1098-T improvements

We updated the 1098-T report with a bunch of new features last week. Here's what you need to know...

First things first

On January 1 of every year, Populi takes all the billing and financial aid information you've entered for your students and automatically generates a 1098-T form. The 1098-T report lets you review, release, and export these forms with tools that, conservatively, save you days of work. We keep an eye on the IRS regulations and make sure that the forms Populi generates comply with whatever new rules and minutiae those industrious pencil-pushers have scribbled into existence. And with the new features, you now have more tools at your disposal to get these forms off your to-do list.

Simply put, Populi does all the rote stuff so you don't have to.

They're compliant

Submitting a 1098-T to the IRS with a bad Social Security Number is what is known in higher ed accounting as a "big fat no-no". We've done a few things to help prevent that:

  • Populi flags students with no SSN or an obvious "placeholder" number (e.g. 123-45-6789). It then prevents forms from being released to students who are so flagged. Meanwhile, you know exactly who's SSN's you need to update.
  • There's a new checkbox that lets you indicate that you've complied with regulation section 1.6050S-1; said regulation requires you to hunt down the Taxpayer Identification Number (usually just the SSN) for your 1098-T students. This corresponds to the newly-scribbled-into-existence checkbox on the IRS forms.
  • Before exporting, you have to release the forms! Exporting unreleased forms frequently leads to a lot of sorrow and heartache, and in the interest of sparing you, we've closed that door.
They're adjustable!

Sometimes, you just gotta adjust a 1098-T. This frequently happens with schools that get started with Populi mid-year or maintain financial records in something like Quickbooks. Now you can adjust the Populi-generated values for any unreleased 1098-T right on the report, a feat that used to require a support request. Changes are recorded to preserve the audit trail, and you can even indicate a voided or corrected form using the adjuster doohickey.

They're un-releasable!

After releasing a form, sometimes you wish you could just... unrelease a form—perhaps you catch an error, or you realize the student doesn't merit a 1098-T this year. Whatever the case, in former times you'd have to get Populi Support on the horn to do such a thing. Now there's a new Hide/Unrelease function in the Actions menu that puts the task on your own timetable.

Thus, the new features (we also put out a bunch of under-the-hood improvements, too). For all the details and how-to's, head over to the Populi Knowledge Base, or fire off a question to the support crew.

Improvements in Populi courses: lessons, discussions, and more

We released a number of improvements to courses, including new design features for lessons, activity tracking in discussions, new assignment types, and better reporting. Here's a look:

Lessons

Lessons are now easier to design and give your faculty a lot more options for how to structure their content and control your students' flow through the course material:

  • Lessons now consist of sections of material—headings, content, assignments, discussions, and files—that can easily be added and re-ordered. The new Lesson design tool works much the same way applications and course evaluations do, letting the instructor assemble various course elements as a sequence. You might add a heading and some content, then require the students to participate in a discussion—after which they're quizzed on the material the class just covered. You can even create multi-page lessons to better divide and structure the material.
  • You can now set up "gated" lessons using the new availability options. When setting availability, you can keep the lesson closed off from a student until he completes all of the required materials from the previous lesson. There are also options to make the lesson available on the course start date or at a date and time that you specify.
  • The new Student Progress view lets you see how far each individual student has progressed through each lesson.
Discussions

It's now a lot easier to keep track of discussion activity.

  • Each comment and reply has a read/unread indicator. A blue dot next to a post indicates unread; as you scroll past they flip to an empty circle indicating read. If you need to come back to a post, you can toggle it back to unread by clicking the circle.
  • Discussions now include a filter to let you see posts by Oldest/Newest, Unread posts, those with Recent activity, or those with the most activity (a comment with a lot of replies, for example).
Assignments

There are three new assignment types: essaypeer review essay, and peer review file.

  • Essays give your students a WYSIWYG text editor that they can use to produce fully-formatted documents. The essays are auto-saved once every minute, and the student can return to the page at any time up until the due date (or when she submits it).
  • Peer review files and essays let other students weigh in on the student's work with comments, reviews, and even grades. There are lots of options with these assignment types—peer grades, anonymous comments, among many others—giving faculty the flexibility to set up the peer review process however they like.
Reporting and some miscellany

In addition to the aforementioned Student Progress report in Lessons, we also added more detail to the time-tracking report in Course > Reporting. It breaks out the time students spend on lessons, discussions, other course pages, and playing media files. We also gave it a better filter so you can more easily sift the information.

Students can now see at a glance whether they've submitted an assignment by looking at the main Assignments view.

The course calendar has two new settings that let you control:

  • How tests show on the calendar—the entire availability range, first day available, or last day available
  • How many days before an assignment is due should a dashboard alert be shown to students
Moving forward

Save for a few page layout differences, your existing lessons are unaffected by the updates. To begin taking advantage of the new features, have a look at the documentation. Meanwhile, all of your existing discussions have the new read/unread indicators and the activity filter; the new assignment types are ready for you to start using whenever you wish.

We're really pleased to release these improvements—they'll make it a lot easier to conduct courses with Populi. As always, if you have any questions about the new features, get ahold of Populi Support.

New security features for your Populi account

We released a number of new security features last night that give your school's Populi users new ways to keep their accounts protected. Here's a look at what's new:

Login approvals

Login approvals send you a text message with a one-time use passcode whenever you log in to Populi on a new browser or device. In addition to your username and password, you enter the passcode to log in. Populi then recognizes your account as approved for use on that browser or device, and there's no further need for the additional passcode for future logins.

This protects your account by requiring you to have your mobile phone with you when you log in. Typically, the person with your phone is gonna be you—and when you enter the passcode, you're assuring Populi that the person logging in is you, and not someone else. So, even if your login is compromised—someone gets ahold of your password, say—it's useless without the passcode sent to your phone.

Account security

Account administrators can now manage all kinds of high-level security settings for your school's Populi account in the new Account > Security view. We've moved some old, familiar settings there (ID photos, who can view SSN's, et. al.), and have added a few new ones. Most important is Login Approvals, where the Account Admin can allow or require various user roles to use login approvals for their Populi user logins. For example, you might allow all users to use them, but you require it of Academic Admin, Financial Admin, and Financial Aid users.

Since login approvals require that the user have a verified text notification number, if any affected users do not have a number, they'll immediately receive an email that lets them set one up. You can also look at individual role pages to see who has a verified number and who doesn't.

User access updates

We moved the user access controls out of the Profile > Info view and stuck it next to the new menu button. Besides making it easier to see at a glance whether someone is a user, it also gives you a few new options related to login approvals. The user dialog now lets you require or disable login approvals for individual users. You can also send the user a link to reset his text number (which works just like the reset-password email).

Devices

Every user now has a new Security view in their personal account settings. Security includes reset-password fields, a chunk for setting up a text notification number, and a new Devices section that lets you view and manage your approved devices—browsers and devices on which you've logged in.

You can even set a device to trusted. On trusted devices, once you've logged in, you can stay logged in. To trust a device, you verify that it's password-protected, accessible only to you, etc. Afterwords, you're logged in on that device until you log out or an account admin changes a login approval setting.

Set it up!

The new security features will go a long way towards helping secure your school's data. We strongly encourage your school's account administrators to enable login approvals. Account administrators can read more about the new security features and Populi users can learn about their new personal security settings in the Populi Knowledge Base.

Upgrades to official transcript requests

After releasing transcript requests a few weeks ago, we heard a lot of good ideas from our customers about how we could round out the feature. So last night we released a bunch of handy upgrades to official transcript requests:

  • Students who aren't in Populi (say, a 1960's-era alum whose transcript has to be mimeographed) can now request and pay for an official transcript. You can fulfill the request outside Populi, but then keep a record of the request and its completion—even if the student himself isn't in Populi at all.
  • Custom delivery methods let you handle "rush" requests. Just create a delivery method and tie it to a fee rule—and now you can properly charge for that transcript the student needs to be overnighted to Stockholm University.
  • Web transcripts are now disabled when the student has a grade/transcript or financial lock. There's also an access counter in the export history so you can see how many times they've been downloaded.
  • The request detail page now shows you any locks and outstanding financial balances that might make you want to not complete the request. It also has a new cancel/refund function for credit card charges.
  • You can embed the request form within another web page and use custom CSS to make it match.
  • A new academic setting lets you customize the email that's sent when a transcript request is fulfilled.

Get all the details in the Populi Knowledge Base!

Official transcript requests and an interface change

After announcing transcript requests about a month ago, we quickly realized that we needed the feature to do a better job handling requests from former students and others who don't have a Populi login. So, when the feature is released tonight (October 11), it will include a public-facing form that lets people submit official transcript requests.

Here's how it works:

  1. In Transcript Requests > Settings, you enable the public transcript request form.
  2. You can then link to it from your website or pass the URL along to your former students who need an official transcript.
  3. The requester goes to the form and enters her last name, SSN or SIN , and date of birth. Populi uses this information to match the requester to one of your student records (we can't have Jane Smith ordering a transcript for the other Jane Smith, now can we?).
  4. Once matched with a student record, the requester enters the request details (recipient, etc.) and pays for it by credit card (depending, of course, on your payment settings).
  5. The request enters the queue in Academics > Transcript Requests, where you can review it and fulfill it.

To learn all there is to know about Transcript Requests, have a look at the Populi Knowledge Base!

Arrivederci, action gear

With this release we're also loading the Profile's gear onto the funeral pyre and putting a lit torch to it. In its stead: a new menu icon, together with context-specific actions links.

What this means:

  • The action gear  is gone! Here's the new menu icon, located just above where the gear used to live: 
  • The menu icon contains everything the gear used to give you on Profile > Info: Export ID Card, Reset Password, etc.
  • The context-specific actions formerly contained in the gear have moved into the individual views in the Profile. So, you'll see Record Payment and Print Statement (etc.) in Profile > Financial > Dashboard. You'll see Export Schedule, etc. in Profile > Student. And so on.

We fully appreciate that everyone clicks the gear a zillion times a day, and us changing a much-used feature will initially be very annoying. We understand! That said, the new design makes the previously-hidden actions easier to find, and the menu icon now consistently shows you the same group of actions wherever you are on the profile. It's more consistent and makes more sense than the old layout, and it clears the way for us to make additional improvements on the Profile.

A few other behind-the-scenes improvements will go out with this release, which we'll describe in our Release Notes this Friday (have you subscribed to those yet?). Of course, if you have any comments or questions about the updates, we're eager to hear from you.