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07 September 2021 | Story Leonie Bolleurs

Two lecturers in the Department of Computer Science and Informatics at the University of the Free State (UFS) authored and presented a paper that received the best paper award at this year’s 50th Annual Conference of the Southern African Computer Lecturers’ Association (SACLA). 

SACLA is an association for academics teaching Computer Science, Information Systems, and Information Technology subjects at universities and other higher education institutions in Southern Africa. The Academy of Computer Science and Software Engineering at the University of Johannesburg hosted the conference.

Dr Pakiso Khomokhoana, Lecturer in the Department of Computer Science and Informatics, presented the paper titled Mapping the problem-solving strategies of novice programmers to Polya's framework: SWOT analysis as a bottleneck identification tool. He chose this topic because he was concerned that students (especially novices) are always encountering challenges when it comes to understanding source code and working with related problems.

Prof Liezel Nel, Associate Professor in the Department of Computer Science and Informatics, co-authored the paper with Dr Khomokhoana.

“When the time came to announce the best paper, my heart was panting, and I was thrilled to hear elements of my paper mentioned in preparation for the final announcement,” says Dr Khomokhoana, who reckons that the amount of work one puts into a paper is equivalent to the yield you receive in return.

He is convinced that one should feel the ‘pinch’ for whatever you do in life. Those who are studying can relate to nights spent toiling, headaches, and stressed muscles, with the pain only going away after reaching your goal. “One has to work hard in order to succeed in life,” he states.

He says that being recognised for this paper not only means that he can produce more acceptable research in the future; with the feedback received from reviewers, he can help other upcoming researchers by imparting to them the research skills he obtained over the years.

The UFS also presented a second paper at the conference. Mokotsolane Mase, Lecturer from the same department on the UFS Qwaqwa Campus, presented a paper co-authored by Prof Nel as well, titled: Common code writing errors made by novice programmers: Implications for the teaching of Introductory Programming.

Continuous excellence

The SACLA programme committee is committed to keeping papers earmarked for journal publication to a very high standard. “Since only the top papers are earmarked for journal publication, it was a great achievement to have both papers selected for inclusion in the 2021 publication,” says Prof Nel. 

However, the highlight of the conference for her was when the paper she co-authored with Dr Khomokhoana was recognised as the best paper. 

“What makes this achievement even more special, is that it is the second time in three years that Dr Khomokhoana and I have received this award (2019 and 2021). This is also the third time (since the inception of the ‘best paper award’ in 2014) that I have been the co-author of the best paper.”

“Being recognised at this level for our research in the field of Computer Science Education (CSE) is testament to the quality and importance of the research being conducted within the CSE research group of the UFS Department of Computer Science and Informatics,” she says. 

The way forward

Prof Nel believes in the potential of the CSE research group, and her goal for the next five years is to continue to expand the CSE research group within the department. 

“What I love most about this type of research is that it requires a close integration of the lecturing and research roles of academics. As educational researchers, we must reflect critically on our current teaching and learning practices and consider ways in which we can ultimately provide our students with the best possible learning experiences that will adequately prepare them for the world of work. Mentoring young academics who are interested in this field of research, is one of my biggest passions. By sharing our research at conferences (such as SACLA) and through publication in international journals, we contribute to the scholarship of teaching and learning on a much broader scale,” she says. 

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