If you want to improve your teaching and your students’ learning, one challenge you face may be finding the time to make major revisions to your courses or teaching practices. But what if you could make small, easily implemented changes in your teaching methods and assignments that would have a big impact on your students’ learning as well as their confidence and sense of belonging in college? That would be a no-brainer.
The Transparency in Learning and Teaching (TILT) framework is a collection of those “small change, big impact” pedagogical strategies. The philosophy underlying TILT is that if we can make learning in college and in a particular discipline transparent to our students—by explaining why they’re learning particular content, and how to learn it effectively—they’ll learn better. An added benefit is that they’ll gain skills they can use throughout their college careers and in their lives after college. Helping students understand how and why they’re learning course content can not only improve their performance, but it can also reduce systemic inequities in education by enabling all students to gain the cognitive and metacognitive skills they need to succeed.
Transparent Assignment Design
One of the most straightforward TILT strategies is Transparent Assignment Design, which focuses on three components of course assignments: the Purpose, the Task, and the Criteria for Success. To make an assignment transparent, simply create three headings in the assignment, one for each component. Under each heading, address the questions below.
- Purpose: What course outcomes does this assignment align with? What knowledge and skills will students gain from doing this? How will this assignment help them build skills they can use in other courses or in their lives beyond school?
- Task: What, exactly, do students need to do in this assignment? Is there a sequence of steps you expect students to follow?
- Criteria for success: How will you evaluate their work? What criteria will you use? In this section you can link to a separate rubric or provide an annotated example of a response to the assignment, to show students how your criteria will be applied.
It’s that simple: making a few small changes to an assignment can dramatically increase its transparency. And you and your students can see significant benefits even if you “TILT” only a few assignments in your course. Research done by Mary-Ann Winkelmes, who developed the TILT framework, has demonstrated that increasing the transparency of two assignments in a course can improve not only students’ performance, but also their academic confidence and sense of belonging in college. These in turn can lead to gains in student retention in college. The effects are particularly pronounced for students who are members of underrepresented minority groups or first-generation college students.
Other TILT Methods
Assignment design is only one way to increase the transparency of your course. Here are some other strategies to promote transparent learning and teaching.
- Gauge students’ understanding of course concepts in class using student response systems such as Top Hat. Ask a thought-provoking question requiring students to apply the concept, let them record their answer, have them discuss their reasoning with their peers, then record their answer again, and then open up for whole-class discussion. With this method you can provide students timely, specific feedback on their reasoning, which will promote a deeper understanding of course concepts.
- Explicitly connect course content with data on how people learn, and suggest study strategies for effective learning. Students may benefit from learning about research-based best practices in studying, such as retrieval practice, spaced studying, and active studying techniques. (To learn more about these strategies, see the References at the end of this post.)
- Have students engage in peer review of each other’s work, to familiarize them with the grading criteria you’ll use in evaluating their work.
- Debrief graded tests and assignments in class, either by summarizing where students excelled or struggled, or by having students analyze their own work to identify patterns of strength and weakness. You could also have students record the study strategies they used and analyze how effective they were.
- During class discussions, offer a running commentary to indicate what kind of thinking or disciplinary modes are being used. You can also encourage students to describe their thought process in addressing a problem, and then have them evaluate the types of thinking that are most effective.
If you’d like to learn more about these and other TILT methods and apply them in your courses, register for the CITL workshops entitled “Transparent Assignment Design Part 1”(March 29) and “Transparent Assignment Design Part 2: Assignment Workshop” (April 5).
- 6 Powerful Learning Strategies You MUST Share with Students (Jennifer Gonzalez, Cult of Pedagogy)
- Studying 101: Study Smarter Not Harder (The Learning Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
- TILT Higher Ed
- See especially the Examples and Resources page
- “A Teaching Intervention that Increases Underserved College Students’ Success.” (Mary Ann Winklemes, et al, AAC&U Peer Review, 2016)