Design Jam for the Five Senses

Concurrent Session 6
Streamed Session Best in Track

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Session Materials

Brief Abstract

This "Design Jam" game explores multisensory online augmentation by adding touch, taste and smell experiences. Field-tested, this novel approach achieves inclusive mixed reality, untethered from sight and hearing. Players design prototypes (bizarre is better) with real stimuli in a fast-paced, creative brainstorm. Who will be crowned the Five Senses Guru?


Dr. Kemp's work explores the intersection of digital and physical learning spaces and the emerging tools and techniques supporting innovation in them. More specifically, his interests follow teachers, learners and information professionals using communication technologies for education. Shortly before joining the San Jose State University School of Library and Information Science faculty in 2006, he co-founded the SLOODLE project (Second Life Object Oriented Distance Learning Environment) with Dr. Daniel Livingstone of University of West of Scotland. This grant-funded project extended the Moodle learning management system with avatars and user-constructed virtual settings. He served as a conference co-chair for the Sloan-C's Emerging Technology in Online Learning Conference in 2010. He received his Ed.D. in Educational Leadership and Change from Fielding Graduate University in Santa Barbara in 2011 where his dissertation focused on learner acceptance of new technologies. He also earned Master’s Degrees in Learning Design from Stanford and in Journalism from Northwestern.

Extended Abstract

During the 2013 annual TED conference, product designer Jinsop Lee outlined his fresh perspective on “Design for all 5 Senses.” He showed a novel way to describe the sights, sounds, tastes, touches and smells for activities from riding a motorcycle, eating ramen and even having sex. He ended his talk with a challenge for his TED audience. How can we make this talk better by engaging the five senses? Then he threw handfuls of candy into the audience, thus augmenting the sight and sound of the lecture with tastes and smells.

VIEW VIDEO of Jinsop Lee's TED talk on 5 senses design.

Can this 5 Senses framework help online educators build more engaging instruction?

We over-focus on two senses to teach online students. What is the future? What is a 25-year idea?  One obvious place to look is in the changes needed in our field to deliver content using the remaining three senses...

Starting in January of this year, I used this framework to renovate one of my fully online graduate classes in Library Science. My goal? To add additional features that trigger engagement with a kickstart from the sense of smell, touch, taste. This INFO 251 Usability course has run continuously for seven years. It includes video and audio clips and the typical schedule of synchronous sessions and asynchronous community discussions.

Accessibility is severely limited by the oculocentric mode of typical online learning. My students never touch, taste or smell our classroom and their coursework. My teaching practice has reached its furthest sensory limits. 

Recent experimentation with social avatars and 3D immersive content and stereoscopic headsets has not quenched this thirst for greater stimulus diversity. But this new field is building some interesting work:

My research agenda has focused on implementing immersive education in online settings, and my dissertation asked the question, “Will graduate students accept the use of avatars for online learning?” 

The field has seen big advances in visual realism with stunning graphics and immersive serious games. But online trainings are narrowly limited to just two of the classic five senses. Students in my classes watch and listen to their lessons while seated immobile in front of a computer monitor, tapping out their submissions on keyboards and occasionally listening to recordings and videos. 

We use our eyes too much when teaching on the Internet, and this has become my personal recipe for fatigue. The 5 Senses framework shows huge potential to solve these pain points and may open a wide new field of inquiry. I want to share how this alternate perspective made my teaching fresh and my lessons more engaging. 

My journey started in the garage as I built an assembly line to design, build and mail sensory kits to my students. These four sequential packets included a “getting started” set to be opened by all students during a first webinar meeting for community building. Another packet included a simple set of game pieces used in a simulation. I sent the students holiday wishes by adding a tasteful treat and invited them to discuss their memories of that holiday.

SEE VIDEO where I describe a tactile packet with a gamified description of the overarching course concept.

The concept has been tested in three different classes for undergraduates, grad students and for experienced online faculty taking a development workshop.

Trial #1 – Graduate online course

The course consisted of 15 graduate students in a fully online course during Spring semester. They received a mailed package including four separate packets, each with touch, smell and taste stimuli. Students received a packet with S’mores for the opening synchronous session, a games-based learning packet and a treat for the class final presentation.

SEE VIDEO where students see their sensory packs for the first time during a Zoom session

The reaction was much more positive than expected. Survey data is still being analyzed but the post-session reactions were glowing. Students described how they felt more connected to the course and to each other after sharing food and smells in common.

One students said in our closing Zoom session, “I thought it was a really good way of making a digital experience more interactive. It was a like another layer of connection, and it made me think about things in a different way."

SEE VIDEO with student reactions to this session

Trial #2 – Blended faculty development workshop about online learning

Online faculty received stimuli packets during their training workshop. They were intrigued but lacked context and needed more information about the methods and benefits.

Trial #3 – On-ground undergraduate class in Religious Studies

About 30 students in a classroom sorted through items to smells, taste and touch and built “Apocalypse Survival Kits” in support of a colorful classroom metaphor. The smelling objects were particularly interesting to the young students who had not been exposed to essential oils.

About the game

Learning objectives for the game players

  • To analyze an instructional design problem through the lens of the five senses design framework
  • To create a plan for enriching an existing online learning design with additional sensory stimuli
  • To evaluate a traditional online classroom for its sensory balance
  • To design for synesthetic epiphany

SEE VIDEO with game pieces: scent wheel, touch grab bag and tasting bar

Each player explores the unique characteristics of each sense to build engagement for users and students. For example, if the designer's intention is to create a more warm and social feeling in the course, then sharing some food might be a helpful strategy.

materials LIST

Each group of four players will receive:

  • Rules card - a single sheet describing the flow of the game
  • Three dice to roll for sensory limitation. Roles of 1-5 correspond to the senses, while a roll of "6" gives the player a wildcard choice
  • One scent wheel - has 13 small vials of essential oil, including scents like peppermint, bergamot, rose, lavender and camphor
  • One deck of standard playing cards - to be divided into four suits. Each card represents one scent
  • One touch grab bag with items that students could build, sort, decorate...
  • One tasting bar for designers to package in meaningful ways. When shared together online, they become very meaningful and community-building. Chocolates, salty crackers, tangy lemon jelly beans, Werther's butterscotch...

Session layout - a modified version of Think-Pair-Share with sensory items and game constraints

Overview and Intros - 10 minutes

  • 5 Senses design concept described with background and video results from classes
  • Game setup - timing, how to win, how to use the game pieces and sensory kits
  • Create groups of four

Design Round 1 - 15 minutes

  • Game cards are picked at random
  • Players create their design solution
  • They gather materials from the taste, smell, touch items
  • Group Pitch - (5 minutes)
  • Each groupmate pitches their idea to the group
  • Vote at each table to choose top design
  • Award tokens and see who gets the most

Design Round 2 - 15 minutes

  • Each table works with their top idea and iterate the design
  • They gather materials from the taste, smell, touch items
  • The group also designs a package of some kind to hold the materials
  • Pitch the room - (5 minutes)
  • Each groups pitches their revised idea
  • Award tokens and see who gets the mos

Wrap up and reflections - 5 minutes

  • The top idea from all groups is announced
  • The top idea AND the top group who iterated the idea receive a prize
  • Top designer is "Five Senses Guru" and top table is "Sense Factory"
  • Prizes are given from the tastes, smells and touches supplied in the game
  • Reflect and discussion about what's next


Individual players must first convince their group of the value of the design solution. Then the group works collaboratively on that one solution and presents to the entire room. The room chooses the best idea. The winning group receives a prize and the originator of the winning idea is crowned "Five Senses Guru." 


Example design challenge

Build a sensory augmentation for the following scenario...

  • 3 dice to choose senses - 1-5; Wildcard by rolling 6
  • 1 student context card: graduate students in Library Science
  • 1 mode card: fully online course 
  • 1 topic card: Web usability and HCI

One example solution

  • Taste: Send the students a s'mores packet to share for the opening synchronous session 
  • Touch: Send a packet of different sized stones and have the students create representations of Interface designs and photograph these - post to the forum
  • Smell: Include the smell of vanilla in the S'mores packet and the scent of Coconuts in the stones packet