The University of Notre Dame

The University of Notre Dame has been at the forefront of research and scholarship since its founding in 1842. Its programs give students the “Notre Dame Edge” by preparing them to perform with excellence, and its MS-ACMS: Data Science degree is no exception. Notre Dame recognized that highly skilled data scientists are in demand across sectors because they’re able to leverage mathematical, computational, and communication skills to solve complex problems. The university turned to us to help them imagine and bring to life an online program for mid-career professionals who wish to succeed in a wide range of industries including IT, Finance, Consulting, Scientific Research, Healthcare, Marketing, Government Policy, and Education.

The Challenge

To become leaders in the Data Science field, students need a program that goes well beyond the technical and mathematical. Data scientists are not simply “number crunchers.” They are expected to influence critical business decisions, and they spend significant time in meetings and working in teams, often with non-technical colleagues. 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 evolves.

Notre Dame’s online Master’s in Data Science program is designed to give students the Notre Dame Edge by graduating “three-dimensional data scientists” who can apply a 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 designed a 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 master skills but also achieve professional growth and personal development.

The development team applied learning research and evidence-based pedagogy to establish 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 environment — small class size, faculty interaction, and student collaboration. And in a tribute to the visual splendor of Notre Dame’s campus, they wanted a well-designed, easy-to-use, and visually appealing online experience


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 — students need 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 bring their content and pedagogy to life online, and to create engaging, student-centered experiences.

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. It’s 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.