This document is a background overview of historic preservation educational opportunities available online prepared by Eli Pousson in May 2015. We have identified some publications and communities as online education are not traditional educational programs but still fulfill some aspects of an educational mission.
Who is the audience for historic preservation education?
Existing and potential audiences for online preservation education include:
- middle, high school or college-age students with an interest in pursuing careers in historic preservation or related fields
- early to mid-career professionals working in historic preservation, including local, state, federal government; local, statewide, and regional non-profits; and private businesses in cultural resource management, architecture and conservation
- early to mid-career professionals working in related fields, including museums, tourism, community and economic development, folklore, urban and regional planning, sustainable transportation advocacy, community organizing, etc.
- volunteer historic preservation advocates, including volunteers with historic sites, advocacy groups, and local preservation commissioners
- residents of historic communities with an interest or concern for issues related to community development (e.g. vacancy, illegal dumping, underutilizing buildings) or particular historic resources (e.g. a historic school or library, a historic church)
- owners of historic properties including religious congregations, fraternal or social clubs, elected officials with local/state government, public employees in capital planning or property management programs, small developers and investors.
What is included in this review?
Historic preservation education online and offline takes in a variety of formal and informal approaches to learning and skill-building that address a range of audiences and needs.
To start with a strong understanding of the different options for online education and the benefits and limitations of different approaches, we assembled an initial survey of existing approaches grouped into three categories:
- Online Course/Webinars
- Online Publications
- Online Communities
What is missing from this review?
Topics that could be included or expanded in this review include:
- Education related to architectural documentation, architectural history research or survey work.
- Education related to small museums or historic sites
- Education related to related areas of skills and knowledge, e.g. urban planning, design review, community development
- Likely lots of other things are missing…
The examples listed in the section about online education may be better presented in a spreadsheet instead of this narrative format.
How is historic preservation education taking place online?
Academic Courses Online
Several undergraduate and graduate programs offer online courses and degrees or certifications in historic preservation where requirements are met with a hybrid of online and in-person educational experiences. Examples of these approaches include the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) and Goucher College and generally require students to formally enroll to participate.
There are a variety of webinar based programs including the NPS Technical Preservation Services webinar series, National Register and NHL program webinars, an ACHP webinar on Section 106. Some webinars are focused on a particular jurisdiction or audience such as the online courses for emergency responders from Heritage Conservation or focused by geography like the California Preservation Foundation webinars. Some of these programs require a fee or advance registration but do not typically require a commitment beyond an individual session.
Open Access Educational Materials/MOOCs
Examples of open access teaching materials include this course on the history and theory of historic preservation at MIT and the syllabus bank assembled by the NCPE.
Partner universities for larger MOOCs like Coursera and EdX have not developed any course on historic preservation but MOOCs do exist on:
- Related topics like designing cities, archeology, the city, a Global History of Architecture, and Tangible Things: Discovering History Through Artworks, Artifacts, Scientific Specimens, and the Stuff Around You
- Related skills such as citizen engagement, art inquiry, Teaching Historical Inquiry with Objects
Several National Park Service programs provide online resources with an educational mission. These resources are most often in the form of web-based publications (available as a webpage, PDF or both) that matches the content of a printed publication. Examples of this approach include:
- National Register brochures, bulletins and technical assistance documents
- Technical Preservation Services series of Preservation Briefs, “Tech Notes” and Cultural Landscape Case Studies
At their most simple, online documents can take the form of directories or organized lists of links such as this resource page from Preservation Action.
NPS Technical Preservation Services has also published a series of web-based training materials to offer “professional development alternatives and enrichment programs for professional preservationists, local preservation commissions, volunteers, and anyone interested in more in-depth training in historic preservation.” TPS has also published as web-based documents.
The Action Center produced by Preservation Action is another good example of a website that provide a wide range of resources in an interactive format.
Other publications have shifted from a traditional journal or magazine model to use a regularly updated blog as a vehicle for disseminating case studies and best practices. Examples include the Forum Leadership blog and the PreservationNation blog both from the National Trust. The Ten on Tuesdays series on PreservationNation is a good example of educational content in a blog format.
Over the past 20 years, email listservs have played a very important role in fostering a sense of professional community and continuing education. Examples of email listservs that continue to play this role include the National Association of Preservation Commissions listserv, the Partners listserv of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and listservs for other National Trust-sponsored affiliate programs for Asian and Pacific Islanders.
More recently, groups and communities built on social media have played an important role in connecting professional for sharing news and best practices. The educational function of these groups is secondary to a social purpose but still present. Selected list of examples include:
- #builtheritage chats - National Trust for Historic Preservation - Twitter
Additional examples of online communities include:
- Law & Policy on LinkedIn National Trust for Historic Preservation. This group also uses the Twitter hashtags: #preservationlaw, #preservationpolicy and an email listserv: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Preservation andSustainability on LinkedIn that uses the Twitter hashtag #greenpreservation and the email listserv: email@example.com
- Redevelopment on LinkedIn
How is historic preservation education working online?
Here are a few general issues to consider about the state of online education for historic preservation [this list is incomplete]:
- Web Design: Some of the above online publications and web-based training features do not follow best practices for an accessible, engaging and user-centered presentation of the content.
- Registration and Fee Requirements: Charging fees may help support sustainability but may also limit audience.
- Vendor Lock-In: This is a particular issue of concern for webinars and social media communities - see more about this issue
- Opportunities for Participation: In some cases, opportunities for anyone using an educational resource are solely limited to contacting the author (if their contact information is even listed). In other cases, it may be possible to comment with questions or additional suggestions.
These programs may be well-suited for students interested in pursuing a career in historic preservation but may be unaffordable or too intimidating for volunteers or residents.
The NPS web-based publications are a critically important resource for preservation professionals or more experienced volunteers, in some cases they assume a high level of existing expertise and literacy that may make them difficult for students, residents, and less experienced volunteers. On the other hand, the blog posts on PreservationNation are accessible to a wider range of audiences but may lack the depth or detail that professionals may require to fully implement a new strategy or best practice.
At their best, these communities serve a wide range of audiences effectively. However, they are still shaped by the limits of a particular platform, e.g. the requirement to use Facebook to participate in a Facebook group, and the capacity of the organizers and participants to sustain the community, e.g. people get out what they put in.