Dr. Niesen has instructed undergraduate courses at the University of Illinois and both graduate and undergraduate courses as an assistant professor at Eastern Illinois University. She has taught a wide variety of class sizes in various disciplines, including new media and society, advertising history, history of communications, political economy, media economics, and public relations.
Her classes strive to foster both critical thinking and applied knowledge. Critical thinking—raising questions and problems, gathering and assessing information, using abstract ideas, and keeping an open mind—is central to active learning in the classroom and for democratic citizenship in general. Rather than memorization of information for exams, critical thinking enables students to create rather than simply receive knowledge.
Her smaller courses offer multiple writing assignments with feedback rather than point totals or letter grades. In her larger classes, she distributes outlines of the main issues raised in each class and help students reflect on the central concepts points without feeling compelled to feverishly take down detailed notes. She draws on multiple types of reading assignments: theoretical, popular press, and op-eds. By drawing on various sources, students are better equipped to raise questions about the material and use theoretical knowledge for practical application.
Concrete historical examples help students apply knowledge by asking, “how is the present a result of specific historical events?” In her Economics of the Media class, she calls attention to history’s “critical junctures”—times when the future of media was up for grabs. For classes with mostly advertising and public relations majors, she emphasizes the importance of understanding the industry to which students plan to enter by discussing examples of pitfalls and success stories in the history of marketing. Using Alex Carey’s seminal work on propaganda, her public relations classes delve into the ways in which corporate propaganda has responded to, and worked to ‘take the risk out of,’ labor environmental, civil rights, and consumer movements throughout the last century.