By Kathleen Dardes
This October, the Latin American Consortium marked its fourth anniversary and, with this milestone, began an important new phase in its development.
The Consortium, organized by the Getty Conservation Institute, is a network of preventive conservation educators and serves as a framework for various cooperative initiatives. These include "train-the-trainer" workshops, the pooling of didactic materials, and exchanging of advice and information.
During the Consortium's formative years, the GCI provided opportunities for the project members to meet, hold teaching workshops, and undertake other activities relevant to the project's objectives. To date, the Consortium has organized two workshops for teachers—one on emergency preparedness, the other on the environmental issues of museum buildings and their collections—and has created didactic materials for use by its members. To facilitate the Consortium's work, the GCI also created a project Web site (www.laconsorcio.org), which now serves as an essential vehicle for sharing information and materials.
This year, the GCI—which remains an active member of the Consortium—is passing the management of the project, including its Web site, over to Professor Luiz Souza, the program coordinator of the Graduate Studies Program in Visual Arts of the School of Fine Arts at Brazil's Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG). Souza and UFMG, strong advocates of the Consortium since its beginning, most recently provided the venue for the latest workshop for conservation educators. UFMG has also offered the project the technical support it requires as it evolves and develops roots within the region.
The Consortium's Development—and What We Learned
Collaborations, increasingly prevalent in academic fields, are especially important in areas where educational resources are hard to access. In the pre-Internet world, a project of the size and scope of the Consortium would have been impossible. But today's electronic technology is creating opportunities for broader educational communication and cooperation, and recent years have witnessed some exciting experimentation and applications.
Nevertheless, technology-assisted education projects demand carefully defined goals and planning, as well as access to the right experts and models. At the GCI, we recognized that pulling together a collaborative community of educators with specific objectives and a broad agenda over a large geographic region would not be a straightforward process. For this reason, we sought advice from educators and searched the broader education field for possible models and inspiration.
As part of that search, we looked at the way Web-based academic collaborations and communities actually operated; how faculty, researchers, and students were using the Web to support teaching and learning; and how universities were preparing faculty to make the transition to different teaching approaches utilizing new technology.
Designing a Web site to support the specific objectives and activities of the project was a particular challenge—in part because we wanted the site to be more than just a place to post information. Its real purpose was to serve as both a resource center and a workplace for members—functions that needed to be reflected in its design. An examination of a range of Web sites developed by and for universities within the United States assisted in the evolution of our own site by showing us the different ways educators were using electronic technology for teaching and learning. We were able to adapt some of the best practices to our own work.
Our research not only examined Web pages created to support university-level course work but also looked at online resource centers for faculty (such as Dartmouth College's Web teaching site, www.dartmouth.edu/~webteach/index.html) and didactic materials "cooperatives" (such as the Electronic Hallway [www.hallway. org/], a resource for teachers of public administration and policy). We integrated the best of what we learned into the design of the project Web site, whose features now include a library of downloadable teaching materials (print and visuals) and "course pages" designed to support the preparation for and teaching of each of the workshops. Research into how teaching institutions were safeguarding copyrighted online course materials helped us establish a system for making our teaching resources available while addressing intellectual property concerns.
The Buildings and Collections Workshop
In addition to helping guide the design of the Web site, our research informed many of the working strategies of the Consortium itself, as we applied some of the best ideas for academic collaboration that we encountered into the work of preparing and delivering the workshops. The project's most recent workshop, "Museum Buildings and Their Collections"—which took place at UFMG in May 2001—became a testing ground for new approaches to teaching and resource sharing.
As with the Consortium's previous workshop on emergency planning, the workshop on buildings and collections was intended for either full—or part-time teachers who were affiliated with universities—or, in some cases, with museums or heritage organizations. Participants came from Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, and Cuba. The workshop instructors included May Cassar of the Center for Sustainable Heritage at University College London, Kathleen Dardes of the GCI, Michael Henry of Watson and Henry Architects/Engineers of New Jersey, Griselda Pinheiro Klüppel of the Federal University of Bahia in Brazil, Franciza Toledo of the GCI, and Luiz Souza of UFMG.
The objectives of the workshop were to: (1) survey current research, thinking, and practical approaches for addressing the environmental issues of collections and the buildings housing them; (2) highlight interdisciplinary strategies for appropriate and sustainable environmental conditions; and (3) present educational strategies and materials that workshop participants could apply in their own training programs. In developing the workshop, the instructors, who worked in teams, considered how to make participants deal with the environmental issues of collections and buildings—both as conservation practitioners and as teachers.
The complete set of teaching materials prepared for the workshop was uploaded to the Consortium's Web site. These materials included a session outline that described the learning objectives, content, and teaching strategies for the session; a technical note presenting the key points of the topic; and PowerPoint teaching slides. An online gallery of images completed the set. Added to these materials were related technical notes and teaching materials from previous preventive conservation courses offered by the GCI and links to other relevant online literature and bibliographies. Thus, a complete "course pack" was created of teaching materials drawn from a variety of sources.
These materials are now part of the Consortium's permanent teaching resources that project members can download from the Web site and use in their own teaching. According to Luiz Souza, "the Consortium has had a great impact on our graduate studies program in visual arts here at UFMG. In our recently established master's program in visual arts, the students can follow specific study topics in conservation, in an integrated way, involving the conservation issues of museum buildings and collections. The Consortium's teaching materials have been an important resource in this program."
While the main aim of the Latin American Consortium is to support the development of preventive conservation education in Latin America, one of the most useful outcomes has been uncovering the wealth of ideas and information on new developments within the larger arena of professional education. While without a doubt new technology is driving many of the changes occurring within higher education, the most significant work currently being done clearly serves older values and traditions within academia. Openness and collegiality are characteristics of many of the best academic projects uncovered by the project's research. The participants of these projects show a willingness to share and collaborate and, in so doing, to enhance a larger community of educators. Nowhere is this openness and academic cooperation more dramatic than in the announcement by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in April 2001 that it would make most of its course materials freely available on the Web to other educators (ocw.mit.edu/index.html). This extraordinary initiative is not just a model for dissemination of teaching resources in the age of the Internet; it is also, clearly, a challenge to other educational institutions to do likewise.
As a result of the research and activities associated with the Consortium, the GCI has tested new ideas and applications, learned what is achievable, and considered ways that conservation education can share in the opportunities that the broader education field now offers.
During the next year, the Institute will undertake a feasibility study to determine the degree of interest among other conservation educators outside of Latin America in a greater exchange and sharing of didactic resources. This study will also present several possible educational models that may be adapted to the needs of conservation educators. The Institute will explore how conservation educators can gain easier access to teaching materials, courseware, image databanks, cooperative projects, and Web sites for specific courses within conservation and related disciplines.
A number of conservation educators who are already integrating the Internet into their teaching have agreed to take part in this study, among them May Cassar of the Center for Sustainable Heritage at University College London. "My participation in the Consortium came at a formative time when I was thinking about how and why the traditional approach to teaching conservation needed revitalization—and what could provide that vitality," she stated. "With the speed and range of communication and access to a whole range of resources that the Web makes possible, integrating new technologies into conservation education—in my case, preventive conservation, which so closely depends on other professionals—is an obvious step to take."
The GCI's feasibility study will test the broader application of the ideas and lessons that are a result of our work with the Consortium. But it will also explore the thoughtful ideas that other educators have about the types of resources, exchanges, and collaborations that can enhance the future of conservation education, increasing its accessibility in ways not possible until now.
Kathleen Dardes is a senior project specialist with the GCI and the Institute's project manager for the Latin American Consortium.