The University of Notre Dame

One of America’s leading undergraduate teaching institutions, the University of Notre Dame has been at the forefront of research and scholarship since its founding in 1842. In keeping with that tradition, Notre Dame perceived a need for exceptional data scientists who could meet the challenges facing today’s organizations. Highly skilled data scientists are in demand across sectors because they’re able to leverage a combination of mathematical, computational, and communication skills to solve complex problems. Delivered online at a half-time pace, Notre Dame’s MS-ACMS: Data Science program has been designed to give mid-career professionals the “Notre Dame Edge” by preparing them to perform with excellence across multiple industries, including information technology, finance, consulting, scientific research, health care, marketing, government policy, and education.

The Challenge

With the unprecedented need for data scientists across industries, there is no shortage of online courses and degree programs. To become leaders in the data science field, however, students need a program that goes beyond the technical and mathematical to help them build the leadership competencies required for success as a data scientist in today’s industries. Data scientists working in businesses and organizations are not simply “number crunchers.” They are tasked with influencing critical data-driven decisions, and they spend significant time in meetings and working in teams, often communicating data to nontechnical audiences. Notre Dame knew they had to focus not only on building strong quantitative and analytical skills but also on developing leadership competencies as well as the agility to keep up as technology and techniques evolve.

Notre Dame’s online master’s in data science program is designed to give students the Notre Dame Edge in data science by graduating “three-dimensional data scientists” who can apply their deep analytical and mathematical foundation, think critically, consider the ethical implications of their work, and communicate effectively across teams.

“Data science leaders have to be able to synthesize and go beyond just the repetition of things. It’s higher-level learning, where you can think about things more deeply. That’s one of those things a master’s degree is going to give you. You’re not just thinking about topics for a couple of weeks, you’re thinking about them continually and in a synchronized way,” said Roger Woodard, Program Director.

The Learners

Notre Dame’s vision for their learners was very clear:

“We want to keep our program small and do a great job with individuals who will be the next leaders in data science. This approach gives you the opportunity to get to know your professor and interact with that instructor. They’re going to know who you are and guide your learning. You get that Notre Dame Edge by interacting with the students and having a personal experience. That’s something truly important to us,” said Woodard.

You get that Notre Dame Edge by interacting with the students and having a personal experience. That’s something truly important to us.

To deliver on this vision, Notre Dame started with what was most important to a student in their personal journey to becoming a data scientist and designed the degree program with the understanding that many of their students are working professionals who need both flexibility and an efficient learning experience. They wanted tools that would help their students not only develop skill mastery but achieve professional growth and personal development.

To achieve those goals, the development team applied learning research and evidence-based pedagogy to ensure highly effective learning — clearly articulated learning paths, communication and collaboration tools, interactive content, progress tracking and feedback, a broad range of assessment types, social networking capabilities, standardized navigation, and more.

Finally, they made the online experience consistent with what makes Notre Dame such a unique academic environment small class size, faculty interaction, and student collaboration. And in a tribute to the visual splendor of Notre Dame’s campus, they wanted the online experience to be well designed, easy to use, and visually appealing.

The Solution

The new platform is a custom learning experience called NeXus. Extension Engine began with Open edX and integrated numerous third-party tools into one learning management ecosystem that addresses and delivers on the unique demands of Notre Dame’s master’s in data science program.

An attractive, intuitive, branded dashboard features:

  • One-click access to discussion channels, video conferencing, and the entire Google suite
  • A timeline for upcoming assignments, synchronous sessions, exams, and other events, in two views
  • An online chat feature, which encourages collaborative learning and creates a close student-faculty bond and personal approach to online learning
  • A real-time notification system for sharing announcements and articles

The platform also provides for one-step authentication for all tools — the student needs to sign in only once to access all integrated tools. Extension Engine also made the Open edX gradebook far more robust — able to accept manual grading of collaboration and student participation in synchronous events as well as provide real-time grade tracking for the student.

In addition to building NeXus, the Learning Experience Design team worked directly with Notre Dame faculty to make their content and pedagogy come alive in an online environment and to create engaging, student-centered experiences that result in effective learning. Extension Engine also supported Notre Dame with marketing services to help create a website and marketing collateral, and to drive potential student interest with marketing automation and digital advertising.

The Platform

Notre Dame’s NeXus platform is a stunning integration of third-party tools and custom software that provides the highest-quality online learning possible with today’s technology — a leading-edge platform on which Notre Dame can build additional degree programs well into the future.

An attractive, intuitive, branded dashboard features: one-click access to calendars, discussion channels, videoconferencing, and the entire Google suite.

Courses are easy to navigate and rich in content.

Dr. Scott Moore Principal Learning Strategist

Dr. Moore leads our Custom Learning Experience practice for higher education and has a deep understanding of course academics, university administration, and online learning. Prior to joining Extension Engine, he was faculty member, administrator, and dean at Michigan Ross and Babson College for 20+ years. Scott holds a Ph.D. in Decision Sciences from Wharton.