course, you can find or easily link to anything you need to know about a student's account—whether you're double-checking a couple of outstanding invoices or hunting down a voided payment from two terms ago.

Then you charge your students

As students begin enrolling in courses, getting charged for tuition and fees, and making payments, you'll have two perspectives on what students owe and what they've paid: Current and By Term.

Current captures anything outstanding—pending charges, student balances, unpaid invoices, and unapplied payments and credits. These are the items that require you to take some kind of action—invoicing charges, applying credits, zeroing out balances, and so forth.

By Term presents you with summary reports of a particular Academic Term's charges and billing activity. Each tab lets you export the information or email the students in view with a single click.

See the totals

Reporting gives you an overall view of things invoiced (charges and credits) and things paid (paid to you or refunded by you) over any date range you need. A few clicks will show you how much you've invoiced and how much you've taken in over any time period.