To understand the Transparency in Learning and Teaching (TILT) framework for assignment design and offer guidelines to implement or tilt existing assignments.
Faculty teach more than the content of their course. Teaching also entails communicating with students about how they learn and why they learn in particular ways, components that may not be clear, or transparent, to all students at first. Transparent learning and teaching methods explicitly focus on how and why students are learning course content in particular ways, and how they’ll use what they learned in their lives after college.
Transparently designed assignments can offer equitable opportunities for all college students to succeed. In two related studies conducted by Mary-Anne Wilkelmes, Tia Brown McNair, and Ashley Finley, faculty at participating institutions were asked to list the challenges or barriers that students faced in their educational experience at college (Winkelmes et al., 2016, Winkelmes et al., 2015). Among them, faculty reported that students faced challenges in four areas: preparation (expectations, lack of research skills, inability to see connection to prior knowledge, etc.), time management (underestimating time required, little planning experience, procrastination, etc.), motivation (feeling overwhelmed, anxiety, low self-confidence, and reluctance to ask for help), and access to resources (not knowing how to get help, not having enough time outside of class to seek help). Students who took courses with at least two transparently designed assignments in their first year showed increased academic confidence and sense of belonging in college, and metacognitive awareness of skill development compared to their peers in courses without transparently designed assignments. Additionally, the students were more likely to re-enroll for their sophomore and junior years, increasing persistence in college.
The simple and small adjustment to teaching that transparent design advocates for is captured in the acronym TILT (Winkelmes, 2019). This tilt is an easily adopted change that can have a large impact on student success, especially first-generation, low-income, and racially underrepresented students. Because students walk into classes with varying degrees of preparation, the key to being more transparent is to learn to see your classroom from each student’s vantage point (Yong, 2017). What challenges might a student face that are not related to the objective of the assignment and where can they go for help in this case? Adopting the TILT framework in course assignments is one way to complement college-wide efforts at inclusion and student success with simple and effective modifications to existing assignments.
Transparently designed assignments state the purpose of the activity in terms of knowledge and skills, list the tasks or steps students will have to undertake to complete the assignment, and explain the criteria for successful completion. The following questions are adapted from the “Transparent Equitable Learning Readiness Assessment for Teachers” (Wilkelmes, 2020) and the “Transparent Assignment Template” (Wilkelmes, 2013).
Refers to the long-term relevance to students’ lives in relation to stated learning outcomes.
Refer to the resource on taxonomies to describe the cognitive processes (e.g. recalling, summarizing, critiquing, etc.) outlined in the purpose section.
Refers to what activities the student should do/perform to complete the assignment. Note that for assignments where how to solve a problem or create a solution, performance, or other, is part of the task, adding a statement that explicitly states this purpose can help. For instance, a statement such as “the purpose of this assignment is for you to struggle and feel confused while you invent your own process to solve the question” will let the student know that confusion and perhaps a lack of clarity are actually part of the task and that the instructor made this decision intentionally.
Refers to the characteristics of the finished product. The TILT framework encourages faculty to provide multiple examples of what these characteristics look like in real-world practice to encourage students’ creativity and reduce their incentive to copy any one example too closely.
View examples of less transparently designed assignments and their transformation to more transparently designed assignments for a Sociology class and a Biology class. For other disciplinary examples of assignments which use the TILT framework visit TILT Higher Ed Examples and Resources (scroll down to “Example Assignments” (more and less transparent section).
Faculty members interested in receiving feedback on their assignments can contact CITLS to schedule a feedback session with our student fellows trained in the TILT framework.
Faculty members who wish to introduce a transparently designed assignment into their courses should discuss the particular purpose (skills and knowledge), specific tasks (steps), and criteria (metric for success) for the assignment with students before they begin to do any work. Discussing the assignment in advance will provide an opportunity to address any questions that might arise and will maximize the time students spend engaging in the task. It will also serve to streamline the assessment portion of the assignment. Faculty members can also contact CITLS to receive feedback on assignments from our student fellows trained in the TILT framework.
Wilkemes, M.A. 2020. Transparent Equitable Learning Readiness Assessment for Teachers. TILT Higher Ed.
—. 2013. Transparent Assignment Template. TILT Higher Ed.
Winkelmes, M.A., Bernacki, M., Butler, J., Zochowski, M., Golanics, J., Harris Weavil, K. 2016. A Teaching Intervention that Increases Underserved College Students’ Success. Peer Review 18 (1).
Winkelmes. M.A., Copeland, D.E., Jorgensen, E., Sloat, A., Smedley, A., Pizor, P., … Jalene, S. 2015. Benefits (some unexpected) of transparently designed assignments. The National Teaching and Learning Forum, 24 (4), 4-7.
Yong, D. 2017. How Transparency Improves Learning. Teaching Tidbits (Mathematical Association of America blog).