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Since 2001, Dr. Knopf has taught more than 30 courses, levels 100 (first-year) through 600 (graduate), at community colleges, public and private comprehensive colleges, and research universities in the United States. Of her teaching philosophy and approach, she says, "With the wealth of information readily available through the World Wide Web, the learning apps freely available on ubiquitous phones, and the rapidly advancing teaching capabilities of AI interfaces, instructors are no longer needed to facilitate the provision and acquisition of knowledge. Our role has changed from the (cliched) sage to guide, and now, interpreter. My role is not to share my expertise, but to leverage my expertise to help students navigate and make sense of the mis/information-rich, technology-laden, environment in which we exist. When students finish a course with me, I want them to have a broader view of the world and a different perspective on their experiences in it. I teach communication and rhetoric as not only skills to be developed, but also as ways of knowing, understanding, and relating. Through communication, I want students to be better speakers and listeners and to be more critical thinkers who will ask questions of themselves and others. Most of my courses integrate historical and sociological perspectives designed to give students insight to their communicative interactions in relationships, work, politics, civic life, and media use, with a greater awareness of embedded socio-political and systemic ideologies and inequities. I ask my students to understand communication concepts and theories via lived examples and experiences and to engage in analytical and/or creative exercises that apply those course concepts and theories. My personal philosophy of learning is the “distributed individual” mode; I believe people will more naturally learn things that have value or use to them, and this is reflected in the ways I try to get students to make personal connections to material and advisees to direct their own schedules. At the same time, I believe that learning should have a collective benefit, that while people may learn through and for individual goals and values, education itself has a responsibility to the collective, and I want students to be better community members because of what they have learned. Though the student learning outcomes of my courses vary depending on program and topic, broadly they are that students will… • exhibit proficiency in oral discourse. • critically analyze the relationships between media and society. • understand, and be able to improve, the dynamics of interpersonal and group interactions. • reflect critically on, and be able to challenge, cultural stereotypes and systemic inequities in media and communication. • understand the nature and uses of verbal and nonverbal symbols and expressions in public communication. • read, understand, and apply communication. theory and contemporary communication research • construct and evaluate arguments. • engage in deliberative and group decision-making processes."

Dr. Knopf uses a number of teaching strategies and techniques, and is always learning and trying new things. A few elements that she consistently relies on include the syllabus, the lecture, multi-media, games, lived connections, oral and written work, rubrics, exams, and self-assessment. The Syllabus ~ "I view the syllabus as a rhetorical document and a student resource; it is designed to help students make sense of and succeed in the course, and perhaps beyond it. I want it to encourage students to see the value in the course, its content, and its structure; to help them understand that policies are in place (and enforced) to maximize fairness for everyone, to facilitate a generally-conducive learning environment for all, and to help guide best practices to empower students to take charge of their learning and to be proactive." The Lecture ~ "The lecture is probably one of the oldest, and still most widely used, teaching techniques in American universities. It is a useful tool for providing students with information more current than that found in their texts, for giving students a structure for more effective reading, and for motivating students through raising awareness, creating conflict, and sharing enthusiasm. The lecture also serves as a model for public speaking practices and as an approach to understanding concepts and solving problems." Multi-Media ~ "I integrate feature films, documentaries, TV show episodes, news broadcasts, YouTube videos, radio plays, cartoons and comics, and music into my classes as often as possible. Using films and TV shows provides illustrations that are not only verbal but visual, and they provide a change in environment to help get and maintain students’ attention. The approach of using entertainment products to foster knowledge and understanding is described as 'casual learning;' it engages entertainment as a cultural text that reveals something about the societies of its creation and depiction. Games ~ "Games are a great way to encourage not only active, but interactive learning in a non-threatening, and even entertaining, format. Games can help students to learn and think in new ways. They are inherently social, and learners are embedded in not only a material but also a social world. Games can illustrate concepts and encourage creative and critical thinking in a fun environment, fostering community and problem solving. I use a wide variety of tabletop games in my teaching, especially in public speaking classes, though also in media literacy and political communication." Life Connections ~ "We are all familiar with the consumer model of education in which students are looking for skills that will help them get, and keep, jobs. While this model may be antithetical to our ideals of a liberal arts education, it is a reality – and one that is particularly acute in the current economy. I always look for ways to help students see the personal and/or professional utility in course content, through assignments related to their majors (in General Education courses), journaling and 'application logs,' and simulation exercises. I, however, also embrace the 'disinterested,' or the aesthetic mode, of learning that is concerned less with practical applicability and more with cultivating sympathy, empathy, humility, and charity as well as sparking curiosity the sake of exploration and enjoyment." Oral & Written Work ~ "Preparing a speech is not the same as writing an essay. There are different expectations and needs for structure and language use in oral communication than written communication. Students are more likely to encounter and learn the norms of written communication across their coursework throughout their entire educational life than those of good oral expression, so I generally choose to focus on the latter. In my undergraduate courses, especially lower-division, writing is important part of my curriculum, but it is either part of preparing a speech or is shorter or more informal than 'traditional' paper assignments, engaging journaling, short writing prompts, and reading reactions. Shorter writing assignments are fitting for the digital age in which many students will find themselves engaging largely in e-communication, especially for written messages, in their jobs. Furthermore, these kind of shorter, focused, personal, and/or creative assignments – which are often completed in class – minimize the chances of intentional and unintentional plagiarism, challenging students to think independently rather than taking to the Internet to look for answers and examples." Rubrics ~ "To reduce unproductive tension – the sort that may be fostered by uncertainty or confusion – in the classroom, I rely heavily on rubrics for evaluating and assessing papers, presentations, and other projects. I recognize that rubrics can be controversial in pedagogy, receiving criticism for oversimplification of assignments or tackling unique student work in a 'cookie-cutter' fashion. A well-developed rubric, however, can avoid such pitfalls, improve faculty efficiency and consistency, and clarify expectations for students." Exams ~ "Psychological research on the science of successful learning has demonstrated that the act of preparing for a test and actually taking the test and retrieving information is a great boost to memory. Exams are not just instruments of assessment, they are also an important learning instrument. Exams are a clinically proven way to help students keep up with classwork – they encourage attendance, preparation and review in ways that less traditional or structured means do not, and the use of frequent quizzes or tests is likely to promote regular, moderate, work, whereas a few larger assignments tend to produce short bursts of cramming, often at the last minute. In order to make exams part of long-term learning, I use several techniques: 1) Students are often given the option of creating 'cheat sheets' for use on exams, based on the readings, assuming they limit the paper size to 4x6 per chapter and submit the sheets when readings are due (thus, encouraging regular reading). 2) Regular small quizzes are frequently used to prepare students for larger midterm and final exams. The big exams are made up entirely, or mostly, of questions from the quizzes. 3) In some classes, I have students generate the test questions themselves, encouraging them to think about what is important and giving them control in the evaluation tools if the class. 4) Some exams use a gaming approach, allowing students to choose among questions, depending on their levels of confidence with material or their willingness to gamble with the math. 4) Some classes use an open book approach as a way to encourage students to see the text as a resource or tool rather than as merely an expense or homework burden." Self-Assessment ~ "I often use student-generated rubrics, student self-assessment, student self-grading, or other forms of 'ungrading' or 'contract grading' as a way to get students involved in the educational process, to give them a sense of control, and to address concerns of inequity. Studies suggest that self-grading is positively associated with student learning and can help to improve student study skills and performance."

Blackboard texture

Part of teaching is helping students learn how to tolerate ambiguity, consider possibilities, and ask questions that are unanswerable.

Sara Lawrence Lightfoot


Teaching Responsibilities


SUNY Cortland

Professor, 2022-present

Associate Professor, 2020-2022

Assistant Professor, 2017-2020

3 (9 cr)-3 (9 cr) course load

Human Communication
220 students

Fall 2022

Fall 2023

Fundamentals of Public Speaking
30-32 students

Fall 2017 x 2 / Spring 2018 x 2

Fall 2018 x 2 / Spring 2019 x 2

Fall 2019 x 2 / Spring 2020 x 2

Fall 2020 x 4 / Spring 2021 x 2

Fall 2021 x 2 / Spring 2022 x 2

Fall 2022 / Spring 2023

Spring 2024 x 2

Fall 2024 x 2

Introduction to Media Literacy
30-34 students

Spring 2021

Fall 2021 / Spring 2022

Fall 2022 / Spring 2023

Interpersonal Communication
30 students

Fall 2023

Mass Media & Society
30 students

Spring 2018

Organizational Communication
30 students

Fall 2023

Horror in the Media
30 students

Fall 2019

Political Communication
30 students

Spring 2019

Small Group Communication
30 students

Fall 2017

independent study: PR & Crisis


Spring 2020

Communication in Social Change
30 students

Spring 2023

Gender Communication
30 students

Fall 2018

Race & Gender Role Stereotypes
30 students

Spring 2020

Spring 2022

Professional Communication


curriculum design

undergraduate majors
about 30 students

SUNY Potsdam

Associate Professor, 2012-2017

Assistant Professor, 2006-2012

4 (12 cr)-4 (12 cr) course load

Basic Principles of Speech

24 students

Fall 2006 x 2 / Spring 2007

Fall 2007 x 2 / Spring 2008 x 2

Fall 2008 / Spring 2009 x 2

Fall 2009 x 2 / Spring 2010 x 2

Fall 2010 x 2 / Spring 2011

Fall 2011 x 2 / Spring 2012 x 2

Fall 2012 x 2 / Spring 2013

Fall 2013

Spring 2015 x 2

Fall 2015

Fall 2016 / Spring 2017

COMM106, Honors
Basic Principles of Speech
12 students

Fall 2015

Fall 2016

Persuasive Speaking
20 students

Spring 2008

Contemporary Political Comm
25 students

Spring 2007

Spring 2008

Fall 2009

Fall 2010

Fall 2011

Fall 2012

Fall 2013

Spring 2015

Fall 2016

Doing Textual Analysis

29 students

Fall 2015

Communication as Uncanny
29 students

Spring 2015

Communicating War
29 students

Spring 2012

Spring 2013

Rhetoric of Civil & Public Religions
29 students

Fall 2007

Religion & Messages of Change

29 students

Fall 2009

Rhetoric of Social Movements
20 students

Fall 2006

Fall 2008

Fall 2010

Spring 2014

Spring 2016 x 2

Voices of American Women
20 students

Spring 2007

Fall 2008

Spring 2010

Spring 2011

Wo/Men & Elections
20 students

Spring 2009

Spring 2014

COMM-ics Research

29 students

Spring 2017

Communication Theory
20 students

Spring 2011

Fall 2011 / Spring 2012

Fall 2012 / Spring 2013

Fall 2013 / Spring 2014 x 2

Spring 2015 x 2

Fall 2015 / Spring 2016

Fall 2016 / Spring 2017

Research Methods in Comm
25 students

Fall 2007

Locational Identities
12 students

Fall 2013

ART of Rhetoric
1 student

Spring 2017

undergraduate honors
1 student

Spring 2012

undergraduate majors & minors
about 40-50 students

SUNY Albany

Lecturer, 2004-2005

Teaching Assistant (instructor of record), 2001-2004

Teaching Assistant, 2000

Speech Composition & Presentation

Spring 2002

Fall 2002 / Spring 2003

Fall 2003 / Spring 2004

Media & Culture

Spring 2005

Political Advertising

Fall 2004

Oral Discourse & Civic Culture

Fall 2004 x 3 / Spring 2005 x 3

Intro to PR Theory & Practice

Spring 2005

Monroe CC, Genesee CC, & College of St. Rose


Public Speaking (MCC)

Fall 2005

Intro to Media (MCC)

Fall 2005

Public Speaking (GCC)

Fall 2005 x 2

Mass Media as a Social Force (SR)

Spring 2003

Course Schedules Fall 2006 - Present


Course/Teacher Evaluations

Bar graph of mean effectiveness scores per course by semester

What her students say...

"Love Prof. Knopf's style and assignments! I'd definitely recommend this class to [...] anyone interested in learning about the history of communication mediums in a unique perspective."

What her colleagues say...

Her class was "organized, involving, factual, and interesting."
Speech Pedagogy

Speech Pedagogy Experience & Growth

Dr. Knopf has taught introductory public speaking - referred to as the "front porch" or "gateway" course to the communication discipline - since 2001. Additionally, she has held key roles in upholding the oral communication curricula at her institutions. In support of both activities, she regularly participates in professional development offerings designed for the speech teacher, helping her to stay current in the field.


Courses Taught

Communication & Media Studies Dept, SUNY Cortland: 2017-present

  • Fundamentals of Public Speaking, COM210: 26 sections through Spring 2024

Dept. of English & Communication, SUNY Potsdam: 2006-2017

  • Basic Principles of Speech, COMM106: 29 sections

  • Basic Principles of Speech-Honors, COMM106H: 2 sections
  • Persuasive Speaking, COMM324: 1 section

  • Contemporary Political Communication, COMM370 [speaking intensive]: 9 sections

  • Voices of American Women, COMM416 [speaking intensive]: 4 sections

School of Arts & Sciences, Genesee Community College: 2005-2006

  • Public Speaking, SPE108: 2 sections

Communication & Media Arts, Monroe Community College: 2005-2006

  • Public Speaking, SPT142: 1 section

Communication Dept, UAlbany: 2000-2005

  • Speech Composition & Presentation, COM203: 6 sections

  • Oral Discourse & Civic Culture, COM399: 6 sections

Service Activities

  • SUNY Cortland Presentation Skills Coordinator: Fall '17 – present

  • SUNY Cortland Presentation Skills Committee, chair: Fall '18 – present

  • SUNY Cortland PRES GE subcommittee, member: Fall '21 – Spring '22

  • SUNY Potsdam General Education Speaking Intensive/Writing Intensive Review Task Force, member: Fall '16

  • SUNY Potsdam General Education Committee, Resource Person-Oral Skills Coordinator: Fall '06–Spring '14, Fall '15 – Summer '17

  • SUNY Potsdam EOP Speech Contest, judge: Apr. '16

  • SUNY Potsdam Honors Colloquium Battle of the Disciplines, debate judge: Nov. '15

  • SUNY Canton's Scholarly Activity Celebration, presentation judge: Apr. 2010.

  • SUNY Potsdam Elsie D. Kristiansen Speech Contest adjudication committee, member: Spring '07 & Spring '08

Training Received

  • Ending the Semester with a BANG! KendallHunt Webinar.24 Apr. 2024.

  • Getting Started with Resources for “Contemporary Public Speaking.” Norton webinar. 26 Mar. 2024.

  • Using AI in the Basic Communication Course: A Primer. ECA Short Course. 21 Mar. 2024. 

  • Teaching Speechwriting to Undergraduates. ECA Short Course. 31 Mar. 2023. 

  • DisPLACEing power & privilege in Public Speaking: Re-constructing the introductory course through critical pedagogical theory & praxis. NCA PreConference. 16 Nov. 2022.

  • Learning on Both Sides of GoReact: How Students' Feedback to Peers Improves Their Performance. ReAction 2022. 21 Apr. 2022.

  • Anxious Speakers in Class?, with Dr. Jason Teven. Macmillan Learning. 29 Mar. 2021.

  • Speaking for Change, with Dr. Joshua Gunn. Macmillan Learning. 26 Feb. 2021.

  • Build Engaging Presentations. Google Digital Garage. 5 Feb. 2021.

  • Communication Apprehension during Covid and Beyond, Suzy Prentiss. Preparing for Spring, Lessons from Fall: Pandemic Pedagogical Preparedness Workshops from Fountainhead Press. 2 Dec. 2020.

  • Creating Creative Online Learning Activities, Megan Pope. Preparing for Spring, Lessons from Fall: Pandemic Pedagogical Preparedness Workshops from Fountainhead Press. 2 Dec. 2020.

  • Zooming the Classroom: Overcoming the Uncanny Valley of Virtual Speech Instruction, John Arthos. Preparing for Spring, Lessons from Fall: Pandemic Pedagogical Preparedness Workshops from Fountainhead Press. 30 Nov. 2020.

  • Teaching in the Age of Zoom – Ideas You Can Use Now (Pandemic Public Speaking). Macmillan Learning. 16 Oct. 2020.

  • Visual Presentation (COMM103). MOOC through RITx and edX. 12 Aug. – 31 Aug. 2020.

  • Communicate Your Ideas through Storytelling and Design. OpenClassrooms, through Google Digital Garage. 14 Aug. 2020.

  • Speaking in Public. OpenClassrooms, through Google Digital Garage. 14 Aug. 2020.

  • Thriving, Not Just Surviving … Teaching Public Speaking Online! NCA Short Course. 14 Nov. 2019.

  • 30 Minute Prep: Communication at Play in the Public Speaking Classroom. NCA Short Course. 8 Nov. 2018.

  • Embracing the Transformational Opportunities of Public Speaking through a Semester-Long Practicum in Citizenship. NCA Short Course. 20 Nov. 2015.
  • Making Choices and Taking Responsibility in Public Speaking with Bill Keith and Chris Lundberg. Cengage Learning Engagement Services Webinar. 19 Oct. 2015.

  • Rethinking Slide Design: New Techniques for Improving Presentations. NCA Short Course. 21 Nov. 2014.  

  • Effective Public Speaking Rubrics. NCA Short Course. 15 Nov. 2012.

  • Teaching Listening, Group Communication, and Informative Speaking in Basic Communication Courses. Pearson Higher Education’s Speaking About Communication online conference session. 20 Apr. 2011.

  • Finding Home in the Public Speaking Course. Pearson Higher Education’s Speaking About Communication online conference session. 20 Apr. 2011.

  • Making Communication Education Personality Compatible. Pearson Higher Education’s Speaking About Communication online conference session. 20 Apr. 2011.

  • Engage Students and Build Lasting Affinity for Communication Topics Using Storytelling and Online Media. Pearson Higher Education’s Speaking About Communication online conference session. 20 Apr. 2011.