Lockdown life has been a whirlwind. As we grabbed and closed down our labs and offices we created a split second record of our thoughts on lockdown. I look with longing at the piles of books I thought I would be reading, instead I wish I had brought mini pliers for some home dentistry (don’t ask) and screens. The life I am living now is a frantic rethink of what it means to teach without contact. This is hard enough for some of my teaching – witness my whiteboard improv using a fridge and kitchen markers for managing gallery spotlights – but for hands-on conservation it has proven almost impossible. We often discuss how hard it is to teach the intellectual thought that goes into a reflective conservation practice: developing micro skills, decision making, aesthetic judgement and precision control as we work on often irreplaceable artefacts in the context of wider social benefits; it is quite the art! Trying to offer anything like that to masters level students who are already confident of the basics of techniques and underlying principles is even harder. Towards the end of their degrees we would want to be offering students the chance to independently integrate high degrees of tactile control with complex decisions about outcomes and, if I am honest, that is pretty hard on a conference call. We have had some success using resources already out there in the world of conservation but the challenge for the future is huge.
So instead of reading I have been zooming in on conferences about ‘moving assessment online’, ‘no buildings in September what on earth do we do about the pedagogy’, taking online classes on research integrity and reviewing the burgeoning supply of Youtube tutorials, with today’s favourite being lockdown conservation science by the brilliant Dr David Mills (@DTL).
The greatest insights I have gained so far stem from two sources. The first is that conservation is not a magical profession, but our public image tends to offer stop motion transformations rather than detailed accounts of technical challenge. The second is that many of the answers are already with us. In our staff student panels and education boards when we sit down and talk about what is important to learning there is a tidal wave of ideas, we are an amazing learning community if we can find time to listen.