Sharpening Your Senses


Sharpening Your Senses


Faculty of Arts and Social Science

Maastricht University

Coordinator & main teacher

  • Emilie Sitzia

Other teachers

  • Elene Kadagidze
  • Ilse van Lieshout
  • Femke Jongen-Hermus
Intended learning outcomes (more on programme level)

Training the senses for future use in research and professional practice.

Learning objectives (course specific)

  • Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the key theories, histories and social contexts around using your senses in a professional and academic environment.
  • Demonstrate basic knowledge in the use of senses in their specific area of specialisation esp. observation skills.
  • Communicate and elaborate clearly and precisely around sensory experience and its significance in their professional and academic practice.
  • Demonstrate an ability to use and develop sensorial skills to enhance their work and research within their area of specialisation.
  • Demonstrate the ability to understand and apply various protocols to analyse sensory data. While students focus on their own professional/specialization area they will understand other’s professional skills and are therefore better prepared for interdisciplinary collaborations.
Objective statement (course description)

What do doctors, biologists, business experts, museum and art specialists have in common? They are expert observers. Their work involves attuning and developing their skills of observation, sharpening their senses. This interdisciplinary elective attends to training this core skill, a skill that is central to these fields and yet which often gets taken for granted and not given specific attention.

Training the senses means understanding sensory knowledge and its historical and cultural context more broadly. How have the senses been perceived historically in society? How do they impact on current socio-cultural codes and professional practices? What does it do to bring domains such as medicine, art, museum studies, globalization studies, marketing and law together, and examine the intersections and cross-overs at the borders? How can students improve their sensory abilities of noticing and apply it in their future practice?

This cross-Faculty elective, a collaboration with Marres House for Contemporary Culture, is designed to precisely address these questions, by bringing medical students and arts students together. In this course students will be trained to become more aware of embodied knowledge’ and practice and train their sensory skills. They will also be introduced to the theories behind ‘senses-based learning’, the socio-historical context that drives our current use of the senses in various professional fields. For that, students are encouraged to step out into conscious observation and use different kinds of senses from different perspectives. Students will learn from each other, as well as the tutors and invited experts they listen to and observe.

This elective aims to help students engage critically with how to train their senses to experience/ perceive more fully and collect information relevant to their fields, with how to describe and communicate this information clearly and precisely, and understand how to analyse it using various disciplinary protocols.

Type of course :

Skills course

Target group :

Bachelor and Master students

Pedagogical approach:

Senses-based Learning


Week 1

In class:

  • Icebreaker: Activation of the senses – different sensory items are offered to the students, and they must try to describe what they are sensing. Students are asked to think of a sensory memory.
  • Students are introduced to the course programme and the main concepts of the course as well as to theories of impact of the senses on learning. (in the form of a video lecture and a Q&A live session).
  • Readings discussion/debate on the role of the senses at different periods in different domains based on readings from block 0
  • Introduction on how to use a diary/sensory journal: taking fieldnotes, drawings, mapping, etc. in order to describe the different sensory experiences during the following weeks

Guided Field experiment with students (same day) in the city:

Aim: Description practice/ establish a starting point and introduce them to sensorial mapping/ sensory diary

Warm up: Attuning Your Senses

Location: Sphinx passage

Exercise to practice attentiveness, attitude, taking the time – make time meaningful to collect sensory data.

Decide which sense you want to attune.

In order to do so, deprive yourself of the other senses (wearing ear plugs, an eye mask, and/or a mouth cap).

  1. Sight ???? pick up ear plugs and mouth cap
  2. Hearing ???? pick up eye mask and mouth cap
  3. Smell/taste ???? pick up eye mask and ear plugs

Stand, sit or walk no more than a few steps (unless chaperoned) for 5 minutes.

During the experiment ask yourself:

How do I feel?

What sensory data do/can I collect?

What do I miss/what changes?

Once finished with the experiment: what do you notice?

Discussion points:

What is sensory data?

What kind of research can I use it for?

Can you train your senses to become a better researcher/ professional?

How to train the senses themselves along the course of the elective?

Field experiment: Learning to use a diary/sensory journal

Students will experiment a city tour in some form of chosen sensory deprivation (using blindfolds and/or earplugs and/or mouth cap) to start triggering their thinking. They will be introduced to various locations in the city to better understand contextual sensing (Sphinx passage, Marres garden, the Market, Vrijthof for example). Students will start their sensory journals exploring different ways of sensing and recording.

Choose how you will be collecting sensory data in your diary/sensory journal (and which data you are after)

  1. Making sensory maps
  2. Doing a recording
  3. Taking notes
  4. Making a drawing
  5. Writing a poem

Using one sensory deprivation in order to focus, collect data in each locations using your chosen method of collection (try various methods/sensory deprivation in various locations).

Discussion points:

What do I really see/hear/touch/smell?

What can I focus on where?

Did your collection method influence your choice of sensory data?

How hard was it to devise a code?

How useable is your data?

What kind of research can I use this for?

Week 2

Self-directed work (independent work to do that week):

Aim: Experimentation and practice with how to take fieldnotes, based on ethnographic techniques.

Warm up:

Students do a first experiment (in an overstimulating sensory environment) to trigger their thinking and kickstart their sensory journals. Potential locations are Friday market, FunValley, a fun fare, a mall, a festival, etc.

Repeat the field experiment of last week and work on your sensory journal.

Discussion points (take notes we will discuss this next week):

What do I really see/hear/touch/smell?

What can I focus on where?

Did your collection method influence your choice of sensory data?

How hard was it to devise a code?

How useable is your data?

What kind of research can I use this for?

Field experiment

Students visit a museum (for example Marres) and stay with a single artwork without any writing, reading, talking or phones for 40 min and then write a first draft ‘response to the artwork’ text. And then write another version of their text with information on the artwork gathered from online, catalogue, etc. The aim is to learn to see how looking with intention (and for extended period of time) at a single artwork changes the way they write, what they notice/sense.

Week 3

Location: Marres

Discussions on

  • Artistic research/ Arts-based research
  • Transforming a material through imagination
  • Observation and seeing with your imagination (inner eye)

Exercise with painting and clay

Instructions given:

  • With clay, try to capture the shape of a face. Reflect on the shapes you make when your eyes are closed. Does your creation align with your imagination?
  • With painting, reflect on where your brushstrokes takes you, think about your body and the movements you make. Focus not on creating a painting but on how to paint (material)


  • Focus on proprioception, the body, and movement.
  • Make it a free flow experience.
  • Fun and safe experience

Guided Field experiment with students (same day):

Aim: Practicing awareness, attentiveness, diverse ways of observations of different fields of studies as well as how to describe/ or read an observation.

Warm up: Body parts

  • Describe a bodypart by how it sounds
  • Describe a body part by how it feels
  • Describe a bodypart by how it looks
  • Then do all of this with 1 body part / 1 min per sense

Discussion: what have you learned this morning?

Discussion on self-directed work & readings

Week 4

Self-directed fieldwork (independent work to do that week):

Aim: Practicing observing and noticing sound

Warm up:

Students familiarize themselves with sound recording techniques

Students do exercises for the ears to an external site.

Students do exercises of analytic sensory reception (how you should hear it vs how it sounds that is objective vs subjective hearing)


Field experiment 1:

Students do the self-directed tour of David Helbich (available at Marres)

Field experiment 2:

Medical students spend time with an echocardiogram technician, or a cardiologist or respiratory physician listening to heart/lung sounds)

Art students spend time with a composer to investigate how they listen.

Week 5

Warm up: Guess the sound exercise / describe the sound

Listen to the sound – guess what it is? Now describe the sound (without mentioning what it is, focus on describing the sound itself as precisely as possible)

Exercise 1: with list of sensory words

Students are given a long list of sensory words for each of the 5 senses. They first reflect on the list, suggesting several additions to it and then listen again to one of the sound recordings played before. This time the recoding is played for a longer period of time (5min) and the students use the list to come up with appropriate descriptions of the sounds they are hearing.

Exercises 2: the cookie experiment

Students are given a plain cookie to gather sensory data from. They are asked to use all of the senses and come up with words for each sense that describes the information gained from the cookie. The next part of the experiment is to write a collective text about the cookie using the words they came up with before.

Week 6

Aim: Practicing observing, noticing and communicating smell and taste

Field work: Fragrance city walk

Take the tour of Maastricht of Sanne Vaassen (map and fragrance samples available at Marres)

Exercise: try to put fragrance / fabric texture into words – Choose a fragrance or a fabric that triggers you and write a paragraph about it.

Week 7

Everyone smells an herb (lavender) and are instructed to come up with one word to describe the smell. This is repeated twice.

Workshop/fieldwork: Marres

Visit the ongoing exhibition at Marres – for this course it was Tàctica Sintáctica. The exhibition’s goal is to illicit surprise and touch visitors

  • The students were introduced to the exhibition, and they were given each a fake limb, such as an extra arm or two legs or a head, etc. They walked around the exhibition space, imagining how their experience would change if they had these extra limbs. They explored the exhibition space focusing on their bodies.
  • Conversations on proprioception were had, where balance and the presence of an inner core were discussed. Ilse demonstrated that the inner core that keeps us balanced is located in the stomach and is what is keeping us from tipping over if we rock back and forth on our feet. We discussed various levels of ability and training proprioception.

The Puppet exercise:

The students are divided into groups of 3 and are given three large rolled-up papers and one unrolled one. They are given instructions on how to make a puppet from these 4 papers, using the rolled-up ones to make the legs, the body, and the arms and the last one to make the head. All the limbs are taped together and the students get to choose who controls the legs of the puppet, who moves the body and who is be the head. The person controlling the head is in charge of the movement, the one that controls where the puppet would go. The others have to follow and fall in sync with each other making their movements as synchronised and precise as possible.

The groups were asked to come up with a little performance that the puppets would do.

Week 8

Aim: practicing your observation and sensory data gathering skills

  • Students spend time in a clinic/hospital main foyer or museum entrance observing and recording the goings-on. They make a moving pattern map of public in museum, patients in hospital lobby or other observation spaces.

Look at your practice environment and see how the surroundings in that practice triggers the senses. In a Hospital the fragrance, sounds, movements, etc all play a role in how a patient sees the hospital and is able to get well in the place. The same happens in other environements. Embodied knowledge is about the body/mind and the surrounding that the body and mind is in. So what knowledge do you gain observing these situations? Are they the best places for the practice of art or medicine? What if it was completely different?

Take notes of what you are observing and also of ideas and thoughts this experiment triggers in you.

Week 9

Location: SkillsLab

Exercise: Viewpoint / movement

  • Goal: movement observations, space awareness
  • Students walk around observing how they walk, how others walk and their environment. They are asked to mirror each other.

Body interviews

Students interview each other about how they sit, how they walk, how they open the door, how they lie on the examination table. They attempt to reproduce each other’s movements.

Discussion on body habbits and exploration of a variety of movement.

Physical examination and the senses – discussion on:

  • Preliminary discussion on privacy, consent, communication, safe environment, hygiene and difference of observation and inspection.
  • Inspection (tongue, colour, hair)
  • Palpation (rhythm, regularity, strengh) “I am feeling too vulnerable when I do it to myself”
  • Percussion “it sounded like air going through a building”
  • Auscultation

Role play exercise: the walking man

Choose a role (art critic, medical doctor, art therapist, psychologist, choreographer) Observe a volunteer walking (pure observation)
Describe sensory aspects of the walker (taking into account your ‘protocol ’) Analyse the walk (taking into account your ‘protocol’)

Week 10

Presentation of final works

Evaluation of the course

Assessment of learning:

360 degree feedback:

The students decide what we give feedback on based on the question: “what makes you a better sensory researcher?”. A student led discussion arrives at points of observation for feedback such as transferring theory to practice, focus and attention during the session, etc…

Effort requirement: all students give feedback to other students, tutors give feedback too for sessions. This can be done online after each session.


The final assignment is a reflective essay (in any format – written (3000 words), blog (3000 words), podcast (7-10 minutes), video (7-10 min), etc) which student demonstrate their understanding of theory, reflect on their 360 feedback and fieldwork experience. For the fieldwork experience they will compare one of the field closest to their area of study with one other.

Use of academic literature Below expectations Not everything was substantiated by relevant academic literature
As expected You used relevant academic literature in all section
Beyond expectations You used more relevant academic literature than what was provided in the course


360 feedback reflection Below expectations You didn’t reflect on the feedback and simply described it
As expected You critically engaged with the feedback.
Beyond expectations You critically engaged with the feedback and integrated it and identified points for further development.
Reflexion and comparison of fieldworks Below expectations Missed a number of similarities/differences
As expected Observed relevant differences and similarities
Beyond expectations Observed relevant differences and similarities and extended comparison to other fieldworks/situations
Communication around the senses Below expectations Superficial description, lack of a clear argument and structure
As expected Has developed extensive sensory communication strategies and how it is expressed in the final assignment (verbally and non-verbally), clear argument and structure, the medium is suitable to the message
Beyond expectations Masters extensive sensory communication strategies and how it is expressed in the final assignment (verbally and non-verbally)
Effect (witness account, evaluation of the course)

Most memorable activity:

  • Student 1: proprioception – the clay exercise with sculpting the face & the Marres exhibition. Both were surprising and she learned most from those. She is now more aware of her body. “What a different approach can make you learn!”
  • Student 2: the painting and clay exercises. She enjoyed these two and they made her realize the distinction between pressured work vs free flow work. “For the first time I didn’t try to understand what I did.”
  • Student 3: liked how the elective was a different learning experience and realized how challenging it is to describe and communicate about the senses. Eating the cookie was the most challenging, it required focus. Realized the importance of senses in understanding reality. “My body was the instrument for what I wanted to achieve.”
  • Student 4: mentioned the cultural gap and how sensing and feeling are connected, how one can sense a feeling. Marres clay and painting exercise was most memorable because she loves colour and painting. She felt it allowed to reduce the “cultural loaded gap”
  • Student 5: the Marres exhibition and the city tours were the most memorable for her. It was nice to experience the city from different perspectives. At Marres, she liked the focus on body and architecture.
  • Student 6: going to the city, the first walking tour was memorable for her, as well as the Skills lab, which helped her develop observation skills and touch.

Transferability of skills

  • Student 1: how we behave/move reflects our behaviour. Wants to go into social work, so empathy building was important. Still doesn’t know how to use the skills she gained. “Senses and body are an instrument but I still don’t know how to use it.” She sees the course as a start.
  • Student 2: studies digital society, thought of virtual reality, augmented reality, VR glasses, the difficulties of bringing senses into augmented reality. Is curious on how one can transfer senses into a machine.
  • Student 3: has similar interest as Claudio. Wants to be a curator and film maker, wants to create virtual reality through film, to make people imagine the film better by triggering the senses.
  • Student 4: interested in how to make exhibitions more immersive; how would it help if one created a different environment for each art piece. Would use senses in evaluating visitor’s reactions and experience to exhibitions.
  • Student 5: studies social sciences, enjoyed going into the field. She believes field trips are important in education and was interested in how the environment can trigger memories & effect the mood. Talked about Museum night and how great it was to have interactive exhibitions at Marres and other stimulating exhibitions, as opposed to the not memorable experience in other museums which didn’t offer participatory activities. Alice has loved going into the experience. The connections created are for her transferable to all disciplines. And how the environment affects your mood.
  • Student 6: studies digiral society, is interested in sociology & communication science, how people communicate over the internet. Talking online, you lose the feelings and sense that you have when you’re face-to-face. How does one provoke feeling over online communication? Interested in links with Synesthesia and thinks it can be useful for digital society.


  • Student 1: would be nice to explain how important it is and show how to make it functional.
  • Student 2: misses the link, feels like more practice is needed and that it’s not applied enough. Said that these were more basics that she has learned, and needs to be more focused.
  • Student 3: practicality is lacking. Mentioned how the Maastricht University is heavily theoretical and lacks practical education. It needs to be more flexible.

What would you have liked to learn about?

  • Body language, special arrangement
  • Multimodal communication methods & how they work
  • Smell – didn’t engage a lot with it in the elective

Personal development:

  • Out of comfort zone
  • Empathy, awareness of experience of others
  • Own experience is valid, expression & application
  • Being more comfortable with being uncomfortable
  • Comfortable, connecting with other companies, artists, people to understand real practice better.
Additional biblio sources

Reading Block 0: Introductory readings

Classen, C. (1999) ‘Other Ways to Wisdom: Learning through the Senses across Cultures’. International Review of Education/Internationale Zeitschrift Für Erziehungswissenschaft/Revue Internationale De L’education 45, no. 3–4 (1999): 269–80.

Howes, D. & Classen, C.(2014). Ways of Sensing: Understanding the Senses in Society. New York: Routledge. (“Chapter 3: The politics of perception: sensory and social ordering” or “Chapter 4: The feel of justice: la wand the regulation of sensation”)

Kuriyama, S. (2002) The Expressiveness of the Body and the Divergence of Greek and Chinese Medicine. New York: Zone books. (Part One: “Styles of Touching”)

Readings Block 1: key questions and tools

  • for art students (on representation):

Classen, C. (2007). Museum Manners: The Sensory Life of the Early Museum. In Journal of Social History, Volume 40, (Issue 4), 895–914.

Jamie Ward “Multisensory memories: how richer experiences facilitate remembering” pp.273-284 in Sobol Levent,N.; Pascual-Leone A., Lacey S., (2014) The Multisensory museum: cross-disciplinary perspectives on touch, sound, smell, memory, and space.

  • for all students:

Shams, L., and Seitz, A.R. Benefits of multisensory learning. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 60, November 2008, pp. 411–17.

Elliott, D. & Culhane, D. (2016) A Different Kind of Ethnography: Imaginative Practices and Creative Methodologies. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. (Choose a chapter)

Pink, S. (2016) Doing Sensory Ethnography. London: Sage Publishing (Introduction: About doing sensory ethnography)

Readings Block 2: Observation

Goodwin, C. (1994). “Professional Vision”, American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 96, No. 3, pp. 606-633

Wellbery C., McAteer R.A. (2015). The art of observation: a pedagogical framework. Acad Med. 90, pp.1624–1630.

Braverman, IM. (2011). To see or not to see: how visual training can improve observational skills. Clin Dermatol. 29, pp.343–346.

Readings Block 3: Sonic skills and music education reading

Pellico, L.H., Duffy T.C., Fennie K.P., et al. (2012). Looking is not seeing and listening is not hearing: effect of an intervention to enhance auditory skills of graduate-entry nursing students. Nurs Educ Perspect. 33, pp. 234–239.

Readings Block 4: talking about the senses

Kneebone, R. (2020). Expert: Understanding the path of mastery. London: Penguin. (Chapter “Using your senses”)

Latour, B. (2004). How to talk about the body? The normative dimension of science studies. Bod Soc. 10, pp.205–229.

Shapin, S. The tastes of wine, Wineworld. new essays on wine, taste, philosophy and aesthetics, pp.49–94

  • And choose one of the following:

Speed, L.J. & Majid, A. (2018). An Exception to Mental Simulation: No Evidence for Embodied Odor Language. Cognitive Science, 42 (4), 1146-1178. doi: 10.1111/cogs.12593 Volledige tekst

Speed, L.J. & Majid, A. (2017). Superior olfactory language and cognition in odor-color synaesthesia. Journal of Experimental Psychology B-Human Perception and Performance, 43. doi: 10.1037/xhp0000469

Speed, L.J. & Majid, A. (2019). Grounding language in the neglected senses of touch, taste, and smell. Cognitive Neuropsychology. doi: 10.1080/02643294.2019.1623188

Readings Block 5: senses in the world

Von Hoffmann, V. (2016). The Taste of the Eye and the Sight of the Tongue: the Relations between Sight and Taste in Early Modern Europe, The Senses and Society, 11:2, pp.83-113.

Pallasmaa, J. (2019). Design for sensory reality: From visuality to existential experience. Architectural Design, 89(6), pp.22-27.

Etievant, P., Guichard, E., Salles C. (ed.) (2016) Flavor: from food to behaviors, wellbeing and health, Elsevier Science, (especially 7. Holistic perception and memorization of flavor / Edmund T. Rolls — 7.1. Introduction / Richard J. Stevenson — 7.2. Holistic flavor perception / Richard J. Stevenson — 7.3. Memorization of flavor / Richard J. Stevenson — 7.4. General discussion / Richard J. Stevenson)

Readings Block 6: body as measuring instrument

Muniesa, F. & Trébuchet-Breitwiller, A.S., (2010) Becoming a measuring instrument: An ethnography of perfume consumer testing, Journal of Cultural economy 3, pp.321-337.

Longhurst, R., Ho, E. & Johnston, L. (2008). Using ‘the body’ as an ‘instrument of research’: kimch’i and pavlova. Area, 40(2), 208-217

Harris, A. (2021). Making Measuring Bodies, Science, Technology and Human Values,

‘Looking Deeply’ – R. Kneebone:

Center for performance science:

Readings Block 7: senses and moving

Ingold, T. & Vergunst, J. (2008). Ways of Walking: Ethnography and Practice on Foot, Routledge, London

(choose a chapter):

Harris, A. (2016). The sensory archive. The senses and society, 11:3, pp. 345-350: