Forging new pathways, creating opportunities for students and academics, and playing a leading role in helping the University of Cape Town (UCT) achieve Vision 2030 will be a key focus for the incoming head of the Department of Information Systems (IS), Associate Professor Maureen Tanner.
Associate Professor Tanner will step into her new role in January 2022, and she already has big plans to lead the department into the future. Her roadmap is clear: research and achieving excellence, transformation and sustainability in teaching and learning are of utmost importance. And while it promises to be hard work, Tanner believes that with all hands on deck, building the ideal department and university is “definitely possible”.
Humbled and excited
Tanner joined UCT as a junior lecturer in 2009, and quickly climbed the academic ladder. Seven short years after she first set foot on campus, she attained her promotion to the professoriate, which she recalls being one of her proudest moments at UCT to date.
“I am deeply honoured by this appointment.”
Of her appointment as head of department (HOD), Tanner said she is humbled and excited to get the ball rolling. And there’s a lot to do; but cementing the department’s vision and mission – which is to become a leading African centre for IS research, and to produce world-class graduates – is uppermost on her list.
“I am deeply honoured by this appointment. The IS department has had a series of exceptional HODs who have paved the way for me and have set a firm foundation for this department. Each of them has contributed tremendously to the lives of staff and students. I am proud to be standing on the shoulders of these giants,” she said.
“I believe in servant leadership and will do everything in my power to support my colleagues.”
Prior to joining UCT, Tanner worked as a software engineer, and was part of a global software development (SD) team responsible for developing finance and payroll applications for the United Kingdom market.
She holds a PhD in IS, and her ongoing research at UCT focuses on an array of topical issues related to SD. As an academic, Tanner said, her background as a software engineer does come in handy. Her skills allow her to craft a research agenda that explores SD from various critical perspectives, which include methodologies, workforce development and management, the dissemination and use of different software, the context in which SD can take place, and how best to teach and to help students to learn.
In her department, Tanner wears multiple hats: lecturer, course convenor, student advisor, postgraduate section head, and supervisor. She also serves on several faculty and university committees, so she’s well accustomed to a jampacked schedule. But when the day’s been particularly tough, you’ll find her (also an avid runner) indulging in one of her fantasy audio books – and Harry Potter is a firm favourite.
“Running helps me to de-stress, as well as to challenge myself mentally and physically. In many ways it’s an essential part of becoming the better version of myself,” she said.
“I also really enjoy craft work – like watercolour painting, crochet and mosaic.”
A love for teaching
Over the years, this C1-rated National Research Foundation (NRF) researcher has developed a love for teaching and research. She particularly enjoys convening the Honours-year Systems Development Project, which boasts a large and exciting practical component that requires that students develop innovative solutions to topical business problems.
Her students are the highlight of her day. Nurturing them on their individual quests to grow, and learning from them daily, is what she considers most fulfilling about her job as an academic.
“I love watching them [students] grow and mature as adults. I love planting seeds in their lives which hopefully will allow them to become even more beautiful and complete human beings, who will then make a difference in the lives of others,” she said.
As Tanner prepares for her new role, she harbours no illusions about the magnitude of the task. But she believes in the importance of planning to achieve a desired goal, and she admits to having a few plans up her sleeve to steer her newly acquired ship to success.
“There is much work to be done. But if the roadmap is clear, we’ll get there effortlessly and together.”
Some of these plans, she said, include strategising on the principles of blended learning and how to switch seamlessly between different modes of teaching; hosting reflection workshops to review teaching practices and pedagogies; developing graduate attributes that target the individual, the campus community and the world; and ensuring that students are never disadvantaged and always have access to the relevant technology to continue the academic programme.
More than that, additional priorities for Tanner are supporting students and staff; urging young academics to develop relationships with industry partners; and paying close attention to her staff’s personal development goals and helping them grow.
“There’s much work to be done. But if the roadmap is clear, we’ll get there effortlessly and together,” Tanner said.
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