Transparent Assignment Design
Transparency in Learning and Teaching (TILT)* is both a national research project and a teaching framework that can be implemented in any discipline by taking extra steps to provide clear assignments for improved student success. By making small, clarifying additions to your course assignments, the data shows that you can have a big impact on student learning. (Winklemes, et al, 2015, requires UVM login).
With transparent assignments, students are better able to prepare, are more motivated, and have the resources they need. Transparency in assignments increases inclusivity, as well, as it helps to “level the playing field” so all students have the best chance to succeed with your assignments.
Transparency in assignment design has three main facets:
- Purpose – Provide students with clarity about the purpose of an assignment—how it helps them reach the learning objectives of your course, how they can take the knowledge/skills to other classes, and how it will have real-life relevance.
- Task – Give explicit, step-by-step instructions to students about what they should do for the assignment and let them know what they should avoid doing.
- Criteria – Show how the assignment will be graded, using either a checklist or rubric, and provide samples of student work.
Fortunately, transparent assignment design doesn’t require an overhaul or redesign of a course, but instead builds on the assignments that are already there. It can also give faculty more insight into why they’re assigning the work and how it serves their course learning objectives.
* Mary-Ann Winklemes (Brandeis University) is the principal investigator for a national research project on The Transparency in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education project (TILT Higher Ed).
- CTL working group: Better Assignment Communication: Transparency in Action through TILT
- Transparent Assignment Design template
- Recording of 2020 CTL/WID workshop on TILT (20mins)
- Workshops on transparent assignment design are on the CTL events calendar at least once a semester.
- TILT Higher Ed website: examples and resources
- The two resources below provide details of the findings from the TILT study led by Mary-Ann Winkelmes in 2014-2015.
- “Transparency in teaching: Faculty share data and improve students’ learning. Liberal Education” [article]
- Assessing TILT in a college classroom. [Article] The National Teaching & Learning Forum, 30 (4), 1-3.
- An in-depth rubric for evaluation of the transparency of assignment: Measuring Transparency: A Learning-focused Assignment Rubric [PDF] by Michael Palmer and Jennifer LaFleur from the University of Virginia, Center for Teaching Excellence, and Emily Gravett from James Madison University, Center for Faculty Innovation
- Just a TAD – Transparent Assignment Design, Laurel Willingham-McLain, Director, Center for Teaching Excellence, Duquesne University, The Flourishing Academic blog.
Winkelmes, M., Bernacki, M., Butler, J., Zochowski, M., Golanics, J., & Weavil, K. H. (2016). A Teaching Intervention that Increases Underserved College Students’ Success. Peer Review, 18(1), 31-36. Retrieved from ProQuest.