CBTS: Getting a good fit with Populi

We built Populi to give small colleges an information system that fit them properly. Homegrown might fit the budget. Enterprise might fit some of the functions. Neither really fits the needs and proportions of schools that need good information but don't have resources to lavish upon it. Many of our customers have migrated over to Populi from homegrown systems, and have been reaping the benefits. Central Baptist Theological Seminary, of Plymouth, Minnesota, came over after using one of the big systems for several years. We spoke with CBTS' Registrar, Eric White, about the experience. The short version: "It's gone very well," said Eric.

Eric took the position with CBTS in 2002. As  Registrar, he had more contact with the Seminary's outdated enterprise information system than anyone else at CBTS. Fortunately, his background in IT and basic programming equipped him to deal with it.  So for several more years, he made the system work for their admissions and registrar offices. But it was challenging. “Their database was messy, and the vendor was very slow with development...” Eric told us, “...not to mention, customer support.”

For instance, “Online registration almost worked.” Eric said, “Students could register for courses online, and the system produced an enrollment spreadsheet that could be uploaded to the database itself. But the file upload never worked and we had to enter the data by hand. And that effectively eliminated the benefit of having students register online.”

Degree Audits were as pleasant as unanaesthetized dentistry. Eric put it simply, “I wonder sometimes if our old system was built for K-12 schools. Degree audits would have been easier with a pen and paper than to make the system do it.”

Eric explored the options to make the software work for the Seminary. The software vendor sold an upgrade that would have ameliorated some of the issues, but there was a pretty big catch. “An IT department is expensive, and that is what it would have taken to implement the upgrade.” With the system too old and clunky to work for CBTS—and too costly to update—Eric took a look at the other systems on the market. Of the systems that might have worked for the Seminary, most of them were in the six-figure range, and thus were out of the question for CBTS.

But when he saw Populi, Eric saw something that fit CBTS' needs and budget. “I found Populi to be very user-oriented, and the database—well, you guys know what you're doing. And what's more, it was in our price range." Populi's price wasn't the only cost-saver—since it's hosted off-site, the Seminary didn't have to figure in any ongoing expenses for new IT hardware or personnel. Implementation fit the bill, too. Populi staff imported the legacy system's databases, cleaning up and simplifying the bloatier parts of the database, at no extra charge to the Seminary. The result was a lither dataset in a much more usable system than before.

Eric has been very pleased with Populi. One reason is that it just works—the online registration and degree audits, for instance,  don't make him do all his work over by hand. Another is the customer service. "It's a really easy system to use, so I don't have to request help that often. But when I do, I’ve been impressed with the support and the quick turnaround on my requests."

Cleaner data, easier workflows, lower costs: CBTS' experience illustrates how small colleges can get a better fit with Populi.

ZCU uses Populi to connect a global network of schools

We occasionally like to share snapshots of how Populi is easing the workload for our customers. We recently spoke with Daniel Humphreys at Zion Christian University in Clearwater, Florida, who uses Populi to share information across an international network of ZCU-affiliated colleges.

It started with ZCU's Global Network program which connects the University with Bible schools, missionaries, and churches that wish to use ZCU's curriculum to train their own students. Affiliates have access to counsel, coursework, textbooks, and other resources; further, they offer their students certificates, diplomas, and degrees issued by ZCU.

Well, it's difficult enough to keep track of your own students' degree audits. But put yourself in Daniel's shoes and imagine doing so for students at other institutions around the world! Starting off with a homegrown database, and later moving on to an unwieldy academic software tool, Daniel was stuck manually entering all sorts of academic information for each student—students located in places all around the world. You can imagine the complexity of this very routine task.

Things have gotten a lot simpler since he started using Populi.

Once ZCU's course catalog was migrated into Populi during implementation, Daniel was free to set up all of ZCU's degree requirements up front. With Populi accessible via the web, he simply gave access to designated users at ZCU's various global affiliates. They then entered their own students' information, and Populi handled the rest. As students completed courses and earned degree credit, Populi kept track of it all—with no effort on Daniel's part—on each student's Degree Audit. Now Daniel—not to mention the students and their advisors—can see any student's completed courses, what remains to be taken, and how close each student is to earning their degree, all with one click.

The Degree Audit has saved Daniel a ton of time, which is what Populi is all about.

If you'd like to share ways that you are using Populi, please let us know. We'd love to hear from you.

For more information about ZCU's Global Network, check out their website.

Hey, Customers: Use Populi for IPEDS Fall 2009 Collection

The IPEDS Fall Collection for 2009, which started on September 2, will close October 14th. We wanted to remind our customers that they can use Populi to finish the Completions and 12-Month Enrollment reports. You'll find it in Preset Reports in Academics, and after a few clicks, the hard part will be over.

Next, you'll need to log in to IPEDS and copy-and-paste the data into the appropriate fields—this owes to some antiquated IPEDS software that, reportedly, will be upgraded to XML in another year or two. Once (and if) that upgrade happens, this data transfer will become unbelievably simple and fast. But, until that day, we hope that we've taken the most burdensome part of this job off your shoulders.

A quick note: if you're wondering how your degrees fit in with the IPEDS CIP codes, have a look at the CIP User Site, which has descriptions of the various CIP codes. Populi lets you associate courses, degrees, and specializations with CIP codes—you'll find it all in Academics.

Mary Ann Gardner, the Registrar at Visible School, took care of IPEDS 12-Month Enrollment a few weeks ago. We're pretty pleased with how it worked out for her, and she had this to say:

"I just did IPEDS the fastest I have ever been able—in one day... well, make that half a day. I was working on the 12-month Unduplicated Count by Race/Ethnicity and Gender report. Without a program like Populi, it just took a lot of work to compile this information. Previously, I had gotten to the point of putting forms in their mailboxes—blue for boys and pink for girls—and then sorting and sorting and sorting, depending on what needed to be counted. And it all varied from report to report. Well, thanks so much. Everybody thinks I am just a wiz now.  Just wanted you  to know that you all are the wizards."

And that, dear readers, is why we do what we do.

What happens to my password?

We hash it. Next question?

Well, what's hashing?

Hashing a password involves shoving it through a one-way algorithm that makes it incomprehensible and indecipherable. Here's what happens:

You get your Populi welcome email and click the link to log in for the first time. After choosing your very strong, mixed capital and lower-case alphanumeric password, you save it and log in for the first time. Once you submit that password, Populi runs it through an algorithm that turns it into complete gobbledygook composed of dozens of characters, and then saves that nonsense. The next time you log in, you enter your password, the algorithm hashes it, and checks whether that hash matches the stored nonsense. If it does, Populi lets you in.

The algorithm in question is a one-way algorithm; that is, you cannot then enter the nonsense characters and "reverse engineer" the true password. Were someone somehow able to get the nonsense and plug it in to the algorithm, the algorithm would hash the nonsense into even more nonsense.

That's also why, if you ever forget your password, you can't ever ask us for it. We only saved the hashed nonsense, and so all we could send you is the hashed nonsense—not that we'd even do that. Rather, we have Populi send you a link to reset your password, where the whole process repeats: you submit a password and Populi saves some hashed nonsense. Even if your new password differs from the old by only one character, the algorithm generates a totally new hash.

Password hashing is a pretty important security measure, one of many that Populi incorporates. Even if someone broke in and stole all the hashed passwords... well, that and a dollar would get him a cup of coffee. Not even we can unscramble what the algorithm scrambles.

Nonetheless, you should still be really careful with your password. Don't tell anyone else what it is, don't leave it around on a sticky note, don't email it to yourself. Just remember it and keep it in your head... but if you forget it, you can always reset it.

National League for Nursing Education Summit 2009

Isaac Grauke, our CEO, and Janet Sellars, our Business Development rep, are en route to Philadelphia, PA for the National League for Nursing Education Summit 2009. They'll be in Booth 217 in the exhibitor space, and when they're not showing off Populi (and our new online learning features), Isaac was hoping to tuck into a cheesesteak or three. Our CEO digs those peppers and onions.

The Summit covers, as you might imagine, issues in nursing education, an enterprise in which are engaged institutions like community colleges, hospitals, and medical schools, as well as a considerable number of  smaller, dedicated nursing colleges. Distance education, accreditation, and national competency standards are among the interlocking issues nursing educators have to contend with nowadays.

And we'd be remiss if we didn't mention that Populi, being a Student Information System and Learner Management System in one, is a great fit for nursing colleges. Online learning delivers your courses to all your students, near and far, while  numerous information and reporting tools improve any school's institutional effectiveness. If you're at the Summit, come meet Isaac and Janet at Booth 217 (and if not, have a look around here and see if you'd like a demo).

New Populi Release: Enhanced Course Cloning, By-Degree Transcripts, Speed Increases, and...

The Populi development team put in some overtime last night, taking the application down for about nine minutes in the wee, wee hours to release the newest update.

You probably noticed when you first logged in: we have a new look for our login screen. Beyond that, we improved course cloning—now the instructor can clone courses, and can clone different elements from different terms (as in, "this term's assignments and that term's reading list"). There's a new option to show by-degree GPA's on transcripts, should your school need it (just contact us to flip that switch). And under the hood, an across-the-board speed increase in how we deliver pages to your browser; this will really help our users when they have to use a slower internet connection.

Oh, and one more thing...

Course management features.

Populi can now effectively handle your college's online learning programs with the addition of tests, lessons, and forums. Online testing features include question-creation, automatic grading for certain question types, partial-credit options, time limits, images, and more. Lessons feature a WYSIWYG content editor, lesson-specific links and files, assignments... and forums, which are open to faculty and students, and which also integrate with the course Performance Dashboard when it comes time for professors to evaluate their students.

Of course, the new features are integrated with Populi's other course management features like assignments, gradebooks, and cloning & syncing.

With the addition of the new course features, Populi now incorporates into one program a breadth of features that usually requires three or four different software packages.

And, as usual, numerous minor enhancements, patches, security upgrades, and bugfixes accompanied the big-ticket items on this release. Users can read a thorough list of the new release features in the online help system (just look for the September 10, 2009 Release post in the “Release Notes” forum). And, as always, please feel free to contact us with your questions and comments.