Half a million euro to set up sensory education at the UM and beyond

Half a million euro to set up sensory education at the UM and beyond

“The more senses you use, the more you learn”

22-09-2021 · Background

A doctor has to look intently, listen (through a stethoscope), smell, feel and even sometimes taste. An art historian needs to accurately observe a piece of art. Senses are very important for many more professions. Just before the summer, Emilie Sitzia, associate professor at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, received the Comenius Leadership Fellowship – 500 thousand euro for a period of three years – to set up sensory education at Maastricht University and other interested universities.

When you are studying, it is important to train your senses, but does that actually happen? “We assume that it is implicitly included in our education system,” says Sitzia. “But it is not a separate block and it is not assessed as such. We don’t know whether students are making progress in this respect or not.” 

Together with researchers Anna Harris and Joost Dijkstra, Sitzia is going to research how training the senses can be given a more prominent role in education and how you can assess students in this field. In doing so, they will work together Ilse van Lieshout at house of contemporary culture Marres, who has been organising interactive workshops ‘Training the Senses’ for years, in which it is all about gaining knowledge of the senses.

“Eventually, we want to have an online platform and set up an actual physical space. On the platform, lecturers can find digital lessons, to which they can make a few adaptations to make them suitable for their study programmes. Because it is not just important to the arts and art historians, I can easily imagine that you could make good use of your senses in marketing or in the courtroom. In the actual space, there will be material that can help you with such a lesson of the senses.”

We are not that far yet; the team will first take a year to study the literature. “After that, we want to interview sensory experts. These would be people such as a chef, a perfume maker, a choreographer,” says Sitzia. “We also want to set up a student think tank, because we are very interested in what they think about this.”

Sitzia feels that this kind of education is not just important to train the senses, but also to introduce other methods of learning into the curriculum. “Education is very much focussed on the visual and aural. We did a test once with a group. They had to describe a body part, but were only allowed to use sounds. Or describe how that body part feels. People find that difficult, whereas telling what it looks like is much easier.”

Research has shown that the more senses you use when learning new material, the more you learn. “You see that in practice too: students often remember more from a trip to the museum than from a lecture. Certainly after all that online education this past year, we need to stimulate socially and sensory learning. Try to incorporate something unpredictable into the curriculum.”