Teacher and PhD graduate Dr Caitlin Sam used her thesis to research whether using social media platforms could help teach pupils remotely. Photo: Supplied
Aiming to see her pupils succeed during the 2020 lockdown, graduate Dr Caitlin Sam used her PhD thesis to research whether using social media platforms could help teach pupils remotely.
Sam, who graduated with a PhD in information technology from Durban University of Technology in July, designed an application where teachers and pupils could plug in which learning criteria they needed. The app would then choose the social media platform they could use according to the criteria and device.
Starting her PhD in 2020 during the Covid-19 lockdown, Sam realised that a lot of pupils did not have access to the proper data packages to learn, which made it difficult for them to be taught effectively through the learning management systems.
“At that time, I thought of the pupils who were in government schools, which sparked my interest as I realised that there was a gap in the market.
During my research, I found out that social media was more accessible in South Africa and used fewer data compared to learning management systems, hence, my thesis involved social computing.
She then ranked which of the 14 different social media platforms used in the research would work better according to the criteria of the subject being taught, as well as on which device.
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“My thesis uses intelligent decision support systems, artificial intelligence and data mining as tools to generate an application to assist teaching when you are unable to be physically present.”
Can’t take away education
The 34-year-old doctor teaches grades 8 to 12 mathematics at Curro Heritage House in Morningside, Durban, and is also the academic head of the school.
She lives by her mother words: “People can take away a lot from you, but they cannot take away your education. I cannot afford much but I can sacrifice a lot for your education.”
Sam actually wanted to become a crime scene investigator and studied for a bachelor of science and an honours in microbiology.
In 2010, she got her first job and “it was the worst job ever” as she realised that “it was not a crime scene investigation” she thought it would be.
“I then decided to do my postgraduate certificate in education to become a teacher. To my surprise, I got the first job I applied for.”
Sam said that she did not enjoy that job either because the pupils were so awful and she cried herself to sleep every day.
I said to myself, I need to study something else. I then applied for a master’s in business administration and graduated cum laude. My thesis was chosen to be published internationally.
Sam shared that because she had a stutter, she had always been apprehensive about entering career fields that would require her to speak publicly.
“People would say to me, how are you a teacher when you can’t even speak properly?”
This, however, drove her to work hard in her career and studies.
Dr Sam, a shining example
Besides being a great role model to her pupils, Sam looks forward to putting her newly acquired qualification to good use by leading pupils into a rapidly changing digital era.
“We are incredibly proud of Dr Sam’s fantastic achievement,” Arthee Rajkumar, executive head at Curro Heritage House, said.
“At Curro, we are always looking for ways to inspire and motivate our pupils and Dr Sam is a shining example of what can be achieved if you are passionate, work hard and stay focussed.
“We especially appreciate her dedication to her pupils during this challenging time. Her commitment and sacrifice are something everyone at our school can aspire to.”
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Sam has designed the application that she submitted for her PhD but has not had the necessary resources to develop it.
She hopes that the findings can be used to inform the way South African pupils are taught in the future.