Using multi-sensory experiences and object based learning to enhance student engagement

Dr Erica Rowan, Department of Classics

College Excellence Teaching Prize, 2020

Archaeology is a growing field within the department of Classics. Increasingly we are attempting to make use of the resources available both on and off campus in order to provide students with practical, hands-on experiences as this encourages student engagement and helps with information retention. Moreover, archaeology is a very practical discipline and exposure to a range of physical items and activities increases the employability of our students, especially for those pursuing a career in commercial archaeology, and museum and heritage management. 


Practical sessions 

As part of my third year Food in the Ancient World course, two novel interdisciplinary practical sessions were created. The first was in collaboration with the Geography department to host an animal bone handling session. For the past two years Danielle Schreve in Geography has lent me a box of teaching materials (sheep and cattle jaws, fish bones, a sheep skull etc.). During the session I undertake a range of exercises with the students including animal identification, a sheep aging exercise and a discussion on issues of preservation and sampling strategies. This session follows my own practical session on ancient plant remains where I bring my microscope to class and the students are allowed to see first-hand the results of my own research on Roman diet.


Collaborative cooking day 

The second activity is a cooking day whereby each student must choose, in advance, a Greek or Roman recipe, organize and send me an ingredient list (which I source through an online food order), and then prepare the dish on the day. The cooking day is a full body, multi-sensory experience that allows the students to engage with the material in novel ways. The ability to successfully make a dish fills them with confidence. There is always a natural element of team work as well as students share ingredients and equipment, and help each other with the trickier cooking elements. This year the session was done in collaboration with St. Mary’s University in Twickenham. The session took place in their teaching kitchen and at the end our students explained the history and significance of their dishes while, in turn, the St. Mary’s nutrition students discussed the nutritional value of these recipes. We plan to continue this collaborative and reciprocal learning experience in the future.

Cooking day 2020

Cooking day for the 2019/2020 Food in the Ancient World class


Reflective log 

Following the cooking session each student writes a reflective log on the entire process, discussing any challenges in adapting the recipe, noting any distinctive sensory experiences and commenting on whether or not their views of food in the ancient world have changed. The log is worth 25% of their final grade and is designed to allow the students to demonstrate their knowledge of the ancient world while simultaneously digesting and reflecting upon their own assumptions and learning experiences.



Last year, in the module feedback questionnaire, the students noted in particular their enjoyment of the hands-on sessions. Several stated that the cooking day had significantly altered their view of ancient foodways, stating that food was more flavourful and complex than they had originally thought. Many also stated that they gained a new appreciation of the difficulties involved in making food in the past and were grateful for our current range of ingredients and technologies. It was clear from the discussions in the log, and the generally high grades, that the cooking day had significantly aided the students in contextualizing the course material.




See other case studies on our Seminars and workshops page