Pathways to enable Open Source Ecosystems

Early this year my friend, colleague, and Runestone board member Paul Resnick forwarded me a copy of a new NSF program called POSE, the solicitation said: “The purpose of the program is to harness the power of open-source development for the creation of new technology solutions to problems of national and societal importance.” The solicitation continues: “The POSE program aims to support managing organizations that will facilitate the creation and growth of sustainable high-impact OSEs around already-developed open-source research products.” Cool!

This is not a solution to all of our funding needs as the solicitation further explains: “Importantly, the POSE program is not intended to fund the development of open-source research products, including tools and artifacts. The POSE program is also not intended to fund existing well-resourced open-source communities and ecosystems. Instead, the program aims to fund new managing organizations that catalyze community-driven development and growth of the subject OSEs.”

Well, I thought to myself if that isn’t a program specifically designed to help Runestone and PreTeXt in their joint mission I don’t know what is. On September 9th we learned that indeed we had been funded as a Phase I project! The work begins immediately!

We say PROSE

Our proposal which we called the PreTeXt – Runestone Open Source Ecosystem (PROSE) says the following:

We propose an Open-Source Ecosystem (OSE) which will support such a community. This is timely because software for creating OER is just reaching a mature state, in particular, PreTeXt for authoring, and Runestone for publishing. The governing organization for this OSE, which we will call the PreTeXt-Runestone OSE (PROSE), will be built upon the following principles.

  1. Students and instructors should have no-cost access to high-quality OER that supports STEM learning without the equity issues inherent in for-profit educational publishing.

  2. Authors should have a no-cost mechanism for creating high-quality and accessible OER that is not locked into one specific format or vendor.

  3. Authors should have a no-cost mechanism for disseminating their OER as part of fully- featured courseware that provides rich usage and learning analytics for students and instructors.

  4. Researchers, authors, and instructors should have access to high-quality student data to inform research and development efforts related to OER, and improve student learning.

  5. OER must be accessible to everyone, regardless of background, demographic, or disability.

I like to think of these things in terms of a virtuous circle of improvement. Educational Research makes good Open Educational Resources better, which in turn helps teachers teach more effectively, which improves student learning, which drives even more interesting educational research…


This way of thinking is part of the DNA of both the PreTeXt and Runestone projects since their earliest days. Every time we add a new feature and study how it effects students and teachers we learn something new! New knowledge inspires new ideas for new features. My TODO list has never run low in over a decade of working on the project, and in fact it is longer today than ever. Recently I’ve had to admit to myself that the list is too long. There is too much to do and Runestone Academy has grown so much that it is more than one person can manage. More than that, is the feeling that we are on the cusp of something disruptive, transformative, and sustainable. That is why this grant is so important and timely.

How you can help?

Over the next months we will be hosting a series of online discussions around areas where we need help. Everything from cybersecurity and dev-ops to community building and training. We invite you to participate in these discussions to share your ideas. We also invite you to consider if there is an area of interest where you can actively participate and contribute some time to the project. Both Runestone and PreTeXt have operated on a BDFL model. That is Rob and I act as Benevolent Dictators for Life. In order to grow and ensure that these projects are sustainable we must move beyond the BDFL modus operandi to become community driven. Check out the calendar of events and sign up on our new PROSE Website

We have many questions to answer in the coming months:

  1. What will the PreTeXt / Runestone ecosystem look like in 5 years? 10 years?

  2. How do we transition from our current organization(s) to a community driven model?

  3. Is our goal to be the preeminent publisher of online textbooks for STEM or are we more focused on being a catalyst for change by serving the research community or both?

  4. How do we fund an organization like ours to provide stability for the future? How do we retain the ability to support teachers and students yet pay for support staff and servers?

  5. What organizations can we partner with to facilitate future growth and provide mutual benefits?

  6. How can we recruit new authors? Particularly authors in STEM fields outside of mathematics and computer science?

At the end of all this process we will have the opportunity to submit a Phase II grant to help us achieve the goals we will have set. The POSE program is a wonderful opportunity for a project like ours, but it will only achieve its full potential if we can convince people like you to join us in making it a success.

NSF PROSE is supported by NSF Award #2230153.