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Enhancing Education in Conservation through Research and Innovation Projects

George Panagiaris, Ekaterini Malea, Stavroula Rapti et Anastasia Pournou


Le laboratoire de la conservation des matériaux organiques (Département de la Conservation des antiquités et des œuvres d'art - TEI d'Athènes) cherche toujours à améliorer l'éducation en donnant aux étudiants des cycles supérieurs la possibilité de participer à des projets internationaux de recherche et d'innovation. Ce document analyse les objectifs éducatifs et les acquis d'apprentissage des mesures susmentionnées et présente les résultats d'une enquête réalisée par des questionnaires adressés aux étudiants.

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The Program “Documentation, Conservation and Preservation of the Hellenistic Collection of the Archaeological Museum of Hama in Syria” was financed by the Hellenic Aid, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Greece. The Program MERMAID has been co-financed by the European Union (European Social Fund - ESF) and Greek national funds through the Operational Program “Education and Lifelong Learning” of the National Strategic Reference Framework (NSRF) - Research Funding Program: THALES.


1Major European and international policy initiatives on lifelong learning, such as the European Commission’s Communication on lifelong learning (European Commission, 2001) and UNESCO declarations on adult learning (Unesco, 1997; 2009) seek learning opportunities outside classrooms and training institutions. “The fact that we spend a third of our daytime, and more than thirty years of our lives, in successive working environments emphasizes the significance of the workplace in making lifelong learning a reality, by stimulating the motivation to learn and the participation and retention of adults in education and training. We learn through work tasks, from colleagues and work mentors, through trial and error, by solving challenges and changing job positions, as well as through the continuing training that employers may provide.” (CEDEFOP 2011).Moreover, the importance of workplace learning has been highlighted by a range of other, and even earlier, EU policy papers (European Commission, 2001; Council of the European Union, 2002, European Commission, 2010a).

2In 2006 the Commission of European Communities (European Commission 2006) points out that “most universities tend to offer the same courses to the same group of academically best qualified young students and fail to open up to other types of learning and learners. This has not only impeded access for disadvantaged social groups but also has slowed down innovation in curricula and teaching methods” and suggests that  “Universities should offer innovative curricula, teaching methods and training/retraining programs which include broader employment-related skills along with the more discipline specific skills”. In the same text it is mentioned that “Universities should be able to reconfigure their teaching and research agendas to seize the opportunities offered by new developments in existing fields and by new emerging lines of scientific inquiry. This requires focusing less on scientific disciplines and more on research domains (…), associating them more closely with related or complementary fields (…) and fostering interaction between students, researchers and research teams through greater mobility between disciplines, sectors and research settings”.

3According to the aforementioned, it is obvious that EU attaches high importance to the learning outcomes that occur when the education of students is associated with the working environment and when is combined with research and innovation activities.

4As the European Centre for the development of vocational training (CEDEFOP 2011) highlights, “The renewal of the Lisbon strategy in 2005 helped clarify its scope and aims, with the establishment of four priority areas (two of them are: research & innovation and investing in people & modernizing labour market) that have a strong relevance for education and training systems.” (…) “This policy initiative takes into account the growing importance of transversal skills in maintaining employability: problem-solving, self-management and communication skills, plus language skills, digital competences and team working”.

Enhancing learning opportunities at work

5Recent international policy reviews suggest that a fundamental bulk of adult learning takes place at the workplace (Keogh, 2009), through informal processes, as working tasks are carried out in everyday problem solving contexts; this is not quantifiable. A recent analysis of changing patterns of working, learning and career development across Europe confirms that informal learning is a central component of skill development at work (European Commission, 2010b).

6The analysis concedes that learning acquired while working, through informal processes, need to be combined with more structured, systematic and formal learning pathways to enable employees make a significant leap in terms of knowledge, proficiency and performance in a particular field (European Commission, 2010b).

7According to Huys et al. (2005)“This kind of learning is not structured by a specific professional or pedagogic intervention, but learning that takes place in the workplace itself and by executing work tasks. Working people learn from their work and learn as they work. As such it is a ‘side effect’ of working and what working people learn and how they learn in this way remains to some extent unconscious. The nature and extent of such learning opportunities in the job are determined by the characteristics of the job.What are the defining characteristics of a job that constitute its learning opportunity? To identify these, work can be perceived as a set of problems to be regulated that require regulation capacity in order to be solved. The environment of workplaces as well as organizations as a whole, is complex and changing, and because of this also unpredictable. By consequence working people are regularly confronted with new or unexpected events during their work that require a solution. As long as these problems are not unnecessary and therefore annoying, they also constitute challenges in work. Without such problems, working people would not learn from their work as learning means getting better at solving such problems. But in order to be able to deal with these challenges, sufficient regulation capacity in the job is required”.

8In these learning venues, a coherent set of four qualifications are importantto deal with the core problems in the profession (Huys et al.,2005).

  • Professional qualifications: the ability and knowledge to solve relevant professional problems related to the making of a product or service;

  • Organisational qualifications: the ability and knowledge to plan and regulate one owns work in the context of the organization;

  • Social-communicative qualifications: the ability to communicate in order to work together with others, to provide and receive feedback, to deal with criticism and be involved;

  • Learning qualifications: the ability to contribute to one’s own development and that of the team, to reflect on one’s own learning and learning results through making them explicit and being able to generalise, to make effective use of learning opportunities, to determine the need for more formal training.

9The learning potential of work environments therefore depends on (Onstenk, 1994):

  •  the competences of working people: what working people know and their capacity to learn due to sufficient preparatory education, training and experience;

  •  the willingness of working people to learn: what working people want, their attitude to learning and their motivation to learn, either intrinsic as e.g. through commitment to their job or extrinsic as e.g. due to remuneration or promotion policies in the organization;

  •  the learning opportunities in the job: this is learning that takes place through execution of the work tasks and through working together with others. The nature and extent of these learning opportunities are related to characteristics of the job;

  •  the training provided at the job: the availability of structured training for working people either on-the-job or off-the-job.

10In academic literature from the field of educational theory and didactics, a positive learning climate is also often associated with a strong learning environment. Here too, no single definition is generally accepted and a positive learning climate is described using a long list of features or conditions which the learning environment has to meet. Examples include (Lodewijks, 1995):

  •  the learning environment corresponds as closely as possible to the situations and circumstances in which the knowledge has to be used or applied;

  •  the learning environment incites the learner to actively manage the learning content;

  •  the learner himself takes responsibility for learning;

  •  the teacher/trainer creates an intellectually stimulating learning climate, shapes the learning activities and problem-solving models and gives the students feedback and help, where necessary.

11When learning and working are combined in a powerful learning environment, important learning processes can occur (Onstenk, 1997): regulative learning processes, metacognitive processes and transformative learning processes. Onstenk divides the regulative learning processes into four groups: carrying out plans, planning and evaluating, learning from assistance and examples and assimilating information. Metacognitive learning processes imply that the learner, alone or with help from a supervisor or coach, reflects on the learning process and evaluates the learning process. This also means that the learner assesses the workplace as a learning place by examining the factors that promote learning and the factors that inhibit learning. Metacognitive processes are an important lever for regulative learning processes. In the end, regulative and metacognitive learning processes can lead to transformative processes. These processes comprise the following characteristics: the learner identifies himself with and feels closely associated with the job, recognises recurring patterns and structures and develops routines and automatic reactions.

12The chance that these different learning processes take place is enhanced when the learner is supported well and belongs to a community of practice. Support can be provided by a mentor. Mentoring is a complex interactive process between two individuals with a different level of experience and expertise. Mentoring can be important for professional and career development as well as for personal development (Carmin, 1988; Carruthers, 1993).

13Which workplace can combine all the above mentioned and be a strong learning environment for the conservation students? A workplace that can offer them all the afore mentioned skills and attitudes as well as skills related to research and innovation processes.

Education in Conservation through Research and Innovation Projects

14Based on the above, the Laboratory of Organic Materials’ Conservation (Department of Conservation of Antiquities and Works of Art -CAWA-, TEI of Athens) seeks always to enchase education by providing senior students the opportunity to participate in international research and innovation projects. Students are working in the framework of well defined working packages and have to deliver certain deliverables at a given time schedule. They are working as a team (intra-scientific) and they undertake specified responsibilities for which they are already prepared through their education. During their work they are supervised by their tutors. Sometimes students face difficulties and they have to find a solution in collaboration with their team or their professor. They usually work on the field, in limited space, bad weather conditions, extended workday etc… All these elements contribute to the acquisition of social skills and attitudes.

15This paper analyses the educational goals of the aforementioned actions, examines if these were attained and presents the results of a survey carried out via questionnaires that aimed to validate the learning outcomes of students' participation in two field research projects.

16One of the projects entitled “Documentation, Conservation and Preservation of the Hellenistic Collection of the Archaeological Museum of Hama in Syria” was carried out by TEI of Athens in collaboration with the Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums (DGAM)– Ministry of Culture of Syria and the Centre for Museum Studies of the National Kapodistrian University of Athens, from 2006 up to 2008. The program aimed at developing the operational capabilities of DGAM to preserve and manage the Hellenistic material by establishing an Object Conservation Laboratory and a Hellenistic Exhibition Hall at the Archaeological Museum of Hama. The Object Conservation Laboratory of Hama has been refurbished and equipped with the fundamental instrumentation as well as specialised tools and materials for the conservation of archaeological finds. It has been organised in work units that facilitate the observation, documentation, diagnosis and treatment of the objects. Examination, evaluation and documentation before treatment, under the supervision of the TEI professors, led to the successful completion of the ceramics, metals, ivories, a statue, a funerary stele and four column capitals which are today displayed in the Hellenistic Exhibition Hall of the Museum. The students participated in actions of documentation, diagnosis and treatment of the objects.

17The other project MERMAID entitled "Saving wooden shipwrecks in the Mediterranean marine ecosystem: research, development and application of innovative methods of in situ protection", study two innovative methods for the in situ protection of wooden shipwrecks exposed in high biodeterioration risk environments, such as the Eastern Mediterranean. The first method involves low energy marine areas and examines the efficacy of geotextiles to act as physical barriers against wood borer's colonization and as a sediment entrapment substrate. The second one regards high energy areas and investigates the development of an encasement system that will create a stable anaerobic micro environment ensuring its long term preservation. Methods will be applied on two wooden shipwrecks found in Zakynthos and Rhodes islands which are dated to the 16th and 13th century respectively. This project is implemented by the T.E.I. of Athens, Dept. of “Conservation of Antiquities and Works of Art”, in collaboration with Hellenic Centre for Marine Research and the “History, Archaeology and Cultural Resources Management” Dept. of the University of Peloponnese, and is co-funded by Greek national resources and the European Union. The students participated in documentation, diagnosis, first aids and packaging of archeological objects excavated of underwater environment.

18Eighteen students participated in the projects and responded to the questionnaires.   

Survey results and discussion

19Questions and answers are presented below:

201. Do you think that your participation in the fieldwork of the research/innovation project is:

  • ○ Informal conservation training

  • ○ Placement

  • ○ Other

Fig.1 Pie chart of question 1

Fig.1 Pie chart of question 1

212. Assess the benefits you had from your participation in the fieldwork of the research/innovation project in terms of the learning outcomes related to the knowledge you gained in the conservation field.

Fig. 2 Pie chart of question 2

Fig. 2 Pie chart of question 2

223. Assess the benefits you had from your participation in the fieldwork of the research/innovation project concerning the learning outcomes that were related to your working skills in the conservation procedure.

Fig. 3 Pie chart of question 3

Fig. 3 Pie chart of question 3

234. Assess the benefits you had from your participation in the fieldwork of the research/innovation project concerning the learning outcomes that were related to the ethical issues in the conservation practices

Fig. 4 Pie chart of question 4

Fig. 4 Pie chart of question 4

245. Assess the benefits you had from your participation in the fieldwork of the research/innovation project, concerning your ability of taking initiatives, to solve practical problems in collaboration with other professionals and generally in working within a group.

Fig. 5 Pie chart of question 5

Fig. 5 Pie chart of question 5

256. Assess the benefits you had from your participation in the fieldwork of the research/innovation project concerning the learning outcomes that were related to your communication and socialization.

Fig. 6 Pie chart of question 6

Fig. 6 Pie chart of question 6

267. Assess the benefits you had from your participation in the fieldwork of the research/innovation project concerning the learning outcomes that were related to your preparation for a future employment.

Fig.7 Pie chart of question 7

Fig.7 Pie chart of question 7

278. Have you been satisfied with the scientific and academic support / guidance / consulting that you had before and during your participation in the fieldwork of the research/innovation program.

Fig. 8 Pie chart of question 8

Fig. 8 Pie chart of question 8

289. How much important do you think is to measure this type of training with data, such as credit points of ECTS system, which will be reported on your graduation certificate?

  • ○ Great Importance

  • ○ It would be nice, but I do not consider it important

  • ○ Not at all

Fig. 9 Pie chart of question 9

Fig. 9 Pie chart of question 9

2910. Do you think that the benefits you gained from your participation in the fieldwork of this project could be also obtained, without your participation in the project but following the program of studies of the Conservation Department?

Fig. 10 Pie chart of question 10

Fig. 10 Pie chart of question 10

30Based on the results obtained it appears that students fully agree that their participation offered them valuable knowledge and skills in the field of conservation. They considered that beside the acquired competences in practicing conservation they learned how to apply the conservation code of ethics to a variety of conservation activities, to take initiatives, to find successful solutions to practical problems and to work and cooperate in a team with other professionals. All students of this survey believed that their participation in theses research projects gave them a competitiveness advantage over other students, taught them adaptation to work environments and consequently prepared them fundamentally for their future professional life. Finally they felt that these learning outcomes cannot be acquired through the official program in conservation of the CAWA Department and they expressed their expectation that this type of workplace learning should be quantifiable through a recognised credit system such as ECTS or ECVET.


31Research and innovation projects in conservation of cultural heritage provide senior students a strong learning environment in which they can gain skills and attitudes that cannot be obtained via the formal education. Proper preparation of the students and determination of their role before their participation in the projects as well as adequate supervision from the academic staff, are prerequisites for the acquisition of skills and attitudes. This type of learning functions in a complementary way to the formal education and to learning through placement. It is necessary to move on the validation of this kind of learning and to connect it with other types of conservation-restoration education.

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Table des illustrations

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George Panagiaris, Ekaterini Malea, Stavroula Rapti et Anastasia Pournou, « Enhancing Education in Conservation through Research and Innovation Projects », CeROArt [En ligne],  | 2014, mis en ligne le 01 octobre 2014, consulté le 24 juin 2017. URL :

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George Panagiaris

George Panagiaris is Biologist (PhD), and licensed by the Greek Ministry of Culture as Conservator of Organic Materials. He is Professor at the Department of Conservation of Antiquities & Works of Art, Technological Educational Institute of Athens. He is member of the National Commission of the Greek Ministry of Culture which licenses the professionals in Conservation of Antiquities & Works of Art. He is a member of the Interdepartmental Committee and Professor at the Inter-institutional Postgraduate Course entitled “Museum Studies”, co-organized by Athens University and T.E.I. of Athens. His scientific activity focuses on issues of Conservation of Organic Materials. He has participated or coordinated in a numerous research programs and has more than many cited scientific publications.

Ekaterini Malea

Ekaterini Malea is a conservator (BSc in Conservation of Antiquities and Works of Art from Technological Educational Institute of Athens) specialized in the conservation of proteinaceous organic materials (MPhil in Waterlogged Leather Conservation, University of Cardiff, U.K.). She is Lecturer at the Dept. Conservation of Antiquities & Works of Art, Technological Educational Institute of Athens. She has worked at various archaeological excavations, archaeological sites and museums in Greece and abroad and she has participated as main researcher in many national and international research programmes. She is one of the two official voting members of Greece for the European Standardisation Body (CEN) at the technical committee TC346 which establish standards in the field of conservation of cultural heritage.

Stavroula Rapti

Stavroula Rapti obtained her BSc in Conservation of Antiquities and Works of Art from Technological Educational Institute of Athens (TEI-A) (1992) and an MA in Textile Conservation from TCC at Winchester School of Art, University of Southampton. She is currently a PhD student at the Camberwell College of Arts, University of the Arts London. She is technical staff of at the Dept. of Conservation of Antiquities and Works of Art, of the TEI-A. She has worked as a conservator for the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and as a free lanced conservator as well. She has participated in several national and European research projects.

Anastasia Pournou

Anastasia Pournou received her BSc in 1994 in Conservation of Archaeological Finds from T.E.I. of Athens, Dept. of Conservation of Antiquities and Works of Art (S.A.E.T.), and her PhD in 1999 from the University of Portsmouth. Since 1999 she has worked for the Dept of S.A.E.T and in 2008 was elected to Associate Professor. Dr. Pournou specialises in the conservation of wooden artefacts, conservation of waterlogged organic materials of plant origin and in the in situ protection and monitoring of wooden shipwrecks. She has both led and participated in a number of national and European research projects in the field of conservation of Cultural Heritage.  

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