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Improving transfer in the education of conservators-restorers



This paper presents two didactic projects aimed at improving transfer in the education of conservators-restorers, that is to say the ability to apply acquired knowledge to different contexts. Based on observations of the students’activities, three types of transfer arising in conservation practice were defined and the didactic methods that can be implemented to support each of them elucidated. The projects presented compensate for the lack of a pre-program internship and establish a better connection between studio practice and science courses. They can therefore be adapted to a larger number of curricula in conservation-restoration.
19th Triennial Conference
2021 Beijing
Improving transfer in the education of
Giovanna Di Pietro*
Department of Conservation and Restoration,
Bern University of the Arts
Bern University of Applied Sciences
Bern, Switzerland
Andreas Buder
Department of Conservation and Restoration,
Bern University of the Arts
Bern University of Applied Sciences
Bern, Switzerland
Manfred Künzel
ETH Lausanne
Lausanne, Switzerland
*Author for correspondence
transfer, didactic, education and training in
conservation, conservation science
This paper presents two didactic projects aimed
at improving transfer in the education of con-
servators-restorers, that is to say the ability to
apply acquired knowledge to different contexts.
Based on observations of the students’ activities,
three types of transfer arising in conservation
practice were defined and the didactic methods
that can be implemented to support each of
them elucidated. The projects presented com-
pensate for the lack of a pre-program intern-
ship and establish a better connection between
studio practice and science courses. They can
therefore be adapted to a larger number of cur-
ricula in conservation-restoration.
Bern University of the Arts offers a three-year bachelor’s degree in artwork
conservation followed by a two-year master’s degree. Students embarking
on this degree course usually come from a broad range of backgrounds.
Admission to our course of study generally requires a Matura degree
(A-level standard), an adequate portfolio, and the successful completion
of a suitability test to decide on the allocation of the limited study places.
About one-third of the candidates have already completed a vocational
training as painters, goldsmiths, carpenters, stonemasons, tailors, etc., while
about two-thirds have a non-specialized higher education diploma or an
apprenticeship in conservation. Although recommended, the completion
of an apprenticeship in conservation is not compulsory in order to be
accepted for this degree course. The reason lies in the paucity of positions
offered by Swiss institutions and private conservators. This results in a
high level of divergence in terms of students’ initial experience.
During the course, approximately half of the time is spent in the studios
tackling one to two artworks per year from an object-centered approach.
The other half is spent taking theoretical courses aimed at presenting the
structured knowledge necessary for the implementation of conservation
activities, on the one hand, and specific conservation problems, on the other.
The studio-based work provides the context for the problems tackled in
the theoretical lessons, but as students work mostly on a single object,
most of the theoretical aspects are not immediately applicable.
Recently, both the bachelor’s and master’s degree courses have been
evaluated as part of the periodic accreditation of our study program. Part of
this evaluation was a survey conducted among 35 potential Swiss employers
of our graduates (e.g., museums, libraries, archives, and freelancers).
This survey asked about the professional qualifications of the graduates
and the required skills for specific job profiles in the future market for
conservators-restorers. Following the survey, a workshop involving both
professors responsible for the specialization areas and employers took
place with the aim of investigating graduates’ employability in more
depth. Both the survey answers and the discussion in the workshop express
personal opinions and are not statistically representative for the whole
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Improving transfer in the education of
Figure 1. Contradictory expectations for
conservation-restoration students
labor market. Nevertheless, they provide valuable information about these
important topics.
The employers’ survey and workshop highlighted two challenges:
1. At present our program does not lead to the desired level of graduate
2. Employers have contradictory expectations regarding graduates.
The Enhancing Students’ Employability Coordination Team (ESECT)
defines employability as “the set of achievements, skills, understandings, and
personal attributes that make graduates more likely to gain employment and
be successful in their chosen occupation” (ESECT 2019). Such definition
departs from the common accepted idea of employability measured by the
success of graduates in finding a job. Harvey (2001) has warned that a
narrow definition of employability focused on employment rates disregards
the details of employers’ often irrational employment procedures. These
procedures have a great impact on the final employment rate but can hardly
be influenced by the higher education institution. Instead, he considers
employability as an individual set of skills and personal attributes that
facilitate employment. Higher education institutions can implement a
variety of measures to enhance the development of such skills.
While surveys performed three years after the completion of our degree
course show that over 88% of our graduates have a job in conservation,
the employers’ evaluation highlighted a weakness in graduates’ ability to
apply their knowledge and competencies flexibly to real and new situations.
An employer reported: “It looked to me as if the interns were lost and
were not able to transfer their broad knowledge to a real problem” (Buder
2019). This lack of transfer between knowledge acquired during education
and its flexible application to different contexts in a work situation is a
major hindrance to employability.
The second challenge is the difficulty of mapping the expectations of the
labor market onto differentiated curricular paths and education profiles.
The survey highlighted that employers have contradictory expectations. An
employer commented: “The ability to perform routine work is important
in order to employ graduates. But graduates should also have already
developed an ability to innovate procedures while at university” (Buder
Graduates should be highly specialized in a conservation domain but be
able to tackle problems in contexts foreign to their domain, and they should
also be highly skilled in performing conventional active conservation
procedures but be able to devise innovative solutions.
Students of conservation-restoration therefore find themselves exposed
to a number of expectations during their studies that pull in opposite
directions, e.g., specialist versus generalist, routine work versus innovation,
and academic setting versus workplace setting (Figure 1). While some
of these tensions can be relieved thanks to the recent introduction of
majors and minors and thereby the partial possibility of designing an
individual educational path, the authors believe that the difficulty of
combining opposite expectations can be resolved if the ability to transfer
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Improving transfer in the education of
knowledge and competencies among different domains is fostered. It is
necessary to prepare students to face challenges in their professional career
in different contexts even if neither the specific problem nor the context
were addressed during their studies, a situation where content knowledge
and prior experience have to be elicited and adapted to the new situation.
Transfer in learning has been studied for more than 100 years (Thorndike
and Woodworth 1901). The amount of articles defining, measuring, and
proposing didactical methods to support transfer is daunting. Day and
Goldstone (2012) report in their review that the common definition of
transfer is “the recruitment of previously known, structured symbolic
representations in the service of understanding and making inferences
about new, structurally similar cases.” Transfer is defined therefore as the
ability to apply acquired knowledge to a structurally similar but potentially
different context, as far as surface characteristics are concerned. They also
report that a large number of studies show that transfer is successful when
the surface features are similar. Didactical methods that improve transfer
among contexts with different surface characteristics do so primarily by
enhancing initial learning and include the comparison and contrast of two
or more source examples, the self-explanation of a resolved problem, and
the identification of the deep principles underlying a problem (Chi and
VanLehn 2012).
The repeated observation of our students led us to identify the lack of
three different types of transfer competencies in the specific domain of
Transfer type 1 is the ability to transfer knowledge from one experience
to a second experience within the same type of problem and context.
For example, students implement a packaging solution for a work of art
and repeat it for works of a similar type and with the same aim but, for
example, of a different size. In a transfer such as this, the analysis and
the plan of action does not change structurally but needs to be adapted to
contexts with slightly different surface characteristics.
Transfer type 2 is the ability to transfer knowledge from one context to
another, where some elements of the domain change. For example, students
who develop packaging solutions for transport need to be able to develop
packaging solutions for long-term storage. If students do not have experience
in the new context, they need to apply analytical thinking to investigate
the structure of the problem (“developing a packaging solution”), analyze
the new situation, and adapt the plan learnt in transfer type 1 situations.
This is a practice that Donald Schön (1983) called “reflection in action.”
Transfer type 3 is the ability to transfer disciplinary knowledge to a domain-
specific professional problem. For example, students develop a packaging
solution and have to decide on materials and geometry to reduce the risk
of shocks during transport. In order to make this decision, they need to be
acquainted with the concepts of shocks given in mechanics (accelerations,
mechanical failure, etc.) and apply them to a real case. The systematic
investigation of the problem with disciplinary methods like modelling,
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Improving transfer in the education of
Figure 2. Skills’ Lab: Repetition of procedures
that enhance different types of transfer
experiments, and measurements leads to a richness of information and to
solutions that might not originate from experience. The challenge here is
to understand the relevant elements of the problem, to identify adequate
disciplinary knowledge useful for triggering further investigations, and
to develop and implement these investigations.
In the next paragraph, two didactical projects are presented that were
developed over the last two years in our curriculum, the first aimed at
supporting type 1 and 2 transfer and the second aimed at supporting
type 3 transfer.
Skills’ Lab project
Skills’ Lab is a new course offered to students attending the first semester
of the bachelor program. The course was conceived in response to the
increasing number of candidates unable to attend a pre-program internship
and therefore lacking first-hand experience of the professional world of
conservation-restoration. The aim of the course is to raise awareness of the
varied nature of our profession and the attainment of key skills common
to all specialization areas.
A broader inspection of the profession of conservators-restorers is important
if candidates do not have previous professional experience in the field.
In past years, students would have chosen one specialization area and
would have had the possibility to spend a semester taking a different
specialization. Such an opportunity, though, was rarely taken up.
Conservation-restoration competencies were taught mainly within a single
studio with little variability of context. Awareness of the profession of
conservators-restorers is fostered in the Skills’ Lab through four one-
day visits to the studios on the campus and six one-day visits to external
workshops, including museums, libraries, open-air sites, and art transport
companies. The choice of a specialization area is now being postponed
to the second semester.
Three introductory skills common to all specialization areas were identified:
the compilation of condition reports, the planning and implementation
of packaging solutions, and the preparation of collection items for an
exhibition. Each of these skills is taught in a dedicated module. The ability
to make the transfer to different contexts is supported by the repetition
of similar procedures in different contexts and by the consistent use of
analysis grids for the development of conservation measures.
Repetition of similar procedures in different contexts is implemented by
tackling each topic first in the Skills’ Lab workshop under the supervision
of the two Skills’ Lab tutors and then in specialization workshops under
the supervision of workshop tutors (Figure 2). In addition, they may also
be repeated in an external institution during a field trip and/or during the
interterm internship. For instance, a packaging solution for a modern chair
is first developed in the Skills’ Lab following precise indications, and it is
then repeated for a historical paint box in the Skills’ Lab with less stringent
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Improving transfer in the education of
supervision. Such a step requires transfer type 1, where the context stays
the same but the surface characteristics of the problem change.
The students then spend a full day in the Paintings and Sculptures studio
and develop a packaging solution to transport a painting. After this activity,
they spend a full day in the Architectural Surfaces studio and develop a
solution for the long-term storage of a large sculpture. After these four
different areas of practice, all students visit a company providing fine
art transport and storage services. These last three steps are aimed at
practicing transfer type 2, where not only the surface characteristics but
also the context changes.
For each training stage, the same analysis grid is applied to develop
the packaging solution. This grid asks the students to list the (possibly
contradictory) objectives of the packaging solution and to rate the options
according to how far they fulfill the objectives, following a procedure
typical of decision analysis (Keeney 2007). The identification of the
objectives and the comparison and contrast of possible options support
the understanding of the deep structure underlying the situation.
Students document the developed procedures both analogically and digitally
with photographs and videos. Finally, they compile an e-book summarizing
the skills learnt in each topic. E-books support awareness of the learning
process and of the competencies achieved, and serve as a portfolio for
future employers.
The Skills’ Lab was conducted for the first time in the fall semester of
2019. Three different methods were used to evaluate it. Two advanced
students of educational science were invited to follow two topics as
observers and to focus both on teacher-student and student-student
interaction, particularly with regard to the occurrence of transfer. They
also conducted an informal feedback discussion with the participants at
the end of the course. Finally, a standard anonymous evaluation form was
filled by the students. These evaluation methods were developed to assess
the attainment of the 4 main aims of the Skills’ Lab: 1) Students should
acquire knowledge on the varied nature of the conservation-restoration
profession; 2) students should be able to choose a specialization area;
3) students should acquire basic skills common to all specialization
areas; and 4) students should be able to transfer those skills both within
a domain and across domains.
The interviews pointed that the visit to the studios and external workshops
positively contributed to the awareness of the conservation-restoration
profession. Sixty-six percent of students self-evaluated a satisfactory
acquisition of the cross-specialization skills (e.g., condition assessment and
packaging methods) but pointed to insufficient time spent in the workshops.
Observation of the teacher-student and student-student interactions evidenced
a relevant increase in the ability to find and apply solutions to different
domains and that therefore the Skills’ Lab positively contributed to the
acquirement of transfer competencies. As far as the ability to choose a
specialization area, 73% felt partially able to make this choice, while 27%
found that the course did not contribute to this choice.
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Improving transfer in the education of
Connection project
The Connection project stemmed from the need to identify and prioritize
the scientific topics to be taught at bachelor level and the need to link
them more tightly to the work in the studios. The theoretical courses aim
to present structured knowledge necessary for the implementation of
conservation activities, while the context is provided by the studios. It
was observed that students are rarely able to use theoretical knowledge,
specifically in the domains of chemistry and physics, when undertaking
practical activities and that therefore the world of science courses and the
world of studios remain largely separate from each other.
The final aim of the project was to develop teaching units for the introductory
course on conservation science based on a design able to improve the ability
to transfer physics and chemistry knowledge to the professional problems
of conservation-restoration. The project ran for two semesters (fall 2017
and spring 2018) and involved the chemistry and physics lecturers as
well as the lecturers on modern materials and the graphic works studio.
The team met five times in the studios so that the discussion could be
structured around a currently treated object. The purpose of these discussions
was to develop a common understanding of the conservation-restoration
practice as seen from the perspectives of the conservator and scientists
and to identify the scientific knowledge able to support decisions about
measures concerning the object under consideration. All discussions were
recorded, the objects were photographed, and a detailed report was issued
at the end of each meeting.
The meetings made clear that scientific knowledge is not able to provide
easy-to-follow recipes for tackling conservation-restoration challenges
because these are extremely case-dependent. As detailed by Muñoz-Viñas
(2005), during the practice of conservation restorers continuously adapt the
solution that they have identified to the specificity of the object and to the
immediate response of the object to the treatment. Nevertheless, physical
and chemical knowledge can provide directions for the development of
solutions. For example, the search for new materials used in poultices for
the removal of adhesive residues on graphic works can be directed by
understanding the dependence of the magnitude of capillary forces upon
the capillary size (Jurin’s law). This happens only if the knowledge about
capillary forces can be connected to the case of poultices. The result in this
example may be the understanding that when larger capillary forces are
needed, materials with smaller grain size should be taken into consideration.
A list of topics relevant for the treatment of the objects in the workshops
was compiled and prioritized. Based on this, a teaching unit on static
forces and hanging systems and one on solubility and intramolecular
bonds was developed.
In order to situate the learning within the practical work in the studios,
each unit is based on a workshop case study. In the case of static forces,
this involves hanging a large contemporary lamp; in the case of solubility,
it involves the removal of residues from self-adhesive tape from a book.
These cases are presented right at the beginning of the unit, with a slidecast
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Improving transfer in the education of
in the case of solubility to be viewed before class to allow enough time for
discussion. Based on the case studies, the theoretical knowledge necessary
to make the decision under consideration is presented: intramolecular
bonds and polarity for the solubility case and force diagrams for the static
forces case. This theoretical knowledge is developed with a number of
examples and experiments in simplified systems that do not necessarily
pertain to conservation but are ultimately used to propose options for the
initial challenge.
The experiments performed in these units are as simple as possible and
can be performed in a lecture room so that the attention stays focused on
the principles underlying the phenomenon and not on the practicalities
of the experiment. The simple switch to presenting the case study first
and then building the knowledge necessary to find the answers to the
challenge afterwards dramatically increases the motivation of the students
to understand chemistry and physics.
The authors argue that these units provide an example of how to identify
the scientific structures behind the real case challenges encountered in
the studios and therefore an example of fostering type 3 transfer between
disciplinary knowledge and domain-specific professional problems.
It is important here to emphasize that scientific arguments are only a
small piece in the large mosaic of conservation decision-making, which
involves other types of objectives not encompassed by natural sciences
and that are consistently discussed by the studio lecturers.
While the principles underlying the Connection project are simple, intensive
discussions among science and workshop lecturers based on the investigation
of case studies found in the studio and the development of teaching units
in physics and chemistry based on these cases were surprisingly rare in
the development of our curriculum.
In order for these projects not to be isolated experiences but broadly
recognized and supported, it is necessary to develop solid methods for
their evaluation and dissemination. As far as the Skill’s Lab is concerned,
evaluation challenges arose. The main reason can be found in the fact
that the course aims must be very clearly stated and communicated,
and they need to be measurable. While traditional scientific domains
(e.g., physics and chemistry) are well-established disciplines with well-
defined competencies that can be probed by internationally accepted
tests, conservation-restoration is a relatively new discipline characterized
by a high degree of interdisciplinarity where the specific aims of the
curricula are often not yet clearly defined. When the Skill’s Lab is next
run in fall 2020, the attention will focus on more clearly defining the
aims and methods to evaluate their attainment. Online methods will be
used to assess attainment of the learning aims only, followed by an open
discussion with the students.
A platform for sharing our didactical units, for example those developed
during the Connection project, with the wider community of trainers in
19th Triennial Conference
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Improving transfer in the education of
To cite this article:
Di Pietro, G., A. Buder, and M. Künzel. 2021.
Improving transfer in the education of conservators-
restorers. In Transcending Boundaries: Integrated
Approaches to Conservation. ICOM-CC 19th
Triennial Conference Preprints, Beijing, 17–21
May 2021, ed. J. Bridgland. Paris: International
Council of Museums.
conservation-restoration is still lacking. Our didactical documentation is
stored in our learning management system, which is only accessible to our
faculty members and students. Given the size of the conservation-restoration
community, it would be highly profitable for each of us if it could be shared
with the many programs facing challenges similar to our own. The increase
in online teaching offers during and after the COVID-19 pandemic, and
the international collaborations that have stemmed from it, is a promising
base for these platforms.
Buder, A. 2019. Internal final report and annexes on the Curriculum Evaluation 2019,
Konservierung und Restaurierung, Hochschule der Künste Bern.
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features. Educational Psychologist 47(3): 177–88.
Day, S.B. and R.L. Goldstone. 2012. The import of knowledge export: Connecting findings
and theories of transfer of learning. Educational Psychologist 47(3): 153–76.
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After more than 100 years of interest and study, knowledge transfer remains among the most challenging, contentious, and important issues for both psychology and education. In this article, we review and discuss many of the more important ideas and findings from the existing research and attempt to bridge this body of work with the exciting new research directions suggested by the following articles.
Transfer is typically thought of as requiring individuals to “see” what is the same in the deep structure between a new target problem and a previously encountered source problem, even though the surface features may be dissimilar. We propose that experts can “see” the deep structure by considering the first-order interactions of the explicit surface features and the second-order relationships between the first-order cues. Based on this speculative hypothesis, we propose a domain-specific bottom-up instructional approach that teaches students explicitly to focus on deriving the first-order interactions cues and noticing the second-order relationships among the first-order interaction cues. To do so, researchers and instructional designers need to first extract from experienced solvers or experts how they derive such first-order cues. Transfer is assumed to be based on the similarities in the second-order relationships, which are familiar everyday relationships such as equal to, greater than, and so forth.
The concept of employability is analysed and the prevailing tendency to create employability measures based on outcomes is critiqued. The outcome approach results in employability as being construed as an institutional achievement rather than the propensity of the individual student to get employment. The operationalisation of employability as a concept is examined and the implicit 'magic bullet' notion of employability-development opportunities is revealed. An alternative, more complex model is outlined but its applicability is subverted by the 'irrational' activities of graduate recruiters, which render useless any employability indicator based on the proportion of graduates obtaining work. An alternative approach, based on an audit of employability-development within institutions, is explored and some methodological pitfalls are outlined. The conclusion suggests that any evaluation of employability needs clearly to indicate areas for internal improvement rather than simply ranking institutions.
Investigated the effect of improvement of one mental function upon other functions allied to it. Six Ss were tested on a particular function and then trained to enhance another function, after which the first mental function was reevaluated, and its effect in the improvement estimated. Concluded that the senses evaluated could not be generalized or be considered within a narrow perspective. Improvement in any single mental function need not improve the ability in similar functions, it may injure it. Spread of practice occurred only where identical elements were concerned in the influencing and the influenced function. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2006 APA, all rights reserved), (C) 1901 by the American Psychological Association
Internal final report and annexes on the Curriculum Evaluation
  • A Buder
Buder, A. 2019. Internal final report and annexes on the Curriculum Evaluation 2019, Konservierung und Restaurierung, Hochschule der Künste Bern.