Transparent Design Instruction has the potential to improve student persistence and success.

On Friday, January 31, 2020 I attended an excellent workshop offered by our own NOVA-Loudoun AtD Chair Karen Doheney and CETL Director Nicole Tong.  The subject was Transparent Design in Instruction.  The presenter of the live webinar was Dr. Mary-Ann Winkelmes, Executive Director of Brandeis University’s Center for Teaching and Learning and leader of the TILT (Transparency in Learning and Teaching) project.  Dr. Winkelmes outlined the results of two studies in which faculty across a broad range of minority-serving institutions (two-year, four-year, urban, rural, large, small, etc.) agreed to alter just two assignments they gave during the students’ first year in college to make the purpose, method, and assessment criteria for each of the assignments fully transparent to students.  The instructions for each assignment were altered to flesh out the following:

      1. Purpose of the assignment, including its long-term relevance to students’ lives. What skills will be practiced?  What knowledge will be gained?
      2. The actual task involved:  What to do, how to do it, and what to avoid.
      3. Criteria for success.

For example, one of the sample newly altered assignments in part advised students that, “the purpose of this exercise is for you to struggle and feel confused while you develop your own approach to solving this problem.” Dr. Winkelmes pointed out that this language helped students understand that confusion and struggle were an expected part of the exercise rather than an indicator of their own shortcomings. The results of the studies were very encouraging, especially as applied to first generation students who do not have a family member to help them understand college assignments. Using this approach modify to just two assignments within a student’s first year appeared to increase students’ academic confidence, sense of belonging, metacognitive awareness of skill development, and retention rates into the second and even third year of college.

After learning about this approach, workshop participants took a partner from another teaching discipline and tried applying it to an assignment we might give in class.  Trying that experiment and getting feedback from a partner was one of the most helpful parts of the workshop for me.  in my case, analyzing all the complex skills required to do a deceptively simple assignment I gave to our SGA leaders recently was quite an eye-opener for me.

In addition to Karen Doheney, some other Loudoun folks I spotted at the workshop were Laura Young, Chola Chhetri, and Nelson Kofie.  I hope they got as much out of it as I did.

For more information on Dr. Winkelmes and her work, see this link:

I invite others who have tried these methods to comment here.