Digital Sensory workshop


Digital Sensory workshop

In Arts and Audiences elective (MA Arts and Heritage – Maastricht university)

February 2020

Led by:

  • Emilie Sitzia
Intended learning outcomes

Training the senses to use in analysis of museum spaces and assess impact of sensory stimuli on museum audiences

Learning objectives (course specific)

  • Identifying the impact of senses on museum audiences
  • Identify the impact of senses on audience interpretation of works
  • Identify the impact of senses on audience capacity to memorise and understand cultural education material
  • Practice sensory communication
  • Use sensory data to analyze museum space and its impact on audiences
Objective statement 

During the pandemic we all experienced Zoom teaching as a form of machine hybridity. Our bodies were contained in small digital squares, and we interacted with students through the skin of the screen.

During that period, I developed this workshop focusing on digital sensory education for museology students. The aim was to develop sensory skills (observation, communication and use of sensory data in analysis of audience impact)

Type of course

Skills workshop

Target group

  • MA students – elective Arts and Audiences – Master Arts and Heritage
Teaching method

  • Workshop

Block 1 – sounds and soundscapes

What does a museum sound like?

Blind testing of students – they had to guess which of the sound sample is:

  • Airport sound
  • Mall sound
  • Museum sound
  • Library sound

Most students identify the library (quiet environment) as museum. This leads to a group discussion on our assumptions of the museum on silent space and the importance of context.

Read Labels with sounds:

The students read (and try to memorise the content of labels) with various background sounds to identify impact on visitors:

  • ACDC
  • Mall
  • Satie
  • nothing

Discussion on personal preferences, disturbances, emotional impact, etc.

Impact of sound on emotion:

Music as atmosphere (one painting 2 songs / impact on interpretation)

The group of students is split in 2 rooms with a painting by Berthe Morisot with different soundtracks (unknowingly):

  • 1 with a joyful soundtrack
  • 1 with a very sad soundtrack

This is followed by a plenary debate by students about their interpretation of the painting, the impact of sound on their emotions and therefore interpretation of the work.

Block 2 Label and wall texts sensory issues

Exploring the impact of fonts/design/light on the audience

Discuss the impact of the sensory on learning /cognitive capacities.

Memory issue text/image exercise

Impact on memory – Bransford and Johnson experiment


Block 3 Smells in museums


Favourite smell / what does it evoke?

What does a museum smell like?

Use of smell in exhibition (and marketing)?


Block 4 practicing touch and sensory communication

Students are asked to turn off their cameras and bring an object (not necessarily art). One student at a time then describes the object only in terms of touch. Others guess the object. Repeat 3-5 times.

Discussion on expressing touch and the role of touch in our relationship with objects/ museum objects. What does touch do?

Imagining touch using megascan

The students explore digital images of paintings (textural) in order to discuss/ describe how they imagine touch.


Block 5 – Exploring online exhibition focusing on the senses

The students start exploring and analysing online exhibitions using sensory skills and analysing the impact on visitors.

Assessment of learning

No formal assessment

Effect (witness account, evaluation of the course)

  • Improved awareness of sensory impact.
  • Improved ability to communicate sensory data
  • Improved use of sensory data in analysis of exhibition space and impact on visitors.
Additional biblio sources

Workshop slides:

Roppola, T. (2012). Designing for the Museum Visitor Experience. New York, NY.

Howes, D. (2014) ‘Introduction to Sensory Museology’, The Senses and Society, 9:3, 259-267

Sitzia, E. (forthcoming 2023) ‘Senses and Sensibility: Finding the Balance in Sensory Museum Education’ in A. Sinner, T. Osler (ed.), Artful Xchanges: Propositions in Museum Education