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About Michael Rasbury and Sound Design

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Michael Rasbury, Associate Professor of Sound Design
Department of Drama, University of Virginia

Based on a Teaching Portfolio Narrative completed in 2005
Archived at the University of Virginia Teaching Resource Center
    Section 1: Overview
I teach courses in Sound Design and Sound Technology. Each semester I offer two sections of classes for undergraduates called Sound Design (DRAM 2620). I also teach a graduate courses when needed. Since I am the first faculty member in sound design at the University of Virginia, I find myself mentoring for a wide array of students. These students represent not only the Department of Drama, but also other programs, such as Psychology, Engineering, Anthropology, and the Echols Scholar program. I lead special problems courses and provide “unscheduled” instruction to students interested in sound for filmmaking, dance, music, etc. In addition, I lead one lecture on sound design per semester in Introduction to Theatre and do guest lectures when asked by other faculty. In 2009, I offered a new, multidisciplinary course called Form is Sound (DRAM 365) with funding provided to me by the Mead Endowment to foster close student-teacher relationships.

I am responsible for oversight of all production elements regarding sound. This involves providing expertise and information to those students building their sound designs for our productions within the department. Many of these students enroll in Sound Design Lab (DRAM 2630) to receive credit for achievement in production.

Teaching Philosophy
The key to my teaching philosophy is in the relationship between the student and teacher. My definition of teacher is one who is an advanced student with highly developed skills and methods. Therefore, I approach the student as an individual with the same potential as the teacher. When treated as colleagues, students achieve amazing results.

Each student brings a unique perspective, vocabulary, and method for learning. As a teacher, I must discover each of these qualities for each student, and present information within this context. Each group of students is completely different from past groups; it is necessary to remain connected with the evolution of their beliefs, culture, and paths. In order to remain accessible and pertinent, my teaching style must also continue to evolve.

It is my goal to remain energetic and excited about the subject and relay this enthusiasm to my students. If it is to excite and incite them into action, it must first be compelling for me to explore. This is why I continue to study new development in sound, music, and related technology. I seek to explore connections between these advances and the interests of the student. The breadth of this exploration is reflected in a five-minute video documentary created as a submission for the Theatre Artist Fellowship Award presented by the Louisiana Division of the Arts, the state agency. In 2003, I was selected as the only recipient of this fellowship.

It is necessary to make learning enjoyable, valuable, and accessible to the student. Until recently, there were few university courses for sound design. I am the product of a generalist theatre program and although I was greatly influenced by a variety of theatre and music teachers I am primarily self-taught. My motivation to learn about sound came from an interest in the subject and a need to learn more. My generalist background certainly informs the way I teach and the material I share with my students. I choose projects and subjects for discussion based on what I determine to be interesting to the current group of students. I use modern examples as material to share with my students. This includes popular music, movie scenes, dramatic scripts, computer media, and original material.

Students are involved with the subject of sound every day. It is easy to notice; at any given time, observe students as they walk by with their personal music devices. Because of this, I can more easily express the subject of sound using examples from this reality. When pertinent examples are used, students become engaged and it helps to illustrate the potential usefulness of the subject.

It is important to invent a creative and stimulating learning environment for the student. Each of us holds within a wealth of artistic abilities. However, most people do not think of themselves as artists. During my courses, I treat my students as artists because my faith in their abilities will inspire them to unlock inner creativity. I seek to involve the student in a variety of ways, rather than just lecturing. I like to surprise my students with exercises requiring their full participation rather than just listening skills. These techniques include improvisational exercises, classroom debate about the subject, and the incorporation of mixed media through Power Point presentations, Internet usage, video, and sound.

I remain informed about the fluid culture of college students as a point of relation between my younger students and me. This practice ensures a starting point for conversation with students, allowing me to assess the person’s interests and goals. I then make an effort to integrate the student’s points of interest into the learning process.

This philosophy of teaching is evolving and remains fluid. It has been inspired with gems of wisdom from my teachers, for my best teachers were those who shared their creativity with me, and allowed me to share with them.