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Sensory Books project gathering autumn 2022

Interdisciplinary and cross-sectoral team members from across Europe gathered for a project meeting to discuss the latest developments, milestones, and goals of the research project “Sensory Books”.

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The meeting was held on the 18th of October 2022 at the Hotel Victoria in Stavanger Norway. The distinct expertise and varied experiences of the team members brought valuable insights into the planning, designing, and crafting of the individual studies falling under the project umbrella.

The project gathering was led by Professor Natalia Kucirkova who also serves as the project leader. She welcomed all the attendees and gave updates and brief overview of what has been accomplished from the overall project’s perspective. Natalia summarised the published articles, research conferences and upcoming engagements and tasks to be done by the team. This was followed by a summary of the PhD project of Radel James Gacumo, a research fellow who explores the potential benefits of digital children’s books with olfaction that have themes related to gender and identity. His first sub-study utilises a two-pronged scoping review to examine the intersection of gender, multisensory books, and books with gender diversity contents.

Professor Adriana Bus, along with Dr Dieuwer Tan Braak, discussed the first work package involving a standard meta-analysis procedure which analysed the literature to identify the effects of sensory engagement in reading digital books. The analysis specifically looked at empirical research studies that investigate digital books with interactive features. The findings from the analysis regarding beneficial interactive features directly feed into the design of our target book tested in work package 4.

The second package was presented by Dr Janine Campbell, who led the analysis of the national survey of parents’ attitudes towards sensory reading. Janine shared the results and implications and updated the team about progress on collaboration with the Reading Centre colleagues associated with this work package. The survey results provide important insights into parents’ attitudes towards sensory aspects of reading, which the team considered in relation to the reading contexts children are typically exposed to at home.

The third work package that entails the Three Little Pigs exhibition in Vitenfabrikken, Sandnes, has now been finalised, although the exhibition is still open to visitors until December this year. The exhibition includes cultural probes and smell boxes that aim to enhance and engage children in the story by following an adventure trail. Lotte Meeuwissen designed and created the smell boxes for the exhibition and during her presentation, reflected on the lessons learnt in the process. One of the key learning points was the sequence of presenting the individual smells and strategic positioning of the boxes in the exhibition. The team discussed the important connections between children’s sense of wonder and olfactory stories.

Lotte has also been working on the design of the digital olfactory books that will be used in the fourth work package. The forth work package seeks to investigate the added value of smell for children’s reading comprehension and is led by the postdoc Dr Ingrid Veronka Løkken. The team discussed several key points in the protocol preceding the experiment design, including the connection between olfactory stimulation and the story content; the integration of olfaction within the storyline; suitability of testing instruments, story text and testing procedures.

The discussion of the olfactory book was the primary focus of the group meeting and of the advisory board meeting that was conducted in the second half of meeting. Natalia, Ingrid, Janine, Adriana, and Laura participated in a dialogue with Professor Charles Spence, an experimental psychologist at the University of Oxford and Professor Philip Dale, a child language development expert at the University of New Mexico (both are the project’s Advisory Board members). The conversation centred on the details of the design and mechanism of the digital olfactory book to ensure that the material will serve its purpose on investigating the potential value of smell in children’s literacy. There are still many tasks that the team need to accomplish, but the gathering confirmed that the individual team members’ foci align with the overall project’s goals and timelines. It was rewarding to see the team’s aspirations to provide transformative reading experience for children.

Written by Radel James Gacumo and Natalia Kucirkova

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