IT Administrator at the forefront, providing innovative online learning solutions
- Wits University
The Wits Heroes Series celebrates staff members who went beyond the call of duty at the onset of Covid-19 in 2020.
An Information Technology (IT) administrator at the Wits School of Architecture and Planning spearheaded a virtual lab for students, staying true to the culture of innovative excellence championed by Wits University.
Steven Blumberg, who started working at the university in January 2020, was already trained for battle when Covid-19 reached South African shores in March 2020. Before joining Wits, Blumberg ran his own IT consultancy. The consultancy often offered remote support to customers, making the transition into the online teaching space much smoother for him.
The virtual lab was for students who could no longer physically access on-campus resources, as the campus remained closed, in line with Covid-19 lockdown regulations. The virtual lab allowed students remote access to computers in the labs, giving them access to software critical for learning.
“IT is IT, and being the IT administrator, the learners [are] still my clients even my colleagues. If they have a problem, I need to solve it. If the school has a problem or require a solution, I need to hand them that solution. So, in that regard, the consultancy did prepare me well for this sort of environment and the Covid situation. If I wasn't as systems orientated as I had prepared myself previously, it would have been a lot harder to move all our systems into an online environment and still create an atmosphere where the learners are working comfortably and are able to submit assignments and can still access all the resources which previously, they were only able to access [physically],” he says.
Blumberg provided further support by hosting training sessions for academic staff at the school, teaching them how to best use the technological resources available to create a stimulating learning environment.
He descirbes his colleagues as "wonderful and creative" adding that they continue to find ways and means to survive in this online world. This is essential in a visual and discipline drawing environment.
Professor Nnamdi Elleh, the Head of School of Architecture and Planning, praised Blumberg for his unwavering commitment to ensuring that the academic calendar continued. Elleh referred to Blumberg as the most technically savvy IT administrator he has ever come across.
“Steven is someone who looks after the school and does an outstanding job. He never shies away from participating in the call of duty,” Elleh.
According to Elleh, there now is a great appetite to continue to refine the virtual lab system and include it in a blended learning model in future years.
For Blumberg, the coronavirus pandemic could not have emerged at a better time. The conditions created by the Covid-19 pandemic has allowed people to cement and promote the value of technology, enabling them to devise systems and solutions that are critical to our survival.
“Technology is there to help us. We must not feel scared of it. We have to move forward and adhere to the fact that we need to adapt to situations like these. No one is alone, there's always support. We are working in the background to ensure that operations can continue, maybe not as per normal but in a way that will be comfortable for both the students and the academics,” he concludes.