Yes! The Template is the visual artifact from communications between teachers and students in our study. We used it as a guide to help teachers and students think together — either online or in the classroom — about the purposes, tasks and criteria for academic work. Use it as a guide. As long as your communication with students results in their clear understanding of the purposes, tasks and criteria for their work before they start working, you can expect to see the kind of learning benefits we found in our study.
Some faculty in our studies wanted to avoid limiting students’ creativity by providing recommended procedures for approaching or completing the work. Faculty in Performing Arts and Engineering disciplines, for example, may sometimes want to students to invent new processes and methods. In such cases, faculty can preserve students’ confidence and sense of belonging by adapting the way they explain the purpose of the assignment. For example: “The purpose of this assignment is for you to struggle and feel confused while you invent your own process and methods for addressing the problem…”
If you incorporate transparent instruction at your own discretion, then you’ll be doing what the teachers in our study did. We asked teachers to offer transparency around the purposes, tasks and criteria for academic work in their courses in their own way at their own discretion. We offered a Transparent Assignment Template (for teachers and for students) and a small amount of training via onsite and online workshops. We intentionally avoided rigid protocols for how to adopt transparency in your instruction for two main reasons: 1) we expected variation; and 2) we wanted to demonstrate what teachers in a variety of higher education contexts around the country could expect if they adopted Transparent Assignment Design at their own discretion with the goal of improving students’ learning and increasing equitable opportunities for all students to succeed.
Transparent instruction seems to benefit students across the disciplines and at all levels of expertise. The benefits for students in our studies were statistically significant, and the gains for underserved students were larger (with effect sizes in the medium to large range). The gains are in three areas: 1) perceived skill development, 2) belonging, 3) confidence. (Winkelmes, Mary-Ann, Matthew Bernacki, Jeffrey Butler, Michelle Zochowski, Jennifer Golanics, and Kathryn Harriss Weavil. (2016). “A Teaching Intervention that Increases Underserved College Students’ Success.” Peer Review 18 (1 / 2), 31-36.) There were greater benefits (medium to large in magnitude) for underserved students (first-generation, ethnically underrepresented, low-income).
The variations weren’t always what we expected. For example, students in STEM courses felt the courses helped them improve their writing skills significantly, while students in large courses felt strongly that their instructors valued them and their interests. We expected some of the greatest potential long-term benefits (on retention and graduate rates) would come from offering Transparent Assignment Design in introductory and intermediate-level courses, so we focused our main efforts there first. We saw higher retention rates into the third year of college for students who received transparent instruction in at least one course in their first year of college.
A self-guided draft checklist is available, as well as a rubric that measures the amount of transparency in an assignment. (Palmer, Michael S., Gravett, Emily O., LaFleur, Jennifer. (2018). Measuring Transparency: A Learning-Focused Assignment Rubric. To Improve the Academy 37 (2), 173-187.)
Also check the videos, example assignments and resources on the TILT Examples and Resources webpage.
Please send your own examples and suggestions that you’d like to share on the TILT website to email@example.com.
We are testing the impact of various ways of offering transparent instruction. We focused heavily on Transparent Assignment Design at the introductory and intermediate college levels, because we expected that would have the biggest possible benefit on college students’ retention and graduation rates, and their continued success in careers and/or post-graduate study. Read about the impact of other types of transparent instruction in the “Talking About Transparent Instruction” and “Publications” sections on the TILT Examples and Resources webpage.
We welcome your participation. There are several ways to get involved:
Please contact Mary-Ann Winkelmes (firstname.lastname@example.org) with additional questions or suggestions.
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