The assignment duplicator

We recently released a new assignment duplicator for Populi courses. As the feature name suggests, it lets you create one or more duplicates of any existing assignment.

Say you assign weekly readings throughout a 20-week course, each one a grade-only assignment worth 10 points. You formerly had to create 20 identical assignments, muttering under your breath the entire time about repetitive motion injuries and wear-and-tear on your mouse. Well, we hate carpal tunnels and love to save you time, so we built the duplicator. Now you need only add one new assignment and then use the new feature to create 19 more copies.

To continue to save you time, we gave you a handy variable you can insert anywhere in the assignment name: if you enter, say, "Week {number:start=2} Reading", your new assignments will spill into your assignment list as Week 2 Reading, Week 3 Reading, and so on. Then you click Edit groups and assignments, enter the correct due dates, and then kick up your feet to read a nice academic paper or two.

That's just one scenario; there are, of course, many other ways the duplicator could come in handy! You can get all the details about the new feature in the Populi Knowledge Base or have a look at the video we made:

Improved Login Approvals

We just released a significant improvement to login approvals in Populi. Now, instead of using a passcode sent via text message to your smartphone, you can use an authenticator app on your smartphone to generate a temporary, one-time-use passcode to log in to Populi when a login approval is required. Here's how it works:

Install an authenticator app on your smartphone

Authenticator is one of those scary, five-syllable words nerds use to talk about something fairly simple: it helps you verify that you are, in fact, you when some cheeky computer asks about your identity. All an authenticator app does is generate a six-digit code that helps you do that.

Here are three apps we use around here and recommend to our users:

Set up your Populi login to use the app

Once the app is installed on your smartphone, it's time to get your login working with the new version of login approvals. There are a couple ways to get this ball rolling:

Login approvals in My Settings, Security
  • Click your picture in the upper right of the screen (in the black bar) and select Settings. Go to My Settings > Security and click the button under the Login Approvals heading—depending on your current setup, it might say Enable... or Upgrade.
  • If your school has newly required you to start using login approvals, you'll go through this setup process the next time you log in.

Setup itself is simple:

Setting up login approvals in Populi
  1. Populi will display a QR code on the screen.
  2. Open your authenticator app and use the add account function. Hold your smartphone camera up so it can see the QR code on your computer screen. Follow the prompts in your app to finish adding the account.
  3. Enter your Populi password.
  4. The app generates a six-digit verification code—enter it below the password.
  5. Click Next.
  6. Populi will generate a recovery code for you. This code lets you log in to Populi one time in case you lose access to your smartphone (and can't use a code from the authenticator app). Copy the recovery code and store it in a safe place.
  7. Click Done when you're finished.

Now, whenever you log in to Populi on a new device, just open the app and use the one-time passcode to complete your login. These apps generate a new passcode every 30 seconds or so, and your login will only use the current passcode.

Why'd we do this?

Populi's login approvals are a form of "two-factor authentication", which is probably the most significant improvement to user security in recent memory. It requires a second code (or factor)—usually a passcode sent via text message to a device that's located on your person somewhere (usually your smartphone) in order to log in to a website. So, while your password for a given site can be stolen in, say, a data breach, it's a lot harder to steal both a password AND your phone at the same time.

We used to rely on texting a passcode to your smartphone. The new method, as mentioned, requires a code generated by an authenticator app.

Why are we moving in this direction? The primary reason is that authenticator apps provide better security. The National Institute of Standards and Technology issued a guideline which discourages the use of SMS/text messages as a second factor. Companies like Google are transitioning away from SMS-based authentication, as well. In part, this is because hackers are sometimes able to convince phone companies to route SMS messages to their own phones.

Security is the main concern. But our users are equally on our minds. We've seen widespread carrier outages that affect thousands of our users—a few months ago, for one example, a carrier-who-will-remain-nameless flagged all of our SMS login approval codes as spam and didn’t deliver them. Many of our users were unable to log into Populi, leaving them out in the cold until the carrier resolved the issue on their end.

That kind of nonsense is totally unacceptable to us. We don't want our users' access to Populi to get blocked by an error at a phone company.

But since authenticator apps remain functional even when your phone carrier is having a bad day, they’re much more resilient. The only thing they depend on is whether your phone knows what time it is.

For now, text/SMS-based login approvals will still work for users who've already set them up. But that method will be sunsetted in July, 2021, at which time all users will need to use the authenticator app method. Anyone who's new to login approvals will only get the new, improved method.

Populi is committed to doing our best to help keep your data secure, and keeping up with shifting industry best practices is one way we do that. Sometimes these improvements require a bit of a learning curve, but we’re certain the new login approval process will make it easier for you to keep your information safe.

Merry Christmas and a Happy 2021 From Populi!

Merry Christmas From Populi

I can’t say I recall what the plan for the coming year was twelve months ago, but it’s probably safe to say 2020 did not go according to it. Instead, we had the distinct honor of assisting a multitude of you excellent people doing what was necessary to continue educating your students in the face of unexpected challenges. It’s been a privilege, and we want to thank you all for keeping us so busy this year.

As always, from everyone here to all of you who made 2020 a great year to work at Populi, we wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

P.S. More on this later, but in late 2019 we embarked on a project long dreamed of: a Populi headquarters built out specifically for us. We moved in a couple days ago. Here’s a little video we made to document moving day.

Importing a group of people in Contacts

The new Import People button in Contacts

We just released a new bulk Import People feature in Contacts. It lets you add groups of new people to Populi all at one time by uploading XLSX or CSV files. The importer will be a great help to admissions staff who need to enter large groups of leads from conferences, referral service purchases, and standardized tests. Here’s how it works:

In Contacts > People, you’ll see a big fat Import People button right next to Add New Person. Click that and upload your file to Populi; from thence you’ll be whisked to the column-mapping screen.

Mapping information from an upload to Populi’s fields

Mapping columns lets you choose where the information from your file will plug into Populi’s built-in and custom fields. Populi will automatically match the obvious stuff like “First Name”; you’ll decide how to map the other columns using the drop-downs, which contain options for Person-related (contact info, other info, custom fields) and Admissions-related fields (course of study, etc.). For example, you may have a spreadsheet of leads with a column for “Career Interest”, the options for which correspond to your own custom Admissions field “Area of Interest”. Link them using the drop-down, and Populi will pull that column’s data into that field for all the imported people. If you later upload a file with the same column headings, Populi will remember how you mapped things last time, making future imports preposterously simple.

The importer shows warnings if the file has bad data

Once you’re done mapping, you’ll have a chance to review the records. Populi will find potential problems and warn you about them—possible duplicates, information that can’t be imported—as well as reject records that can’t be imported (people with no first or last name, or bad data in those fields).

The import filter in Contacts

Once imported, you can easily find the group of new people by using the Import condition in Contacts and Admissions > Leads,

We’re pleased to get this out to our users—it’s gonna save a lot of people a lot of time. Have a look at the Populi help article for all the details on how it works.

Our New Logo

New Populi logo sticker on a laptop computer
Serving suggestion

When James and I started Populi back in 2007, visual identity was not something we discussed. We knew what we wanted Populi to be—a comprehensive online system that any college could afford—very early on. We also settled on the name Populi pretty quickly, wanting something simple that didn’t try too hard to explain what it was; something we could imbue with meaning through our services and interactions with our customers. I remember thinking at the time that if The Beatles weren’t the greatest band of all time (don’t @ me) we’d all think that was kind of a silly name. Populi seemed like a name that we could define as opposed to it defining us.

So we had a name, and part of what you might call a brand strategy, but we didn’t have a logo in the very early days. Eventually, when we put Populi on the market, we, as one does, needed one. By this time Populi had been acquired by EMSI, and I remember saying something to the in-house designer like, “How about the word Populi with a person shape inside the O.” I chose Lucida Grande as the typeface because that was the Apple system font at the time, and “Apple-like” software was something we aspired to. He produced a bunch of ideas, and I picked one. That was it. Kind of a placeholder, really.

A little while later Populi became independent again, and we just kept pushing forward; improving Populi and trying to bring on enough customers to be sustainable. Our logo was never something we were particularly proud of—we’d sometimes (lovingly) refer to the person-in-the-O mark as “bathroom sign man”—but we were focused on making Populi the best it could be to serve our customers as well as we could.

Many Populi employees looking at one computer screen
It’s hard to believe we went so long with only one computer

Fast forward ten years, and we aren’t the same scrappy start up we used to be. Our logo has gone from a kinda goofy placeholder to a reminder of our humble origins to something of a liability. We’d actually achieved a level of acumen (so we’ve been told) at the things we originally set out do, but our visual identity didn’t reflect that. While I've always admired brands that resisted the temptation to rebrand as trends changed, it became clear that our never having gone through the process of establishing a visual identity had become glaringly obvious, and was letting Populi down.

So in 2019, with all those years of experience building Populi into what it is now, we finally set about figuring out how we wanted to present Populi, the brand, to the world. Luckily, we didn’t have to look too far to find someone to guide us through the process. Isaac’s brother JT has extensive experience in brand strategy and identity, and, naturally, already had some familiarity with Populi. After a few conversations, confident that JT understood where we were coming from and where we needed to go, we embarked on a process of refining Populi’s brand and coming up with our new visual identity, our new logo.

We started with a series of discussions with key staff members to identify which of Populi’s attributes are most important to us and our customers, and how to talk about how Populi can help customers to get from where they are to where they want to be. This involved a lot of sticky notes and flash cards, but the upshot is that it helped us all to get on the same page so that JT could begin to develop a visual identity that fit with how our customers see Populi. One advantage to going through this process after so many years was that we all already had more or less the same ideas about what Populi, the brand, represents. This phase went pretty smoothly.

Collage of images from the Populi rebrand project
So many sticky notes

After several weeks, and exploring dozens of concepts, JT presented us with three different takes a new Populi logo. One was the clear front runner from the get-go, but we liked the new shade of cyan proposed from another. After a few rounds of refinements we presented the new logo to the team. Naturally, seeing a radically different design for the first time comes as a bit of a shock, but there was universal agreement that it was a big improvement.

Next, we updated our website and social media accounts with the new logo with plans to publish a story like this one soon afterwards. But instead we all ended up working from home for the next couple of months, and felt like you’d rather we write about things related to online learning for a while. Eventually it really seemed like high time to say something so here we are. We hope you like the new logo as much as we do.

New Populi Logo
That new new

P.S. If you’re using Populi’s old branding anywhere on your website please reach out to Populi Support so we can get you updated images. Thanks!

P.P.S. Want a new Populi “pop” sticker or two? As a reward for making it to the bottom of this post, just fill out this form and we’ll send them your way.

New in Populi: Zoom

Zoom Logo

Your Populi courses can now use Zoom, the video communication platform. Zoom lets you conduct live online meetings, webinars, chats, and more.

To use the new integration, your school will need a Zoom account—if you don't have one yet, have a look at their education page or sign up for a paid account here (your school will need, at minimum, the Pro Plan—but you'll likely want to look at one of the education plans). After entering your Zoom credentials in Populi, your faculty will be able to use Zoom via the Course > Conferences view.

With a lot of colleges suddenly needing to consider online learning options, we hope the new integration makes things at least a little easier for our customers to continue serving their students.

Have a look at the Populi Knowledge Base for instructions on how to set up and use the new Zoom integration (as well as our existing BigBlueButton integration).