ABOUT

Dr. Melanie McBride and Scent box from Making Her Mark: A History of Women Artists in Europe 1400-1800, 2024. Photo: Craig Boyko © AGO.

Summary

I am a Toronto based postdoctoral research-practitioner, adjunct, part-time faculty at Toronto Metropolitan University, and co-principal investigator on SSHRC-funded research of informal (non-institutional) involving multimodal and physically-embodied/sensory forms of practice. My work concerns the material and structural contingencies (i.e., resources) that support authentic and richly experiential learning and making “with and through” environments, materials, and tools in domains of physically embodied and skilled practice. 

 

Research Focus

My research is focused on the pedagogical affordances of specialised environments, tools, and materials in the development of mastery and skilled expertise in domains of physically embodied practice. More critically, my work examines how materiallycontingent and physically embodied subjects, such as applied arts, physical education, crafts, and many skilled trades, have literally gone missing-in-action from today’s info-centric models of educating as ‘content delivery’ that are favoured for fast credentialing.

As I have argued in my publications, presentations, workshops, and teaching, the erasure of skilled practices from institutional education reflects increasingly screen-biassed and info-centric approaches to curriculum, instruction, and assessment that prioritise products (i.e., certifications, credits, and credentials) over practice and process (i.e., learning, competence, and skill). I argue that this is particularly in the case for subjects that require tacit, experiential, and situated learning with (and through) specialised environments, tools, and materials, from arts and athletics to applied sciences. 

To remedy this apparent gap in our understanding of the significance of these more tangible and tacit ways of ‘knowing as doing,’ myself and my colleagues are mobilizing knowledge from our ongoing research on informal learning in domains of applied and multimodal practice to develop customised, process-focused approaches to curriculum, and assessment. This research draws on practices as varied as electronic music, adaptive design, wood working, wine education, and perfumery to examine what they contribute to specifically multimodal, tacit, and physically embodied ways of knowing with-and-through materials, environments, and skilled practices. See my publications and speaking/workshop pages for further background on my research contributions.

Please note: I do not research of functional olfaction, sensory science, neuroscience, or the psychology of smell.

Knowledge Mobilisation

My Masterclass for The International Cool Climate Wine Symposium (ICCWS). Brock University.

In addition to my research and teaching experience, I have many decades of professional speaking experience, which includes peer-reviewed academic conferences, symposiums, and colloquia, and guest lectures, along with industry events, and have facilitated many hands-on workshops locally and internationally.

I have led experiential and materials-centered workshops and Master classes on sourcing and working with aromatic materials, with university, industry, and community partners including Brock University’s International Cool Climate Wine Symposium, The Independent Wine Education Guild (IWEG), The Canadian Association of Sommeliers (CAPS), Soif Bar à vin, and as an invited guest-speaker for wine education certification courses at George Brown’s Centre for Hospitality and Culinary Arts (CHCA). 

The Aroma Inquiry Lab
In 2014, I
conceptualised the Aroma Inquiry Lab, a satellite project within Toronto Metropolitan University’s Responsive Ecologies lab,  for scholarly study and research on tacit, inquiry-based learning “with and through” aromatic materials, which is also home to a small archive of rare and uncommon aromatic materials, historical artifacts, and material culture associated specific to aroma. My research methodology developed in my doctoral studies helped establish the case to include the ‘missing modality’ of aroma within the proposal for the Responsive Ecologies Lab (RE/Lab), which received  funding from the Canadian Foundation for Innovation (CFI) and the Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation.

Aroma Inquiry Lab workflow.

Why ‘aroma’ lab? (and not smell or scent?)

The deliberate choice of the word aroma, rather than the more functional-scientific term olfaction, or the commercially oriented term ‘fragrance,’ reflects my background as a public educator and my interest in the tangible affordances of aromatic materials and environments as a resource for learning, communicating, and making across domains. My focus on the material and ecological contingencies of aromatic materials in-practice is distinct from the functional study of olfaction (chemosensory reception), the affective/emotional dimensions of smell (psychology), odour naming/classification  (linguistics), scent culture (anthropology/sensory studies), or fragrance in the commercial context (marketing/business).

Accordingly, the aroma lab is premised on extra-disciplinary approaches to aromatic learning through process and practice as opposed to ‘affective,’ scientific, or industrial orientations associated with disciplines and commodity sectors. Instead, ‘aroma inquiry’ refers the varied material, structural, ecological, and physically embodied contingencies that contribute to aromatic learning inquiry with and through materials (rather than ‘about’). 

My use of the term “inquiry” reflects my ongoing research focus on informal and ‘inquiry-based’ learning in situated environments and communities of practice. This is in contrast with traditional paradigms of, what many teachers call, “sage-on-the-stage” didactic instruction, that are characteristic of institutional models of teaching-as-transmission where learners are reduced to audiences, rather than participants, of a performance of highly selective (and often indirectly) acquired knowledge. This pedagogical orientation reflects my training, over 20 years of experience as a teacher, and my academic research on informal learning inquiry, multimodal literacy, and play in non-institutional digital affinity spaces and communities of practice (CoP).

Aromatic practice + scent creation

My mixed-media aromatic practice is focused on aroma as a missing modality for learning inquiry, with an emphasis on process rather than (commercial) products. While I don’t call myself a perfumer or olfactory artist (practitioners I respect and hold in very high regard), I do draw on many of the same experimental and traditional approaches to composition and sources of knowledge that are circulated among self-taught, independent, and Do-It-Yourself practitioners who work with scent. I liken my orientation to woodworking in that it is a practice associated with a class of related raw materials, rather than a specialisation that is tethered to a specific product/commercial market. 

My ‘extra’ disciplinary and situated practice and orientation to scent development draws on many different ways of knowing with aroma, including collaborations on sensory/smell walking and artistic media mapping in Toronto, Marseille, and Vancouver, facilitated aroma learning workshops for academic symposia, Master Classes for the wine and spirits trade. I have also undertaken formal perfumery training with American natural perfumer Mandy Aftel, from whom I am certified to teach her basic perfume class. This training, along with my own, ongoing, informal study of both experimental and conventional methods fragrance/scent composition, has contributed to my approaches to varied scent features and applications for collaborative research projects, conference workshops, prototypes, and exhibits.

Most recently, I collaborated with the Art Gallery of Ontario to create four unique, historically-themed scents for the Making Her Mark Exhibit, which you can read about in my interview with Foyer Magazine.

Press
My work, ideas, perspectives are cited in scholarly articles and books, television, radio, and print media, interviews, and trade blogs
Please see my speaking page for further detail, or visit my contact page for inquiries related to my research and practice. 

Digital Media + Communications Experience

After completing my undergraduate degree, I studied online writing and information design at Centennial College with an interest in interactive storytelling. For many years I worked as a freelance writer, editor, and content producer, including contributions to the award-winning CBC Digital Archives, international museum exhibits for Toronto’s Mystus Interactus Exhibits, and educational and training content for government and trade clients, along with consulting for the Canadian magazine industry. This experience led to opportunities to teach post-secondary and post-graduate courses in interactive writing, digital journalism, and professional communications at Centennial College’s School of Communications, Media and Design. 

Education

I have a B.A. (Specialist) in English literature from the University of Toronto, a B.Ed. (Intermediate/Secondary) from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE), University of Toronto), and an M.A. and Ph.D. from York University’s joint program in Communications and Culture.  After completing my doctorate, I was awarded a Post-doctoral Fellowship from the Faculty of Education, York University to investigate the missing modality of scent from text-bound curricula. 

Educational Qualifications

  • Ph.D., Communications and Culture, York University (2018)
  • M.A., Communication and Culture, York University (2013)
  • B.Ed., Bachelor of Education (Intermediate/Secondary), Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE), University of Toronto (2007)
  • B.A. Hons., Bachelor of Arts, English Literature, University of Toronto (2000)

Additional Training + Professional Qualifications

  • Natural Perfume Certifications (Introductory and Intermediate), in-studio classes with American perfumer Mandy Aftel (2017-2019).
  • Certification to teach Mandy Aftel’s ‘Basic’ natural perfumery class.
  • Additional Teaching Qualifications (AQ): Media I and II, York University/Ontario College of Teachers (2009)
  • Post-Graduate Certificate in Online Writing and Information Design, Centennial College, School of Communications (2001)
  • OCT certified teacher (Ontario College of Teachers), 2008 [current status: Inactive/Non-Practicing]