Embodied and Object-Based Learning in Medical and Health Humanities


How can we get students to cross their disciplinary boundaries and to engage all their senses? Our students learn to sit, read, listen and write, but do little with the other senses as ‘avenues of knowledge’. This project integrates two innovative pedagogical methods, Embodied Learning and Object-Based Learning, into an MA track in Medical and Health Humanities.This track brings together students from different disciplines who share knowledge from their home disciplines but find it hard to integrate relevant approaches from other fields. This undermines their ability a) to critically evaluate the culture of knowledge production in their own field, and b) to analyze and utilize the broader range of expertise that will be required to address contemporary societal challenges. Different ways of learning are needed to equip these students to move beyond their knowledge boundaries.

We therefore propose to recreate the classroom in a ‘multi-sensory collaboratory’ in which students, teachers, and partners from health care organizations, cultural institutions, and creative industries will together engage with all their senses (including smell, sound, and touch). We develop two new courses to employ the methods of Embodied Learning and Object-Based Learning through an inclusive educational strategy. The development of a ‘sense-log’ will provide a concrete method for tracking sensorial discoveries and allowing the student (and teachers) to reflect on their personal trajectory of knowledge development for individual students and track the group’s progress overall. These combined initiatives will help students from different background to “co-create” knowledge from different disciplinary perspectives.


The innovative aspects of this project lie in the combination of object-based and sensory learning, with the strategy of 1) multisensory collaboratives and 2) the sense-log tool, to help students from different backgrounds to "co-create" knowledge from multidisciplinary perspectives.

1) Multisensory collaboratories

We will develop two innovative courses in which we offer concrete methods for inclusive learning. For both courses, the classroom will be structured as a "collaboratory," where students, teachers from different disciplines, and partners from health and welfare organizations, the cultural sector, and the creative industries will meet at different locations (e.g. in museums or health organizations).

2) Sense-log

One of the challenges of embodied learning for students is how they can keep track of what they have learned. We instigate a concrete method for tracking sensorial discoveries. This 'sense-log', co-developed with the IT team of UBVU, will allow students to reflect on their personal trajectory of mining different methods, noting the responses generated, and synthesizing this knowledge. The data produced by the students will be used to improve the relevance and usability of the sessions for individual students of various academic and cultural backgrounds (De Vries 2018; Richter & Allert 2017). Besides a tool for learning, the sense-log will also provide us with data for the evaluation of the impact of the collaboratory. The model of the sense-log (not the specific student data) will be made freely available for other teachers.  

The sense-log will not only be used for student observation then, it also provides a rich data set for evaluation. In the last phase of the project, we will evaluate the results of the project through:

  1. the standard evaluation surveys of VU University to assess student perceptions of the different teaching methods
  2. mining data of the sense-log (concept maps & sensory reflections). Compare the base knowledge check of assignment 1 to the final results. Text-mine richness of sensory vocabularies over time.
  3. interview with a selection of the students, in conjunction with analysis of the assignments completed, to evaluate the impact of the interdisciplinary collaboration, of the learning by  sensing methodology, and of the engagements with the non-academic world.

Through these 3 routes we aim to analyze whether the students

  • were activated by the course setup (did they participate actively in classes, complete all the assignments, finish the courses - improving their results as the courses progressed)
  • reached the learning targets of the courses
  • learned to collaborate across disciplines, and appreciate inclusive education (cultural diversity)
  • obtained "deeper knowledge", based on multi-disciplinary thinking
  • developed professional skills to present to and collaborate with partners from outside academia. 

Results of this project will, amongst others, be presented at a conference, and scientific articles will be written, to increase awareness of embodied learning for mixed classrooms in higher education.  


Planned start date:  01-05-2019 

Planned end date: 31-10-2020

Participatieve onderzoeksmethoden


Manon Parry, Inger Leemans, Bregje de Vries, Alice Schippers

Manon Parry, Inger Leemans, Bregje de Vries, Alice Schippers


Prof. dr. Manon Parry, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

Prof. dr. Inger Leemans, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

Bregje de Vries, PhD, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

Dr. Alice Schippers, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

Financiële partners

This project is granted a Comenius Teaching Fellowship by NRO (Nationaal Regieorgaan Onderwijsonderzoek).


Prof dr. Manon Parry: m.s.parry@vu.nl