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A Covid-19 Hero for WBS

- Wits University

The Wits Heroes Series celebrates staff members who went beyond the call of duty at the onset of Covid-19 in 2020.

Myrtel Adams-Gardner, Wits Business School's very own Covid-19 Hero

During March and April 2020, when most of the university had a timeous study break following the announcement of the first national lockdown from midnight on 26 March, Myrtle Adams-Gardner worked around the clock to prepare Wits Business School for online teaching.

With the second teaching block due to start on 4 April, the pressure was truly on, and Adams-Gardner a Programmes Quality Manager at WBS, barely had time to think before she went “into overdrive” to ensure that WBS academics were adequately prepared to move their courses online.

“I not only had to make sure that the existing WBS online programmes were ready to go live at the time but lecturers also needed to be rapidly upskilled. I worked late into the night for about three months, including weekends, to assist and support academics online and by phone.”

With 18 years’ experience in education management, Adams-Gardner has worked with local, regional, and international higher education institutions to develop their teaching capability plans. She specialises in online design and curriculum development, with a focus on designing innovative learning and teaching practices. She holds a Master’s in Education, with specialisation in Adult Learning and Global Change.

I believe that my years of advocating about transforming teaching and learning to distance education prepared me for the inevitable when lockdown happened. It was like all my work over the past three years came rushing like a movie in front of me.”

In those heady few weeks, Adams-Gardner not only provided one-on-one consultations with lecturers, helping to build confidence in them to manage the transition, but she also helped deploy teaching tools and contributed to faculty level forums, not to mention sitting on multiple meetings to ensure the process was well planned.

“I soon realised that one-on-one support was not efficient and so instead I set aside time to create online videos on different course design and development aspects to reach a broader audience, focusing on those academics who had not been previously exposed to online teaching or online course design,” she says.

She cites time, lack of support in light of the sudden and rapid shift, and having to just keep the wheels turning despite the uncertainty, as major challenges. A further challenge was to prepare those support staff who were required to assist academics but had no experience of the online teaching format, which she did by putting together coordination processes for the Faculty of Commerce, Law and Management.

“Myrtle made an enormous contribution to the ability of the school to switch to ERT in a far shorter timeline than elsewhere in the University. And most telling, all of this was done on top of her workload, and with patience, care and a good sense of humour,” says Sue Benvenuti, Academic Quality Assurance Manager at WBS.

Says Adams-Gardner: “Reflecting on the past year, I have learned that amidst the challenges it remains necessary to have a plan for uncertainty which also includes power outages and civil unrest, and to prioritise self-care. In times of adversity, our true characters are revealed and tested. Lastly, without God at my side, I would not have emerged from this experience and been able to hold things together.”