About the Author: Melanie


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Remembering Dr Victoria Henshaw [1971-2014]

October 21st, 2014

In Memory, Victoria Henshaw: 1971-2014

It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Dr Victoria Henshaw, who was our first international research fellow, and a great inspiration and influence on our work. Dr Henshaw is not only valued for her pioneering and original scholarly work but for her warmth and the generosity of spirit she brought to her mentorship and guidance of other researchers, including our own, while creating a new field – out of thin air. While there has been much scholarship on the ‘culture’ of the senses, Dr Henshaw’s work drew attention to the practical, ‘everyday’ and ‘lived’ realities of smell as dimension of the built and ambient environment that has been largely neglected by more aesthetic, scientific and consumer-oriented work on the senses. Most directly, it was through Dr Henshaw’s experiential and ‘nose-to-the-ground’ ‘smellwalks’ that her work was truly brought ‘to life’ and given meaning by the people, places and smells that inspired it.

Last January, we were privileged to host a visit from Dr Henshaw, who spoke to Ryerson’s Faculty of Design students about her work on urban smellscapes and dropped by the lab to talk with our researchers about the social and pedagogical dimensions of smellwalks. Earlier that month, lab director Dr Jason Nolan and RA Melanie McBride had participated in a panel presentation assembled by Dr Henshaw on the pedagogical and socio-cultural dimensions of ‘Designing with Smell’ for the Design Principles & Practices Conference in Vancouver.


Dr Henshaw sharing scents with EDGELab RA Alana Butler.

Building on Dr Henshaw’s work, RA McBride and Dr Nolan are contributing a chapter about DIY curriculum and pedagogy for olfactory learning for Dr Henshaw’s final book project, which is a collection of essays focused on designing with smell. In the spring of 2015, we will be organizing a smellwalk in memory of Dr. Henshaw (further details forthcoming later this winter).

Warmly, we remember Dr Henshaw’s exuberant presence and the sincerity, integrity, inclusiveness and inspiration that guided her work and interactions. Above all, we can best celebrate her life and legacy through the direct experience of sensing the wisdom of the world that is right beneath our noses.


Urban Smellscapes (Routledge, 2013)
A full length work based on Dr Henshaw’s doctoral and subsequent research on the role of smell in urban design.

Smell and the City: Urban Smell Enthusiasts 
A collaborative blog that was overseen by Dr Henshaw.

The woman kicking up a stink about urban life: ‘Cities are losing their smell’
“From chocolate shops to noodle bars, from Japanese ‘sites of good fragrance’ to a hint of purest Glasgow, one woman is on a mission to reopen our nostrils to the smells of the city” – Article about Dr Henshaw’s work from the Guardian.

Don’t Turn Up Your Nose at the City in Summer
“Summer in New York, Season of Smell”
A feature article by Victoria Henshaw in the New York Times.

Obituary: Victoria Henshaw
Dr Henshaw’s life and work are described in her obituary in the The Guardian:

“A town centre manager turned urban academic, [Henshaw] became fascinated by this element of the environment that she thought had been crucially overlooked by architects and planners alike. Her doctoral research involved undertaking “smellwalks” with a range of built environment professionals, including urban designers and planners, architects and engineers, in order to open their noses to the aromas of the city” 


EDGE lab welcomes Dr Victoria Henshaw as 2014 visiting International Research Fellow

January 30th, 2014


The EDGE Lab is very proud to welcome Dr Victoria Henshaw who is joining us as an international research fellow, focusing on projects involving multi-sensory environments, design and inclusion. We recently had the privilege to host a visit from Dr Henshaw in Toronto who spoke with Ryerson’s Faculty of Design students about her work on urban smellscapes, which is focused on a ‘human-centred’ approach to the sensory dimensions of urban design and city centre management. As part of her urban design practice, Dr Henshaw described her practices with guided ‘smellwalks’ in towns and cities around the world. While it was too cold to enjoy a smell walk during the recent cold snap, we plan to invite her back in warmer times.

Among the unique highlights of Dr Henshaw’s visit was having the opportunity to smell some of her wonderful collected smells, including some rare Arabian Oud Oil and scents of Paris:


You can learn more about her urban smellscapes at her blog, Smell and the City. Dr Henshaw is a lecturer in the department of Town and Regional planning at the University of Sheffield.

Prior to Dr Henshaw’s visit, EDGE lab director Dr Jason Nolan and doctoral researcher Melanie McBride presented a talk as part of Dr Victoria Henshaw’s ‘Designing with smell’ colloquium at the Design Principles and Practices conference in Vancouver.  Nolan and McBride’s talk advanced ‘neurodiversity’ as a standpoint from which to address inclusive sensory design principles and practices in relation to different ways of sensing that challenge, but also extend, the normative ‘sensory order.’  This talk furthers Nolan and McBride’s ongoing research into the conceptualization and design of technologically mediated multi-sensory environments and McBride’s doctoral research on smell as a neglected modality of digital communication and culture.



EDGElab HQP featured in GRAND Network for Excellence

November 19th, 2013


EDGElab HQP Rubina Quadri and Sherene Ng featured on the GRAND website

Quadri and Ng were recently awarded a Social Venture Commercialization Fellowship for $30,000 from FedDevOntario and Ryerson to develop an original EDGElab property. The Talking Touchpad, which was initially conceptualized and developed by EDGE lab director Jason Nolan, is a wearable, customizable Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) device for children ages four to six who have speech disabilities (difficulty speaking or being understood). The Talking Touchpad allows children to communicate to others in a spontaneous, independent way. According to the The Canadian Association of Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists, speech impairments in school-aged children are frequently misdiagnosed as learning disabilities or behavioural problems. The Talking Touchpad can facilitate self-expression and help to diminish misunderstandings.

EDGE lab entrepreneur Sherene Ng featured in Financial Post

September 30th, 2013


We’re proud to announce that EDGE lab’s Sherene Ng is in the news again! This time, it’s the Financial Post. Sherene describes her journey from intern to entrepreneur here …


New publication: Beyond gamification: reconceptualizing game-based learning in early childhood environments

June 28th, 2013

EDGE lab is proud to announce a new publication from lab director Jason Nolan and graduate RA Melanie McBride. Their paper, ‘Beyond gamification: reconceptualizing game-based learning in early childhood environments,’ presents a new theoretical framework for conceptualizing Digital Game-Based Learning (DGBL) that emphasizes the role of autonomy, affinity, play and space as critically overlooked dimensions of children’s informal and out of school learning and play with games. As well, they seek to help educators distinguish some of the differences between game-based learning and other game-associated trends such as gamification and so-called ‘serious games.’

With much of the current conceptualization of DGBL reflecting the increasingly standardized and ‘data-driven’ priorities of K-12 and Post-Secondary education, Nolan and McBride ask whose identities, priorities and cultures are advanced or ignored when schools attempt to appropriate and relocate games in contexts far removed from those in which they are typically enjoyed. Finally, the paper interrogates why, if play and engagement are really at the heart of learning with games, we aren’t we starting with a model of learning that definitively play-based — that of the early years? From the abstract:

The recent promotion and adoption of digital game-based learning (DGBL) in K-12 education presents compelling opportunities as well as challenges for early childhood educators who seek to critically, equitably and holistically support the learning and play of today’s so-called digital natives. However, with most DGBL initiatives focused on the increasingly standardized ‘accountability’ models found in K-12 educational institutions, the authors ask whose priorities, identities and notions of play this model reinforces or neglects. Drawing on the literatures of early childhood studies, game-based learning, and game studies, they seek to illuminate the informal contexts of play within the ‘hidden’ and ‘null’ curricula of DGBL that do not fit within the efficiency models of mainstream education in North America. In the absence of a common critical or theoretical foundation for DGBL, they propose a conceptual framework that challenges what they regard to be the institutionally nullified dimensions of autonomy, play, affinity and space that are essential to DGBL. They contend that these dimensions are ideally situated within the inclusive and play-based curriculum early childhood learning environments, and that the early years constitute a critically significant, yet overlooked, location for more holistic and inclusive thinking on DGBL.


EDGE intern Amy Fong creates an “Adaptive Dollhouse”

June 26th, 2013


Amy Fong is a previous internship student who completed her fourth year placement at the EDGE Lab. She is currently finishing her last year in the Early Childhood Studies Program and has returned as a regular volunteer.

For her fourth year internship project, she created an “Adaptive Dollhouse” that included adaptive design pieces created at the EDGE Lab. She recreated and integrated many of these unique furniture pieces into her dollhouse in hopes to bring forth awareness of what adaptive design is, and what their functions are.

The special furniture pieces in the “Adaptive Dollhouse” can be seen and used as a learning tool to inform children about adaptive design.


Dr Jason Nolan and Melanie McBride present “Embodied Semiosis: Autistic Stimming as Sensory Praxis at AERA”

May 8th, 2013


Dr Jason Nolan and EDGE-lab researcher Melanie McBride presented “Embodied Semiosis: Autistic “Stimming” as Sensory Praxis,” based on their forthcoming chapter for the International Handbook of Semiotics (Springer, 2014) as part of “ Do-It-Yourself Media and Youth Engagement: Repurposing Media for Play, Resistance, and Learning” at this year’s American Educational Research Association annual conference. The panel also featured:

  • Megan Boler (University of Toronto), “From Apathy to Occupy Wall Street to 4th Wave Feminism: Youth Practices of Social Media and Participatory Democracy”
  • Suzanne de Castell (University of Ontario Institute of Technology), “Mirror Images: Avatar Aesthetics and Self-Representation in Digital Games.”
  • Jennifer Jenson (York University) “Raising the Bar on “Voice” in a Troubled Community: Student Media Projects,” DIY (Do It Yourself)
  • Yasmin B. Kafai (University of Pennsylvania) & Kylie A. Peppler (Indiana University – Bloomington) “Beyond the Screen: Creative, Critical, and Connected Making With E-Textiles.”

From the AERA program abstract:

The emergence of online and offline do-it-yourself (DIY) communities of practice invites educational researchers to revisit critical pedagogy and informal learning at a moment of unprecedented poverty and rapidly shifting paradigms of education, labour, creativity and social space. We explore DIY culture a contested yet vital location of identity and self-representation for children, youth and marginalized individuals varied social, cultural and ideological sites of creativity and struggle. Our panel brings together transdisciplinary research exploring the impact of DIY culture with risk students and communities, children with disabilities, and women exploring STEM to locate commonalities, differences and paths of resistance.

Will Richardson cites EDGE researcher Melanie McBride in new book

February 6th, 2013

EDGE researcher Melanie McBride is cited in the prologue of Will Richardson‘s new book, Why School (published by TED Books). From the Amazon description:

In ‘Why School?,’ educator, author, parent and blogger Will Richardson challenges traditional thinking about education — questioning whether it still holds value in its current form. How can schools adjust to this new age? Or students? Or parents? In this provocative read, Richardson provides an in-depth look at how connected educators are beginning to change their classroom practice. Ultimately, ‘Why School?’ serves as a starting point for the important conversations around real school reforms that must ensue, offering a bold plan for rethinking how we teach our kids, and the consequences if we don’t.

Education Leadership: Will Richardson at TEDx Melbourne


We can has visitors

July 19th, 2011

EDGElab was a hub of tinkering, learning and play today with visits from a variety of VSPs (Very Special People) including classroom2.0 pioneer and author Will Richardson, Tinkering Club’s Andy Forest, and Mohan Nadarajah, founder of the non-profit PlayLab.

Will Richardson’s visit was especially resonant to the teachers in our lab, who are working towards a brighter, more playful and inclusive vision of education. It was fun and inspiring to visit with Will, which made us all feel more optimistic about what is possible. There will always be a beanbag and a game controller for Will at our lab :)

Connecting with our work in adaptive design, Andy Forest was by to talk about his Tinkering Camp, a small Toronto-based project for inner city children inspired by Gever’s Tulley’s Tinkering School ideas. In a few weeks, we’ll be hosting a visit with kids from his club to our Adaptive Design Studio where lab RA Noah Kenneally will be teaching them about cardboard construction.

Finally, Playlab’s Mohan Nadarajah was interested in knowing how to apply our research into practices that support child-directed, open-ended autonomous learning and make his PlayLab space available to more children. Mohan and the lab are exploring ways to support his work and share ideas.

Tinkering with Minecraft: Learning from the EDGE

May 19th, 2011

By Melanie McBride

This is a picture of learning in action. It’s what happens when you go off-road and really explore and test the limits of things and disaster becomes success. It’s also the basis for meaningful, autonomous and open ended learning and play. And the starting point for EDGElab’s exploration (and destruction) of Minecraft.  DANGER: reading the rest of this post may cause: dizziness, disequilibrium, panic … and, possibly, a new way of thinking about games-based learning and play.

In a lab devoted to experiential design and gaming environments (EDGE lab), we’re mostly known for our adaptive design projects. But we do other stuff here too, like researching autonomous learning and play in games and virtual worlds. For example, Vlad Cazan’s hacks to the Kinect, our Digital Natives study of children’s situated, informal gaming, our explorations of parents playing MMORPGs with their kids and the tensions between adults ideas of learning and play and those of children. We thought it was time to put the ‘G’ in EDGElab and share our recent descent into the terrors and pleasures of learning from the ‘edge.’

What is Minecraft?

For those of you unfamiliar, Minecraft is an insanely popular Lego-like construction and building focused ‘sandbox’ game that is offered as a free online version and a complete paid download ($20 CND). Choosing either single-player or multi-player mode, the player arrives in a rugged terrain with an empty inventory and only the found resources of the world to gather and craft. While there is currently no starting area or introductory tips, thousands of excellent player-created tutorials like “How to Survive Your First Night” currently serve the “how to.” There are two basic modes of gameplay in Minecraft: “peaceful,” which is all about just creating and exploring without all the monsters; and “survival,” same as above but with the addition of monsters. Beyond the peaceful/survival modes, players have used server-side mods to hack the game for all kinds of other gameplay mechanics such as PvP (player versus player), leveling, questing, farming, economies and more.

‘Ya, so?’

Believe it or not, not all of us were on board with this game. The gamers in the lab (and by gamers I mean those of us who love games and gaming culture across a variety of platforms and genres). But the non-gamer skeptics were, well, skeptical. As Jason likes to say, ‘ya, so?’ “I wasn’t interested. And what I heard bothered me a bit.” When he first saw it, he found it “totally visually overstimulating and overwhelming.” For Jason, and those like him (Jason is one of the autistics in the lab), Minecraft seemed to present more problems than opportunities. Among the questions we typically ask of games and learning environments:

  • Does Minecraft promote autonomous play and exploration? (if so, in what ways?)
  • Is the game open ended or close ended (definitions needed)
  • Do I have to guess “what’s in your head” to play?
  • How much customization, adaptation or modifications can I make?
  • What types of gameplay and mechanics are promoted (or left out)?
  • Does the game support or promote making, creating or critical thinking (or memorization/mastery/repetition?)

Unpacking assumptions

Minecraft presented interesting opportunities and challenges for each of us – critically and otherwise. So before we could start investigating the more practical questions of teaching or learning with Minecraft (or, even why to “teach” at all), we needed to ‘unpack’ a few things about who we are as, players, gamers, learners and how our assumptions, prior knowledge, lived experiences and biases mediated our perceptions and experience of the game. For some of us, the open-ended play felt like a better key to learning than following rules, for others, viewing tutorials or achieving mastery within the bounds of the game. Jason wanted to explore the “liminalites” (i.e. break it), Vlad wanted to make to adapt it (i.e.hack it), Noah wanted to explore (i.e. tiptoe through the tulips), and I wanted to, among other things, create a PvP battleground (i.e. engage in combat with my colleagues). Remarkably, the autonomous explorations (and collisions) of our differences resulted in enormously creative (and sometimes dangerous) tinkering, learning and play.

Melanie observing the rift caused when Vlad showed Jason how to make an enormous TNT sphere and set it off

Jason created this enormous glass sphere using the sphere tool and then filling it full of water

We all found our way in through a combination of self-directed inquiry, hand-holding, occasional pushiness and open-ended exploration. This led us to further modify, augment and scaffold the game to our own interests and needs rather than those defined by the game or some “best” or “right” way to play it. Vlad was integral to showing us all the ways we could alter, control and monitor a great number of variables via hacks and mods to our server install. For Jason, it was about removing the elements he didn’t like – not adding more: “I started liking Minecraft more once I could remove the game from it.”

Early on, Vlad pointed us to the “many videos on youtube and tutorials online showing what people have built.” But what inspired him the most were, as he put it,  the “mods or plugins that were used to add to the game, for example the motorized minecart mod way before electric rails were even introduced. This led to a greater appeal of being able to install and run these mods on my own server. Since we had a server at the EDGE Lab I was lucky to be able to use it and try all these things out.” As for myself, a long time WoW [link]player, there’s a feeling of affinity, community, mastery and connection arises from participating in the larger culture of a game in the form of player-created resources and showcases.

But let’s not forget that Minecraft is still, essentially, in-development and missing conventional learning structures (starting areas, tutorials or hints) that creators intend to build in gradually over time. Vlad notes, “with the new achievement system in version 1.5 I think it will be a lot easier for new users to learn the basics of the game and surviving that first night. The one thing that I have always enjoyed about minecraft is the fact that there is no right way of playing the game. In essence you are making your own games or adventures inside this game” (i.e. achievements… we hates ‘em, don’t we precious… It burns, it freezes!).  Markus Persson, the game’s chief developer says, “free building mode is fine and dandy, but for many people it will ultimately become boring once you’ve got it figured out,” which is true for the player who is interested in those challenges though may not apply to those who, like us, are more interested in using Minecraft as a crafting tool – to design our own game mechanics and play them with our friends.

Now that we’ve experimented among ourselves, we are planning a research paper about open-ended approaches to Minecraft for learning and teaching. For now, we thought our most transformative and transgressive insights could be summarized in a 5 “dangerous” things approach, which we encourage you to hack, modify and extend in your own way!

5 Dangerous Things (to try in Minecraft)

The following 5 things are inspired by Gever Tulley’s 50 Dangerous Things approach to learning through experimentation – and danger! We’ll rate these according to types of risk:

1) Get lost
Frustration, lost time
When you first arrive in Minecraft you have the greatest opportunity for open-ended exploration of all: getting lost. Being lost in the wild’s of your New World, there are no landmarks, no map, no compass.  Everything looks – almost – the same. For the unarmed-orienteer, being lost presents you with a number of interesting, time consuming and frustrating learning opportunities. Everything is new and unexpected – just like in a good story: hills and valleys, rivers and trees, animals and beasts.

2) Play with fire (and lava and TNT)
Death, loss health, loss of stuff
Most people talk about Minecraft in terms of creativity and crafting.  But what about destruction? Minecraft offers a wonderful assortment of dangerous elements to play and learn with. Like fire and lava. My favourite Minecraft Tutorial captures the beauty of learning with fire. There’s nothing like falling into lava or catching fire to teach you the value of each. TNT is an explosively fun thing to play with that delivers one-of-a-kind results and “creations” – especially when it detonates “by accident” while you’re friends present (which brings us to #3!)

3) “Grief” or kill your friends
: Death, smack talk, taunts, loss of friendship
A variation on Gever’s “poison your friends”, griefing is all about doing not nice things to other players – intentionally. It’s an experience few of us have had online and fewer still admit to doing or enjoying. It’s that ‘rough and tumble’ dimension of learning normal to sport, combat or natural play. Griefing or killing your colleagues generates surprise, shock, adrenalin and, hopefully (if you choose the right one), laughter. OK, we’re not talking about the really mean spirited griefing driven by a desire to really hurt somebody’s feelings but playful pranksterism. For example, not every friend will appreciate being covered in lava, set in stone and decorated with torches and signs that say “HA HA AFK!” – but some might.


4) Hack the game
Unintended results, Lag, server meltdown
One of the benefits of running Minecraft on your own server is the ability to customize it in all kinds of crazy ways. As Vlad explains, having mods, plugins or enabling special privileges “lets you create things that you would never have even thought about in the past. Scripts like ‘world edit’ can enable the creation of superstructures in very little time, something that might not have been attempted if scripts like that were not around.” From an adaptive design standpoint, the ability to customize a play or learning experience is at the heart of what we’re researching – and this ‘maker’ ‘hacker’ spirit runs counter to the notion of ‘expert/teacher driven’ structures in which the learner’s needs, ideas or ways of being or doing are secondary to those of the power holder or system in which they are located.

5) Get Op’d, play in God mode
Loss of peer respect, addiction to power and control!
“Op” (operator) is when a player has access to server commands and the ability to acquire items and increments of items similar to “all weapons” cheats. Instead of getting stuff through gameplay, the Op just types in the ID and quantity and voila, 65 saddles, 50 diamond pick axes, 25 monster spawners or any other object that might time, effort or luck to get. That this might “ruin” the game is precisely the point. As with Godmode (i.e., you never die), once you remove built in challenges and expose the “time” sink of games, you have new challenges to think about: like making your own fun. God mode is about exploring the limits of Minecraft itself … without concerns for lava plunges while building or running out of food (it gets tired after a while). You just keep building, exploring, digging, blowing things up. Advice: play the game normally for at least a few weeks so you experience the challenge of obtaining things legitimately.

Finally, this post is not intended to explain how you ought to learn or play with Minecraft. It’s just a summary of our explorations, discoveries and disasters. All of which, we could only find by tinkering, testing and breaking the rules.


Lucas Gillespie: Minecraft in School wiki
Strategies for teaching minecraft in schools

Noobing it up in Minecraft: Survival, Making, Sharing
An extended post about my introduction to Minecraft