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Source: University of Canterbury

30 September 2020

A Computer Science lecturer who developed an innovative open-source teaching tool that has taken off around the world has won the University of Canterbury’s highest award for tertiary teaching excellence.

  • Dr Richard Lobb developed an innovative open-source teaching tool that has taken off around the world and has won UC’s highest award for tertiary teaching excellence.

The University of Canterbury (UC) Teaching Medal is awarded for outstanding and sustained contribution to teaching and is only given out occasionally.

Dr Richard Lobb has taught in the UC Computer Science and Software Engineering Department since 2004 and during that time has been responsible for many innovations that have improved and expanded the way the subject is taught.

In 2017 he developed a free Moodle plug-in called CodeRunner which provides an interactive learning environment. Since then it has been adopted by hundreds of thousands of students at universities around the world.

Dr Lobb says his teaching philosophy is that students learn by doing and they need immediate feedback. He also believes he has to enthuse his students so they will want to succeed.

Those elements fed into the development of CodeRunner assessment tool where students write programme code and paste it into an answer box to get instant results.

Ironically, Dr Lobb, now 73, had planned on retiring from his academic career when he moved to Christchurch in 2004. Instead he has ended up teaching at UC ever since.  

“I enjoy my work so much that I don’t even think of it as work. It’s my life. I’ve grown up with computers, I’m a computer geek. I was one of the early adopters and I worked as a programmer here and overseas. It’s been a fun ride. It’s an exciting, rapidly changing field and I like change.

“I’ve been really well supported by my department and colleagues and I’ve felt valued for my teaching work and that’s been an inspiration to me.”

UC Computer Science and Software Engineering Professor Andy Cockburn, who nominated Dr Lobb for the medal, says he is an enormously popular lecturer and colleague who is passionate about the topics he teaches and excels at conveying that enthusiasm to his students.

“He has constructed a suite of world-leading educational tools which are now widely used at UC, across New Zealand and at more than 1460 institutions overseas.

“He has inspired outstanding young New Zealand students to pursue computer science at undergraduate and postgraduate levels and he has led continuous innovations in the computing curriculum at Canterbury.”

Dr Lobb always wants the best for his students, he says, and has organised UC’s participation in international programming competitions, including training the teams and travelling to the finals overseas to support them.

He also helped instigate the successful move in 2018 to provide YouTube video tutorials as a replacement for lectures in some of the largest first-year courses, and set up a help-line service called LiveZilla to give students easy online access to tutors during the Covid-19 lockdown restrictions earlier this year.

Dr Lobb received a UC Teaching Award in 2011 and in 2018 he received the Clinton Bedogni Prize for Open Systems for his outstanding contributions to Computer Science education through his development of CodeRunner.

Professor Tim Bell, Deputy Head of the Department of Computer Science and Software Engineering and a former UC Teaching Medal winner, says Dr Lobb is the most effective tertiary teacher he has ever worked with. “In short, I have found teaching with Dr Lobb inspiring, humbling, exhausting and fun.”

The 2020 Teaching Medal will be formally awarded to Dr Lobb at a ceremony in late November.