Annual Report 2020

Happy 2021! Quite a few people have asked through various channels the last few weeks about how Runestone is doing. So it made sense to answer that question in the form of an annual report. The mission of Runestone Interactive LLC is to “Democratize textbooks for the 21st century”. There are two important components to that mission:

  1. Democratizing Textbooks — what that means is that ALL students should have equal access — for free — to high quality books. Expanding outward a bit I think the ideals of democracy also encompass our committment to student privacy. If it was possible to run Runestone with zero student personally identifiable information, I would do it.

  2. What are textbooks for the 21st Century? This was really the genesis of Runestone, that textbooks, especially computer science textbooks ought to encourage active learning and therefore BE interactive. I’m really proud that not only are Runestone’s textbooks highly interactive, but many of our features have PhD quality research behind them. I can trace six different contributors to Runestone who have used Runestone or developed features for Runestone as part of their PhD Work.

    I think there is more to come here as we learn how to apply machine learning to the data we have been collecting over the years. Imagine if the textbook could intervene and give the student intelligent hints? Or what if the textbook could “see” the early warning signs of a student about to lose their way in the course? There is much to aspire to in creating textbooks for the 21st century!

In the rest of this report I want to give you an overview of a few of our accomplishments during 2020, particularly in the areas of growth and financial viability. I’ll try to restrain myself and not dive into all the Python and Javascript code I’ve written this year!

Overview

2020 was an exciting and good year for Runestone along many fronts.

  1. We experienced huge user growth, partly due to the pandemic, and partly to new books with great support and large reader bases.

  2. We hosted nine new (to Runestone) textbooks.

  3. We hosted five Math textbooks, our first outside of CS, thanks to a partnership with the PreTeXt project.

  4. We made strides toward making Runestone sustainable, experimenting with ad serving and ramping up our efforts in getting support from institutions and individuals.

  5. We hosted over 200 instructors in our first virtual workshop, held in June.

  6. Several colleges have used Runestone as an integral part of their capstone project experience for students. This is an amazing way for students who have learned from the Runestone textbooks to give back — by helping with development.

  7. We put in place legal Privacy Policy, Terms of Service, and a formal information security policy.

  8. The University of Michigan funded a major development effort to create an exam builder. This is still in Beta but you’ll hear more about this in 2021.

Key Metrics

Registered Users

The graph below shows the cumulative number of registered users on Runestone Academy starting in January of 2019. You can see the sharp uptick in the number from about mid august of 2020 to late september of 2020. The number of users is very much tied to the rhythms of the school year as we see big numbers at the typical starts of each term. However as we serve students around the world this is somewhat moderated by the fact that in the southern hemisphere the cycles of the school year are the opposite of the northern. Much of the growth in fall registrations is due to the CSAwesome curriculum and the many high schools that have adopted that for their AP CSA courses.

visualization-2.png

graph of user growth over the last two years

You can see the cyclic nature more clearly in the following graph that illustrates the number of new courses created each week. Particularly interesting in this graph is the spike of new courses created in March 2020, around the time of widespread stay at home orders in the USA.

Courses

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Graph of the number of new courses starting each week

Courses for each Book

The majority of the Runestone traffic comes from a few of our books. The CSAwesome book has been a huge hit, taking the number one spot from the How to Think Like a Computer Scientist (thinkcspy) book in 2020. The Foundations of Python Programming book continues to show good adoptions as an alternative to thinkcspy in the Python area. The Webfundamentals book, which has continue to evolve since I wrote it for my own course about five years ago continues to do well. Finally the How to Think Like a Data Scientist book, written with the support of Google, is seeing some traction outside of the original group of 20 schools that were guinea pigs for that book.

One of the challenges is that we have great materials on Runestone Academy but have always relied on word of mouth as our marketing and advertising strategy. I think many of our books are poised for big growth if we can figure out effective ways to spread the word. One of the reasons that CSAwesome is so popular is because of the training and professional development opportunities provided by the CSAwesome team that brings in hundreds or thousands of teachers each summer and introduces them to the materials.

visualization-7.png

Graph of all courses created in 2020 by the book used

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Graph of the number of students using each book in 2020

Page Views

The number of registered users and formal courses tell only about half of the story for Runestone. Roughly 50% of the traffic we experience is from search engine traffic. Daily we see an over 300,000 page views on runestone.academy, or over 2 million page views a week. According to Alexa Internet, that puts Runestone.academy in the top 10,000 websites in the United States. And the top 1% of all websites in ithe world! Hard to believe.

As you can see, the weekends are dramatically lower traffic as this graph over the last two weeks confirms what we have all long suspected about our students work habits. It is also why I update all the books and push bug fixes on saturday mornings.

visualization-10.png

Total pages views each day for the last two weeks (partial day for Jan 27).

Financials

In May of 2018 I took an early retirement package from Luther College to work full time on Runestone. This was a big leap of faith, but softened by the package offered by Luther. After making that leap I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to get a contract with Google’s Engineering Education group that allowed me to work on the Runestone platform and develop content for one of their initiatives. That contract (originally for five months) stretched until June of 2020. So revenue was not really a concern until June of 2020. Since then we have taken some steps to meet the goals of making Runestone sustainable, and of allowing me to continue to devote full time to working and supporting all of the students, teachers and authors using this platform.

Expenses

On the expense side we had a total of $18,000 in expenses. We can break things down into the following categories:

  • Hosting: $5,000

  • Health Insurance: $6,000

  • Financial service charges: $750

  • Legal Fees: $450

  • Other Business Expenses: $5800

Hosting charges have more than doubled for 2020 due to the increased traffic to the books as well as the increased use of languages that require service side support — Java and C++. The legal Fees were largely for reviewing our privacy policy and terms of service, but increasingly school districts are asking for us to sign legal contracts in order for their teachers to use Runestone. Many times those agreements run 20+ pages long and are hard to read for a non-lawyer. Most of them are in my view quite unfair, and expect Runestone to promise to reimburse the school district for any expenses they incur in the case of a data breach. All for a service they are receiving for free!

Revenue

Given that we really started to focus on Revenue in mid-summer I’m very pleased with our progress on this front. We had a total of $65,000 in revenue. Our major sources of revenue break down as follows:

  • Support from individuals through Paypal, Venmo, Patreon: $10,200

  • Support from Colleges and School Districts: $20,000

  • Grant and Consulting Income: $31,000

  • Advertising Income: $3,500

I’m really pleased with how this is working out. The difference between Revenue and Expenses leaves about $47,000. As I easily put in 40+ hours a week coding, maintainnig, and supporting instructors and students Runestone, that does not work out to a great hourly salary. It is less than half of what I would like it to be, but it is a great start! It is also a labor of love. The support from researchers at Elms college, and the University of Michigan has been wonderful. The $100-$300 level of support from many high schools and college departments obviously adds up and I hope that will continue to grow. It is pretty easy to project that our Advertising income will grow quite a lot in the next year as the number for 2020 only includes the fall quarter. As a reminder, Advertisments are ONLY shown to users who are not logged in, which means that the vast majority of ads are shown to people who arrive on Runestone through some kind of search.

If you are an instructor and can encourage your students to support Runestone or can persuade your department to provide some support that would be awesome! If you are a educational researcher and would like to include Runestone in a grant, lets talk!

Many people have suggested that I simply charge every student $10 or $20. However, as I mentioned in a blog post earlier this year one of the “True North” guiding principles for Runestone is to keep textbooks free for students. It makes it harder for us to stay viable but I believe with your help we can do it.

Challenges and Goals for 2021

The challenges for 2021 are many and varied

  1. I am currently in the midst of rewriting the core Runestone Server. We cannot overcome our scale issues by simply spending more on hosting fees. Runestone is built on a foundation that is over 10 years old. Moving to a modern web framework requires a lot of work, but will pay off.

  2. Growing overhead for Privacy and other legal agreements. I am 100% in favor of student privacy, and as I’ve repeated many many times, I will never sell student data, I will never give away any data that risks exposing any student’s identity. But there has to be a solution to dealing with schools that want me to sign onorous legal agreements for a free service.

  3. Growing the community. If there is one thing I have learned in the last two years it is the importance of building community around the Runestone books. The huge growth for the CSAwesome books is partly due to great content and partly due to the amazing community that Beryl Hoffman and Barbara Ericson have built around that book. If you have some time and energy to devote to creating a community of practice around any other book I would be happy to have your help.

  4. Continue to grow revenue. I can only dream of the day when our revenue brings in enough money to hire a second full time developer or a support person. If you have an interest in Search Engine Optimization, and would like to help us out in an ethical way I would love to hear from you. One additional project that I’m committed to is to remove the links to twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms. Although, in the beginning I thought this was a great way to increase the visibility of Runestone through social media, it seems that now it is mostly a benefit to their advertising platforms. Time fo those links to go.

  5. I’m happy to say that the National Science Foundation has awarded an IUSE grant to Barbara Ericson for Peer+, a system to support both in-person and remote Peer Instruction in Runestone ebooks. In Peer Instruction students vote for an answer to a hard multiple-choice question individually, then discuss it with a peer, and then vote again. The instructor then displays the results of both votes and discusses the answers and misconceptions. We will mine historical data from the current ebooks to identify good questions for Peer Instruction and also add questions from public question banks. We will test the effect of Peer+ on learning, student satisfaction, and student retention.

  6. I would like to develop a formal advisory board for Runestone along with a succession plan in the event that I am eaten by a bear on one of our camping trips, or run over by a car on one of my many bike outings! We already have an informal advisory group consisting of a group of Authors that meet on zoom every couple of weeks. Namely Bryan Jones of Mississippi State, Beryl Hoffman of Elms College, Barbara Ericson of University of Michigan, Jan Pearce of Berea College, and James Juett University of Michigan. Others pop in from time to time but I am very grateful for this group that provides regular feedback and wisdom! In addition if you are an operational person and would have an interest in helping Runestone by being the go to person for keeping the servers up and Running or have an interest in becoming a Docker/Kubernetes expert I would be only too happy to give up the responsibility for care and feeding of our servers.

As we begin 2021 I am feeling very hopeful. Although most days I feel like I’m a juggler juggling one too many balls, I think Runestone Interactive is poised to live up to our big goals! That cannot happen without your help. If you like to code, there are lots of easy starter tasks to take on to get you started. If you like to interact with other instructors, how about adopting a textbook and helping to build community for that book? If you like to write or make videos, how about helping us with our documentation? If you have some influence or some spare change laying around your department, how about supporting in future of Runestone?

We have a great mission — Democratizing textbooks for the 21st century! Help us achieve it.

Runestone Academy gets Math

Two important announcements this week!

  • Math books on Runestone academy!

  • Runestone Academy will host WebWork courses

Read on for the details…

It all began last December at the American Institute for Mathematics Workshop on OER assessments. Its a partnership that makes a lot of sense as our goals and values are so clearly aligned around making great textbooks available to students for free. Whereas the PreTeXt project has put a lot of focus on the write once and publish in many different mediums paradigm, Runestone has put more effort into developing an html only interactive textbook with an integrated LMS offered as a service. PreTeXt books can be published as HTML, EPUB, PDF and other formats including braille! Now PreTeXt books can also be published for Runestone.

I’m pleased to announce that we will be hosting several textbooks written using PreTeXt. beginning today you can use the following books:

Over the last 9 months I’ve been working with Rob Beezer and the team to integrate PreTeXt books into Runestone. We have things like activecode, short answer, and videos working seamlessly with Runestone. This means that Math teachers can use one of these books on Runestone and get all the benefits of grading, and following student progress. One of our key challenges was getting Runestone to work with WebWork problems. WebWork is widely used in the math world and has an enormous catalog of homework problems.

In order to make the integration work well, we decided that Runestone should host its own WebWork server. This allows us the flexibility to run a custom server that supports the needs of Runestone on our schedule. The load on the server is fairly light for Runestone’s purposes so Alex proposed that we use that spare capacity to serve the community. Alex Jordan is a WeBWorK developer partnering with Runestone Academy for this service, and will be managing the WebWork server and providing faculty with some level of support. Alex has been invaluable in getting the integration complete.

Runestone Academy is hosting free WeBWorK courses for Fall 2020. If you would like to use this service (or if you have questions), Check out our Webwork Page

  • Active Prelude to Calculus

  • Active Calculus

  • Active Calculus Multivariable

  • ORCCA (basic and intermediate algebra)

This is a great addition to Runestone. We can learn a lot from the WebWork community as they have done an excellent job of evolving their question authoring system over the years.

Why are we doing this? First, we recognize that in the era of remote teaching during a pandemic, some faculty are still searching for an affordable online homework platform. Second, if this semester’s WeBWorK trial is successful, we plan to offer this as an inexpensive but fee-based add-on service to Runestone Academy. We would charge between $50 and $100 per course (not per student). This is part of a multifaceted plan to make Runestone Academy sustainable. All revenue exceeding expenses would support some open source educational technology, such as Runestone and the WeBWorK Project.

In case you did not know, WeBWorK problems and problem sets are easily portable. Any PreTeXt book with WebWork can export and archive of problems for use ona WebWork server. If you try this service in the Fall and would like to move to some other server once Runestone academy starts charging for the service, you will be able to export everything with no hassle.

If you are new to Runestone, this YouTube Playlist will demonstrate every aspect of Runestone from the instructors side. To get a good idea of the student experience you can take a look at The Overview Book The PreTeXt project also has a number of samples available.

New Titles

This week I’m really proud to announce that I’ve been promoted to “Senior Executive Bartender.” Ha, If you got that reference congratulations you are old enough to have been a fan of Cheers! If you don’t know what Cheers is, then we will just move along.

But seriously folks I really am excited to announce two new books available for your courses this Fall. The first is How to Think like a Computer Scientist C++ interactive edition. This is an Allen Downey book in the same basic pattern as the thinkcspy book on Runestone but in C++. Barb Ericson and her students at the University of Michigan (The other U of M) have been working on doing the conversion to an interactive eBook this summer and it looks great, and really exercises all of the work we have done on improving C++ activecode, CodeLens, and unit tests for C++.

A few people have asked me about the Java version in this series, and all I can say is that I hope someone will take up the task! I think that with the work Barb and her students have done here, and the fact that the books are quite similar that it would be easy to adapt the C++ to Java. Any takers?

The second new book Mastering Relational Databases by Libby Shoop at Macalester College has a wonderful back story that fills my heart with joy. This is a great new book that I hope many undergraduate institutions will adopt. It is also the first major work to feature SQL in the browser with unit tests! But thats not the reason I am so happy to see this published? I’ll let Libby give you a preview:

A great deal of the material in part 2 was originally written by John Carlis for an audience that included a wide range of people, from undergraduate and graduate students to experienced computing professionals. His unpublished manuscript was entitled “Mastering Database Querying and Analysis”. Its primary focus was relational algebra precedence charts. In 2015, three years before his death, he had given me permission to edit a copy of his material to make it approachable for undergraduate students. This online book is the result of my attempt at that task, most of which I am completing after his death.

John was my Masters advisor at the University of Minnesota (the *real* U of M), and an amazing mentor to many many students. He was Libby’s PhD adisor, and we crossed over for a few years when we were both John’s students. John was the person who encouraged me to write my first book. He was an amazing teacher, mentor and huge proponent of active learning and practicing. I believe he would be very happy to see this book come to life on the Runestone Platform! I’ve written more about John’s influence on my life’s path on my personal blog

There are more new titles in the works, but I’ll save them for another day. Please help us spread the word and tell your friends and colleagues.

Runestone Funding

In 2018 I took advantage of an “early retirement” opportunity from Luther College to pursue working on Runestone full time. That opportunity afforded me a year to figure out a business model for Runestone so that I could continue to give Runestone my full attention. However, before the end of the 2017/2018 school year, I got an even cooler opportunity to work with a group Google working to bring computer science education to underserved institutions. Google would use Runestone as the platform for the Applied Computing series and I would work with them, developing both content and features for Runestone. This contract was originally written for five months, but ultimately extended to the maximum contract length of two years. Earlier this month the contract came to an end.

During this time period Runestone has experienced tremendous growth, pushed further this last spring as everyone had to move online. Since the fall of 2018 over 116,000 students have registered on Runestone.academy! That is a lot of students, and if you do the math, we have saved students around the world millions of dollars in textbook costs. Just last week we hosted an online workshop for Runestone instructors with over 240 people registered! If you missed it you can find the videos on our YouTube channel

While the last two years have been exciting, fun, and profitable, consulting for Google really isn’t a business model for Runestone. So, for the last many weeks I’ve been having conversations with some of the major stakeholders and contributors to Runestone including authors, and code hackers, and instructors like most of you. We have big hopes and dreams to grow the platform! Today I write to tell you the outcome of these discussions and how that will effect Runestone moving forward.

My goals for a funding model for Runestone include:

  1. Keep Runestone books FREE for all students. This has always been the North Star for me.

  2. Provide a first class educational experience for all students using Runestone.

  1. Make Runestone sustainable. In other words, cover the server costs, pay myself a small salary, ideally provide for summer internship opportunities for a few students.

  2. Provide a solid foundation to continue the growth and development of the Runestone platform. More authors, more books, better features. For example

    1. Developing more user friendly tools to encourage new authors.

    2. Creating additional opportunities to customize textbooks.

    1. Funding for workshops for new instructors, hackers, and authors

    2. Continuing to develop innovative new features for Runestone books

    3. Develop communities of practice around each textbook where all instructors and authors can contribute ideas, teaching tips, assignments, teaching materials.

We considered many different models, and wow is it difficult to find a model that works for everyone given the wide range of people that use Runestone. We serve everyone from independent learners to public high schools to large universities. But starting soon, here are the three mechanisms we are going to try.

  1. All pages viewed by non-registered users will contain an advertisement. Around 40-50% of the traffic on Runestone is realized as the result of a Google search. These users typically view one or two pages and then move on. But the volume of this alone is quite large. Let me be super clear When your students login and are viewing your course, they WILL NOT see an ad! This is to generate money from the large number of transient users of the Runestone pages. If your student sees an ad that should be a very clear indication that they are not logged in.

  2. Beginning this Fall, we will do a WikiMedia style fundraiser a few weeks into the term. By this I mean we will display banners to registered students that have not chosen to support Runestone. If your class is identified as a public high school course they will be automatically excluded from this as I realize it is not appropriate. Less than 1% of students choose to support Runestone at registration time. However they haven’t experienced a Runestone book yet. Given a few weeks and the value that we provide I believe we can increase that percentage significantly by asking students a few weeks after they have used the books. This ask will be limited in time so we will not nag them forever. Just a week or so.

  3. I will continue to work with researchers at academic institutions to participate in grants. Getting grant money to support the development of significant Runestone features is an awesome way to fund that development. I would welcome the opportunity to partner with any of you that are writing grants and using Runestone in your research or classes.

I think these are some of the least intrusive ways we can generate diverse revenue streams that will help us realize our goals. First and foremost I want to ensure that Runestone is robust and available for years to come. I welcome your feedback, thoughts and further ideas.

Thanks,

Brad

Runestone Workshop June 22-25 2020

Barb Ericson and I are pleased to announce that our scheduled SIGCSE Workshop will now take place virtually, and you are all invited to participate free of charge. The workshop will take place the week of June 22, Monday through Thursday and will use a blended format of asynchronous videos and assignments along synchronous discussion sessions. The live discussion sessions will happen at 3PM EDT. You are welcome to attend any or all of the sessions depending on your schedule and previous experience with Runestone.

To Sign up for the workshop please visit https://runestone.academy If don’t have an account please make one and register for the course UsingRunestone20. If you already have an account on Runestone then add yourself to UsingRunestone20. Note this will enroll you in the Foundations of Python Programming course which we will use as a starting point. We will also spend a lot of time with the instructors guide.

Module One - Runestone Student Experience

  • Introduction

    • goals for the workshop

    • history of Runestone

  • Be a student

    • enroll in course

    • check out your first assignment - reading assignment

    • checkout your second assignment - problem set

    • Using the Practice Tool

Module Two - Teacher Experience Creating a course

  • Creating a course (base course versus bespoke course)

  • Student Management

    • Enrolling and dropping students

    • Adding a TA

  • Monitoring Student Progress

  • Instructor only features of the textbooks

  • Setting up practice

Module Three - Creating your own Assignments Writing and Customizing

  • Creating assignments and questions

  • Making assignments

    • Reading Assignments

    • Problem Sets

  • Grading assignments

    • Using the autograder

    • Manually grading

  • Editor Role and flagging bad questions

Module Four - Stories from the Instructor Community

  • Discussion with guest instructors

  • Creating a community of practice

Runestone 5.0

Today I am extremely pleased to announce Runestone 5.0! This is a combined new release of both the server as well as the components. Not a lot of this release is highly visible but there is a lot going on behind the scenes.

Perhaps the biggest change for everyone is that pages should load faster. We have moved to using the webpack system to bundle all of our javascript files into a single runestone.js file. Pages used to grab more than 100 javascript and css files, but that has been reduced to just a few now. This makes Runestone MUCH more interoperable with things like Markdown or vanilla html. It was also a really good chance to clean up, refactor and modularize a lot of ugly javascript that had accumulated in the last 9 years!

For Authors

  1. jUnit is now support for writing auto grade-able Java questions

  2. catch.hpp is now supported for writing auto grade-able C++ questions

  3. The python tutor support is upgraded to the latest version and supports writing embedded visualizations for Python, C, C++ and Java

  4. Skulpt – our in-browser version of Python supports all Python 3 syntax and lot more of Python3! f-strings are even supported now! This will provide students with a much more consistent experience when moving

  5. .. datafile:: – if you need data for your program or auxiliary cpp or java files for your programs you should use the datafile directive to provide them. This will ensure that these files are available anywhere in the book, including assignments and the grading interface.

  6. There is a video now that walks you through the process of getting runestone installed and ready to go if you want to write your own content.

For Instructors

  1. The Runestone instructor interface has accumulated a lot of great changes in the last 9 months. I attribute many of these changes to wonderful discussions I have had with teachers on the CSAwesome mailing list.

  2. I have set up Google Groups for each book, with the goal of using these groups to develop communities of practice around each book. There is a lot we can all learn from each other and share with each other. These groups will also serve as the gatekeeper for access to instructor-only materials. In particular both FOPP and HTTLADS have very highly developed instructor manuals now.

Summer is a great time to get involved

We have a lot of projects in the pipeline for this summer! Including lots of great new content for you to use this Fall. Here are some links to help you get started.

We can use help writing unit tests for exercises, editing exercises, adding new features, whatever your interest there is sure to be a project for the common good that you can get involved with. You don’t need to be an expert, none of us were when we started, and we are happy to help get you up and running.

Runestone Partners with Edfinity to bring homework system to CS1

Today I’m pleased to announce Runestone’s partnership with Edfinity, our first commercial partnership! Edfinity provides affordable access to exceptional homework problems and assessments customized for any textbook. While Edfinity has focused on the Math and Physics markets thus far they have chosen to partner with Runestone as they move into the computer science world. Edfinity was created with the NSF support (Awards #1758301 and #1943530) - they are best characterized as a for-profit social venture with equal focus on educational research and educational technology. Since the launch of their Math/Physics homework in Fall 2019, over 125 institutions have adopted Edfinity for one or more introductory courses.

Shivram Venkatasubramaniam, CEO of Edfinity has this to say: “Runestone offers high-quality instructional content on a mature, open platform for introductory computer science that has gained adoption at hundreds of institutions across the US. They have a relentless focus on educators needs with a view to delivering superior learning outcomes, and a vision borne out of their deep experience as educators. We, therefore, view Runestone as a natural complement to the Edfinity homework/assessment platform - together Runestone and Edfinity are very well-positioned to serve the needs of educators and students at scale - not just for Computer Science, but other STEM subjects as well. Runestone’s value proposition as an open, interactive textbook platform applies equally to other STEM disciplines”

In eight years of providing textbooks to the computer science community the Runestone team has learned that even for a free textbook, that is only the beginning of what schools are looking for. Many instructors are looking for a commercial class homework system to compliment the Runestone textbooks. The partnership with Edfinity will fill that void. Instructors, especially those teaching CS for the first time, need pre-packaged assignments and assessments. Over the next few months we will be working with the Edfinity team and the community to develop homework and assessment packs that not only complement the How to Think like a Computer Scientist and Foundations of Python Programming text books, but can be easily paired with any commercial textbook for a fraction of the price. A math educator commented recently - ‘Edfinity is as close to free as you can get for a commercial quality homework system’ - I expect this to be true of the Edfinity/Runestone CS homework offering as well. Longer term we will work together to make the experience of using Runestone with Edfinity as seamless as possible.

As an immediate first step, Edfinity is funding several paid positions for undergrads, faculty and high school students (openings and postdoc - please contact me if you are interested) to help write and test exercises, unit tests, quizzes and exams to accompany the textbooks. I’m really excited for this opportunity to work with the team at Edfinity, it’s clear that they are laser focused on bringing a world class homework and assessment system at an affordable price to instructors that really need it. To see how Edfinity works you can check out some of their math offerings on their website at edfinity.com/catalog or drop a line to Sid and Shivram at hello@edfinity.com.

Runestone and Edfinity will be actively piloting our new offerings with several of you during the coming months, with full availability scheduled for Fall semester 2020. This is designed to be a community-centric effort and we invite your participation and assistance to any degree both in terms of conveying your needs to us, and in helping to build out an exceptional corpus of questions and unit tests. Please contact me with ideas and suggestions.

PreTeXt + Runestone: a New Partnership

I’ve just returned from an inspiring weeklong workshop on Interactive Assessments in Open Source Textbooks, hosted at the American Institute of Mathematics offices in San Jose. There were about 25 participants in the workshop, including, authors, instructors, developers, administrators, and people who wear combinations of those hats. Not only was the workshop inspiring, but the structure of the workshop encourages concrete progress, and I’m thrilled to say that we were able to demonstrate several aspects of a working integration between Runestone and PreTexT. Although our teams have been working in parallel for several years, it is clear that our goals are well aligned. The PreTeXt markup system provides over 50 different online resources to the math community including textbooks for Calculus, Linear Algebra, Discrete Math and much more. Both PreTeXt and Runestone have a lot to bring to a combined table and here are some of the ways that the entire community may benefit from an integrated system:

  • PreTeXt does not have a central hosting system like Runestone.Academy, nor does it collect the data for the kinds of instructor analytics that Runestone does.

  • While PreTeXt makes use of WebWork for interactive exercises WebWork does not have all of the different components that runestone has

  • PreTeXt has a different markup language than Runestone - based on XML - it is not complicated to write and less fussy than restructuredText in the use of whitespace in its Syntax

  • PreTeXt can produce documents in many different output formats including online as well as PDF, ePub, and in-progress work on Braille!

Running a PreTeXt book on a Runestone Server with integration to webwork

Serving a PreTeXt book with a Runestone Server integrating a WebWork question

During the week we were able to make PreTeXt output html that was compatible with several different Runestone components, including activecode, multiple choice, and short answer questions, the rest will follow over the coming months! This means that an author could write in PreTeXt and host a book on Runestone.academy. In fact were were able to demonstrate that we could already host existing PreTexT books, and with a little work we were able to capture student responses from WebWork problems and save them to the Runestone database.

In addition to the integration work, there was a lot of conversation and drawing of pictures and making of lists that revolved around topics that both Runestone and PreTeXt could benefit from. Some of it is great design work, some of it is a vision of how the future could look, But the answers to the questions will provide lots of work for the next few years.

  1. How can we write and present instructor editions of textbooks? What kinds of resources should be included in an instructor edition and how best to expose those materials.

  2. How can we build effective communities around the various textbooks we provide to encourage instructors to help and learn from each other?

  3. What kinds of analytics would be useful for book authors? How can the data collected for authors be visualized effectively to help authors write more effective textbooks?

  4. How can we write questions that can have many equivalent variations, to promote better student practice and learning.

  5. To what extent should instructors be able to customize a textbook? How can we allow customizations without a dizzying and confusing proliferation of minor variations of the text?

  6. How can we collect data to enhance student learning, while still respecting student’s privacy and respecting an increasing number of privacy laws?

  7. What can we do to ensure that creators of open source educational resources get the proper credit towards tenure and promotion for work that has a wide impact? Sure a journal paper that is read by 6 other people is fine, but isn’t a book that educates thousands of students and moves pedagogy forward at least as valuable?

I’m not going to provide answers to those questions here as that work will be ongoing and we could use a lot of help. If you are interested in tackling any of these questions or just participating in the discussion, please let me know!

I also learned about the DOENET project happening across many universities with the project manager located at the University of Minnesota. This would be a longer term integration project that could address many of the privacy issues surrounding open source education materials. And since I’m only seven minutes away from DOENET central by bike, we decided to focus on other integration issues during this workshop, and get together after the conference to start this discussion.

In closing, I want to thank the organizers of this workshop – Jim Fowler, Mitch Keller, Matthew Leingang, and Oscar Levin for inviting me to participate. Thanks to the other participants who made the non-math guy feel extremely welcome! Thanks to Rob Beezer and David Farmer for inventing and writing PreTeXt and being so open to working on integration, even well into the evening after the workshop was done for the day.

I hope someone from the ACM will read this, and look into creating and funding workshops with a similar format. This was 100% a week well spent – Not something you can say after every conference! This workshop was a great beginning and I look forward to seeing what we can do together.

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Grading Updates

Lots of updates to the Grading interface this week, as well as some important bug fixes. They are now live. The main things to look for include:

1. I have plugged a couple of holes in session handling, where students could mistakenly end up in the open fopp book instead of in the correct course.

2. In addition, if the student is not logged in, the progress bar at the bottom of the page will be gray instead of green. Another visual indicator that they are not logged in.

3. The grading interface has been redesigned into a new layout, and streamlined significantly. Important note – these changes are to make manual grading workflow less tedious. The autograder workflow is unchanged.

  1. Now you only have one choice to make. Start with either a Chapter or an Assignment.

  2. Questions for chapters are sorted alphabetically

  3. Its easy to select all question or all students or both.

  4. Chapters, Assignments, Questions, and students are all searchable. So if you have a class of 125 and need to regrade that one student it is easier to find them.

  5. If an assignment has not had its grades released there is a bright red message to that effect that will remind you to press the button.

  6. If you select multiple students you can navigate from score to score with the tab key and when you update the score it autosaves when you move to the next input field. You’ll know it has saved because it will turn light green.

  7. If you like grading things one at a time, the old save and save/next buttons are still there.

Here is quick video tour of the new features:

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Please don’t hesitate to leave a comment on other things I could tweak to make the workflow more clear or efficient.