New release: Back-end stuff and a new look in tables

In yet another low-key release, the development crew stayed up late the night of December 6th to push out a few updates.

The centerpiece of the release was a further round of improvements to email. We've been releasing incremental updates to email over the past several months, but we realized there were some fundamentals that we really needed to address. So, the first order of business was to improve our email infrastructure—by outsourcing it. We now have a setup with a terrific cloud-based email delivery platform that unburdens us of all kinds of headaches and allows for much greater scalability in the future (indeed, we really had outgrown our old setup). We now employ DKIM email-signing, which–skipping an incredibly-technical explanation—improves the "trustworthiness" of Populi emails to better keep them out of recipients' spam folders. Finally, we did away with the No Mailings system tag, replacing it with a "No Mailings" option in Contact Info. You can mark individual email addresses with "No Mailings"; additionally, when emailing a Mailing List, your recipients will have the option of unsubscribing from all mailings or from mailings to that particular list.

Related to email, we rewrote the Populi job manager (in proper computerese, that would be spelled "jobmanager"). The job manager is a background timing script that periodically checks for tasks that Populi needs to complete at a certain time. For instance, if you email a one-time list in Communications at 10 AM, that creates a task. When job manager strolls by on his usual rounds, he finds your email task and makes sure Populi gets the job done—at 10 AM. Our old job manager was itself dependent on another application that organized the tasks; if that application crashed at 9:59, job manager would stroll by at 10 and think, "Hm, nothing to do," and move on. Consequently, emails were getting lost and were sending without attachments—among some other issues. The new job manager no longer relies on that secondary application. Instead, tasks remain to be found by job manager until they are completed, which better insures that they actually get done.

We also refreshed the look of the various tables in Populi. Tables are everywhere—from the Students Table in Academics to the list of Charges on the Profile's Financial tab—and now they're easier to read and (we think), much more visually appealing.

Feature Spotlight: The Student tab

Populi makes your student information more useful. One of the ways it does that is by making it easier to find in the first place. Imagine having to look in three or four places to get what you need for a transcript —and the inevitability of something getting lost, mistaken, or forgotten. Many of our customers used to operate this way, and more than a few of you currently reading this recognize this scenario. Course histories are stored here... Grades are there... GPA's are calculated from this column and that column... It all gets pasted into this template... and so on.

But in Populi, all of this information lives in one place: the Student tab on the Profile. Your students' entire Academic histories are right there, from the big picture—the Transcript and Degree Audit—to the details: courses, degrees, programs, honors, and discipline. Want to see more specifics? Drill down into any of this information just by clicking.

The big picture: Transcript and Degree Audit

The first thing you see is the student's Transcript:

The Transcript is automatically filled in by the student's course history, honors, discipline, program, and degree information. GPA's, attempted and earned units, grades, and quality points plug themselves right in. The student's programs organize their courses, keeping different courses of study discrete and accurate. To accommodate special situations, you can manually override how courses are mapped to different programs. Students can download an unofficial copy of their transcript at any time, and you can export an official transcript using the built-in template or a custom transcript template.

One tab over you have the Degree Audit, an advising tool that matches the student's academic history to your degree requirements—GPA, resident units, cumulative units, and course groups:

If a course appears in more than one course group, it's automatically applied where it's needed most—or you can manually override Populi's selection just by checking a box. Run what-if scenarios by selecting other degrees, catalog years, and specializations from the drop-downs. Add exceptions to accommodate students with special situations. And if you like paper, you can export a PDF of the whole audit.

The details: Student Info, Courses, Programs, Degrees, Honors, Discipline

The left column of the Student tab shows you the details. It begins with Student Information—Student ID, Advisors, and so on, together with any custom student fields you've filled in.


Next is Courses: see and link to the student's courses from any academic term, starting with their current, in-progress courses. You can also register the student from here (which lets you get around pre-requisites if need be).


Programs lists the student's academic programs; Degrees show the students degree(s) and specialization, their status, and catalog year—when it comes time to change any of this, just hover and click "edit".


Honors and Discipline let you record the high points and the blemishes on a student's academic career.


And, of course, all the information managed in the "detail" column feeds right into the "big picture".

All in one, secure place

The Student tab puts all your student information in one place, gives you the tools to drill down into it, and  lets you easily update it whenever necessary. No matter who you are, this is where you'll come to get that info—provided your user roles will let you! Academic Admins and Registrars get to see and modify everything. A student's Advisor can see it all and modify course enrollment, programs, and degrees. And, of course, the student can view his records right from his own profile. Everyone else? Since student data is so sensitive and confidential, no one else gets to see it—the Student tab is totally hidden and inaccessible to them.

The Student tab is one of the best examples of what Populi does: it gives you one place to manage and find just about any bit of information about anyone in your school—especially your students.

What Populi doesn't replace

Somewhere in some book some place is a line that goes something like, "Education consists of a wise and caring teacher, a humble and curious student, and a log for the both of them to sit on."*

It's a bit mawkish, but there's still something to it. In education, you need someone willing to share their understanding. You need someone who wants what's being shared. And you need something to hold them up, to free them from other labors so one may give and the other receive.

In this phrase's economy, Populi is the log—rather, it's just part of the log.** And whatever their marketing language might claim, every other software vendor out there also sells nothing more than log parts. If a company promises to unlock unlimited possibilities to unshackle teachers and students and take education beyond any place it's ever gone before—or some similar bloviation—well, there's a pithy barnyard phrase for that.

It's up to the teacher to care and speak. It's up to the student to listen and do. And the log? Its job is to be sat upon. Log-part vendors like us have a duty to make the log comfy, to shear it of pointy branches, and free it of ants and beetles. Nothing more. If the log starts putting on airs about how it's part of the conversation or how it frees education from the constraints of sitting, it's getting outside of its core competencies. If a teacher is unwilling to teach or a student is unwilling to learn, no amount of technological gee-whizzery is gonna overcome that fundamental failure of communication.

Populi is, as we've mentioned before, in the business of replacing software. Put another way, we're made to help the log do its job: to help your people free up teachers and students to pursue what matters.

* At this writer's first college, phrases like this were as common as blue in the sky.

** Other log parts include: buildings, staff, administration, budgets, infrastructure, donors, and so on—all of these exist to free up teachers to teach and students to learn.

New release: Improved Academics navigation and more

The Populi development team just released the latest in a series of low-key updates to the system. Like other recent updates, this one improves Populi's back-end performance and gives some spit-and-polish to the appearance and interface. Here are the big things we let out of the gate last night...

Improved navigation in Academics

You've seen the video; now you can log in and dig the new and improved navigation in Academics.

Custom info management

We broke out Custom Info management among Admin, Academics, and Admissions. This clarifies the connection between custom info fields and where you'll use them in Populi.

A bunch of other things

You can now change a student's Programs to inactive. This is really useful when a student changes Programs mid-stream or when a student graduates and moves into a new Program at your school.

You can now include custom information on your custom transcripts.

The online application form now lets your prospects choose specific programs in addition to degrees and specializations.

Also in Admissions, we opened up application information to the API—now you can pull an applicant's data to your own custom web app.

For our Canadian customers, Financial Aid now features a built-in, automatic T4A report which lets you export a spreadsheet, PDF copies for your students, or an XML file for the Canada Revenue Agency.

We also included the usual round of bugfixes, server updates, and other little items to help keep Populi running right.

What we've been working on lately

Last night we released some behind-the-scenes updates to Populi. We enabled some caching (which should speed up page load times), switched over file streaming to SSL (more secure!), and updated a number of server settings and other items, none of which can be described in readable English. Thus, the servers.

We also updated the back-end of online testing and email. Email has been around since we first loosed Populi back in 2007; online testing is just north of two years old this month. Since their initial release, we've added numerous new interface features that glide atop a fundamentally unchanged back-end. We've also added thousands and thousands of new users, who have introduced needs, situations, and pressures we didn't originally envision. So, last night's release optimized, streamlined, and stabilized the foundations of tests and email, which will enable these crucial functions to simply work better and more reliably. You won't notice anything new in the interface—all the work we've been doing is strictly under-the-hood.

Well, there's one new thing in tests: now you can re-grade questions. Just go to a student's test history, find the question you want to regrade, and click Edit points. Once you save your changes, the student's test score will automatically update.

This release is part of our ongoing current project: taking a break from developing brand-new features, we're dotting i's and crossing t's to improve the entire Populi experience for all of our users.

New courses and bigger, better files are here!

As September eclipsed August, the Populi crew stayed up into the wee hours pushing our new course and files features out into the wild. We've previewed our new features in a few recent blog posts; here's a more complete description of what's new in Populi this morning...


We moved course instances over to our new tabbed layout, improving the look and organization of Populi courses.

Tabs include Dashboard, Info, Assignments, Lessons, Discussions, Tests, Calendar, Roster, Gradebook, Attendance, and Reporting.

The new Course Dashboard features Course Alerts, a revamped Bulletin Board, a Schedule of upcoming course events, and updates to your Discussions.

Assignments now come in three flavors: Grade-only (just a grade, nuthin' more), Test (creates an online test), and File (lets teacher and student interact and revise a file, document, etc.).

Lessons now let you incorporate streaming media right from the lesson content thanks to our new files setup.

Discussions can now be course-wide or pinned to particular Lessons.

Tests feature two new question types: True/False and Matching. They're also created via "test" type assignments.

The course Calendar is now a tab right on the course page and feeds upcoming events into the course Dashboard.

Reporting features the Performance Dashboard and an enhanced Change Log.


Free file storage—including hosting, bandwidth, and streaming—included with every pricing plan, with extra storage available for $2.50 per GB per month.

Increased file upload sizes throughout Populi for all your users.

New large file uploader lets faculty and Admins upload files up to 2 GB in size.

Video files automatically encoded into multiple formats optimized for playback on multiple kinds of devices.


We updated the Populi API to allow Single Sign-on from your own custom web services.

Via the API, you can also pass information into Populi via your own customized inquiry form.

ISIR importer now orders imported ISIRS based on Processed Date.

Plus the usual plethora of minor visual tweaks, bugfixes, and performance optimizations.