What Happened in 2014

Here is how Scholaric Changed in 2014

Letter Grades on Report Cards

Letter grades appear on report cards.  By default, they are 10 point scale grades.  You can modify the the grading scales to your liking, and even have different scales for different courses, as you may need with advanced classes.

Printout Improvements

Printouts can be both reduced and enlarged.  This helps if you printout has an extra page with just a little bit on it, or if your student has vision impairment and needs larger printout.  I also added the ability to add page breaks in weekly printouts.

Bumping Earlier

In addition to traditional bumping, you can now bump earlier, for the cases when one is ahead of schedule.  It happens, really!

Generating Multiple Lessons Per Day

In addition to Lesson Groups, you can generate multiple lessons per day generation which you would want to use to enter scores for each individual lesson.

Links in Printouts

URLs in printouts became clickable links.  Certain links to YouTube videos became embedded videos.  TED talks, look out for us!

Switching Periods

You can temporarily switch periods within the report card or grade book.  Much better than changing period, running report card, and changing period back.

Color Scheme

You can change the background colors in Scholaric.  This helps those of you who have have better taste than I do - that its, all of you.

Payment Processing

I automated the sending of emails when payments failed.  Big time saver for me.  Great timing, because now I'm switching off of Amazon to Stripe.

That's a lot for one guy to do in his spare time.  I'd love to be working on this as my primary job.  Help spread the word.  More good things coming in 2015.

Happy Planning

Dashboard Speedup

You may have noticed your first visit to the dashboard each day taking a bit longer than expected.

The dashboard has goal calculations, which involve retrieving the year's lessons from the database, and calculating them.  This is a slow process, so the calculation results are cached.  However, this calculation expires each day at midnight.

So when you first visit Scholaric, the goals for all of your students had to be recalculated.  I've now added a cache primer that runs each night so that your first-visit experience should be a faster one.

Check it out, and let me know if you think it is faster.

Happy Planning

Where Scholaric Visitors Come From 2014 Edition

It's fun to look back at the end of a year and see where users live.  At the national level, the visitor heat map looks like this:

With the top 10 countries being:

  1. United States (96.06%)
  2. Canada (1.06%)
  3. Brazil (0.53%)
  4. Australia (0.48%)
  5. Japan (0.22%)
  6. Italy (0.18%)
  7. United Kingdom (0.17%)
  8. Thailand (0.17%)
  9. Russia (0.12%)
  10. Mexico (0.09%)

Within the United States, the distribution looks like this:

With the top 10 states being:

  1. Missouri (14.01%)
  2. North Carolina (12.43%)
  3. Texas (7.22%)
  4. California (5.20%)
  5. Georgia (4.73%)
  6. Florida (4.00%)
  7. Minnesotta (3.57%)
  8. Illinois (3.35%)
  9. Michigan (3.15%)
  10. Indiana (2.82%)

For the first time, Scholaric has users in all 50 states!  Thanks for helping spread the word to your neighbors.

Happy Planning

6 Reasons I'm Switching Payments from Amazon to Stripe

I've been working on switching the payments backend from Amazon Flexible Payments System (FPS) to Stripe.

I decided to make this switch in November, after receiving a message from Amazon saying FPS was being replaced with an offering called "Login and Pay with Amazon".  This new system integrates your Amazon login with applications like Scholaric, along with Payments, which it already does today.  I was motivated to try something better than Amazon for several reasons, and I like what I am seeing in Stripe.  Here is what I have found:

  • Better support for subscriptions: Amazon provides a token to allow you to charge, a fixed amount monthly.  It’s up to the application to figure out what accounts need to be charged each day and how much.  Things get tricky when payment plans change, or when Amazon changes what it feels constitutes a month.  Stripe charges that fixed amount monthly, and notifies the application when that happens.
  • Better support for retrying failed payments: Amazon notifies the application of a failure and then allows it to be recharged. Stripe retries automatically, and notifies the application when it has cancelled the subscription.
  • Better test environment: Amazon has a “sandbox” for testing, but I found it lacking, and it has no real way of testing calls Amazon makes back to me.  Stripe has a complete test environment, including the web dashboard, and callbacks, which can be replayed on demand to test them or have a do over if they were handled incorrectly.
  • Better customer service:  Amazon, which prides itself on the customer  experience, should be ashamed of the service it provides developers.  I've experienced poor response times on emails, very little oversight of forums, and disputes which don’t get settled.  I’ve even received errant emails telling me they are going to shut down my account because it is "unused", in spite of my charging many times that day!  Stripe gets back to you the day you ask a question, and has been very helpful.  They even look at my code.  In addition, their documentation is so clear and helpful, it answers most of my questions.  They even provide examples in the programming language of choice (Ruby in my case), so many things I need, I can just copy and paste into my code.
  • International Payments:  Unbelievably, Amazon does not support international payments for developers.  And, this is only found when a card is charged - no warning is given when it is entered.  Stripe supports these cards.
  • Everything Done Through Scholaric.com: The most frustrating biggest struggle with Amazon, was when users got informed of failed payments, they would often enter new card information on Amazon's site, but I would not be able to charge it.  This would cause confusion and delay.  With Stripe, everything is entered and modified on scholaric.com without visiting another site.  But don't worry, credit card information is still stored at Stripe, not with me. 

Some of you may ask, "Why not PayPal?"  In addition to being difficult to integrate with, they can (and do) lock out your account for up to 6 months, without warning, or reason.  This effectively puts you out of business.  This is not infrequent, and there is no appeal, no one to help you.  I've hear of this happening when, for example, your sales increase suddenly, and they assume you are a fraud.  Sorry to the PayPal fans out there.

The switch to Stripe will happen gradually, so you will receive a follow-up email when it is time to transfer your subscription.

Happy Planning

Switching Periods within a Report Card or Grade Book

The grade book and report card summarize lessons completed within the current period.  Select an alternate period from the period menu located just below the title of the report card...

...or of the grade book...

...and you will see a list of other periods.

This action will display the report using the selected period, without changing your current period, which can be confusing if you forget to change it back. 

Happy Planning

Embedding YouTube Videos in Printout Page

Scholaric supports embedding youtube videos in your printout page.  By embedding a YouTube video, I mean that the video itself...

...rather than a link...

...appears in the page when displayed on screen (not in a printout). This keeps the student on Scholaric's site, and not on YouTube, which can be a distraction, with all its related video suggestions. 

To embed a YouTube video, first visit a YouTube video page, such as this math video 

Next, click the share link below the video.

Copy the displayed a share link (not the embed link)...

...and paste this link inside a lesson.  The share link is a slightly shorter URL.

And there you have it.

Happy Planning

Adding Courses To Students

To add courses to students, click on the courses label in top-left corner of the planning grid:

or select add from the courses menu.

This brings up the Add Course dialog:

Note: for new students, the dialog pops up automatically.

To add a course, take these three steps:

  1. Enter a course name and a subject name.  Scholaric will try to match existing courses and subjects for you automatically.  If it does find a match, you can select these names from a drop-down menu.
  2. If you'd like to add the course to multiple students, check the checkbox next to their names.  The student whose grid is displayed is automatically checked and disabled - to force that student to get the course.
  3. Finally, hit the Add button in the lower right corner of the dialog.

Hitting add performs a number of actions for you, including:

  1. Create the course, if it does not exist; otherwise, find the existing course by name.  If the course does exist, the entered subject name is ignored. 
  2. Create the subject, if it does not exist; otherwise, find the existing subject by name.
  3. Add the course to each of the selected students.

The new course is then displayed and highlighted for you, and a message indicating the results is displayed in the dialog.

Note: the dialog remains open so that multiple actions can be taken quickly.

Price Increase Delayed For Some Users

As announced earlier this year, the Scholaric price change started to impact existing grandfathered users in May, after a one-year grace period.

Some of you have, when the time came, agreed to renew your subscription at the higher price, and I am grateful for it.  These users were prompted to subscribe to the higher charge and agreed to it using Amazon Payments.

This was supposed to do two things - (1) start to charge these users the higher amount on their next payment and (2) mark their account as being on a "new" plan.

Unfortunately, due to a bug in the handling of the new payment plan, some of these accounts still show the "old" plan (see the above link for a screen shot of what this looks like) and are still being charged the old amount.  Other than notifying these users, I am taking no action due to the bug.  So in effect this bug is extending the duration on the "old" plan even longer for some users.  Note this bug is now fixed, so future updates will work properly. 

I am writing this post, and emailing those whom I believe are impacted by this issue and writing this post explaining the issue because of two problems this is or can cause:

  • When you do renew your payment authorization the next time, you may think, "Is Scholaric raising prices again?".  It's not, just the same price increase.
  • If you authorized a higher amount, and then get charged the lower amount, you may think "Will I be charged for both amounts?"  You won't, Scholaric only allows one authorization per account.

I hope this explains my error, and your gain.  Sorry for the hassle.

Happy Planning