Category Archives: Here at Notre Dame

Notre Dame wants to get to know a Sakai developer – is that you?

Shameless plug for a Learning Management Developer (One Year Limited Term) …

Sunrise over St. Mary's lake, late summer...Photo by Matt Cashore/University of Notre Dame

Sunrise over St. Mary’s lake, late summer…Photo by Matt Cashore/University of Notre Dame

You should come work for the Office of Information Technologies. And here’s why –

The University of Notre Dame ranks 9th among “Best Places to Work in IT” for the third year running. 

We were cool before that, but lately it’s official.

We have a one year contract position open for a senior developer for Sakai. Are you scared to apply?

If you’re experienced, you could be married, you could have children. You’re probably comfortable where you are. A one year contract? Are you kidding?

No. I’m not kidding. Come to Notre Dame. Plan on staying. I did. I’ve been here 17 years. That initial one year contract was an opportunity for Notre Dame to get to know the values I hold, the work ethic I bring, my extraordinary creativity, not to mention that I always think strategically. (Like this post – we have great talent at Notre Dame, but we want to add to our talent pool, to seek out and convince the best talent).

They say if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life. That’s me. Is it you too?

Apply. Check it out. What’ve you got to lose? The posting:


Disruptive Education – Or Encouraging Education?

It is disruptive. But it shouldn’t be. Putting myself in faculty shoes, the hardest part is mastery of this new online stuff, which, really, if I’m being honest, I don’t want to do myself and I probably don’t have time to do myself anyway. I need to just get the gist of it and find individuals or even a team I can work with effectively so that they can find or build the reusuable learning objects, the content bundles and the sequencing I need to supplement and enhance the way I teach and the content I intend to cover.  I remain the subject matter expert, but they advise me and participate with me in finding the best ways to get across the material.

Michael Stanton’s Disruptive Education

I can focus on my research, bring the students into what I’m learning, modeling and mentoring the processes those in our field master to forward our discipline. I may find vital to reaching and engaging my students such online activities as virtual office hours, blogging, or contributing in other public spaces in which my students have their discussions and launch their questions.

But I daren’t be a fearful learner myself.

Observations on Entrepreneurialism, Startups and Education

Normally I write about higher ed and educational technology of some sort. This post is about the startup weekend I attended at Innovation Park, Notre Dame’s entrepreneurial incubator. Bear with me there *is* a connection.

The competition’s finalists all presented evidence of their proposition’s value addition to the marketplace. This included the ideas which, as solutions, were “solutions” to pretty trivial problems in the grand scheme of things. One of the finalists, for example, will be launching a smartphone app which creates a connection between you and the clubs you attend – effectively moving you to the head of long lines and helping you and your friends decide which club to meet up at that evening.

Startup Weekend” is a competition. The organizers are out of Portland and have over a thousand such events under their belts. The teams that form around each idea are teams of volunteers (who’ve paid to participate). I think we can all agree pulling a startup idea out of the oven depends on the characteristics, individual and jointly, of the team surrounding the idea. The same was true of winning the competition – but awkwardly enough, not every team knew this.

My view at the table? I participated on the team that formed around the pitch given by a special ed language arts teacher from Ohio. Faced with the K-12 adoption of the Common Core Standards and the need to provide his less able students with enough drill practice to succeed, at least by the standard measurements, his vision was for a software product he and his peers could use that would map practice activities to the standards to progress reports that teachers and administrators could use. Yep, sounds like where I could make a contribution. More than that, sounded like a winner. As a FIRST Lego League robotics coach, I’m regularly exposed to the hype over STEM subjects, and sure enough, there are companies with the goal of building such a software for the Math standards. For Language Arts? Not so much.  I was excited at how this business proposal was a convergence of many areas in which I have experience, not least of these my degree in Applied Linguistics, experience teaching EFL, and as volunteer tech implementor for my kids’ K-8 school. Very cool.

Startup Weekend included local leaders. They spoke about: Social consciousness. Give-back to the community. What we can do for community development.

Here are the dots I’m connecting –


  • It’s fairly obvious higher ed will not survive unless we change. We’ve been doing so incrementally: startup weekends, entrepreneurial programs, engineering emphases, interdisciplinary programs, undergrad research angles. Changing traditional brick and mortar schools into something more fluid and flexible is hard.  In many ways we don’t even want to do it. We have our traditions. Time-honored. Founded in #### before the Mayflower. Alumni who send their kids to the school because of the tradition which was so important to them.
  • But find out how your alumi have made their money and perhaps you see that they have become what your institution needs to become.
  • Less formal. More collaborative. Students – Faculty – Administrators – Businesses building something together for now for the institution and for the student to take with them at graduation. Apprenticeships over Internships?
  • Less rigid and traditional. More reconstructive.
  • Let’s model in our own business practice the practices we must teach to the next generation.

Why the Startup Weekend at Notre Dame’s Innovation Park Excites Me

54 hours. Friday April 13th at 6pm until Sunday April 15th at 3pm. Go home to sleep when/if they kick us out or you just can’t think another thought.

What we hope to accomplish: Lay the groundwork to start one or more new businesses in South Bend. Period.

What participants get paid: Nada. In fact, tickets to the event are $99.

Who will be the participants?

People like me. Really. People who care about our community and want to give back of our talents and creativity. People who can envision their satisfaction when driving by that new area business and being able to say, “I helped do that. I had a hand in designing their business model.” (Or coding their product, or designing their user experience or marketing their business).

People not like me. Some younger. Those testing their wings as entrepreneurs during their college careers at IU South Bend, Notre Dame, IU Purdue, and Bethel, all local area colleges. (Students only $50). Some older. Community Leaders. Businessmen who’ve done it already. Captains of Industry, if you will.

If you catch what I mean, click and register. See you there!

Pros and Cons of hosting Sakai outside of your institution

The University of Notre Dame is moving from a proprietary LMS we host in our own Data Center to an open source system, Sakai, hosted with rSmart. Two big changes we’re lumping together. Ask yourself …

What advantages do you expect to gain when switching from a proprietary system to an open source system?

Does outsourcing the system’s management mitigate against those advantages?

What we’ve found so far (6 months):

Some Fixes/enhancements: can still be deployed faster than with a proprietary system, but not as fast as we expected … rSmart, or other provider, will still have tested version combinations and be reluctant to share risk with you of deploying a tool version in a lesser tested Sakai version
Staffing. You can redeploy your app admin to direct faculty support and do away with sys admin, DBA, etc. You didn’t have Developers before & by hosting, any development (customizations even) you wanted to contribute now will be problematic unless you still build an in-house development/test instance.
TCO: You may find the costs between licensing/hosting yourself and not-licensing hosting elsewhere to be very similar. You are re-arranging your human resources, which could bring advantages to your faculty despite the similar cost of ownership.
SIS integration: Always more difficult when your ‘home data’ has to be shared with someone off-site. Particularly bad at the moment as the industry transitions from former methods of SIS- LMS integration to the new LIS 2.0 standard.
Part of fixes/enhancements, that of User Acceptance Testing, involves back and forth communication, and management of Help Desk ticketing between you and your host vendor. You have a dependency on the ability to use a test or 2nd instance with your live data, but this synchronization between live and test is no longer handled by you – but by your vendor.

Bringing Blackboard Vista 8 into the Oracle 11g world..

Just a few notes, probably only of significance to myself, of the work involved when the technology around a software changes even as that software is being brought to an end of life…

Blackboard’s CE and Vista product is scheduled to be de-supported in January of 2013. Notre Dame will continue to run it as we come along side it with another system and move our Faculty and Students to it.

  • Meanwhile Oracle has de-supported (as of June 2010) its database software version Oracle 10g, on which many institutions have been running their Bb Vista databases.
  • Meanwhile Oracle has acquired Java and issued Update 29 of Java 6 (available for PCs Oct 10th and for Mac 10.6.8 and Mac 10.7.1 shortly thereafter) with which Bb Vista 8 doesn’t play well.
  • Meanwhile Oracle 11g is being deployed as a database cluster – RAC, that is, a feature some of this older software wouldn’t have dreamed of.

This just makes keeping the old girl running that much more of an effort.

This week here at Notre Dame we validated our Bb Vista 8 Dev environment to service pack 6 (SP6) on our Oracle 11g RAC database farm. Here were our tests:

Test Result
NDCustom copy content tool (uses siapi) perl, cron, DB link to Banner, permissions, UI display: all looks good
Created supersections with our NDcustom job (uses siapi) Same as above. Passed.
Took a quiz while stopping the database on one node (no failover). System Exception error. Session remained open. Saved answers were saved. When database ‘returned’ saves continued. Repeated logged messages as app tried to reconnect to the database. Passed
Took a quiz while gracefully failing over database nodes. No system exception error. Session remained open. Everything saved correctly. Only indication the db node had failed over was watching the netstat –a close connections on 1 db and open on another node, also saw 1 unpinned connection error in the logs. RAC works!
JMS real-time messaging server failover Still fails. Same behavior as always. Recommend Weblogic setting to leave Target set to a single non-migratable node.
Background Jobs: Garbage Collection. Deleted hundreds of courses. Checked timing & completion. No essential change in performance. GC completes & took over an hour. Our live system job  averages 2 hrs nightly on 10g to complete. We now anticipate the same on 11g.
Background Jobs: Content Index Search No essential change between 10g and 11g. Works. Passes.
Background Jobs: Tracking Event No essential change between 10g and 11g. Works. Passes.

Notre Dame’s current FTEs and skill set supporting our CMS/LMS


The University of Notre Dame has some unique characteristics, but these are not necessarily advantageous towards fully utilizing the best of teaching and learning technologies, including the LMS.

The major factors your institution must consider when benchmarking your course management staffing:

  • Does your institution have a School of Education? If you do, they will tend to keep the educational use of technology ‘fresh’ on your campus. Or perhaps I should say, they could do that, if you’re intentional about allowing them to.
  • Does your institution have a distance education program? Are you thinking of starting or expanding one? Instructional Designers will be a part of your campus already.
  • Does your institution require (“Can” your institution require?)  the posting of grades and/or syllabus for all courses in your LMS? Many of your faculty will need help complying. Instructional Designers will help grow their own business.
  • Do you have, or do you intend to grow, multiple integration points into and out of your LMS? Not just SIS provisioning and SSO to digital library resources, but other tools such as iTunes U, the next generation of Wimba/Elluminate tools and so forth.

Notre Dame’s current LMS Staffing



System Admin




App Admin (regression testing, patches, certs, provisioning, monitoring)


OIT Help Desk


MCOB Help Desk


Kaneb Cntr


Language Cntr (Wimba)


Library eReserves


Second Level Support (FAQ’s, blogs, communication)


Academic Technologies (iTunesU, Streaming media)