Teaching: Off Campus

CBPO shop frontToday, I am heading down to the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts. I’m giving a guest lecture about tactical urbanism and for part of class, we’re going to walk around downtown Omaha, analyzing what material spaces communicate to us. During this trip, I hope the students–who are high-school age and from all over Omaha–think how an experience economy is created and how this blurs conventional understandings of private and public space.

As I was preparing, it struck me that I’ve been doing quite a bit of teaching off-campus lately. Well, off Creighton’s campus, at least. I taught a graduate class at UNL this summer, which was a lot of fun. We had some great discussions, and I’ve been reading awesome papers that the students wrote. I can’t wait to see them presented at conferences!

For the better part of a year now, I’ve also been teaching at the Community Bike Project Omaha (pictured above). I co-teach Youth Earn-a-Bike classes, which means that I work with kids 10-15 years old. They fix up their bikes, learn safe riding skills, and then get the bike, a helmet, a lock, and a water bottle for free at the end of six classes.

Engaging with students of different ages and experience levels is a great way to think more holistically about teaching practices. And I’m grateful that I’ve had these opportunities. They make me excited about the upcoming fall semester!

The Online CV

Another bright day in Omaha, NE. And where am I? Inside, grading speeches. But I can’t complain because I’ve got smart students, a nice view, and fun plans for later.

And where are you? You’ve found your way to my online CV. This homepage includes trite thoughts with titles. The tabs at the top will take you to different parts of my academic identity. If you want to share your thoughts (trite or otherwise), email me: SamanthaSenda-Cook@creighton.edu.

The Witch in Your Class

Recently, our department read an excerpt from My Freshman Year. In this book, Rebekah Nathan reports about her examination of life as a first year student. As an anthropology professor, she had a much different perspective than she got from going back to school. One of the things she writes about is classroom culture, the norms of the interactions between students and professors, and how we can better identify those norms. She explains, “There is an exercise I sometimes do in my large introductory anthropology classes in a unit on witchcraft to show how accusations in a culture can operate to reinforce unconscious social norms. I tell students there is one witch in the room who is responsible for all the bad things happening to them in class” (90).  Consistently students who violate the norms of the class by asking in-depth questions or staying after class to talk to the professor are frequently identified as the hypothetical witch.

This idea appeals to me because it so eloquently summarizes our feelings toward people who violate norms in so many other situations. One of my colleagues brought up the point that witches are contextual. That is, norms for social situations change; thus a witch in one situation may not be a witch in another. With this in mind, I wondered if I could change the culture in my classrooms to create a different set of norms. Maybe I could even negate the idea of a witch in the classroom! Although I have seen instances (e.g., one class period or an out-of-class experience) in which classroom norms fall away, I really don’t think it is possible to break out of classroom culture completely. If nothing else, I am the witch in my class. That is, the teacher must enforce some norms even if (s)he would like to challenge some others. So, although I didn’t mean to post of picture of myself with this post, I may have done so nevertheless.

Keepin’ It Short

I’ve been writing a lot more lately. In addition to emails, comments to students on assignments, and essays, I agreed to be the blog and news coordinator of Omaha Bikes. Although I didn’t agree to be the sole generator of content for this site, I end up writing a few posts a month.

It reminds of me of when I was in college and took a news writing class the same semester I took college writing. One was about getting to the point fast and then unfolding the information in subsequent paragraphs. The other was about constructing arguments with evidence and taking my time explaining my definitions and citing sources for my interpretations. At the time, I was learning how to write. And it was a struggle. It was a struggle from which I learned about the differences in purposes and styles of writing, but a struggle nonetheless. Now that much of my career is based around writing, I find engaging in different kinds of writing to be refreshing and still a learning experience.

When I write for the blog, I know that I need to focus on an idea and unpack it quickly. If my audience is average internet users, then I want to keep the entry short (and by that I mean just a few paragraphs). By contrast, a short essay for an academic audience is 5,000 words. (To give you a comparison, this post contains 394 words.) Two other differences I’ve noticed are topic selection and voice. Of course, I want to write about things that will grab my audience and appeal broadly rather than make a contribution to rhetorical theory. The subject of voice is interesting. I think that when I was in that undergraduate college writing class, I tried to cultivate what I thought was an academic voice. Later, in graduate school, I shed that voice in favor of a more plain style. Having confidence that my ideas were intelligent and complex, I sought to explain them as simply as I could and with the best evidence I knew. And I still use that approach in my academic writing today. However, even though I try to write eloquently and parsimoniously for academic audiences, my voice in the blog posts is more conversational, more inviting. And that is probably because I’m thinking about my audience again and wanting to keep my audience’s attention.

With that in mind, I’m off to work on a short essay (5,000 words) that I hope to get done by the end of the year.


Something for Everyone

Last spring I had an article, “Rugged Practices,” in the Quarterly Journal of Speech published. I’m still excited about this because the ideas I put forward were the most radical ones from my dissertation. With that as a base, I can continue with some other research that will build on concepts of rhetoric, materiality, and practices. What’s even better about this paper is that it caught the attention of an editor from Communication Currents. This online publication caters to lay audiences, translating communication research into language everyone can understand and highlighting topics that many people will find interesting. The editor invited me to translate my article to something that everyone could appreciate! And so I did. I figured the average person wouldn’t care that “practice” was a new way of thinking about rhetoric. So, instead I focused on a concept I call experiential degradation. I linked up the article here so that you can read for yourself what it’s all about. This was a good experience. I think it is important to be able to talk about my research in ways that most people can understand. When I first started as a researcher, I had trouble with this. To me, it was because I didn’t understand the concepts well enough to discuss them in ordinary language. I see a marked difference now in my approach. I hope you find the article interesting!
Also, this summer I’ve been revising my courses. I reorganized my Civic Engagement through Public Communication class so that the units more effectively build on one another. I think this will help students not only understand the course material but also process it throughout the semester. Sometimes the class goes too fast for students to try out the ideas they’re learning. With a different organization pattern, I hope students will be able to let the concepts sink in and then apply them to their speeches. In my Rhetoric and Public Culture course, I cut a few methods that I think weren’t helpful for students. Additionally, I’m looking forward to trying a new pedagogical approach. I’m going to try have a few small assignments before each paper so that I can make sure students are going down a productive path before they get in too deep. In the past, I assigned only papers. I don’t think this is as effective helping students through the steps of rhetorical criticism. So, I’m going to try that this semester. I think it will be fun.

Please feel free to contact me at SamanthaSenda-Cook@creighton.edu.

Works in Progress

Lately, I’ve been working on some exciting projects. Danielle Endres and I just finished a book chapter about how dominant outdoor recreation discourses promote the notion that nature is where humans are not. In other words, when we see advertisements for gear and articles about the best hikes in the world, they emphasize the solitude and wildness of nature. This frame encourages outdoor recreators to venture further afield in search of “unspoiled” nature. Our position is that this can cause environmental degradation. We’re in the revision process now with the book editor.

I am also revising an essay that analyzes the rhetoric of maps and trails in Zion National Park. Although it can be useful to separate the material from the discursive, I take pleasure in reading material subjects discursively. Therefore, hiking trails appeal to me as artifacts because they seem natural and yet still communicate. I suggest in this essay that maps also function rhetorically. Together, maps and trails communicate positions on different tensions within this national park.

Danielle Endres, Brian Cozen, and I are analyzing a social action called Park(ing) Day to extend our theory of place in protest. When a place is in protest, it becomes an argument or evidence of an artifact. We focus on how temporal pieces of rhetoric can change the place. In this case, organizers pay for a parking spot on a street and transform it into a park using plants and other park-like items. Their purposes and messages differ but this strategy is the same.

I also just finished a review of Ecofeminism and Rhetoric. This book includes a variety of perspectives on ecofeminism and provides some useful perspectives about this discipline.

Look for these publications in the future!


Thank you for taking the time to have a look at my page. At the top, you’ll find tabs that will direct you to different parts of my academic identity (e.g., who I am as a researcher and who I am as a teacher). If you have any questions, please contact me.