Eden honored with Donald F. Koch Quality in Undergraduate Teaching Award: ComArtSci faculty member recognized for empathic teaching philosophy

A model educator in Michigan State University’s College of Communication Arts and Sciences has received the 2022 Donald F. Koch Quality in Undergraduate Teaching Award for her teaching philosophy based on empathy for the student experience.  

Allison Eden joins the esteemed list of faculty who have distinguished themselves through a commitment to teaching that demonstrates substantial involvement in undergraduate education. Bestowed since 2011, the Donald F. Koch Award celebrates educators who engage undergraduate students through innovative teaching techniques, compelling research activities, and ongoing involvement in education.

Eden is an associate professor in the Department of Communication and has published extensively about her research in media entertainment. She is a founding member and chair of the Communication Science and Biology Interest Group, and associate editor of the Journal of Media Psychology. Eden also recently co-authored a textbook that presents a “roadmap” to entertainment media scholarship and curriculum development.

Eden’s teaching philosophy is based on two core principles: empathy for students and the psychology of entertainment. She said her empathy derives from her own experience of having transferred from a community college to a university, then pursuing additional higher ed after being in the workforce several years.

“I remember being overwhelmed by the expectations of professors, losing interest in my coursework, and struggling,” she said. “I also remember frustration juggling conflicting classroom and workplace expectations as a non-traditional student.”

As a teacher, Eden makes it her mission to reduce uncertainty and ambiguity by setting clear expectations for her students. She has worked to secure reduced textbook prices, guided students to available scholarships and funding, and negotiated schedules and workloads with individual students. Eden also budgets time in class to help students understand the “hidden curriculum” of university life, providing them tips on how to email or contact professors, how to use office hours, and how to apply for research and lab opportunities.

The second pillar of Eden’s teaching philosophy stems from her research in media entertainment, and the belief that people engage with content they enjoy. For Eden, that translates into building educational experiences that revolve around suspense, surprise, revelation and personal relevance.

“I frame my courses so there is always a question or puzzle at the beginning of class that we answer together throughout the lecture or over the semester,” she said. “Often the answer is surprising, counterintuitive, or applies directly to students’ own situations or concerns.”

Eden continually assesses the effectiveness of her teaching by responding quickly to student feedback. She conducts midterm and final course reviews, which can lead to adapting or changing up course content or approach. By keeping focused on empathy for students and applied understanding of entertainment, Eden feels she can continue to create engaging, entertaining, and relevant courses for students.

“My biggest source of inspiration is always the students at MSU,” she said. “We truly have some of the hardest working, brightest, most adaptable and compassionate undergraduates here. I try to honor their perspectives and career goals in the way I teach. I am incredibly humbled to be counted as a top-tier educator at such an incredible institution.”

By Ann Kammerer