proFile: Dr. Steph Ceraso of UVA on Using Sound in the Writing Classroom

by Maura

Ever since I was in high school, I’ve loved making mixtapes (or mix CDs, as the case may be). There’s something so powerful about creating this sort of sonic artifact for someone – a friend, a crush, or a loved one – full of songs that mean something to you, designed specifically with someone else in mind. It wasn’t until grad school that I met a friend who likes mix-making as much as I do: Steph Ceraso, who is now Dr. Steph Ceraso, Assistant Professor of Digital Writing and Rhetoric at the University of Virginia. When we met at the University of Pittsburgh nearly a decade ago, Steph and I bonded over our love of music, mix-making, and Rob Sheffield’s amazing book on the subject, Love is a Mix Tape. Ever since, even though we’ve both moved to different places, we’ve maintained what she likes to call a “mix exchange,” sending good ol’ fashioned mix CDs back and forth via snail mail. Basically, we’re a couple of sonic pen pals who just can’t seem to quit the compact disc.

Steph has also incorporated her love of music and sound into her academic career. While I knew her at Pitt, she was already taking the innovative approach of teaching with sound and technology in her writing courses (I used to tutor student-athletes, and I still remember the excitement with which some not-usually-enthusiastic football players told me about the podcasts she had them working on). Since then she has continued developing her pedagogy of sound and digital media in composition and rhetoric courses, both in the classroom and in her book-in-progress, entitled Sounding Composition, Composing Sound: Multimodal Pedagogies for Embodied Listening.

Dr. Ceraso spoke with proFmagazine about her exciting work in the field of digital writing, her interests in music and mixing, and her dynamic approach to teaching.

MM: First of all, because your official title is Assistant Professor of Digital Writing and Rhetoric at UVA, can you explain, for those who don’t know, what digital writing is?

SC: Digital writing (also referred to as digital composing) is an umbrella term for digital production practices, which might include creating websites, podcasts, videos, videogames, and other kinds of media. I think digital writing is hugely important because students today need to be able to do more than read and write well. They need to be able to make arguments, express ideas, and tell stories in a variety of different digital modes and environments. They should be able to create the types of digital texts they’re consuming in their everyday lives.

MM: How did you become interested in sound studies? Did that interest come before your interest in rhetoric, and composition, or was it an offshoot of that field?  

SC: Well, I’ve been a music nerd since I was a kid. I was a teenager in the ’90s, so I was especially captivated by grunge music and the culture surrounding it. Though music has always been a big part of my life, I didn’t know what “sound studies” was until I was in graduate school. By that time, there was an explosion of scholarship on sound happening in the humanities and social sciences. Scholars in my field, rhetoric and composition, were also beginning to publish about using sound in their classrooms. I was so excited that sound was something that people were actually studying. I immediately gravitated toward this research. It just made sense to me.

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Coffee Cup Chilaquiles.  Chilaquiles is a Mexican breakfast food...but I would eat these anytime of day.

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