College of Science, Engineering & Technology

Still making a mark in research even in retirement

Prof Ruth de Villiers (Retired academic, CSET: Unisa and a C2 re-rated researcher by the NRF)

Even in retirement, Prof Ruth de Villiers sets the research bar high. The former Unisa academic, who was part of the School of Computing in the College of Science, Engineering and Technology (CSET) from 1984 to 2012, has this year been re-rated as a C2 researcher by the National Research Foundation (NRF).

This time, her rating application was different from the usual application. She says: "Although I have a good track record, I am no longer involved in hands-on research." When she informed the NRF that her primary role is now research support and mentoring, rather than research as such, they told her to still apply. She remarks: "For me, the most stimulating aspect is that I believe my present contributions to Unisa - through advancing growth in research and scholarship of academics - are making the greatest impact yet."

After retiring, De Villiers has fulfilled a number of post-retirement contract roles. She has completed supervising several master’s and doctoral students and has published co-authored outputs. She says: "Since 2016, I have served as an expert consultant to Unisa’s Research Directorate, which involves assisting researchers with their NRF rating applications and funding applications." In pre-Covid-19 days, she presented workshops on various research-based topics.

Her research remains relevant

De Villiers’ research and supervision combined the focus areas of human-computer interaction and e-learning by means of design, research and evaluation of educational technology tools and environments. "The artefacts included interactive tutorials, web-based learning, mobile learning environments, virtual reality, graphical training environments for computer programming, educational use of social media and e-assessment," she says.

"Post-retirement, I completed two personal research studies. One was a mixed-methods study on learning with an interactive tutorial that I had previously designed, and the other was evaluation of collaborative learning via a Facebook Forum." Smiling, she recalls: "My then line manager at Unisa was amused that the oldest person in the school was the first to tackle academic use of Facebook."

Embracing Unisa memories

De Villiers says that her enduring memory of her full-time days at Unisa is the special people with whom she worked at the School of Computing. "Now, in my retirement, I am working with other excellent people," she says.

In terms of events, a highlight was a visit to Ethiopia in 2011 with a group of CSET staff. She says: "We did postgraduate orientation with students who were registered for master’s and doctoral studies. I was awed by their appreciation of the opportunity and commitment to their studies." She adds that even some Ethiopian honours students came to listen and one of them asked when they were returning to train them. She concludes: "I returned to South Africa with the realisation that nothing should be taken for granted and that working or studying at Unisa is a privilege."

* By Nancy Legodi, Acting Journalist, Department of Institutional Advancement

Publish date: 2021-04-15 00:00:00.0