Runestone was born during my 2010/11 sabbatical. We launched interactivepython.org in June of 2012 and used it in class in the fall of 2012 for the first time. The growth of Runestone has been steady over these last six years growing by about 1500 — 2000 students each semester. This graph based on our Google Analytics data gives you a pretty good idea of the slow but steady growth Runestone has seen.
In my earlier days of teaching I would frequently exhort my students to “follow their passions!” More recently I’ve tried to soften that to tell them to find something they have an interest in. Passion doesn’t come instantly and it can be discouraging for students who don’t have an instant passion. I’ve also said that you want to work on something that you find yourself daydreaming about in the shower, first thing in the morning. For me and Runestone both of these things are true, I increasingly think about Runestone and all of the things I want to work on, and increasingly I would describe Runestone as a passion. Now its time to act on that passion!
Last fall Luther College offered a “separation incentive” to any tenured faculty member with 15 years of service. This incentive affords me the opportunity to focus on Runestone full time, for at least a year, and hopefully for the long term. So I’m happy to announce that as of June 1, 2018 Runestone will be my full time focus. My goals for the short term are as follows:
- Focus on new, improved, and updated content.
- Find a business model that works for everyone.
- Build community among instructors and authors using Runestone to write and teach
New, Improved and updated content
For several years now the summer development efforts have been focused on improving the user interface for the instructors and building new Runestone components for authors. While there is still much that could be done in both areas it is time to look more closely at the content and make use of some of these new components in the books. The videos have not been updated in years and need to be moved to a better platform.
In addition many of you have been asking for more instructor materials. I’ll start working on that right away.
My efforts on this front will be supported by a contract position I’ve accepted to work with the engEDU group at Google. The mission of this group and Runestone are closely aligned and will provide me a much needed perspective on working with and helping create materials to help new instructors. The work I do with Google will go back into the base and benefit everyone!
One of the first projects will be to take a step back and try to evaluate what works well and what could stand some updating and improvement on the content front. I’ll be reaching out to many of you with a Survey and I hope that you will be willing to take a few minutes to help us out! For some of my “power users” the evaluation team at Google would also love to conduct some UX interviews. If you are seeing this and are not registered for the Runestone_instructors Google group but would like to help out, let me know!
Find a business model that works for everyone
So let me get this out of the way immediately. Runestone, as it exists today, will continue to be free! Thats not negotiable. I can’t say exactly how this will evolve, but I have given myself at least a year to figure it out.
Some ideas include: Moving toward a freemium model where there are some future features that will not be free. These areas would likely be around deeper integrations with learning management systems like Canvas and Moodle, or developing more resources aimed at instructors, which instructors would pay for. I’ll also continue to be a bit more aggressive in asking for contributions.
I’ve thought about making the public version of some books show an ad on each page. A lot of our traffic is actually driven from search. I could show a banner ad to people who arrive at a Runestone page via search and probably develop a reasonable revenue stream from that. Rest assured that I would not show ads on courses created by you, or for anyone who has a registered username.
Build community among instructors and authors
Did you know that Runestone books are used in over 600 schools? Did you know that Runestone books have been translated into at least six different languages? I just today happened across a Portuguese translation that I didn’t know anything about! I’m amazed and excited every time I get an email from someone telling me they have published a textbook using the Runestone tools.
In my department we all learn a lot by talking about teaching, comparing notes, and sharing what works and what doesn’t work with each other. I believe that Runestone has an incredible untapped potential. You already are part of a very large community! A community of people that use the same textbook. Although we all move at different speeds and have very different students I know we can all learn a lot from each other if we find a way to make communication between all of us easy.