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Computing Sciences

13/02/2017

The academic year of 2016 started with a bang. The unexpected increase in students that registered for our Honours’ degree resulted in space shortages amongst other challenges. We also had a large growth in numbers for our 1st year and 2nd year programming classes. In addition, we had 18 French students from the ECE Paris Graduate School of Engineering in the department, who registered for four of our Honours’ modules. This can be seen as positive growth for the department and the university at large. The department’s efforts to offer its students quality teaching of well-structured modules lectured by internationally acclaimed academics is starting to be recognised by other international academic institutions. As much as we pride ourselves with this, we are not naïve. We also acknowledge the role played by the International Office which liaises with universities around the world, to assure them that we as the university are capable of providing their students with the best tools to achieve their respective degrees.

During 2016 universities around the country were faced with a generational nightmare famously known as #Fees Must Fall.  When I asked Dr Scholtz about this phenomenon and how it affected the department, she replied, “This was my first year as HOD and I feel extremely honoured to fill the role. However, this was the toughest challenge that NMMU and the Computing Science department has had to face in the 16 years that I have worked for the university. The levels of stress, anxiety and depression amongst both staff and students were the highest I have ever witnessed. But what I have realised is that when one is going through tough times it is extremely important to find ways to fill your soul. For some this can be achieved through doing something creative, prayer, exercise meditation or keeping a gratitude journal. Moreover, for me the positive side of last year was realising again and again the amazing people that we have in our department, faculty and university. In times of stress, it would be easy to turn on each other; however all the staff in our department were extremely supportive of each other and helped each other through the very difficult moments. This made things so much easier to bear. Our staff seem to have an excellent ability to laugh even in the toughest situations pain and that was really the medicine that helped us to cope. One of the positives of the situation is that we were compelled to reassess how we do things in a radical manner and find other alternatives to traditional methods of learning. We were forced to prioritise things that had dropped low on our list of priorities, for example e-learning and blended learning. Some excellent e-learning innovations have come out of this experience and this can be taken into the future.”

At the end of a very eventful year one of our longest serving senior staff members, Dr Lester Cowley retired. Dr Cowley has lectured several other staff members in the department, and is much loved by both staff and students and will be sorely missed.

In spite of the student protests and loss of valuable contact time, we still had a very successful year in all three of our key performance areas of research, education and engagement. The highlights were as follows:

Research

  • Prof Calitz received the NMMU Research Excellence Award.
  • Profs Calitz and Cullen also received the NMMU Engagement Excellence Team Award.
  • We had the most number of journal and conference papers published in the history of our department. Eleven were full conference papers and 20 journal papers were accepted for publication.
  • The published conference papers were for the following conferences: International Business Conference (Langebaan), SAICSIT (Johannesburg), SATNAC (George), Conf-IRM (Cape Town), Mediterranean Conference on Information Systems (MCIS) (Cyprus) & IEEE conference in Italy. South African Institute of Computer Scientists and Information Technologists (SAICSIT) is the premier annual national conference for our discipline.
  • Prof Janet Wesson was on the SAICSIT panel focusing on the International Federation for Information Processing (IFIP). Prof Wesson is the national representative for the IFIP group on Human Computer Interaction.
  • Dr Brenda Scholtz was elected to the SAICSIT council.
  • Dr Brenda Scholtz received her NRF rating (C3).
  • PhD graduate Kayode Ayankoya received the runner up Best Paper award at the International Business Conference (IBC).
  • 7 research grants were applied for (with Germany, France, Italy, Scotland and UK) of which 2 have been approved so far.

Teaching

  • Prof Jean Greyling received the Science Faculty Excellent Teacher Award.
  • In 2016 we received funds from Bank SETA. This has made a huge impact on many students’ lives and allowed several of them to study who may otherwise have dropped out. This is thanks to the efforts of Prof Greyling.

Engagement

  • A very successful InterAction entrepreneurial workshop took place in July. Participants were from the University of Gent (Belgium), Oldenburg (Germany), Lesotho, Cape Town and of course NMMU. A lot of innovative ideas stemmed out of the seminar, thus many of the participants currently are turning these ideas into business, and others are in a processes of formally going into business with participants from Europe and vice-verse.
  • A STEM for girls’ workshop took place and the department provided a coding workshop in our labs. Several girls said they enjoyed the experience and that it opened their eyes up to the possibilities of IT careers.
  • Coverage in the Herald newspaper was given to one of our industry partner organisations, SMS Portal. The co-founder of SMS Portal is NMMU BSc Computer Science graduate James Pearce.

http://www.heraldlive.co.za/business/2016/10/18/sms-provider-ups-global-footprints/

  • A voluntary weekend programming workshop for our students was presented and well supported.
  • Several successful programming competitions and hackathons took place.
  • Science Discovery Week.
  • Several M&D students took part in an intensive 1 week IBM sponsored big data course in the June recess. All participants passed with flying colours and are now certified.
  • Last but not least, Santa Shoe Box. Our staff and students all contributed to this campaign and managed to collect over 60 boxes that were handed over to needy children for Christmas.

We would like to take this opportunity to recognise and show appreciation to the incredible support from our industry partners. We would particularly like to acknowledge the following companies:

Allan Gray, MDA Software, SMS Portal, Propella, Korbitec, Soliditech, Aspen Pharmacare, SYSPRO, Entelect, BCX, Tigers, Alligatortek, BKB, Keypoint Consulting, Legal Aid, SNII, Pearson School, Grey High School, AvoChoc, St James Church and Britehouse.

These companies offered us their time, resources, lecture venues and in some cases financial assistance when dark clouds seemed to shield the department. All of this helped us to achieve what at times we did not think would be possible. In spite of losing 5 weeks of contact lecture time, we completed all Honours modules and 90% of our core undergraduate modules. A combination of off campus venues and e-learning strategies were used in order to achieve this. According to Dr Scholtz, “The department received many emails from students and parents thanking us for how the situation was handled and how we managed the academic recovery programme.”

In closing the department would like to thank all staff, students, parents and other stakeholders and organisations who supported us during 2016.