42nd Annual Meeting – Interest Session, May 31, “Syllabus Sharing Session”. Chaired by Emily Williams.

This was a pretty informal session but it was attended by a lot of really enthusiastic people. When I arrived in the room shortly before the start time the discussion had already started. By the time Emily Williams arrived (one issue with this session was a  lot of competing interests at the same time) only 5 minutes later, we were already well into it and she had her work cut out to herd the syllabus-sharing cats.
The initial premise of the meeting was for people either teaching or interested in teaching conservation to allied professions to get together and share their ideas for teaching. This arose from interest expressed at the last annual meeting. Emily Williams, who guided the session, explained that there wasn’t a big plan for it, they just wanted to provide a space for discussion and she wanted to distribute a short questionnaire to determine interests (see end of blog for the questionnaire questions; please send your answers to the questions listed to Emily Williams)
When I came in, the discussion centered on what kind of sharing was proposed. Some participants were unwilling to post their syllabi online for various reasons, although they’d be willing to share them with interested people via email. The group seemed pretty evenly split on this topic but even without general consensus on that topic there were a lot of interesting ideas and useful resources discussed.
One suggestion (sorry, everyone, I was having a hard enough time jotting down the ideas that were coming fast and furious and didn’t always note who said what) was a list of who was teaching what, where, and whether to undergrad or grad students, so that we could see who was teaching something akin to our interests and reach out to them. Another participant was interested in adding information on class size and whether the instruction was compensated. At this point, Emily came in and let us know that AIC’s e-editor Rachael Perkins Arenstein and she had just discussed setting up a Wiki page that could host just this sort of info, so that was great. This ‘Teaching to Allied Professionals’ wiki page would be akin to the existing Exhibiting Conservation .
Several participants offered useful resources; these came up at various points in the discussion but I’m going to lump them together here:

  • Chemistry in Art  is the first web-based community launched by the NSF-sponsored Chemistry Collaborations, Workshops and Community of Scholars program (cCWCS) . The CiA community is primarily designed for college-level instructors to network and to collaborate; and to access, share and develop curriculum materials.
  • GCI  has a lot of good teaching resources.  “The GCI is pleased to make available didactic resources that have been produced and used in the Institute’s courses, workshops and field training. These resources include outlines of teaching sessions, bibliographies, exercises, case studies, and technical notes that can be downloaded and used by conservation educators and students in the classroom and by professionals for informal, personal learning according to the terms described below.” GCI puts everything up under a Creative Commons License. Kathleen Dardes mentioned that she was particularly interested in getting feedback on this resource.
  • NEDCC also has resources available freely.
  • UCL has a very detailed online syllabus for their Conservation for Archaeologists course:
  • Renee Stein and Katherine Etre at the Carlos Museum have worked with science teachers to develop a resource for high school science labs based on art conservation. Carlos.emory.edu/science-art-conservation

There was some discussion of how to write a syllabus; Emily put forward the view that we should think of a syllabus as a contract between the student and instructor. Some felt that this might lead to a voluminous syllabus and suggested adding a generic paragraph that everything is subject to change. There was general agreement that it was important to communicate fully with students to understand their expectations and to explain your expectations. List outcomes and rubrics (this was unfamiliar use of rubric for me so I turned to Wikipedia for explication: “In education terminology, scoring rubric means “a standard of performance for a defined population”.” Live and learn). The students need to understand that taking one course will not transform them into conservators.   Instructors in a university setting may need to follow institutional guidelines for syllabus-writing but also may be able to get help from their Centers for Learning Excellence.
At our request Emily explicated what the relationship was between ETC (the AIC Education and Training Committee of which she’s also a member) and this syllabus sharing group. In short, the ETC is tasked with overseeing AIC’s education initiatives (mostly directed at conservator education) whereas our adhoc group was directed at conservation education for allied professionals.
At this point, we went around the room and introduced ourselves and talked about our specific interest in the topic. It was fascinating to learn how many different ‘allied professionals’ were interested in or could benefit by an academic introduction to conservation basics: art students (who could learn how to make their artworks more permanent or definitely ephemeral); museum studies programs; collections managers; archaeology and anthropology students; art history students; library scientists and archivists; programs for chemistry, materials science or engineering students, and others I’ve probably left out. One participant was especially interested in identifying and accessing online resources that could be used by students in the Developing World.
Emily polled the room to see if there was interest in a session for the next Annual Meeting on how to teach. If you weren’t there but would are interested, please fill out the extremely short survey at the end of this post.
I have not yet taught a full semester University level course, just classes in other courses and workshops in host countries. But I hope to do so in the next year or so as our Museum starts an exciting new initiative for teaching archaeological science to undergraduates. Having long felt that most American archaeology and anthropology students need to understand more about conservation, I’m pretty passionate about this topic and it was great to be in a room with others who share that passion.
We are hoping to organize a formal workshop on teaching for the Miami AIC meeting. To help us plan this and future events please answer the following questions and return this form to either Emily Williams (ewilliams@cwf.org) or Suzanne Davis (davissl@umich.edu)

  1. What resources would you most like to see AIC develop to aid you in your teaching. These resources might include items for the soon to launch “Teaching to Allied Professionals” wiki page, continued education courses for conservators engaged in courses, course materials for use in the classroom or other items. Please write down anything you think might be useful.
  2. Is there a particular challenge that you feel you or other conservators face in teaching Allied Professionals that you particularly wish to see addressed through workshops or the wiki page.
  3. Have you developed course materials or other teaching aids that you are willing to share with other conservators? If so, what types and how may we contact you?

42nd Annual Meeting – General Session, May 29, "A LEED Primer for Conservators: Or, What Should I Do When the Architect Proposes Daylight in Our New Galleries, by Scott Raphael Schiamberg and Rachael Perkins Arenstein"

Both Scott and Rachael emphasized the importance of working together.  This is NOT the attitude they endorsed.
Both Scott and Rachael emphasized the importance of working together. This is NOT the attitude they endorsed.

When I perused the list of talks for this meeting, the subtitle of this one immediately caught my eye. In fact, I used it as one of the justifications for my Museum to support my attendance. There have been many skirmishes in the ‘natural light in galleries’ tug of war at the Penn Museum lately. It turns out that the light issue was peripheral to the LEED discussion but I’m so glad I was drawn into this fascinating and useful talk.
Scott started off explaining that to be good clients for architects, conservators should have a basic understanding of LEED. Like all of us, I’ve been seeing LEED mentioned in every building project I read about or walk past but I never really knew was it was or how it worked.
From the US Green Building Council website: “LEED, or Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design, is a green building certification program that recognizes best-in-class building strategies and practices. To receive LEED certification, building projects satisfy prerequisites and earn points to achieve different levels of certification. Prerequisites and credits differ for each rating system, and teams choose the best fit for their project.”
With gentle humor, Scott filled out this definition for us. He compared LEED to eating one’s vegetables: sometimes a challenge but good for us. Considering LEED factors is Doing the Right Thing (something conservators always strive for, right?). He explained that the system is constantly evolving and getting better. There are five different ratings systems but none of them is a perfect fit for museum buildings; he hoped that there might be a special system for our special needs. Until then, we need to understand how the system works and how it can be used for and against conservation factors. Scott explained that sometimes architects (not his firm, of course) ‘game’ the system – using LEED to justify things like the aforementioned natural light in galleries: “if you don’t give in on this, we won’t make our LEED rating”. But the LEED system is point-based and natural light only counts for 1 point out of a possible 110. Putting a bike rack outside the building gives you the same point with much less impact on artifact preservation.
Scott emphasized that it’s not our jobs as conservators to be intimately acquainted with LEED, just to understand enough to work effectively with the construction team.
Scott’s takeaways before handing over to Rachael included:

  • The reminder that the client is always right. The Museum is the architect’s client.
  • Do your homework; it’s important to select the right architect. Check with colleagues and previous clients. (Speaking of someone who has been working with an absolutely stellar architectural firm recently and has coped with the results of less successful choices, I can’t emphasize this strongly enough)
  • Work closely with the architect
  • LEED is not perfect but is a good starting point and is getting better.
  • It’s more important to get things right than to chase LEED points, if they don’t align with your needs.

Rachael began by pointing out that new construction should be exciting but in her and many colleagues’ experience, it turns out to be more stressful than joyful. She theorized that the problems many of us have faced are not inherent in the LEED system but in the design process. We (and she included in this pronoun conservators, facilities staff, administrators, and donors) make our lives difficult. Rachael suggested some strategies for reducing the stress for everyone.
The most important factor is probably effective project management. All the stakeholders should be involved early. Rachael referred to the trap many of us have experienced: being told that it’s ‘too early’ to be involved in the process then, when we are allowed a seat at the table told that it’s too late to change the problem items. She reiterated the importance of wise choice of architect; the right architect needs to be responsive to the client’s concerns and this should be just as true of ‘STARchitects’. To be an intelligent client we need to be prepared to sit through a lot of meetings and to have done our homework. Rachael provided some resources she’s found useful:

Both the books are available on amazon.
She suggested that we as conservators need to have a voice in broader preservation concerns and emphasized that this is best done by contributing positively: “be an ally not a critic”. [Later several of us were discussing this profound fact at the lovely evening reception and Terry Drayman-Weisser shared her technique for responding to suggestions from non-conservators that horrify her conservatorial instincts: “That’s a good idea, let me work with you to figure out how we can manage that” I may not have the quote exact but you get the gist.]
Rachael’s LEED specific tips included the insight that there were three of the six LEED rating categories that tended to have the most potential for contention with conservation concerns: Energy and Atmosphere; Materials and Resources; Indoor Environmental Quality. But these are only contentious if the team is choosing to chase LEED points without considering the Big Picture.
Finally Rachael reminded us that all the planning in the world will not help if the plans are not followed through or carried out properly. Perhaps the most important tip was to ensure that the construction plan included an independent commissioning agent. Building commissioning (Cx) is the process of verifying, in new construction, all (or some, depending on scope) of the subsystems for mechanical (HVAC), plumbing, electrical, fire/life safety, building envelopes, interior systems (example laboratory units), cogeneration, utility plants, sustainable systems, lighting, wastewater, controls, and building security to achieve the owner’s project requirements as intended by the building owner and as designed by the building architects and engineers [thank you, Wikipedia]. An independent commissioning agent is one who ensures that everything has been done as laid out; clearly an outside specialist is to be preferred to the contractors who have an understandable vested interest in passing their own work.
I’ve tried to do justice to this very informative presentation but I’m sure I’ve left out or misrepresented some vital facts. This blogging stuff is hard – I don’t mean to discourage others from doing it; I’m really glad I did so but it’s just that it’s always harder to take coherent notes for others who weren’t there. So, if any of you who were there read this and have additions, emendations or suggestions, please do so. Until then, I’ll leave you with Rachael’s last slide: