Runestone Academy http://www.runestoneinteractive.com/ Democratizing textbooks for the 21st century en-us Sat, 02 Jul 2022 00:00:00 -0500 http://www.runestoneinteractive.com/2022/07/02/pretext_runestone_workshop.html http://www.runestoneinteractive.com/2022/07/02/pretext_runestone_workshop.html <![CDATA[PreTeXt Runestone Workshop]]> PreTeXt Runestone Workshop

Happy July 4th Weekend! I am glad to be home after almost two weeks in Ann Arbor Michigan. But it was a great two weeks. Here are a few of the highlights.

../../../_images/ptxwc.png

The week of June 20 – 24 was the first joint workshop with the PreTeXt team. We had 28 attendees including authors, developers, educational researchers, and instructors representing the Runestone and PreTeXt projects. One of the main goals for the week was to give everyone a chance to get to know each other and learn more about the two projects.

The PreTeXt Runestone Partnership

After spending an entire global pandemic working on integration Rob Beezer and Brad Miller presented the integration of Runestone and PreTeXt. PreTeXt now has the ability to natively author most of the Runestone Interactive exercises including multiple choice, Parsons problems, Matching, clickable area, short answer, fill in the blank, activecode, and CodeLens! Rob has built a very nice annotated sample book (alternative link without source annotations) that illustrates these questions in action. Runestone Academy can now host books written in PreTeXt and fully supports using questions written in PreTeXt in our analytics and assignments.

Going forward PreTeXt will be the primary authoring language for books hosted on Runestone Academy. We will continue to research and develop new interactive components but we will not have to worry about inventing markup. If you are a current Runestone author I think you will really like the consistency and expressiveness of PreTeXt. It may take a bit to get used to the more verbose XML style of writing, but is well worth learning for future development. There are many advantages to using PreTeXt as an authoring language.

  • PreTeXt books are highly accessible

  • PreTeXt books that are interactive on the web can also be rendered in various static forms including pdf, ePub, Kindle, Braille, and more. We make two types of PDF, one is meant specifically for print/print-on-demand. If you want a bound copy of a book, you can get it!

  • PreTeXt books are highly structured, which will allow for more customization in the future. We spent a lot of time during the workshop talking about various ways we can make the textbooks more customizable.

One big topic of discussion at this workshop is how to grow the PreTeXt Runestone ecosystem. With our combined forces we need to do more in the following areas:

  • Developing champions for each textbook to develop community around each textbook.

  • Developing instructor materials for each book

  • Improving videos

  • Doing more blogging

  • Creating a new home page for Runestone Academy that is more informative about what we are.

  • Being visible at conferences and workshops.

New Titles Coming to Runestone Academy

Starting this summer we are converting many of our current books to use the PreTeXt markup language. The first of these is also the first textbook to be converted to Runestone. How to Think like a Computer Scientist: Interactive edition. We are finalizing the conversion, but I encourage you to take a look at what we have done so far on our development server I am super excited to see this all come together and you will see many other textbooks undergoing the conversion soon. In addition we will have a lot of other new titles available for the Fall.

  • Ordinary Differential Equations

  • Discrete Math: an Open Introduction

  • Active Calculus

  • Apex Calculus

  • Elementary Algebra

  • Intermediate Algebra: Functions and Graphs

  • Trigonometry

I am also pleased to announce that the classic Java Java Java: Object Oriented Problem Solving textbook is now available. Although this textbook was originally authored in LaTeX we have the scripts to convert to PreTeXt. If you have a open source textbook in LaTeX or practically any other format we can convert it to PreTeXt just like this one. Of course the conversion is only part of the work. What we talked a lot about at the workshop is how interactive textbooks that support active learning are structured quite differently than a traditional book. Our research shows that students jump straight to the questions or activities and only come back to read the text when they don’t understand the material. This makes for much more engaged readers.

New Features

One of the features of the workshop was a sharing of a lot of research done by the PreTeXt team as part of the UTMOST project sponsored by NSF. We also got a demo of a new feature of Runestone Academy that allows you to do Peer Instruction in your classroom. This peer instruction feature was the focus of the second workshop the week of June 27.

For Runestone authors it is also exciting to know that Sage and the R language are both supported natively by PreTeXt.

Starting a new book

It is easy to get started writing a book with PreTeXt using the PreTeXt command line tool. This tool allows you to quickly start a book, build books, and see updates to your book as you write. In addition there is also a great extension for Visual Studio Code!

We are working on an editor designed specifically for PreTeXt that will make it super easy for anyone to edit a PreTeXt textbook, more on that another day.

The future

One of the biggest goals for both PreTeXt and Runestone is to ensure that these projects thrive for many years into the future. This means growing the combined team, finding funding and many other things. If you are interested in getting involved in any way we would love to have you join the team. You don’t need to be an expert coder, you don’t even need to know how to code at all. We need willing proof readers, editors, testers of new features, community builders, bloggers, and authors. You don’t need to be a mathematician or a computer scientist either, great open source textbooks are a benefit to students studying any topic!

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Sat, 02 Jul 2022 00:00:00 -0500
http://www.runestoneinteractive.com/2022/06/04/summer_2022.html http://www.runestoneinteractive.com/2022/06/04/summer_2022.html <![CDATA[Summer 2022]]> Summer 2022

Summer time is often when instructors of all kinds can help out with Runestone Development. Since June marks the beginning of summer I thought I would highlight what is on my list for development list for the next few months. If something sounds interesting to you then please get in touch!

PreTeXt

PreTeXt is now the official authoring language for Runestone. There are a host of reasons why this makes sense, and I’ve written about them before. It has taken some time but we have finally arrived in a place where it is a reality. I have converted our first Runestone book ever How to Think Like a Computer Scientist to PreTeXt and Rob Beezer has added markup to support our interactive elements. This is a huge step forward and we now begin a process of converting our current books. Like any conversion process it is not 100% so each book is going to take some manual work to perfect the conversion.

  • select questions

  • toggle questions + A/B testing
    • I think the correct way to do this moving forward is to make toggles tasks and have Runestone show the tasks as dropdown

  • Convert select books to PreTeXt for Fall 2022

  • Build APEX Calculus for Runestone

  • Build ORCCA for Runestone

  • Build Yoshiwara’s Algebra book for Runestone

  • Finish up the SAGE Cell integration

  • Jaas - Jing as a service - Jing is a validator for PreTeXt

  • Make a PR to store traces with a hash of the input.

Peer + Grant Work

This work is funded by an NSF Grant for Barb Ericson at the University of Michigan.

  • Grading - 2 interaction Qs plus chat (maybe) - update autograder

  • Add async peer instruction page

  • Get tags working with question bank searching - what we really want is prereqs and reqs - add to web UI and make use of some taxonomy - someone please give me a taxonomy!

Automatically Create Parsons problems

This work is also funded by an NSF Grant for Barb Ericson!

  • Get Overcode working in python3 - this may also be a good task for Celery

  • Generate parson’s problems from the selected

Github Integration for Custom books

This work is funded by a grant from Elliot Houser and UT Austin.

  • Add simple interface to connect a Repository

  • Add simple interface to publish draft/published

  • Integrate the web hooks to auto build when pushed - this may be a separate server

Runestone Internal Projects

  • Updates to student progress page - replacing d3 stuff with pandas

  • Allow instructors to download LARGE classes on their own - using a celery task with an email followup - maybe create a special role for trusted teachers / researchers to allow them access
    • celery could also be used to do build on demand of Runestone / PreTeXt books

  • Finish redoing the login process

  • prototype an author/researcher dashboard

  • Convert other books

  • Does PreTeXt support hidden pages? Somehow we will need a workaround for how barb has been adding problems to the database but not on a page that is linked to a TOC

  • Create a bibtex file with references and generate a web page of references from that.

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Sat, 04 Jun 2022 00:00:00 -0500
http://www.runestoneinteractive.com/2022/05/23/peer_webinar.html http://www.runestoneinteractive.com/2022/05/23/peer_webinar.html <![CDATA[Peer+ Webinar]]> Peer+ Webinar

Today, Barb Ericson and I hosted a webinar on Peer+. Peer+ is an NSF funded research project on using Peer Instruction in a Runestone eBook. Click the link to see a recording of the 1 hour zoom or feel free to just look at the slides

I won’t try to repeat the information here, but just emphasize that Peer Instruction is a well studied way to increase your students engagement and success in your class. Please check it out, and don’t hesitate to give us feedback on this exciting new feature.

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Mon, 23 May 2022 00:00:00 -0500
http://www.runestoneinteractive.com/2022/01/22/the_new_new_academy.html http://www.runestoneinteractive.com/2022/01/22/the_new_new_academy.html <![CDATA[The New New Academy]]> The New New Academy

This is a big announcement that changes some things very little and some things a lot!

We have incorporated Runestone Academy and applied for 501(c)(3) status. Creating the new corporation is done and official. Eventually, Runestone Interactive LLC will cease to exist as a corporate entity. As of January 1, 2022 the server that you have come to know as runestone.academy is operating under Runestone Academy LTD.

Why the change?

The reason for the change is really quite simple. We want to keep Runestone free for all students. Period, end of story.

However, the reality is a bit different. In an ideal world every school that used Runestone would send us $10 per student. This would allow us to hire support staff and incentivise new authors to add more books to runestone for very little cost to the school and no cost to the students. But that does not happen. I know that many school districts do not have big budgets, and my goal has never been to “get rich from Runestone.” Don’t even get me started about the legal fees we would have to pay to have the “contracts” from school districts reviewed!!!

But We have big goals! I would love to see Runestone helping two million students a day instead of fifty thousand. To do that we need more authors, more books, more servers, more support people, and more programmers! I am greatful to all of the schools and teachers that send us support! Although I feel bad about teachers that send me money from their own pocket! I am from and education family and I know how little teachers at public schools and small colleges make!

So, what to do?

The more I researched this problem the more convinced I became that Runestone had to become a non-proft. This opens the door for us at many corporate and family foundations that care deeply about STEM education. We have several grant applications outstanding, but like everything else, this is a process. New groups have to prove themsevles, and that takes time. In the meantime we will be rolling out new programs that make it possible for individuals or schools to help us financially. More about that soon.

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Sat, 22 Jan 2022 00:00:00 -0600
http://www.runestoneinteractive.com/2022/01/19/academy_update.html http://www.runestoneinteractive.com/2022/01/19/academy_update.html <![CDATA[Academy Update]]> Academy Update

Thanks to everyone for your patience over the last three weeks! As a recap here is what has transpired.

  1. I took Runestone Academy offline on Christmas day and started up my script to migrate the database to a new machine dedicated to running Postgresql. That script took just over 25 hours to complete. It modernizes the database and adds many new constraints to make sure that when we store something in the database it is good and consistent and valid.

  2. On January 27 I brought up two “worker bee” servers and our load balancer. This allows me to add as many “worker bees” as we may need to serve the traffic going to runestone. I changed our DNS entry to point “runestone.academy” at the new load balancer. Unfortunately I did not delete a previous DNS entry so now some people were getting the old address and some the new. Chaos ensued for a few days.

  3. By Monday January 3rd I was patting myself on the back and thinking “this is going better than I thought” LOL – Many problems – to numerous to count ensued as soon as classes actually started again.

  4. LTI - or what I call the “community supported feature” was just supposed to work. But did not. Thankfully I think that as of yesterday it is now working great!

Today was the first day since December 27 that I have not had a new bug report. I know there are still problems out there, but at this point they are outliers not the norm. That does not mean I don’t care, I do, but it does mean that I need a lot of detailed information to try to figure out what is wrong. Major widespread problems are easy to figure out because I hear from hundreds of people. I’m not hearing from 100’s anymore!! So details are important.

If your students are having trouble

  1. Logout - clear browsing history, and log in.

  2. Try incogito mode

  3. Open up the Javascript console on their browser and send me everything! No detail is too small. And Its not your fault! at this point I am trying my best to debug the odd cases. I am even willing to do a zoom with you and your students to debug the problem.

I cannot emphasize how useful it is to do #3! So much of what happens in Runestone is delegated to the browser. If we did not delegate this work to the browser we could never scale to as many students as we have!

Thanks for sticking with us through this transition. Major shifts like this are always painful, and I know we are not through yet. But this new architecture sets us up for a very bright future!

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Wed, 19 Jan 2022 00:00:00 -0600
http://www.runestoneinteractive.com/2021/12/21/academy_downtime.html http://www.runestoneinteractive.com/2021/12/21/academy_downtime.html <![CDATA[Academy Downtime]]> Academy Downtime

Runestone Academy is undergoing some major upgrades this holiday season! Unfortunately these changes will result in some downtime. Here is our schedule of events so you know what to expect in the coming weeks.

  1. December 25 - 26 Runestone will be offline as we move our database server to its own machine. In order to ensure that we don’t lose any data we need to take all of the books offline while we move the database. This is also a great time for us to do some maintainance on our data in preparation for our new servers.

  2. December 26-27 Bring Runestone.academy back online. In this initial period the old servers will come back up but use the database in its own location. There may be some unexpected crashes during this period as we have added a number of protections to the database to keep future data problems.

  3. December 27–January 1 Migrate away from the old server and onto the new servers. If all goes well this is mostly just some DNS changes, but it will still likely cause the appearance of some downtime as you may not reach the new server and / or the old server may look like its certificate is expired.

  4. January 3 and onward Back to business as usual. Although there are likely to be some hiccups as traffic picks up with students and teachers getting back to school.

A Few Details

For those that are interested, this change is pretty big. Here is what Runestone has looked like in the past:

../../../_images/oldserver.jpg

Runestone.academy runs the web2py application server as well as the database server (postgresql). This server has been in service since 2017. I haven’t had to reboot it for 695 days as of this writing! It is definitely showing its age, and can definitely not keep up with all of the traffic. Our stopgap measure to alleviate the pressure on this machine was to add csawesome.runestone.academy and route all traffic for the csawesome book to that server. It still used the database on academy. And it used most of the cpu power of the five jobe servers that compile over 100,000 Java programs each day. If it looks like this is a “Rube Goldberg” contraption its because it is.

../../../_images/NewServers.jpg

For years we have wanted to move to a new architecture. And this change is our first step in that direction. This new architecture is all based around Docker containers and gives us the ability to add more capacity in just minutes. It will also let us scale back during the less busy summer months, thus saving us money as well.

All traffic will now go to runestone.academy. It will be routed to one of N docker containers that run the old server which is now just for the instructor dashboard. Page requests for books will be handled by our brand new bookserver. This new server is built using a very modern web framework and will have a ton of benefits for developing new features going forward. Each container also houses a JOBE server for handling java and other compiled languages not supported in the browser.

Warning

Any big change like this is bound to come with some setbacks. I’m sure there are things around the edges and in the corners of our new server that will break over the first couple of months. Please be patient, and please please report problems on our github issues page Don’t assume that someone else will report a problem or that it is your own fault.

It will also take us some time to tweak the performance of this new setup. We have had almost five years to squeeze as much performance out of the old system as we could. It will take some time to get the most out of this new one as well. So again please be patient and let us know of any particular bottlenecks.

Please Support Runestone

As long as I have your attention, and we are at that end of the year time when we think about supporting the organizations that matter to us, please consider a small donation to keep runestone solvent. You can donate directly on PayPal Thanks!

Enjoy the holidays!

Brad

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Tue, 21 Dec 2021 00:00:00 -0600
http://www.runestoneinteractive.com/2021/12/13/annual_webwork_report.html http://www.runestoneinteractive.com/2021/12/13/annual_webwork_report.html <![CDATA[Annual WeBWorK report]]> Annual WeBWorK report

As we near the end of the year, it feels like a good time to report on Runestone’s foray into WeBWorK hosting. In Fall 2020, Runestone began this service. Three factors contributed to this:

  • Runestone had just set up its own WeBWorK server to support PreTeXt books that use WeBWorK.

  • The MAA hosting service was coming to a close, and many users would soon have no hosting service to turn to.

  • The COVID pandemic was on the upswing, and institutions everywhere were looking for new (to them) online tools to support remote learning.

So it seemed like a useful idea for Runestone to offer a WeBWorK hosting service. For that first Fall 2020 semester, hosting was free while we assessed the cloud computing and customer service demands. Since January 2021, hosting incurs a $100 fee per course.

Facts and Figures

Over the terms and semesters of 2021, the service has supported:

  • 62 institutions in 8 countries (55 higher ed and 7 secondary)

  • 117 individual sections

Our revenue from this service was $10,800. For transparency, here is where this money has gone. These numbers are preliminary, as the year is not yet over. But I expect they won’t differ by a significant amount. - $5400 to Alex for work hours - $1493 operational expenses - $1076 Runestone paying taxes - $1365 transferred to The WeBWorK Project - $1365 retained by Runestone

The last two items are particularly important. These amounts may be small, but they contribute to a future of sustainable support for WeBWorK and Runestone. Each project is an open source software development, and relies on “tens of thousands of dollars” in annual development. That is in quotes because for the most part, the work is done by unpaid volunteers. That’s not a sustainable practice, and we lose good contributors to burnout. Real funding will help the developers feel appreciated, and in some cases buy out a chunk of their day job duties (say, one course release) and provide real time for their efforts.

Moving Forward

My goal is to grow each of those last two numbers up to $4000 for next year’s report. I think this can be accomplished considering:

  1. Growth in the number of subscriptions. Already from Spring 2021 to Fall 2021 there was a lot of growth. So even if there is no more growth, 2022 will have more revenue than 2021. But it is reasonable to expect continued modest growth.

  2. Raise the average cost per course to around $120. The additional money would go towards WeBWorK and Runestone, not labor costs or operational costs. My hope is that with transparency like this report, a price increase like this is not ill-received by subscribers. The increase is to support the software itself.

  3. Offer and highlight other avenues for contributing. For example, a higher tier course subscription option.

There are other factors to consider for a new pricing scheme.

  • Should secondary schools pay the same as higher ed institutions? It is typically more difficult for a secondary school instructor to have an expense like this approved. In general, the budget is tighter and there is more red tape.

  • Some institutions have a dozen or more courses, and some have only one. Should there be some sort of departmental discount?

  • Some courses have a dozen students doing 5 exercises once per week. Some courses have several hundred students doing 30 exercises twice per week. Should a pricing scheme address that discrepancy? Certainly the high volume courses are the ones responsible when we need to upgrade our cloud computing resources.

The Runestone Team will study the options soon and publish a new pricing scheme that will come into effect Fall 2022. (There will be no change in the $100 fee per course through summer 2022.)

Other Significance

In the course of managing a WeBWorK server across multiple institutions, a few WeBWorK bugs were naturally exposed and have been addressed. Typically, something to do with a course’s time zone differing from the server’s time zone. Also, with so many users having one clear contact to report a perceived bug, this has been a good feedback collection device. And then simply to support multiple institutions using the same server, a number of new features were added. Overall I credit around two dozen improvements to WeBWorK 2.16 and (upcoming) 2.17 to this Runestone hosting project.

Thank you to all of our subscribers. You are supporting the continued improvement of two significant open-source apps for higher ed. May these projects continue to grow and serve you better.

Alex Jordan

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Mon, 13 Dec 2021 00:00:00 -0600
http://www.runestoneinteractive.com/2021/05/28/data_privacy_agreements.html http://www.runestoneinteractive.com/2021/05/28/data_privacy_agreements.html <![CDATA[On Data Privacy Agreements]]> On Data Privacy Agreements

An Open Letter

Rant Alert

Before I get into the heart of this I will apologize in advance if this sounds a little like a rant. I started this post on a day when I got three different reqeusts to sign contracts! I am trying to clarify my position, open a dialog, and provide you some alternatives for using Runestone without needing a long contract.

Dear School Districts,

I run Runestone Academy as a “labor of love.” For me it is a great way of paying back all those who have helped me be successful over the years. The mission of Runestone is to democratize textbooks for the 21st century. One implication of that mission is that everyone who wants to learn computer science should have access to free, high quality materials.

I’m not trying to turn Runestone into a major corporation or even make a profit. If I can run it as a small business that keeps me from becoming a greeter at Wal-Mart that is even better! I’m perfectly transparent about the finances, please take the time to read about that in our Annual Report It also does a nice job of clarifying our mission.

Districts, you are driving me crazy with your student data privacy agreements! Do you even understand what you are asking for? I understand that you must follow laws that have been thrust upon you by your well meaning state legislators, I understand that student data privacy is a good thing. I understand that you don’t want some corporation making money by selling your students PII for fun and profit. I agree! Read my Privacy Policy and our Terms of Service We are on the same side.

But here is the problem:

  1. As a free and open source project we don’t have lawyers, nor do we have the budget to pay for them as needed. I am definitely not a lawyer, and frankly Its very risky for me to spend my time pretending to be one to read your agreements.

  2. As a free and open source project I work on this because I love to write educational materials that help students learn and I love to code systems like Runestone that help you and your students teach and learn more effectively. This does not include spending my time filling out attachements A, B, C and H of yet another data privacy agreement.

  3. As a free and open source project we don’t have any money to promise to reimburse you for anything if something goes wrong.

  4. Approximately every district in every state has a different agreement!

As a professor of 15 years I am very aware of FERPA and all that it entails. But seriously here is what I am asked to agree to on a regular basis. This is taken directly from contract sent to me by a school district like yours.

The Contractor warrants that the service it will provide to District is fully compliant with the following regulations:

  • Children’s Online Privacy and Protection Act (COPPA)

  • Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)

  • Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)

  • Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (PCI-DSS)

  • Student Data Privacy Pledge

And any changes to the preceding that may occur from time to time.

The vendor hosting data center meets the following standards (proof must be provided if PII is stored at rest in the vendor’s data center):

  • ISO27001:2005

  • SOC2

  • SSAE 18

Sometimes I swear you and your lawyers just Google everything related to privacy and add it to a laundry list for us to figure out. Honestly what does HIPPA have to do with computer science? I asked a lawyer friend about HIPPA compliance and he laughed and said that only a handful of people in the country even know what that means.

As a non-lawyer computer scientist I have learned some heuristics that help me weed through these agreements in record time. All I need to do is search for the words “indemnify” and “reimburse” as in:

  • If requested by the District, Provider shall reimburse District for costs incurred to notify parents/families of a breach not originating from District’s use of the Service.

  • The Provider shall indemnify and hold harmless the District from and against any loss, claim, cost (including attorneys’ fees) or damage of any nature arising from or in connection with the breach by the Provider or any of its officers, directors, employees, agents or representatives of the obligations of the Provider’s or its Authorized Representatives under this provision or under a Confidentiality Agreement, as the case may be.

Really!? If Equifax, major banks, and pipeline companies cannot always prevent hacks! How are we supposed to be any better? We do our best, try to follow good practices and take all reasonable precautions, but you now want me to promise to pay you back for a service that you are using for FREE. If I find a clause like that I will ask you to remove it. I simply cannot enter into a contract that obligates Runestone to pay you back.

Trying to guilt me into signing something will not work. “If you don’t sign this then our students will not be able to use your materials.” Yes I want your students to use the materials, its why I do this, but I don’t make anything from your students, Its not like a for profit corporation where if I don’t sign you don’t pay me. In fact every district that uses Runestone just adds to the costs of running Runestone. More students means more servers means more money we have to pay to keep running the service. I am not going to put the project at risk just to make your lawyers happy.

Every minute I spend trying to deal with your red tape is a minute a don’t get to spend making Runestone better or writing new materials to help your students learn.

Solutions

First, everything on Runestone is open source and free for you to use however you see fit. This includes every book and the Runestone server that supports it! This allows for several solutions.

  1. You can run your own Runestone Server and serve any of the books you want on your very own server. This totally eliminates the need for you to use Runestone Academy and keeps you 100% in control of your students data. This was actually the model I envisioned for Runestone in the beginning, but I quickly learned that many people do not have the time or the skill to maintain their own server, and so to help those people Runestone Academy was born. No good deed goes unpunished as they say.

  2. You and your students can read and use any and all of the books on Runestone Academy without creating an account. Ok, yes this makes life a lot harder for teachers to gather their students homework and grade it, but it is 100% an option. I am not trying to force anyone to create an account so I can gather PII to sell!

  3. You could agree to send Runestone some money so that I can have your agreement properly reviewed by a lawyer at around $350 / hour. Lets call it $1200. In that case I would be happy to agree to refund that entire $1200 as reimbursement for a data breach. I’m happy to put that in writing and send you an invoice.

  4. You, as a teacher, can register all of your students anonymously with NO PII. See this post for instructions on how to do this. I would be happy if everyone who sent me contract would just do this instead. I have no interest in knowing anything about your students, the only reason I collect names and email addresses is to deal with password resets and to make life easier for instructors when they are grading assignments. This solution makes it a bit less convenient, but does so without any PII.

In the back of my head I have an addition to Runestone that would allow everyone to use option 4, but allow instructors to keep a mapping in their browser (NOT on Runestone) that would let them see who the anonymous students really are. That is just a gleam in my eye at this point, no code has been written, so please don’t ask when it will be ready.

We Are in this Together

I firmly believe that our goals are aligned! I want to provide great free resources to help students learn, and you as school districts with limited budgets want to use great free resources to help your students learn. I am not the enemy! I have signed the student data privacy pledge, I have published a privacy policy. I sincerely care about student privacy!

But, I believe these laws put projects like Runestone at a real disadvantage. We do not have the resources to hire lawyers to review and negotiate all of these contracts. We are not big enough to make you sign our own. So we need to work together and treat each other with respect and maybe engage in a little give an take. It is a win win! If you don’t use Runestone are you going to pay a big publisher $100 per student every semester?

If you have other suggestions for how we can make this work please feel free to reach out to me, I am open to hearing ideas and working on alternatives that do not create more legal hassle for any of us!

Thanks for reading!

Sincerely,

Brad Miller

Professor Emeritus, Luther College

Founder, Runestone Interactive

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Fri, 28 May 2021 00:00:00 -0500
http://www.runestoneinteractive.com/2021/04/28/roadmap_2021.html http://www.runestoneinteractive.com/2021/04/28/roadmap_2021.html <![CDATA[Runestone Roadmap 2021]]> Runestone Roadmap 2021

There is a lot going on in the Runestone world right now and I wanted to let you in on the current roadmap for Runestone development. I’m doing it now as summer is on the horizon and I know for many of you summer is the one time of the year that you may be able to help with development! More on that later. Here is what is on the Horizon for Runestone.

Roadmap Overview

BookServer

Although the web2py framework has served us well since 2011, I have wanted for a long time to rewrite the core book server in Runestone using modern web frameworks and technologies. This will allow us to scale Runestone more elegantly and save us money as well! The Instructor interface, which gets 10% of the traffic that the book server does will stay on web2py until I or someone else finds the time to port it as well. They will continue to work together just fine as they will share a common database. The BookServer project is using a fully async framework called FastAPI as well as SQLAlchemy for the database work. It will be tightly integrated with the Runestone Components so that you can easily spin up a server to serve a Runestone book on your own infrastructure, With access to all your data in a sqlite database. Production on Runestone Academy or another large installation will still use Postgresql. This is the highest priority for me at the moment as I don’t want to do any further student facing development on the old server.

Funded Projects

There are several high priority projects that are being funded by NSF money through colleagues like Barbara Ericson at the University of Michigan, or the SPLICE project. Others may be on the way…

Support for Peer Instruction

The peer instruction project is part of Barbara Ericson’s research at the University of Michigan and has a two year timeline.

1. Allow Runestone to ingest question banks from various projects so that we increase the number and quality of questions available for instructors to assign.

2. Integrate a discussion system into Runestone and the assignment system to allow students to first answer questions and then discuss them with each other synchronously or asynchronously before they answer the question again. This is the heart of the Peer instruction model.

3. Analytics for selecting questions suitable for peer instruction.

  1. An instructor interface to allow an instructor to see and share aggregate information about how students are answering a particular question.

  2. Support for automatically pairing students for peer instruction.

Publishing Anonymous Runestone Data

This is an ongoing project funded by the SPLICE project. If you are interested in analytics or machine learning and how we might improve the learning experience by applying machine learning to Runestone books I have made available several datasets using the DataShop system at Carnegie Mellon University. Contact me for access to the data.

Support for Large Online Courses

This is a project that is adding support for courses on Coursera using Runestone as the underlying textbook and backend. And includes a number of miscellaneous tasks.

  • Supporting the new toggle question. Given a particular coding problem allow a student to answer a series of hint problems (maybe even a parsons problem) to guide students that are struggling to a solution. Conversely many students would rather write code than drag parsons blocks around so in that case allow the student to simply write the code.

  • Improve the performance of the autograder and the student progress dashboard for large classes.

  • Modify the assignment page interface to allow for a group of students to work together on an assignment.

Smaller Projects

Change the Runestone Onboarding (Registration) Process

Separate registration from adding a course. The flow should look more like the following:

  1. Register for Runestone Academy.

  2. Are you an instructor?

    1. Provide a bit more information so that we can verify that you are.

    2. Here is an overview of the books we offer. Select one to create your course.

    3. Guide you through the course creation process and give you some resources to make the most of Runestone.

  3. Are you a student?

    1. If you are an independent learner here are some open courses you can join.

    2. If you are part of a course here is a nice interface to find the course by name and register for it.

Support for Custom Textbooks

This is a feature than lots of people ask for, but I’ve never found a scalable way to implement it… Until one day as I was registering Runestone on “Read the Docs” it occurred to me that the readthedocs.org model would work perfectly well for Runestone!

This development effort would add webhooks for git and Runestone to allow an instructor to Fork any of the Runestone textbooks (or create their own) and link it to Runestone.Academy for hosting. When changes are pushed to the forked textbook Runestone will automatically rebuild and publish the book as a draft. The instructor can then choose when to upgrade the draft to published using the instructor interface.

Even for instructors that do not want to get deeply into restructuredText or python programming this would allow a book to be customized using github’s web based editor. With rebuilds run automatically it would allow authoring a book with no setup.

A somewhat related part of this project is to update our library page to make it database driven. Right now we simply walk the directory of books and rely on the presence of a conf.py file that we import. This is error prone and does not allow us to distinguish books that should remain private versus books that are available to create classes from, etc. This part of the project would make the library page as well as the course creation page database driven.

Real time UPDATE I just found out this project will be funded through a grant from Elliott Hauser at University of Texas at Austin !! Elliott is the founder of Trinket and a long time collaborator on the Skulpt Project used to power Python in the browser.

Editorial Interface for Editing and Updating Questions

As Runestone has grown and as more instructors gain experience and confidence in using Runestone the size of our question bank has grown. However my ability to manage all of these questions is far less than what is needed. This project would build out an interface for volunteer editors to clean up and remove bad questions as well as make slight editorial updates to typos or unclear instructions.

Tag all Questions within a Taxonomy of Competencies

With the addition of the exam generator to Runestone we have a real need to create a way of tagging questions with the various competencies that they exercise or test for. This could be related to the editorial interface, but another great suggestion is to crowd source this and have students participate. This project would enhance the question interface to allow students to tag/categorize key concepts for each question. Ultimately editors may have to make the final decision, but it would be a rich dataset to see what students think.

Enhance the Web Interface to allow Instructors to Publish Projects or Labs

Although it is already possible to create coding exercises a number of books are more project oriented. It would be great to allow instructors to publish units of work that are larger than a single exercise but smaller than an entire book. More like a project size unit that may consist of text plus a number of exercises.

Convert Runestone output to XML (PreTeXt)

My work with the PreTeXt project has brought several math books to Runestone. PreTeXt is an authoring system that is primarily used for math books but also some others. It has the advantage of allowing you to write once and choose several output formats. Including PDFs, this is something that I get asked about all the time. My usual answer is why would you want a pdf of an interactive book? That just eliminates the interactivity! But the truth is there are lots of situations where people want or need a pdf version in addition to the interactive version. This is work that I’ll be at least starting on at a workshop in late June hosted by the PreText Project.

Improve the Navigation of Runestone Books

  • Make the main table of contents have collapsible headings

  • provide an omnipresent outline in a sidebar to allow for faster navigation to different parts of the book.

Upgrade LTI to Version 1.3

Currently Runestone supports LTI 1.1, the future is 1.3. Anyone who would like to take ownership of Runestone’s LTI integration is more than welcome to do so. Since I do not use an LMS as part of my daily work anymore I have little motivation to work on this. More work is also needed to verify and document how to use LTI with other LMS systems (besides Canvas and Moodle)

Template Questions

We have a prototype of a fill in the blank questions that would allow you to write a question where every student would get the question but it would be slightly different. For example you might want to write a question like What is X + Y? where each student would get a different X and Y chosen from a range of integers. The question would be smart enough to use a computed answer based on the X and Y given to each student. We would also like to expand this concept to multiple choice questions. Not only is this great for exams and keeping students from cheating but it also gives the students more practice as they could see a different version of the same problem each time they refresh the page.

Blockly on Runestone

Thanks to the authors of the amazing Mobile CSP curriculum and book (coming to Runestone for Fall 2021) and the hard work of Ralph Morelli we will have a great addition to the runestone library, and the ability to use blockly in your textbooks. I think this is awesome for beginners and I’ve always wanted to update The How to Think Like a Computer Scientist (HTTLACS) book to illustrate each new programming construct in Blockly first. I think this is a really cool way to give students a visual understanding of loops and conditionals before they see the syntax.

As is usually the case with all things Runestone we start small, and then iterate, so if you are into blockly and would like to help evolve this new component (which goes by quizly in the source) we would love to have your help.

Fixing Bugs and Even Smaller Projects

Many small coding projects are available on Runestone and are identified as issues. These issues are all typically tagged with the “Good First Issue” and or “Help Wanted” tags. I try to identify these projects this way because they are good starter projects that can get you into the Runestone system. See

Video Production Anyone?

The YouTube videos that accompany the HTTLACS book are very popular on YouTube, but I consistently get complaints about their resolution. Unfortunately the original recordings are 8 years old at least, and have been lost through many migrations of computers. They also feature version 0.1 of Runestone so that pages don’t match at all anymore. My new years resolution for 2021 was to work on one of these a week. So far we are at week 17 of 2021 and I have redone exactly 0 videos. If you would like to try your hand at re-recording any of these I would love it! You can just take the transcript of an existing video and work your way through it.

How You Can Help

Runestone is an Open Source project. Everything on Runestone is freely available as part of our Github Organization. Summer may be a good time for you to help hack on something, test something, or write something! I would be happy to have help on any and all projects. Funded or not it does not matter to me. I only point out the funded projects to show how awesome it is that some big partners have put their faith and money behind Runestone to keep it sustainable.

You do not have to be an expert coder to help out. We welcome people of all abilities to our community and would be grateful for your help.

Another way you can provide coding help to Runestone is to consider us as an option for a student capstone project. We have had great success in working with students at Berea college and other colleges that have adopted Runestone for their capstone course. Many of the projects identified above would be great as capstone projects for a group of students. The students really love, especially if they have benefitted from using a Runestone book as part of their education. This is a pathway for them to give back to a project that has helped them.

Another way you can help is to talk to encourage your department to budget some money to help support Runestone. I’ve heard from a number of instructors this spring asking about this, and I’m very grateful. We are happy to send an invoice for whatever amount you decide. Other departments have decided to charge a lab fee of $10.00 for the course, and have designated part or all of the per student lab fee to go to Runestone. We are happy to work with you on billing and payment!

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Wed, 28 Apr 2021 00:00:00 -0500
http://www.runestoneinteractive.com/2021/01/27/annual_report_2020.html http://www.runestoneinteractive.com/2021/01/27/annual_report_2020.html <![CDATA[Annual Report 2020]]> 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

visualization-3.png

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

visualization-9.png

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.

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Wed, 27 Jan 2021 00:00:00 -0600
http://www.runestoneinteractive.com/2020/08/23/webwork.html http://www.runestoneinteractive.com/2020/08/23/webwork.html <![CDATA[Runestone Academy gets Math]]> 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.

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Sun, 23 Aug 2020 00:00:00 -0500
http://www.runestoneinteractive.com/2020/07/26/new_titles.html http://www.runestoneinteractive.com/2020/07/26/new_titles.html <![CDATA[New Titles]]> 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.

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Sun, 26 Jul 2020 00:00:00 -0500
http://www.runestoneinteractive.com/2020/06/29/runestone_funding.html http://www.runestoneinteractive.com/2020/06/29/runestone_funding.html <![CDATA[Runestone Funding]]> 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

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Mon, 29 Jun 2020 00:00:00 -0500
http://www.runestoneinteractive.com/2020/05/26/runestone_workshop.html http://www.runestoneinteractive.com/2020/05/26/runestone_workshop.html <![CDATA[Runestone Workshop June 22-25 2020]]> 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

]]>
Tue, 26 May 2020 00:00:00 -0500
http://www.runestoneinteractive.com/2020/05/22/runestone_5_0.html http://www.runestoneinteractive.com/2020/05/22/runestone_5_0.html <![CDATA[Runestone 5.0]]> 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.

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Fri, 22 May 2020 00:00:00 -0500
http://www.runestoneinteractive.com/2020/01/26/edfinity_runestone.html http://www.runestoneinteractive.com/2020/01/26/edfinity_runestone.html <![CDATA[Runestone Partners with Edfinity to bring homework system to CS1]]> 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.

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Sun, 26 Jan 2020 00:00:00 -0600
http://www.runestoneinteractive.com/2019/12/15/pretext_runestone_partnership.html http://www.runestoneinteractive.com/2019/12/15/pretext_runestone_partnership.html <![CDATA[PreTeXt + Runestone: a New Partnership]]> 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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Sun, 15 Dec 2019 00:00:00 -0600
http://www.runestoneinteractive.com/2019/10/25/privaterunestone.html http://www.runestoneinteractive.com/2019/10/25/privaterunestone.html <![CDATA[Privacy and Runestone]]> ]]> Fri, 25 Oct 2019 00:00:00 -0500 http://www.runestoneinteractive.com/2019/10/12/grading_updates.html http://www.runestoneinteractive.com/2019/10/12/grading_updates.html <![CDATA[Grading Updates]]> 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:

../../../_images/GradingUpdates.png

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

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Sat, 12 Oct 2019 00:00:00 -0500
http://www.runestoneinteractive.com/2019/08/15/fall_homework.html http://www.runestoneinteractive.com/2019/08/15/fall_homework.html <![CDATA[Help Wanted - Make Autograding Awesome]]> ]]> Thu, 15 Aug 2019 00:00:00 -0500 http://www.runestoneinteractive.com/2019/07/27/ui_polish.html http://www.runestoneinteractive.com/2019/07/27/ui_polish.html <![CDATA[User Interface Polish]]> User Interface Polish

In my last update I detailed some improvements to Runestone that had been a long time in the making. Today, I want to share some improvements to the UI that have come directly from new contributors that are also actively using Runestone in the classroom. These are designed to help make your experience using Runestone more pleasant. I’m sure that there is much more we can be doing, but its really great when the changes and requests from from people who are using Runestone every day.

Grading

Self Grading Have your students ever complained that they don’t know what they have left to do to complete either a Reading Assignment or a Problem Set? Probably, have you resorted to running the autograder a few days early and releasing grades so that your students can see what they have left to do? Now students can “grade” their own assignments. At least that parts of it that can be automatically graded.

../../../_images/self_score.png

After the student presses the button they will see their scores and progress for every part of the assignment. If they are not getting full credit for a section of the reading, they can click on the link and finish the activities on that page. If they are not getting credit for a programming problem they can continue to work on it until all the unit tests pass. If a problem requires manual grading it will just show a message “Not Yet Graded”.

Multiple Selections: Have you ever wanted to streamline your manual grading by selecting a bunch of students at once and having all of their code visible rather than selecting them one at a time? You can now do that!

Assignments

Not all of us have a good naming convention in mind for our assignments at the beginning of a semester. So, one simple but popular request is to be able to rename assignments. You can do that now.

../../../_images/rename.png

What can be autograded? When making an assignment, I know this was a bit frustrating. Now the Tree View of the avaialable exercises tells you what kind of thing each question is, AND if there is a checkmark next to it then you know that it will be autograded. Better yet, the system now does a much better job of setting the correct default grading option for you when you add something to an assignment.

../../../_images/problem_type.png

Help Wanted

We know there are lots of coding exercises that could be autograded but are not. This is due to a lack of hours in the day. Almost anyone can help solve this problem. Writing tests is not that hard to do, and I’ll take the tests any way you are willing to give them to me. I’d love it if they were a Pull Request on github, but I’ll take them in the form of emails, or posts on the Google Group, or tweets, or Slack messages or whatever way you want to get them to me. Here is an example of how easy it is to add a unit test to the code in any exercise. Unit Tests for Code . This problem is so solvable if we can get a community effort behind it. If everyone teaching using runestone sent me one unit test a week, think of how much better your lives would be to have more programming exercises that could be automatically graded. – Not to mention how much better your students learn when exercises are automatically graded.

How about offering a little extra credit to your advanced students for writing unit tests to exercises they have already done??

Student Progress

Speaking of student progress a little polish has been applied there too. The “donut charts” are now organized by subsection. And the dropdown menu has Chapter Numbers! This makes it a lot easier to guage what is going on in your class at a glance when you can see the donut charts grouped by sub chapter.

../../../_images/analytics.png

Squashing Bugs

We have also squashed a fair number of bugs this summer. Just two days ago I corrected a really annoying grading problem thats been around for 3 years! I’ve also found ways to eliminate (or ignore) the cruft in our database that sometimes throws off the count of exercises for reading assignments! Little by little we are making things better and more reliable. Please do report any problems that you run into. Again preferably on Github That makes it so much easier for us to track.

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Sat, 27 Jul 2019 00:00:00 -0500
http://www.runestoneinteractive.com/2019/07/01/midsummer.html http://www.runestoneinteractive.com/2019/07/01/midsummer.html <![CDATA[Mid-Summer Update]]> Mid-Summer Update

The July 4th holiday is just three days away, which for many of us in the academy marks the midpoint of the summer. To say that we have made some big strides in Runestone so far this summer is an understatement, and they are all coming to https://runestone.academy before the holiday. So, put on your seatbelts and get ready for the ride.

New Stuff for Instructors and Students

There are several big changes to Runestone that should make life better for instructors this summer.

  1. Dynamic Pages – wait, what? I thought Runestone pages were already far from static. You’re right, but you know that course building and rebuilding process you had to go through to create a course? Its gone! We now have a single copy of the most up-to-date version of each textbook that we can serve dynamically for you and your own bespoke course. You won’t really notice anything except that creating a course is now instantaneous, and the URL to your book is now going to be /runestone/books/published/yourbook instead of the old /runestone/static URL.

  2. In page progress indicators Reading assignments are awesome, but they do have some potential pitfalls. Such as students doing work in the wrong course, or not understanding what they need to do on each page. So at the bottom of each page we have added a progress bar to show how many of the interactive activities on each page the student has tried.

../../../_images/progress.png
  1. One scratch activecode per book – One thing I learned last year in working more closely with instructors and having more time to listen to students is that most students were confused by the scratch activecode. In the past we had a different scratch activecode for each page for each student. This was confusing as students use these scratch activecode’s a lot, but were often confused about how to find something they were trying on a page somewhere that they could not recall. Now their entire history of all interactions will be available and scrollable through the history slider. Making history searchable is on the todo list somewhere…

  2. Navigation menu within the chapter – another request that I’ve heard from many of you is to improve the navigation in the book. There are many different opinions on what is “best” in this area, but the one I like the best, and the one that keeps the book pages the most uncluttered, is to have a “This Chapter” menu in the navbar. This lets you quickly move to any page in your current chapter. If you want to change to a different chapter then you can click on the course name and that will bring you to the table of contents for the whole book. So, closer is one click away, and anything outside the current chapter is two clicks away. That makes sense to me. But I would love to hear feedback on this. Nothing is set in stone.

../../../_images/chapter_nav.png

New Stuff for Authors

  1. New activecode language for writing about and working with SQL! Oh yeah, I love SQL! I love writing queries and I love teaching about how to “squeeze information out of a database,” a phrase my masters advisor John Carlis, repeated every day in our databases class. SQL queries are also “autogradeable” with a simle set of asserts. The database engine runs in-browser and is a fully operational version of SQLLite!

../../../_images/SQL_browser.png
  1. New Spreadsheets directive When trying to write a data science book last year, it was clear that both SQL and a Spreadsheet in the browser would really help. Now, thanks to the jExcel Project We also have a very functional spreadshet running in the browser. Many many Excel/Sheets functions are supported, and it is also autogradeable through a series of assert statements. In addition, cells that students should be adding formulas to are colored in light blue to start with, and after grading are colored green or red to indicate whether they got it right. In addition there is text that also shows whether each test passed or not, and what the expected value was.

../../../_images/sheets.png
  1. New Instructor Only Reveals So many people have asked for instructor materials for all of our books. One of the things the last year of working with Google has helped with is in actually getting some materials written. Its at least as much work as writing the book itself! So how to deliver these new materials? This is one of the first great features of the new dynamic pages model of serving. Buttons that are only included on the page if you are an instructor.

../../../_images/instructor_hidden.png

When you click on it the answer or any other helpful material is displayed.

../../../_images/instructor_reveal.png

Students will not even see the buttons. In some books these instructor materials will be “paid for” features. You will also need to do an extra level of proof that you are an instructor in order to gain access to these.

Inside Baseball

  1. Unit testing means better reliability and more agile development. We have invested a lot of time this summer in getting a good unit testing framework set up for the Runestone server. I’ve spent some portion of each day writing one or more unit tests. For the functionality required to serve books and collect data reliably we now have excellent test coverage. Not as good for some of the instructor supporting pages, but we are working on it, and they get a lot less traffic than the book pages. I’ve also done a lot of load testing on this new architecture and it seems that it should hold up quite well.

  2. New dynamic architecture for more dynamic features in the future. In addition, the new dynamic architecture changes how we check that login/logout is handled. This should help with making sure that students are always in the course they should be in, rather than some random course they found with a Google search.

  3. http://interactivepython.org is gone. Well its not really gone, it has a permanent redirect to https://runestone.academy. None of the old classes on interactivepython.org made the move. Registrations have been disabled for a year. This move has been coming for two years, so hopefully it doesn’t surprise anyone.

  4. Both RunestoneComponents and RunestoneServer are running Python3. We had to keep Python2.7 a lot longer than I would have liked due to the web2py framework, but happily web2py now fully supports Python 3.7. I look forward to simplifying and dropping support for 2.7 once all this new stuff is live on academy.

Caveats

That is a LOT of change! And, I plan to deploy all of these new features over the next week. Even with all of the testing we have done there is bound to be something we have missed that will break something. Please be patient, and please report it on our GitHub page!

  1. If you have an existing course, in progress, on Runestone Academy that course should continue to work just fine. You will not be able to rebuild it as that functionality is gone.

  2. Newly created courses will use the new dynamic pages feature. This means you don’t need to rebuild, you will automatically get updates that fix typos or squash bugs.

  3. I’m introducing these changes during our summer “downtime” although I fully realize that our summer downtime is now busier than our peak traffic the first couple of years! This means that by the time classes start for people in the Northern Hemisphere in late august – the majority of our users – things should be in good shape.

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Mon, 01 Jul 2019 00:00:00 -0500
http://www.runestoneinteractive.com/2019/06/17/sql.html http://www.runestoneinteractive.com/2019/06/17/sql.html <![CDATA[SQL]]> SQL

Today, I built something I’ve been wanting to add to Runestone for several years. I added support for the SQL language. I’ve been holding off on adding support for it, because I thought I was going to have to support SQL as a server side language rather than in the browser. This means a lot of thinking about security, and making sure that one student can’t wipe out the data in a test database for all students, and setting up accounts, etc. Every time I’ve taught introduction to SQL we get to that point in the semester where I know I have to keep a close eye on the server as students begin to write bad cartesian products and create result sets with millions of rows! This effectively slows down or stops the database engine for the entire class.

However, last week, as I was thinking about it again I stumbled across the SQL.js project This project takes the SQLite C code, and compiles it to Webassembly. Thus making it possible to run an authentic version of SQLite in the browser! SQLite is a good tool for teaching as it is lightweight, comes with Python, and runs small databases directly in memory.

From a teaching perspective this really simplifies things a lot! Now each student has their own copy of a database that I can distribute to them over the Internet. Students can’t mess upanyone else’s results or hang the server. If they really do mess up a query they just need to reload the page. In addition, this also means that I can add autograding of SQL queries. As I begin to work on my Web Development course for next fall, and we begin to revise our intro to data science course, having SQL in the browser is going to be a game changer!

Its available today in the github version of Runestone.

Stay tuned.

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Mon, 17 Jun 2019 00:00:00 -0500
http://www.runestoneinteractive.com/2019/05/13/runestone_intro.html http://www.runestoneinteractive.com/2019/05/13/runestone_intro.html <![CDATA[On Runestone for Intro Courses]]> On Runestone for Intro Courses

By Jackie Cohen

I began using Runestone as a computer programming course instructor in 2014. In the ensuing five years, I’ve taught a variety of programming courses, with a variety of levels and audiences, which used a variety of Runestone books and features – more and more, as more have been developed – and I have worked on some Runestone features myself.

This means that I’ve explored Runestone in a variety of ways, and for a variety of reasons. Many Runestone Interactive materials, and features available in the platform, have proven particularly valuable to me in one type of use case: using a Runestone textbook as the source material for an true introductory programming course, where the course is primarily made up of students who have never done any computer programming before.

This is the kind of use case I’ll share some things about here: an example of which material(s) I’ve selected for intro courses, why I think Runestone is a useful choice for intro programming courses, and particular ways that I’ve relied on a couple of Runestone features to help me achieve pedagogical goals in my class.

Of course, “an introductory programming course” can look like many different things, for many different reasons, and have many different audiences and structures, but here I am speaking generically from my experience being an instructor of college-level students who have never programmed before, enrolled in a class of between 50 - 250, as our course sizes vary from semester to semester!

(Note also that while I refer to a bunch of ideas about pedagogy and what students struggle with, below, what I’m talking about here are all anecdotal experiences of my own as an instructor – there is a lot of great research about related things as well if you’re looking for more detail on computer science, engineering, and programming education.)

So - Which Runestone Book(s)?

The introductory courses I have usually taught over the past several years in my department are taught in the Python programming language. I’ve used a couple different versions of course materials over the years, but for the purposes of this explanation, I’ll examine a case where I choose Foundations of Python Programming as the course textbook.

I’ve also used selections at times from other Runestone materials, which is a nice backup for a time that one book has, say, 98% of what I want.

Why Runestone?

A primary highlight of selecting a Runestone-based textbook as my course textbook is the stability it offers my class, on a few different axes, and this is why I’ve chosen to use it repeatedly.

First, and primary to my choice of Runestone for introductory classes, is the fact that using Runestone to learn computer programming material does not involve any installation or dealing with the varieties of operating systems and software, but it does require learning new vocabulary and practices for saving and running code.

I find that installation is a huge barrier for many introductory programming students. It can be difficult, time-consuming, and annoying. The difficulty or annoyance of installation of a programming language interpreter, a text editor, a command prompt software, or anything else, can feel like proof that a student new to these ideas “doesn’t belong here [in this class]”.

Students who have never done any computer programming before, especially students who do not have a lot of experience with software tools or other types of computing, often struggle (as many computer-types do for a long time into our careers, really!) with the difference between a problem that requires struggle and creative problem-solving, and a problem that is not truly creative or “computationally challenging” and is rather caused by an error you can’t control, or by forgetting to click a single button at the start of the installation process. And for large courses without a large staff of a TAs/et cetera, helping students complete installations with a ton of different systems and versions thereof can also be a huge pain, and not a great note on which to start a class – plus it’s difficult to balance this fact with the desire to start writing code and seeing things happen on your screen rigt away. Using a Runestone textbook solves these problems, and allows students to focus both on concepts AND upon the joy of seeing code “work” and even pass tests – on the in the very first week of class.

Secondly, everything is in one place, rather than having a plethora of blog posts, links, a textbook, code files… all from Day 1. While I do integrate non-Runestone resources into many such courses, the Runestone textbook is always “home” for students, who often express (in my experience) that they feel overwhelmed by having a lot of new material in programming as well as a lot of new resources to use.

Using a Runestone textbook also allows me to integrate graded work of various types with un-graded work, helping me to emphasize during class that learning to program usually requires a lot of practice. If such and such thing is required/graded, but there’s also A, B, and C helpful conceptual activities we will discuss in lecture next week… isn’t it useful that they’re just right there, too? A simplification, of course, but something I’ve valued especially when students in class don’t have a lot of experience learning a programming language and are still adapting their own learning and practice expectations for the course. What they need at first is all there on one website.

(In some courses I’ve moved “off” Runestone in a second half of the course, e.g. to using files and command prompts, but the Runestone experience they have is something they can continue to rely on and can use for practice, and remains a way of gaining new information about syntax and concepts since it is still our course textbook.)

What’s in Runestone?

With these ideas in mind, there are a few Runestone features that I’ve relied on heavily during introductory classes like those I describe.

One is, of course, the ActiveCode feature – we can write a program on the first day of class, and begin to understand the process of writing, thinking about, and running code, and how to see and check the results of code that’s been run. The CodeLens tool is a huge help with this, because explanations that I previously needed to include in additional resources or slides are built right into readings, so class time can focus on in-depth exploration that supports understanding even more.

Another is the ShowEval Trace and ShowEval Replace modes – as we begin writing code, I like to ensure I have a focus on understanding complex expressions and debugging, and this feature is a nice interactive way to focus specifically on evaluation of complex expressions without generating them correctly prior to evaluating them.

The availability of the Parsons Problems for a variety of reasons has proven valuable in my introductory courses – one way I like to use these features in class is that after I’ve, for example, assigned these as part of readings before class, I can return to them during a lecture so we can analyze together what ways of solving them are productive (rather than simple trial-and-error, for example), and we can really dig into useful ways of practicing and learning programming so students can experience them with me. I’ve used Parsons Problems both with code, like in the code based example at the bottom of this page, and with non-code words, like in the non-code example at the bottom of this page, and find a mix of the two helpful.

And finally, because I can assign reading assignments as part of the course, and I can choose a book with a structure I want (e.g. the way FOPP has chapters followed by exercises and sets of “chapter assessment” exercises) I can take advantage of the above to include all of those features (and others) in assignments/course work/student lab time/office hours. Students know that they will need to interact with these interactive features during the out of class time they spend reading, and we come back to the online course “home” to review and explore new concepts during class time.

When it comes time to introduce native programming on one’s own computer in the introductory courses that I teach, there’s a place to return to for conceptual things (the online Runestone textbook!), so it allows me in-class time to focus on identifying, and then solving, those problems that do come from ‘simply’ forgetting to click one button or remembering the type of your operating system – since identifying that kind of struggle/problem is also a very useful skill to identify and develop while students begin learning programming.

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Mon, 13 May 2019 00:00:00 -0500
http://www.runestoneinteractive.com/2019/05/05/docker.html http://www.runestoneinteractive.com/2019/05/05/docker.html <![CDATA[Docker: an Open Source Story]]> Docker: an Open Source Story

I love the open source world! You never know what amazing new project you will find, or who you will meet that is willing to contribute some amazing new skills to your project. This last week provided a great example of the kinds of synergies that can happen here. It started with a very short conversation on another project I’m involved in called Skulpt – it is the Javascript implementation of Python that we use in the textbooks.

../../../_images/happy_meeting.png

Just a couple of days later @vsoch and another contributor to the RunestoneServer who turned out to be already know each other found each other on another line of conversation! A couple days later Runestone got 100 times easier to install! Runestone Server has been containerized!! Why am I so excited??

As a small-ish open source project, with a limited number of contributors, it is really hard to provide a server like the Runestone Server that runs under all possible configurations of Windows, macOS, and Linux. Those three variations alone are a lot to keep track of, but when you add in all of the individual customizations that developers tend to do on their systems, the number of possible permutations is HUGE. Docker helps solve that by allowing US to control the environment in which the server runs. Yay! That is a giant sized win for us.

Even if you don’t know any of the details, you’ve probably heard of Docker. Docker is a tool designed to make it easier to create, deploy, and run applications like the Runestone Server by using containers. Containers allow a developer to package up an application with all of the parts it needs, such as database servers, libraries, Python packages, and other dependencies, and ship it all out as one easy to install package.

So, YOU get a virtual environment that runs on your machine that we can specify, that makes it easy for you to install; and WE get a system that lets us control all of the libraries and dependencies so that you can get a running version of our server with a minimum of fuss! If that is not a win-win scenario I don’t know what is.

Wow, that sounds Awesome, how do I get started?

Well, you will still need a little familiarity with the command line. You will need to be able to run some docker and git commands.

For potential developers and contributors to the project, or for instructors who may need to run their own server due to university privacy policies or whatever the process of getting Runestone Server up and running is pretty straight forward. You can see the details here But lets walk through a conceptual overview of the process here.

  1. Install Docker Yes, its a pretty big thing you have to install, but its been done millions of times and it really just works.

  2. Clone the Runestone Server project from github (git clone https://github.com/RunestoneInteractive/RunestoneServer.git)

  3. Choose one or more books you want to use in your course, or use in development, and clone them into the books folder of Runestone.

  4. If you want to pre-populate users and or instructors you can make a csv file called instructors.csv and another called students.csv

  5. Build the docker container

  6. Run the docker container

The above steps will build the books you want to use in the course, populate a database with all the necessary tables and data to run Runestone as well as any instructors or students you want set up, and then start the RunestoneServer.

Again, detailed instructions are linked above, but it really is a lot easier than it was before. In addition, If you are a developer, you can simply make changes to the code right where you have cloned it and the Docker container will pick up those changes on your next request.

I think this could be a real breakthrough for getting more developers up and running quickly, and reduce support time for people who want to run their own server at their school. In any case I encourage you to give it a try, and please, please do report any problems you run into with getting a server up and running.

Runestone and Open Source

Much of Runestone is built with the help of other open source projects. I like to think of it as the “family tree” of the project. The root system goes very deep as every one of the projects that I mention is built on top of many other other open source projects. We are truly standing on the shoulders of thousands of giants who make make this open source eco system work.

Here is a list of our first level ancestors. I’m sure I’m leaving something or someone out and I apologize if that is you. Please let me know and I’ll update the post.

  • Skulpt - Javascript Implementation of Python

  • Sphinx A tool for making beautiful documentation that is highly extensible.

  • Python Tutor Awesome tool for visualizing code

  • web2py Our web development framework

  • Docker

  • Python

  • ShowEval

  • How to Think Like a Computer Scientist - The original text before we made our interactive edition.

  • The number of Python packages approximately 75 are too many to mention individually.

  • All of the books published on Runestone are open source projects.

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Sun, 05 May 2019 00:00:00 -0500
http://www.runestoneinteractive.com/2019/04/29/patreon.html http://www.runestoneinteractive.com/2019/04/29/patreon.html <![CDATA[Patreon: Become a Runestone Patron]]> Patreon: Become a Runestone Patron

As you have seen from the data in previous post Runestone is growing and helping to introduce many students at many institutions to computer science, data science, web programming, you name it. I think we are helping to make the world a better place.

When I left my full time teaching job at Luther College a year ago, it was with the goal of making Runestone my full time work. That is still my goal. Originally I had given myself a year to figure out a business model. Then Google presented one to me. Come and consult with us, they said. Help us with our project. That has been, and continues to be, a great opportunity for me, but it won’t last forever. And, its not really a business model, And I need to strike a better balance between writing books and developing the Runestone platform!

Make Textbooks Free

I could follow a model of charging every student a modest sum of money to access books on Runestone Academy But did you know that about half of the schools that use Runestone are public high schools? That model does not work for public school students, and I don’t want to leave them behind. Runestone has saved students millions of dollars in textbook costs, and I’d like to keep it that way.

I could create a freemium business model, where the basic books are free, but more advanced features and teaching materials would cost the school money. That may still be a path to follow, but that makes the code more complex to check whether I should expose a feature to someone based on some flag that tells me if you’ve paid or not.

So instead, I’m doubling down on the supporter model by starting a Patreon campaign. Patreon is for people like us, for content creators that need support to keep on creating! You can use a trusted website to make a regular monthly payment that will come to Runestone.

We have so much work that we could do to make Runestone better than it is today. In my ideal world I would like to be able to hire students that have been through one or more Runestone courses. How cool is that? You got your introduction to CS through Runestone and now you can help develop the very platform that helped you get a start. At the same time they would get valuable resume building experience!

So, today I’m asking you to please support Runestone. Become a patron. It doesn’t have to be a lifetime commitment, but if Runestone has helped you this year why not help us in return?? Go to our page on Patreon and become a patron today.

Then, make sure you tell in the comments what you would like to see most in the next generation of Runestone tools and books.

Thanks!

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Mon, 29 Apr 2019 00:00:00 -0500
http://www.runestoneinteractive.com/2019/04/22/new_feature_friday.html http://www.runestoneinteractive.com/2019/04/22/new_feature_friday.html <![CDATA[New Feature Friday]]> New Feature Friday

Yes I’m posting this on Monday, but Friday sounded like a better title. Many instructors have asked for the ability to download student data to import into a spreadsheet. This was a feature we removed a couple years back because downloading the raw stream of click information really wasn’t that useful, and we take data security of student information very seriously.

So, this weekend I pushed a new release of the Runestone server that gives you four new reports that you can either view online or download as a CSV file to import into your favorite spreadsheet program.

../../../_images/screen_1.png

Click on the Overview Reports link to access

The four new reports are:

  • Count of Subchapter Activities

  • First Interaction with all Activities

  • Last Interaction with all Activities

  • Number of interactions with each Activity

The count of subchapter activities is a good cross check on reading assignments. If a student wants to know why they are not getting full credit, this report will show you how many distinct activities in each subchapter a student has attempted.

../../../_images/subchap_count.png

Count of unique components a student has interacted with.

As you can see, this report is organized by Chapter and then Subchapter. And then one column for each student. So you can see that btest has been looking at the Classes and ClassesBasics chapters, but hasn’t done any of the work in the AdvancedFunctions chapter. Meanwhile, bmiller has been busy with Conditionals and Dictionaries. Yes, sorting by chapter number would be nice, and will be coming soon, it requires a couple of other pieces to be in place first.

The Number of interactions with each activity takes you one level deeper and shows the list of known activities in each Subchapter and the number of interactions each student has taken with each activity. Compare this next figure with the last. In the previous figure you see that bmiller had 6 interactions in the graphing_with_altair subchapter. Now you see exactly which six components they were, and how many times bmiller interacted with each of them.

../../../_images/divid_count.png

Count of interactions with each component.

The First Interaction and Last Interaction reports are just variations on this one, that show you the first time a student interacted with some component. “How come I didn’t get credit for doing this?” Because this report shows that you didn’t do it until 2 hours after the deadline.

All four of these are downloadable by clicking the “Download CSV” button.

These reports came about because I was writing about making pivot tables with Pandas, and I realized how easy it would be to apply my lesson to real life to make some useful reports for you. I know there may be more reports like this that you would find useful, so please feel free to make requests in the comments section, or make an issue on our Github page

Wandering Students

One problem with grading on Runestone is that I have noticed that students don’t always end up doing their work in the right class. Sometimes students don’t remember where they should be and end up Googling their way into Runestone. But often times this googling lands them in the “open to anyone” version of the textbook the instructor has chosen for the course. This means their activities are recorded under that course and not your own.

To combat this behavior I have added two features that require you to rebuild your course to activate.

  • The Navbar for your course should now contain your course name, and not the name of the textbook. Teach them to pay attention to that. We are going to develop more visual cues to clearly differentiate between the open version of a course and a bespoke course this summer.

  • When students are logged we now check to make sure that if they are in a course for which they have not registered we will alert them, and then take them to the course selector to make sure they are in the proper course.

We love to hear from yo, so let us know what you think of these updates!

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Mon, 22 Apr 2019 00:00:00 -0500
http://www.runestoneinteractive.com/2019/04/14/a_lab_in_three_easy_steps.html http://www.runestoneinteractive.com/2019/04/14/a_lab_in_three_easy_steps.html <![CDATA[A Lab in Three Easy Steps]]> ]]> Sun, 14 Apr 2019 00:00:00 -0500 http://www.runestoneinteractive.com/2019/04/05/dashboard.html http://www.runestoneinteractive.com/2019/04/05/dashboard.html <![CDATA[Runestone Dashboard]]> Runestone Dashboard

I’ve recently started working on a Runestone Dashboard to monitor our progress in terms of the number of students, and traffic, bandwidth, new courses that are created etc. I thought that it would be interesting to share a few of the graphs with you.

We launched Runestone.academy in September of 2017 so we are closing in on the end of our second academic year. After 5 years on our old hosting service it was time for a fresh start. This first graph shows you the number of students that have registered each week since we started.

../../../_images/registrations.png

You can clearly see the beginning of semester registration peaks, and of course its exciting to see the year over year growth. Its interesting to note that fall registrations tend to be larger than spring registrations, but that may be because many students register for a course that continues in the spring so there is no need to re-register.

With the number of new courses in our library growing, I was really interested to see what courses people are using the most. This is not necessarily a fair comparison as thinkcspy has been around the longest and is a very popular book in its own right. But its really fun to see how quickly the Foundations of Python Programming book has taken off, since that was just launched in the fall of 2018. The APCS A Review book continues to be a very valuable resource for many schools. This graph is showing only the courses built in the last 14 weeks so it should be a pretty good indicator of what is happening Spring semester of 2019.

../../../_images/newbuilds.png

Not surprisingly, the number of students registering by base course has the same shape as the previous graph. But this does count students that are studying the material as part of a formal course, as well as independent learners that just sign up for one of the open textbooks that anyone can learn from.

../../../_images/newregsbycourse.png

Finally, many people ask about the daily traffic. There are many ways of thinking about this, from the number of unique students each day to the number of pages served each day to the number of student activities per day. this graph shows just the count of student activities each day for the last 14 months.

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Its pretty interesting to note our “summer lull” which definitely shows that we are getting most of our use during the school year. No surprise there. Its also amazing to see how much our traffic has grown from Spring semester 2018 to Spring semester 2019. Finally, you can see the orange colored days are the weekends. Is this definitive proof that our students don’t study as much as we would like on the weekends!?

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Fri, 05 Apr 2019 00:00:00 -0500
http://www.runestoneinteractive.com/2019/03/29/httlads.html http://www.runestoneinteractive.com/2019/03/29/httlads.html <![CDATA[Book Spotlight: How to Think like a Data Scientist]]> Book Spotlight: How to Think like a Data Scientist

It is said that the most important characteristic of a data scientist is curiosity. So how do you structure a class that encourages students to be curious and ask questions of the data? When I first taught DS-320 at Luther in 2017 I had to make it up as I went. Luckily I had some great, and very patient students that were willing to go with it. My main goal was to “let the data drive the learning!” My vision for the course was to pick some data sets, do exploratory data analysis on them, generate a bunch of questions as a class, and then figure out what we needed to know in order to answer our questions. As a course, I thought this was an amazing and really fun way to structure the learning. It doesn’t lend itself to a structured day by day syllabus since you can’t necessarily predict everything you are going to learn when you start! But we learned a LOT in that class, and we had a lot of fun doing it.

Finding textbooks for undergraduate data science courses is really hard. There is little agreement on curriculum at the undergrad level and definitely not much with a more liberal arts emphasis. So, I was thrilled when the Applied Computing Series team at Google asked me to take the lead on creating a book for their AC201 course.

This book is an attempt to build some structure around the approach described above, without totally killing the spontaneity of encouraging students to ask good questions of the data. You are never going to find a data set to make everyone happy, but if you pick several data sets hopefully enough of them will interest enough students to keep everyone engaged. In this text (so far) we look at World Happiness data, Movie Reviews, the CIA world factbook, United Nations speeches, Bike Rental data from Washington DC and shopping cart data from Instacart.

The learning objectives of the course are as follows:

  • Articulate the data science processing pipeline

  • Extract data using SQL

  • Gather data from the Internet using web API’s and screen scraping

  • combine data from different sources

  • Clean the data

  • Handle missing data/finding outliers/fixing data

  • Normalizing and rescaling data

  • Visualize the data

  • Translate questions to analysis and analysis to interesting stories

  • Analyze data

    • Single variable regression, logistic regression

    • Market basket analysis

    • Cohort analysis

    • Sentiment analysis, exposure to Bayes Theorem

    • Time series

    • Geographic analysis

    • Simulations, Monte Carlo

  • Understand statistical significance and how to test for it using practical simulation techniques.

You can see how the individual skills learned map onto different data sets and chapters by taking a look at the preface

One of the big challenges of this was how to make the book interactive even while wanting students to install and run their own copy of a Jupyter notebook server. The approach is to have the book lead the students through some analysis while asking them to do work in the notebook and bring answers back into the textbook. For example use the notebook to find the busiest bike rental pickup point, and then paste the id of that station into a multiple choice question in the text.

Maybe at some point we’ll have a way to embed Jupyter notebook cells into a Runestone text, but that will require a LOT more computing power.

In the meantime please take a look. The book, as is, has been classroom tested in four schools this spring, but I think there is a lot more content that could be added, and the existing content still needs work to clean up. So feel free to let us know about any issues on github.

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Fri, 29 Mar 2019 00:00:00 -0500
http://www.runestoneinteractive.com/2019/03/17/first.html http://www.runestoneinteractive.com/2019/03/17/first.html <![CDATA[Runestone History and a Roadmap]]> Runestone History and a Roadmap

Runestone Interactive was created in 2011 during Brad’s sabbatical. I should have been working on a new edition for two paper textbooks, but I had the worst kind of writers block. I just couldn’t stand the idea of a paper textbook for computer science in 2011. Textbooks should let you run the examples! Even better textbooks should encourage you to edit the examples and play around with them. When a google search for python in the browser turned up the skulpt project I knew I was onto something.

After spending a couple of months building a turtle graphics module, I realized that nobody would write a book if they had to do a ton of javascript programming for every example. So I started to look around and found Sphinx and docutils. Although markdown is probably more popular, Sphinx/docutils is so much more extensible. So I set out about writing some extensions to Sphinx, and the rest is history. Now adding an example to the textbook is just as easy as copy/pasting the code into the plain text document!

We first used Runestone in the classroom in 2012 for 60 students at Luther College. From 2012 to now Runestone has grown to serving 25,000 students a day around the world at something like 800 institutions. The real surprise came when I discovered that many of them were high schools. This made me very happy !

Our library now lists 18 books! But there are probably at least another 18 that I don’t know about. The number of translations of Runestone books that I have randomly discovered is amazing. That makes me very happy also.

The tagline “democratizing textbooks for the 21st century”, is really inspired by a class visit with Guy Kawasaki in a class I taught during January Term when I would take 12 students to Silicon Valley to visit with entrepreneurs, at all kinds of companies. It is, in Guy’s terms, a mantra. It means that textbooks should be free! You should not be excluded from learning about CS because you cannot afford $200 for a textbook! If Runestone can play a role in disrupting textbook publishing that would be awesome. I’m hoping that Runestone can serve 2 million students a day in my lifetime! It also means that textbooks should be interactive, intelligent, living documents.

In 2018, I decided to leave my dream job at Luther College to focus all of my energy on a new dream job, Runestone Interactive. I was growing increasingly frustrated that there were not enough hours in the day to teach classes, attend committee meetings, grade homework, prep lectures, and work on Runestone. This turned out to be a great leap of faith, as not long after I made the decision I was contacted by a some team members in Google’s EngEDU organization that wanted to use Runestone as part of their Applied Computing Series of courses. The goals of Runestone and the goals of the AC team could not be more aligned. Runestone is also used as a platform for teaching courses by LaunchCode. I get to work with a bunch of really smart Googlers, and have time to continue to develop Runestone.

A Roadmap for the Future

The sign of a good project is that the todo list never gets shorter. Every time I cross something off the list three new things replace it. There is no doubt that with focus, time and energy that Runestone can be way more awesome than it is today. The details and current development priorities are outlined here .

What I am most interested in is creating a sustainable community around Runestone so that it will continue after I am not caring for it every day. This means a concerted effort on funding, on growing the number of students, and building the number of authors and developers.

All of the above has been happening organically, but we need to accelerate on all fronts. This new home page, is one part of that. YOu will begin to see articles detailing development, as well as posts about how people are using Runestone in the classroom in real life. Please share this site with your friends, and colleagues, introduce influencers to Runestone and help us spread the word.

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Sun, 17 Mar 2019 00:00:00 -0500