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Transparent Assignment Design

ENG 111 students often need help with what Dr. Mary-Ann Winkelmes, principal investigator for the Transparency in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education (TILT) initiative, calls “unwritten rules of college,” which can form serious but invisible barriers to student success. Transparent assignment design makes the processes and benefits of learning visible to students before they begin a project. By using this relatively light-lift framework, teachers build bridges for learners by using the Transparency Framework for assignment design to make the purpose, task, and criteria of an assignment clear to students before they begin it.

Key Elements of TAD

  • Teachers make the purpose of an assignment clear by stating it up front, so students not only understand the knowledge and skills they will gain but also how they can apply these to their future studies and careers, creating a context for students to develop their own authentic purpose for learning.
  • Teachers make the task of an assignment clear by breaking down a large project into smaller chunks, so students not only understand the process they can use to complete it but also the pitfalls they should avoid, keeping their efforts productive while acknowledging individuals’ differing levels of expertise and knowledge.
  • Teachers make the evaluation criteria of an assignment clear by providing assessment rubrics and examples of successful projects, so students not only see the way their work will be graded but also a concrete example they can emulate. Showing students “what we want” in advance increases their confidence that they are headed in the right direction.

The Results

Numerous research studies reveal the benefits of using the transparency framework to students, particularly students who may struggle in their first year of college, including boosts to their semester and cumulative GPAs.

The transparency framework has also been shown to improve students’ sense of belonging, the feeling that they are valuable members of a community, which is a characteristic correlated to increased persistence and college completion rates. These benefits can last up to two years beyond a single intervention in one first-semester class.