Teaching with Transparency

Teaching with transparency is sometimes a surprisingly polarizing concept. On one hand, instructors may feel like they’re “holding student hands,” or taking the magic out of learning by leading students from task to task. On the other hand, other instructors may feel that incorporating transparency practices are essential to work towards removing unequal advantages between students and positioning all students to be as successful as possible in their courses.

But transparent teaching methods just attempt to illustrate to students both how they’re learning and why they’re learning particular concepts. How does a particular aspect of the course assist in learning course concepts? What is the relevance of information to larger course concepts? Teaching with transparency attempts to draw the curtains back on one’s vision for their course throughout that course, the interconnectedness of information, concepts, and activities that support one’s course goals and objectives.

In short, being transparent means providing a clear information about:

  • The purpose of the work students are doing.
  • The task they’re being asked to do.
  • The criteria on which they’ll be evaluated.

“[T]he Transparency Initiative developed from a desire to research a phenomenon that faculty reported anecdotally in a series of pedagogy seminars at Harvard University, the University of Chicago, and the University of Illinois: students’ learning outcomes improved when they understood how and why instructors had structured their learning experiences in particular ways” (Winkelmes 2013). Prior research on metacognition demonstrated that students learn more and retain that learning longer when they have an awareness of and some control over how they are learning (Cohen 1980; Dunlosky and Metcalfe 20009; Francis, Adams, and Noonan 1998; Light 1990; Nelson and Dunlosky 1991; Perry, Hall, and Ruthig 2007). Research also suggests that training students to understand how to have more agency in their learning increases their academic success (Perry, Hall, and Ruthig 2007; Gynnald, Holstad and Myrhaug 2008), and that monitoring students’ understanding of their learning can enrich assessment practice (Micari et al. 2007)

The TILT (Transparency in Learning and Teaching) project grew out of the desire to create and provide a framework for incorporating transparent teaching practices. In addition to providing a template for assignment design, the TILT project site provides disciplinary examples, methods for incorporating student voices in transparent assignment design, checklists, cues, and application strategies.