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 Resources

External Resources


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.