Collaborative NSF Grants Awarded to Runestone Academy, Michigan, Duke, Virginia Tech, and Berea and American Institute of Mathematics

NSF Logo Runestone Academy LTD got good news this week. We received our first collaborative NSF Grant! The grant (#2336758) Testing the Effects of Peer Discussion is a collaborative research project with the University of Michigan, Duke University, Virginia Tech, and Berea College! The grant will allow us to study the effects of different modes of discussion during peer instruction sessions on student learning in computer science. As I was writing this post I got a second email from the NSF indicating that a second proposal had also been awarded!! (#2334768) Collaborative Research: PreTeXt-Runestone: Open Textbooks Engaging Undergraduates in STEM which is a Collaboration with Mathematics educators at the University of Michigan and the American Institute of Mathematics.

We are excited to be working with two amazing teams of researchers and educators. We are also excited to be able to provide a platform for this research.

Peer Instruction

The first grant will allow us to improve the Peer+ platform on Runestone Academy. The grant will fund the following activities:

  • Improve the A/B testing mechanism on Runestone to better compare synchronous text-chat versus verbal discussion in the context of Peer Instruction (PI).

  • Add hundreds of existing questions for CS2 (in Java and C++) and discrete math to Peer+ on Runestone Academy.

  • Test the use of Large Language Models (LLMs) to improve the interactivity of the asynchronous text-chat.

  • Test Peer+ in CS1, CS2, and discrete math courses at the four institutions mentioned earlier.

  • Improve the instructor interface to reduce the time to find existing PI questions.

  • Improve the instructor interface for authoring new PI questions.

  • Conduct an instructor workshop to improve knowledge of PI and best practices.

  • Add additional instructor support to help writing PI questions for ebooks.

PreTeXt and Runestone for STEM

The second grant will advance our knowledge of the process of developing content for three novel interactive questions for four PROTEUS textbooks (PreTeXt- authored textbooks hosted in HTML format on the learning analytics platform Runestone Academy) and their use in classrooms. The project seeks to answer the following questions: How do groups of textbook users (students, teachers, authors, and researchers) work together to write interactive questions designed to elicit multiple ways of students’ thinking in classrooms? and How do students and instructors use those interactive textbook questions in their classrooms? The interactive questions are (i) Short Answer free response, (ii) Matching Exercises, and (iii) Parsons Problems. These will be embedded in textbooks for calculus and linear algebra (Active Calculus, Boelkins, 2022; APEX Calculus HTML Edition; Hartman et al, 2022; First Course in Linear Algebra, Beezer, 2022; and Understanding Linear Algebra; Austin, 2022), chosen because they vary in their support for active teaching, use of visualizations, and emphasis on proof. This grant also provides support for Runestone Academy to make a new hire in the area of development operations and technical support! Yahoo!!


The process of getting these grants was no small feat! Writing the grants was the easy part. Then, back in December, we learned that both had been recommended for funding. But that was just the beginning. In order for Runestone Academy to be awarded the money, we had to go through a rigorous review process to demonstrate that we were capable of managing the grant. This forced us to “grow up” a bit and add in more processes and procedures to our small operation. It’s all about checks and balances in the accounting world! To be clear, Runestone has been a part of several NSF grants in the past but as a contractor, not as a collaborating Principal Investigator.

Once we passed the “New Performer” process then we just had to wait. As you may know the NSF budget was held up in congress for a while, and funding is tight. We were not sure if we would get the grant or not. But this week we got the good news! We are excited to be able to start the project and to be able to work with such an amazing team of researchers and educators. We are looking forward to the results of the study and to sharing them with the community. This is a real boost for Runestone Academy and all of our students, teachers, and collaborators! Hopefully this will help demonstrate our legitimacy and help us to secure more funding in the future.