Transparency in Learning and Teaching
When students come to instructors’ office hours or when they seek tutoring, they often have the following questions about their assignments:
- What am I supposed to be doing in this assignment?
- Why am I doing this?
- How will I be evaluated?
These questions come both from students who have read their assignment sheets carefully and from those who may have given them only a cursory glance. The problem is that many assignment sheets don’t provide clear or transparent answers to these three important questions. While some students can figure out what they are supposed to do in an assignment and why, many others struggle. First-year students may not understand the expectations for college-level work, and students taking courses in multiple disciplines may be dealing with very different guidelines. Students in these situations may spend much of their time trying to interpret an assignment rather than working on the assignment itself. The Transparency in Learning and Teaching (TILT) framework helps all students succeed by prompting instructors to clearly describe the task, the purpose for the assignment, and the evaluation criteria. Applying the TILT framework to an assignment is a relatively simple and low-workload change that has a big impact on student success.
Research done by Mary-Ann Winkelmes (Winkelmes et. al., 2016 and 2019) has shown that transparent teaching methods help students perform better in individual courses, and using transparent teaching methods can have a broader impact on students’ persistence in college. Students taught using transparent teaching methods not only learn better, but they are also more likely to stay in college rather than dropping out. That research also indicates these benefits are even more significant among underrepresented minority groups or first-generation college students, helping to reduce achievement gaps. Research has demonstrated that the TILT framework works across disciplines. For example, a study by Cronmiller et. al. (2022) demonstrates that TILT “promotes learning, equity and critical thinking” in Human Biology and Anatomy and Physiology courses. Additionally, the official TILT website provides assignment examples in such disciplines as sociology, psychology, communications, criminal justice, environmental science, calculus, and finance.
- Define the purpose by describing in 2-4 sentences how the assignment will help students meet course learning objectives as well as the demands of future courses and careers.
- Describe in a paragraph or bullet points the task that students are to complete in the assignment, including the specific steps to follow.
- Note in 1-2 sentences the audience for the assignment (for example, the instructor, peers, a national or international audience).
- Describe the criteria for success in a rubric.
See the resources below for checklists and guides to creating transparent assignments.
Want to find out more?
Who is doing this at IU?
In her Geography of National Parks (E138) course, Elizabeth Kenderes (Earth and Atmospheric Sciences) provides students with several in-class assignments that are designed to build skills for the final project. Below are her purpose, task, audience, and evaluation criteria for one such assignment.
To develop skills for the final project, apply your knowledge of Basin and Range geology and the stratigraphy in Death Valley National Park to correct and enhance a response generated by artificial intelligence.
Using the AI-generated response, answer the worksheet questions based on your photo of Death Valley National Park.
Classmates and instructor.
Full credit if all questions fully answered.
In his HR Management (V373) course, Daniel Grundmann (O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs) provides students with a series of five scaffolded assessments that are designed to help them build such course skills as evaluating different positions on an issue, analyzing evidence, and citing sources correctly. Below is one such assignment in the TILT format.
Identify credible sources of information.
Evaluate the evidentiary level and value of the information contained in an article.
Succinctly synthesize and summarize information from various sources.
Identify both the logic and the flaws in each of the opposing perspectives on an issue.
Properly use MLA citation, both in-text and for your list of references.
Create a short paper presenting an HRM issue analysis.
Identify two opposing viewpoints related to the issue in your chosen prompt, along with the merits and shortcomings of both positions.
Use supporting evidence in your description of the two sides of the debate.
You do not need to take a position.
An HR professional or a public policy advocate who understands the background of the topic but seeks to gain better understanding of the reasoning and value of the two oppositional perspectives presented, including the quality of evidence supporting each position.
Concise, informative summary of two opposing viewpoints (10 pts.).
Use and quality of evidence from credible sources to present and support both sides of the debate (6 pts.).
Clarity, organization, use of citations, and original thinking to synthesize the issue (4 pts.).
Winkelmes et al. (2019). Transparent design in higher education teaching and leadership: A guide to implementing the transparency framework institution-wide to improve learning and retention. https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/iub-ebooks/detail.action?docID=5752578
Winkelmes, M-A., et al. (2016). A teaching intervention that increases underserved college students’ success. Peer Review, vol. 18 (Winter/Spring), no. 1/2. Available at: https://www.aacu.org/peerreview/2016/winter-spring/Winkelmes
Cronmiller, James et al. (2022). Writing intensive high impact practice along with transparency in learning and teaching promote critical thinking in writing assignments in two community college science courses. HAPS Educator, v26 n1 p46-54 Spr 2022. Accession Number: EJ1345004. https://eric-ed-gov.proxyiub.uits.iu.edu/?id=EJ1345004