Expanding from our project highlights post, we thought to provide a further overview on the makerspaces component of the larger study. One of our first studies as part of the ‘Sensory Orchestration’ project was to explore the role of makerspaces and how these were of interest to multimodality, literacy and the senses. We engaged in a collaborative effort with industry and research partners from the United States and Australia at three makerspace locations. Our goal was to investigate how students integrated the sense of touch into their design projects and how they effectively integrated this tactile aspect with other sensory elements such as soundscapes and acoustic elements.
Developing a Touch Typology
Activities included painting and the creation of e-sculptures with modelling clay. These multi textual sculptures incorporated the programming of electronics with Arduino™ kits to make the sculptures interactive. An example of this work can be seen in Figure 1.
Figure 1. A student programs LED lights for their sculpture with an Arduino™ Kit.
As a result of this research work, Dr. Lesley Friend and Professor Kathy Mills formulated an innovative framework called the ‘touch typology’. Touch, an aspect that has only recently started to be explored in the field of digital media production, plays an important role as a sensory path through which individuals perceive and engage with the world. Through the tactile experience enabled by the hands, fingers, and various parts of the body, touch provides both knowledge and agency (Friend & Mills, 2021). This framework incorporates the concepts of creative touch, auxiliary touch, and evocative touch, interwoven with orchestrated and transformative touch. This study explored significance of touch in the creative production of digital media within educational and community makerspaces (Friend & Mills, 2021).
Soundscapes and acoustics
As noted in our highlights post, interwoven with this study, we collaborated with Nathan Schulz, The Drama Merchant, to create soundscapes with our participating students. This involved the use of a foley space (see Figure 2), where students used various materials to create sound effects resulting in immersive and sensory soundscapes. Soundscapes included a steam train and a boat is a storm. Examples can be found at this Soundclound link.
Figure 2. An example of the foley space workshops
The sense of smell
Another sense that we explored as part of the project, and as included in Makerspaces, was that of ‘smell’. As Lesley Friend and Kathy Mills (manuscript in preparation) noted, historically, the sense of smell has not by fully appreciated, as well as taste and touch, and has long been underestimated in learning and knowing. As part of this study with Australian primary school students we looked at how they described different scents. What we found was fascinating: our sense of smell is closely tied to how we learn and connect with our environment. This discovery is meaningful because it shows that our senses, including smell, play an important role in how we experience and make sense of the world around us. The sense of smell and what it evokes can also be referred to as olfaction. Olfaction is perceptive bodily sense, and is noted to be connected to emotional, experiential and memory states. This study’s implications suggest that we should consider smell as a valuable tool for learning and gaining knowledge.
Our research team designed our data collection collaboratively with teachers. Interviews, of approximately 20 minutes, were audio-recorded in small groups and students separated as much as possible so that they would not hear each other’s responses. Students were asked this question—How does this smell make you feel?— and were encouraged to use words to describe their experience, immediately after each had smelled the contents of each of the five bottles (Fontana and Frey, 2008). We explored a wide range of scents, and the student reactions and emotional responses were fascinating.
Certain scents and smells ignite various memories and feelings (Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash)
We found that exploring the sensory and embodied aspects of perception, emotions, and cognition requires us to reevaluate educational priorities and the methodologies we use in research. Embracing this shift has the potential to expand the horizons of our current educational research, especially in cultures that have traditionally marginalised senses like smell and other non-visual senses as valuable tools for understanding the world around us.
More about the unique touch typology and the soundscapes can be found in Friend & Mills’ (2021) open access article, Towards a typology of touch in multisensory makerspaces.
Fontana, A., & Frey, J. H. (2008). The interview: From neutral stance to political involvement. In N. K. Denzin & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), Collecting and Interpreting Qualitative Materials (Volume 3) (pp. 115–159). Los Angeles: Sage Publications.
Friend, L., & Mills, K. A. (2021). Towards a typology of touch in multisensory makerspaces. Learning, Media and Technology, 46(4), 465-482. https://doi.org/10.1080/17439884.2021.1928695