Small changes make for big impacts (Teaching Tip)

Transparency in Learning and Teaching (TILT) is a small teaching strategy that has a big impact on student learning. Simply explaining to students why you are having them do particular activities, such as group projects, homework, and exams can help elucidate to students the value and purpose of the course work. This, in turn, can positively impact students’ motivation to complete assignments as well as promote students’ conscious understanding of how they learn.

A transparent assignment makes the purposetasks, and evaluation criteria clear so that your students have a good idea of what they should do before they begin working on the assignment. Imagine an assignment from a communications course in which students are asked to:

“Select a professional in your academic discipline that is considered an expert in your area. Conduct the interview and submit the typed transcript.”

Even the most experienced communications professional might struggle to find clarity in this assignment. Consider instead revising the assignment to include a clear purpose statement such as the purpose of this assignment is to help you make an informed decision about the major that you are considering. Further, you could provide an explanation of the skills the students will acquire:

This assignment will help you practice the following skills that are essential to your success in school and your professional life:

  • Accessing and collecting information from appropriate primary and secondary sources
  • Synthesizing information to develop informed views
  • Composing a well-organized, clear report to expand your knowledge on a subject in your major.

By including well-defined purposes (as well as tasks and criteria to achieve mastery) students can focus on the assignment, rather than figuring out how to do it.

For additional insight into employing small teaching strategies to achieve a big impact on student learning, consider joining CELT’s Faculty Fellow Monica Lamm as she leads the CELT Teaching and Learning Circle on the M. Winkelmes et al. 2019 book: Transparent Design in Higher Education Teaching and Leadership.

With a joy for teaching,

Sara Marcketti, Director
Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching


Reference: Winkelmes, M., A. Boye, and S. Tapp (2019). Transparent Design in Higher Education Teaching and Leadership (1st ed.). Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing, LLC.