On Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2024, CATL collaborated with Assistant Vice Chancellor Stacie Christian to host a student panel on neurodiversity. Six student panelists shared their experiences as neurodiverse learners, including common barriers and misconceptions related to neurodiversity. One of the topics the panel discussed was how instructors can support them. A few common themes emerged from students’ responses so we’ve compiled them below, along with resources for ways you might implement these recommendations in your teaching.
Make Assignment Details Transparent
The student panelists shared that they find it extremely helpful when professors explain the purpose of an assignment and provide clear instructions. Their recommendation aligns with the transparency in learning and teaching (TILT) framework, a concept you may be familiar with if you’ve taken LITE 201. The TILT framework is an evidence-based approach to assignment design in which instructors demystify activities by explaining their purpose, detailing the task that students need to complete, and providing concrete grading criteria. Not sure where to start? Check out this checklist for designing transparent assignments from TILT Higher Ed. Or, for a deeper dive into the topic, consider taking a look at this webinar recording on transparent assignment design.
Explicitly Communicate Your Support
One of the “unwritten rules” of college is that students can go to their instructors when they have a question about the course or the need to connect with another institutional resource, such as tutoring or counseling. While this fact may be obvious to some students, it is not to everyone. Whether due to anxiety, trouble picking up on subtext, or unfamiliarity with the norms of higher education, some students may not ask their instructor for help unless they are given explicit permission to do so. Panelists suggested that instructors include a statement in their syllabus to remind students that they can come to the instructor if they have questions or concerns for help and/or referral to the best resource. It’s a small action but adding a statement like this can help reassure students that you care about their success and wellbeing. For more ideas on how to create a welcoming syllabus, check out this post on liquid syllabi and CATL’s liquid syllabus template. If you want to explore other ways of building trust with your students, consider creating a “getting to know you” survey, establishing class norms, or incorporating a name pronunciation activity.
Provide Alternative Formats for Information
Several student panelists emphasized the importance of providing alternate ways of communicating information whenever possible. This recommendation is not only related to “multiple means of representation” from universal design for learning (UDL) theory, but it also aligns with best practices for digital accessibility. Adding alternative means of representation doesn’t have to be complicated. For example, if you include audio or video files in your course, try to pick resources that also provide captions or a transcript. Or, if you use images, make sure you include a caption or alt text when the image is being used to convey information. If you’d like to learn more about accessibility, we encourage you to sign up for LITE 120, a self-paced training course that covers the basics of accessibility in Canvas, as well as SAS’s training course on creating accessible documents (i.e., with Word, PowerPoint, or PDF).
Related Events and Opportunities
Want to learn more about supporting diverse learners? CATL’s “Workshop Wednesday” series this semester has two upcoming sessions that may be of interest to you! First, on Wednesday, Mar. 6, we’ll take a look at how to make course materials more accessible. Then, on Wednesday, Apr. 3, we’ll explore universal design for learning (UDL) and some practical ways to apply UDL concepts in our teaching and learning. Both workshops will be from 3:30 – 4:30 p.m.via Zoom. Registration for the March workshop on accessibility is already open. Stay tuned for details on registration for April’s workshop.
At the recent Instructional Development Institute (IDI) 2023 Conference, our community came together to discuss the topic of student success. One common theme discussed was how instructors and staff can help students succeed in college. An answer that came up repeatedly within various sessions was to adjust our course design methods. While making changes to a course can seem a daunting task, supporting student success does not have to involve doing a large-scale course overhaul. Instead, making small, sustainable changes to a course or even to individual activities and assessments can help increase the chances of student success within the classroom. These small changes are also an easier and more realistic lift for instructors, and some of them can even be time saving overall. In this blog post, we will explore some examples of how including the transparency in learning and teaching (TiLT) framework and proper scaffolding can help reduce confusion and barriers between instructors and students when engaging with learning materials.
One of the easiest ways to include the TiLT framework within your course is to include detailed instructions for activities and assessments. Provide clearly written and detailed instructions to students on why an assignment is being given, what tasks students must do to complete the assignment or assessment, and what criteria will be used to grade their work. Assignment and assessment descriptions can be broken down into three clearly defined categories. ‘Purpose,’ ‘Task,’ and ‘Criteria for Completion’ or similarly named categories can help guide students through activities. At the end of the day, using the TiLT framework to make the “why” and “how” of your assignments and assessments more transparent to your students can also save time for you by reducing the number of emails or messages you receive from students asking for clarification.
Another way to easily incorporate TiLT is the inclusion of scaffolding using low-stakes assignments and assessments. Smaller scale, low-stakes assessments or assignments can scaffold towards a final summative assessment. By breaking the process up into smaller, more manageable chunks, students can more easily track deadlines, which can reduce procrastination. Making these assignments and assessments worth only a few points can also provide incentive to complete them, and act as a buffer towards the final grade. Lastly, scaffolded assignments can also cut down on plagiarism cases, as you will be able to see the student’s work as they progress towards the final deliverable for your course.
Using Canvas Rubrics to identify and explain assignment and assessment grading criteria and to show students what is required to complete an assessment is a third way to include TiLT within your course. This option can be used for both formative and summative assessments. You can also align rubric criteria to match with the expected outcomes of your course. Choosing to align course outcomes directly with course activities and rubrics also shows transparency in how different course elements will met expected course outcomes. The inclusion of detailed rubrics that match the expected outcomes for module assignments, discussions, or other assessments can help guide students through formative assessments. Rubrics can also show transparency in assessment purpose, goals, and completion in line with the TiLT framework, and are integrated with the Canvas Speedgrader to make grading assignments and assessments based on the rubric faster.
If you would like to learn more about how to use the TiLT framework to make small, sustainable changes within your own course design, feel free to contact the CATL office through email (CATL@uwgb.edu) or schedule a consultation with us. Interested instructors may also want to sign up for our professional training opportunity LITE 201: Trail Guides when it is offered in the summer. This course will walk you through creating modules, assignments, and assessments using Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and Transparency in Learning and Teaching (TiLT) for your own courses.
Keeping students engaged in their learning throughout an entire semester is a challenge that exists across all disciplines and modalities. Though the ways in which you implement strategies for increasing student engagement might vary because of these factors, the good news is that the underlying principles remain the same. Below are some of the key methods and strategies that have emerged as common themes across many studies on the relationships between teaching practices and student engagement.
Foster a Culture of Growth, Trust, and Belonging
Part of a student’s engagement in a course is tied to the affective domain of learning, or a student’s thoughts and feelings about their own learning. Does the student feel like they belong in this learning environment? Are they respected by their peers and the instructor? Do they see their instructor as an ally in the learning journey, or as an adversary?
The affective domain also includes students’ feelings of belonging and trust. While the degree to which you can affect these feelings has limitations, evidence-based practices usually boil down to how you interact with students and facilitate interactions between students. A few examples include using a welcoming tone in your syllabus, modelling inclusive language, and taking the time to get to know your students’ names. Even in asynchronous classes it is important to build trust with your students. For example, you might want to consider using a week-one survey to provide your students with an opportunity to tell you about themselves.
Break Up Lectures & Add Opportunities for Active Learning
When there is a lot of content that needs to be disseminated across the duration of the semester, lectures are a common method for communicating that information quickly and efficiently. But the longer and denser the lecture is, the more instructors risk losing their students along the way due to cognitive load.
One solution is to build pause points into your lectures. Students benefit from structured pauses during lectures as it allows them space to question, process, and reflect on the information that they’ve absorbed. For pre-recorded lectures, the same idea can be achieved by breaking up a long lecture video into multiple short, topical videos (research suggests 6-12 minutes is an ideal length for maintaining student engagement). Fortunately, Kaltura (My Media) makes it very easy to trim and save video clips from right within Canvas.
When adding pauses for students to digest information, it is also beneficial to create opportunities for active learning activities. These activities can be very brief, such as using an anonymous polling tool to check for student understanding during a lecture. For more in-depth active learning, consider making time for small group discussions, written reflections, and other exercises that require students to employ higher order thinking skills. For courses with an asynchronous component, PlayPosit allows instructors to add a variety of engagement activities to pre-recorded lecture videos, while Hypothesis may be useful for incorporating annotation and reflection activities into assigned readings.
Provide Transparency and Support
When a student needs to spend a lot of mental energy figuring out the logistics of how to complete an activity, they have less mental energy left to engage with the course materials themselves. Therefore, transparency and scaffolding are both key elements to designing engaging assignments.
The Transparency in Learning and Teaching (TiLT) framework is designed to help instructors write clear and descriptive instructions for learning materials and assignments. For this framework, lay out the task, purpose, and criteria for each learning activity. If a student knows what they are supposed to do, why they are supposed to do it (how it ties to the course learning outcomes), and how they are going to be assessed, they can go into the activity more confident in their ability to engage with it.
It is common for a student to stop engaging with a course if they feel like they don’t have the means or resources to complete the tasks they’ve been assigned. Proper instructional scaffolding can help counter this issue by bridging some of the cognitive gaps and reducing the number of students that fall through the cracks. For example, if the final assignment in your course is an 8-page research paper, consider breaking up the process into several smaller assignments, such as having students submit their topic, bibliography, and outline at various points throughout the semester. Other ways to provide scaffolding this assignment might include modelling (providing examples of papers that meet the outcomes of the assignment), incorporating instructor or peer feedback for the outline or an early draft of the paper, and providing a robust rubric to guide students on how to meet the assignment outcomes.
Engaging students is a broad topic that we are only just able to scratch the surface of in this post. Below are some resources for further reading if you’d like to dive in deeper.
As always, we welcome you to share your ideas for engaging students by dropping a comment below or emailing us at CATL@uwgb.edu. If you’d like to discuss any of these methods or ideas one-on-one, a CATL member would be happy to meet with you for a consultation as well.
If you’ve been teaching for a while, “transparency” is probably a buzzword you’re accustomed to hearing by now. In several CATL resources, we’ve highlighted the Transparency in Learning and Teaching (TiLT) framework, which is designed to help instructors clearly communicate the purpose, task, and criteria of a learning activity. In this article, however, we’ll be covering some other ways you can incorporate transparency in your course, as well as the features built into Canvas that will allow you to do so. In each section we will highlight how these features are beneficial to both you and your students. When students and instructors are on the same page regarding grades, it can alleviate a lot of potential problems and unnecessary stress.
Set Up a Grading Scheme
When you create your syllabus, one of the pieces that you need to include is a grading scale, or how you plan on correlating grade percentages with letter grades. Instructors can generally decide which percentage range to set for each letter grade as long as they use UWGB’s A-AB letter scale; however, some departments or programs may have a set grading scale.
Regardless of what scale you use, it is best practice to set up a grading scheme in Canvas that matches what you have in your syllabus. This will tell Canvas what overall letter grade to display in your Canvas gradebook when a student’s overall score falls within a certain percentage range (e.g., AB: < 92% to 89%).
How it helps students: Setting a grading scheme will give students a better idea of what their overall letter grade in the course is at any point during the semester.
How it helps you: Establishing your grading scheme in Canvas will make it easier to see at a glance how your students are doing in your class, which is helpful for submitting Navigate progress reports. Using a Canvas grading scheme is also a necessary step if you plan on using the “sync to SIS” feature for sending final grades to SIS.
Regularly Enter Grades, Including Work Submitted Outside of Canvas
Most courses have some activities or metrics that factor into grading that don’t include an actual student submission in Canvas, such as participation points or in-class activities. To record these grades in Canvas, you will need to set up no-submission Canvas assignments, which are assignments that create a column in the Canvas gradebook where you can simply enter students’ scores. Though many instructors wait until the end of the semester to enter these scores, updating them on a weekly or biweekly basis will help keep you and your students on track. For recurring points like participation, you may wish to lump together points by week or unit (e.g., create an assignment for “Week 1 Participation,” “Week 2 Participation,” etc.).
How it helps students: Factoring these grades into your course as you go will help students get a more well-rounded picture of where they stand in your class. It also makes the importance of regular participation and attendance more evident to students.
How it helps you: Regularly entering or updating scores for things like participation will prevent the headache of entering them all at the end of the semester. It can also give you a sense if there are students that may need an intervention from a professional advisor due to poor attendance (in these cases, you can issue an hoc Navigate attendance alert for students of concern).
Enter Zeroes for Missing Work
One of the most deceptive parts about grades in Canvas is that, by default, missing work does not negatively impact a student’s overall grade in a Canvas course. When calculating the total grade of a student, Canvas ignores any assignment for which no grade has been entered, regardless of due date. The result of this is that students with missing work may see a grade in Canvas that is artificially inflated. To combat this, you can manually enter zeroes for missing work on a regular basis, but Canvas also has two features that can automate part of the process.
Set a Canvas Late Policy
You can set a late work policy in Canvas so that all missing submissions will be automatically set to “zero” after a due date has passed. If enabled during an active course, it will also retroactively apply “zeroes” to all missing work from past assignments. Note that the late policy only affects assignments in which students need to submit something in Canvas (Canvas quizzes, graded discussions, and assignments with the “online” submission type).
Set Default Score as “Zero”
For individual assignments, including “no submission” and “on paper” assignments, you can set the score of all students without a graded submission to “zero” with just two clicks by setting zero as the assignment’s default grade. This is especially important to do at the end of the semester, but you can do it throughout the semester whenever you have finished grading submissions for an assignment that is past due.
How it helps students: Students will be able to see how their missing work impacts their overall grade, preventing any “gotchas” at the end of the semester where a student finds out their actual grade is much worse than that what Canvas would have them believe.
How it helps you: Before exporting final grades to SIS at the end of the semester, it is crucial that all missing work is set to “zero” to ensure that grades are accurate. Both the “late work policy” feature and the “default grade” feature remove some of the labor of entering those zeroes manually. Using these features will also ensure more accurate midterm grades, should you choose to post them.
While the suggestions above apply to nearly every instructor and course, regardless of pedagogical style or modality, the following features may or may not apply to your own courses.
Set up weighted assignment groups
If you have final grades broken down by weighted percentages in your syllabus, you can set up your gradebook to follow the same weighting scheme with a few extra steps of setup. Start by creating assignment groups and then setting those groups to be weighted based on percentage. By using weighted assignments groups, you can be confident that the way things are weighted in your syllabus matches what’s in your gradebook.
Use Canvas rubrics
Using rubrics to assess student work is a great strategy for grading transparency because it allows students to see exactly what criteria you are assessing them with and what they are expected to do to receive a satisfactory grade. While you can add a rubric as a Word doc to an assignment or discussion description, you can also create your rubrics right in Canvas and use them for grading. You can fill out Canvas rubrics in SpeedGrader to optimize your grading workflow, plus if the rubric has points, Canvas will calculate the point total automatically.
Enter scores for manually graded quiz questions
Many online assessment tools like Canvas quizzes, PlayPosit bulbs, and textbook quizzing integrations have the option of including both auto-graded questions, like multiple-choice, and manually graded questions, like essay questions. The problem arises when a student completes an auto-graded quiz and then sees a score that is artificially lowered only because the instructor has not yet graded some questions. Besides regularly keeping up with grading these types of manually reviewed questions, it might also be helpful to include a note in the assessment description so students are aware that their quiz score will not be accurate until you have had a chance to review and update their scores. If the quiz is tied to a Canvas gradebook column, you can also choose to set the assignment's grades to be manually posted so that students do not see grades until you have had a chance to review them.
You can get 24/7 support from Canvas by live chat, phone, or email by clicking the “Help” button in the Canvas global navigation menu bar on the left side of any page in Canvas. They are the experts on all of these features in Canvas and can help walk you through the steps if you have questions.
As always, CATL is also here to help as well. If you want to discuss the features above or any other strategies for making your grading more transparent, fill out our consultation request form to schedule a meeting with a member of the CATL team.
Faculty and staff from Green Bay, Manitowoc, Marinette, and Sheboygan joined other institutions participating in the Taking Student Success to Scale high-impact practice (HIP) project in an interactive webinar about designing transparent assignments. The session was hosted by Mary-Ann Winkelmes on 4/15/19. More information on Dr. Winkelmes’s work can be found beneath the embedded video.
Transparent instruction is an inclusive, equitable teaching practice that can enhance High Impact Practices by making learning processes explicit and promoting student success equitably. A 2016 AAC&U study (Winkelmes et al.) identifies transparent assignment design as a small, easily replicable teaching intervention that significantly enhances students’ success, with greater gains by historically underserved students. A 2018 study suggests those benefits can boost students’ retention rates for up to two years. In this session we reviewed the findings and examined some sample assignments. Then we applied the research to revising some class activities and assignments. Participants left with a draft assignment or activity for one of their courses, and a concise set of strategies for designing transparent assignments that promote students’ learning equitably.
Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning, CL 405 UW-Green Bay, 2420 Nicolet Drive Green Bay, WI54311-7001