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Transparent Assignment Design

When we communicate how and why students are learning course content in certain ways, we are being transparent about the methods we use for teaching and learning. The goal of Transparent Assignment Design is to “to make learning processes explicit and equally accessible for all students” (Winkelmes et al., 2019, p. 1). This involves sharing three critical pieces of information with students:

Purpose : Describe why students are completing an assignment and what knowledge and skills they will gain from this experience. Additionally, explain how this knowledge and skill set are relevant and will help the students in the future.

Task : Explain the steps students will take to complete the assignment.

Criteria and Examples : Show the students what successful submissions look like (e.g., provide a checklist or rubric and real-world examples).

The figure below illustrates an example of an assignment that has incorporated Transparent Assignment Design.

Transparent_Assignment_Design_Example

Additional examples in a variety of disciplines can be found on the TILT Higher Ed website.

Providing a full picture of a specific assignment, complete with the purpose, task, and criteria and examples, can equip students to do their best work. Research shows that Transparent Assignment Design benefits learning for all students, but it is especially beneficial to students in traditionally underrepresented groups, such as those who are non-white, low-income, first-generation, or struggling with general college success. In a 2014-2016 Association of American Colleges & Universities study, students self-reported an increase in academic confidence, sense of belonging, and acquisition of employer-valued skills in courses that were considered more transparent (Winkelmes et al., 2016).

CATLR Tips:

  • Start with an informative title! The title should give students a preview of the purpose of the assignment. For example, an assignment title such as “Scientific Evidence” can be renamed “Evaluating Posters for Scientific Evidence.”
  • Indicate the due date (date and time, including time zone) and how the students should submit (e.g., through the Assignments section on Canvas).
  • Prior to distributing an assignment to students, ask a colleague to review it. Specifically, ask if they can identify the purpose, task, and criteria.
  • Provide multiple examples that illustrate successful submissions in order to avoid students thinking there is one “correct” way to complete the assignment.

References:

Transparency in Learning and Teaching (TILT) Higher Ed. (n.d.). TILT higher ed examples and resources. https://tilthighered.com/tiltexamplesandresources

Winkelmes, M. A., Bernacki, M., Butler, J., Zochowski, M., Golanics, J., & Weavil, K. H. (2016). A teaching intervention that increases underserved college students’ success.  Peer Review ,  18 (1/2), 31-36.

Winkelmes, M. A., Boye, A., & Tapp, S. (2019). Transparent design in higher education teaching and leadership: A guide to implementing the transparency framework institution-wide to improve learning and retention.  Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.

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Transparent Assignment Design

The goal of Transparent Assignment Design is to “to make learning processes explicit and equally accessible for all students” (Winkelmes et al., 2019, p. 1). The development of a transparent assignment involves providing students with clarity on the purpose of the assignment, the tasks required, and criteria for success as shown in the figure below. The inclusion of these elements as well as the provision of examples can be beneficial in enabling your students to do their best work!

transparent design example

Example A: Sociology 

Example B: Science 101 

Example C: Psychology

Example D: Communications

Authors of Examples A-D describe the outcomes of their assignment revisions

Example E: Biology

Discussion Questions (about Examples A-E)

Example F: Library research Assignment

Example G: Criminal Justice In-Class activity

Example H: Criminal Justice Assignment

Example I: Political Science Assignment

Example J: Criteria for Math Writing

Example K – Environmental History

Example L – Calculus

Example M – Algebra

Example N – Finance

Transparent Assignments Promote Equitable Opportunities for Students’ Success Video Recording

Transparent Assignment Design Faculty Workshop Video Recording

  • Transparent Assignment Template  for instructors (Word Document download)
  • Checklist for Designing Transparent Assignments
  • Assignment Cues  to use when designing an assignment (adapted from Bloom’s Taxonomy) for faculty
  • Transparent Equitable Learning Readiness Assessment for Teachers
  • Transparent Assignment Template for students  (to help students learn to parse assignments also to frame a conversation to gather feedback from your students about how to make assignments more transparent and relevant for them)
  • Measuring Transparency: A Learning-focused Assignment Rubric  (Palmer, M., Gravett, E., LaFleur, J.)
  • Transparent Equitable Learning Framework for Students  (to frame a conversation with students about how to make the purposes, tasks and criteria for class activities transparent and relevant for them)
  • Howard, Tiffiany, Mary-Ann Winkelmes, and Marya Shegog. “ Transparency Teaching  in the Virtual Classroom: Assessing the Opportunities and Challenges of Integrating Transparency Teaching Methods with Online Learning.” Journal of Political Science Education, June 2019.
  • Ou, J. (2018, June), Board 75 :  Work in Progress: A Study of Transparent Assignments and Their Impact on Students in an Introductory Circuit Course  Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah.
  • Palmer, M. S., Gravett, E. O., & LaFleur, J. (2018).  Measuring transparency: A learning‐focused assignment rubric.  To Improve the Academy, 37(2), 173-187. doi:10.1002/tia2.20083
  • Winkelmes, M., Allison Boye and Suzanne Tapp, ed.s. (2019).  Transparent Design in Higher Education Teaching and Leadership. Stylus Publishing.
  • Humphreys, K., Winkelmes, M.A., Gianoutsos, D., Mendenhall, A., Fields, L.A., Farrar, E., Bowles-Terry, M., Juneau-Butler, G., Sully, G., Gittens, S. Cheek, D. (forthcoming 2018). Campus-wide Collaboration on Transparency in Faculty Development at a Minority-Serving Research University. In Winkelmes, Boye, Tapp, (Eds.),  Transparent Design in Higher Education Teaching and Leadership.
  • Copeland, D.E., Winkelmes, M., & Gunawan, K. (2018).  Helping students by using transparent writing assignments.  In T.L. Kuther (Ed.), Integrating Writing into the College Classroom: Strategies for Promoting Student Skills, 26-37. Retrieved from the  Society for the Teaching of Psychology website.
  • Winkelmes, Mary-Ann, Matthew Bernacki, Jeffrey Butler, Michelle Zochowski, Jennifer Golanics, and Kathryn Harriss Weavil. “A Teaching Intervention that Increases Underserved College Students’ Success.”Peer Review (Winter/Spring 2016).
  • Transparency and Problem-Centered Learning. (Winter/Spring 2016) Peer Review vol.18, no. 1/2.b
  • Winkelmes, Mary-Ann.  Small Teaching Changes, Big Learning Benefits.”  ACUE Community ‘Q’ Blog, December, 2016.
  • Winkelmes, Mary-Ann.  “Helping Faculty Use Assessment Data to Provide More Equitable Learning Experiences.”  NILOA Guest Viewpoints. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois and Indiana University, National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment, March 17, 2016.
  • Gianoutsos, Daniel, and Mary-Ann Winkelmes.“Navigating with Transparency: Enhancing Underserved Student Success through Transparent Learning and Teaching in the Classroom and Beyond.” Proceedings of the Pennsylvania Association of Developmental Educators (Spring 2016).
  • Sodoma, Brian.“The End of Busy Work.” UNLV Magazine 24,1 (Spring 2016): 16-19.
  • Cook, Lisa and Daniel Fusch.  One Easy Way Faculty Can Improve Student Success.”  Academic Impressions (March 10, 2016).
  • Head, Alison and Kirsten Hosteller.  “Mary-Ann Winkelmes: Transparency in Teaching and Learning,”  Project Information Literacy, Smart Talk Interview, no. 25.  Creative Commons License 3.0 :  2 September 2015.
  • Winkelmes, Mary-Ann, et al. David E. Copeland, Ed Jorgensen, Alison Sloat, Anna Smedley, Peter Pizor, Katharine Johnson, and Sharon Jalene.  “Benefits (some unexpected) of Transparent Assignment Design.”   National Teaching and Learning Forum, 24, 4 (May 2015), 4-6.
  • Winkelmes, Mary-Ann.  “Equity of Access and Equity of Experience in Higher Education.”  National Teaching and Learning Forum, 24, 2 (February 2015), 1-4.
  • Cohen, Dov, Emily Kim, Jacinth Tan, Mary-Ann Winkelmes, “A Note-Restructuring Intervention Increases Students’ Exam Scores.”  College Teaching vol. 61, no. 3 (2013): 95-99.
  • Winkelmes, Mary-Ann.”Transparency in Teaching: Faculty Share Data and Improve Students’ Learning.” Liberal Education Association of American Colleges and Universities (Spring 2013).
  • Winkelmes, Mary-Ann.  “Transparency in Learning and Teaching: Faculty and students benefit directly from a shared focus on learning and teaching processes.”   NEA Higher Education Advocate (January 2013): 6 – 9.
  • Bhavsar, Victoria Mundy. (2020). A Transparent Assignment to Encourage Reading for a Flipped Course, College Teaching, 68:1, 33-44, DOI:  10.1080/87567555.2019.1696740
  • Bowles-Terry, Melissa, John C. Watts, Pat Hawthorne, and Patricia Iannuzzi. “ Collaborating with Teaching Faculty on Transparent Assignment Design .” In Creative Instructional Design: Practical Applications for Librarians, edited by Brandon K. West, Kimberly D. Hoffman, and Michelle Costello, 291–311. Atlanta: American Library Association, 2017.
  • Leuzinger, Ryne and Grallo, Jacqui, “ Reaching First- Generation and Underrepresented Students through Transparent Assignment Design .” (2019). Library Faculty Publications and Presentations. 11.  https://digitalcommons.csumb.edu/lib_fac/11
  • Fuchs, Beth, “ Pointing a Telescope Toward the Night Sky: Transparency and Intentionality as Teaching Techniques ” (2018). Library Presentations. 188.  https://uknowledge.uky.edu/libraries_present/188
  • Ferarri, Franca; Salis, Andreas; Stroumbakis, Kostas; Traver, Amy; and Zhelecheva, Tanya, “ Transparent Problem-Based Learning Across the Disciplines in the Community College Context: Issues and Impacts ” (2015).NERA Conference Proceedings 2015. 9.  https://opencommons.uconn.edu/nera-2015/9
  • Milman, Natalie B.  Tips for Success: The Online Instructor’s (Short) Guide to Making Assignment Descriptions More Transparent . Distance Learning. Greenwich  Vol. 15, Iss. 4,  (2018): 65-67. 3
  • Winkelmes, M. (2023).  Introduction to Transparency in Learning and Teaching.  Perspectives In Learning, 20 (1). Retrieved from  https://csuepress.columbusstate.edu/pil/vol20/iss1/2
  • Brown, J., et al. (2023). Perspectives in Learning: TILT Special Issue, 20 (1). Retrieved from  https://csuepress.columbusstate.edu/pil/vol20/iss1/
  • Winkelmes, M. (2022). “Assessment in Class Meetings: Transparency Reduces Systemic Inequities.” In Henning, G. W., Jankowski, N. A., Montenegro, E., Baker, G. R., & Lundquist, A. E. (Eds.). (2022). Reframing Assessment to Center Equity: Theories, Models, and Practices. Stylus Publishing, LLC.

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Constructivism

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Transparency in Learning and Teaching (TILT)

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Table of Contents

How to practice tilt, examples of transparent teaching methods, transparent assignment design, advantages of using tilt.

  • Disadvantages of using TILT

Further Training

References & resources.

Transparency in Learning and Teaching or TILT refers to a teaching style that (1) clarifies to students the instructor’s choices for lesson plans and (2) specifies how those choices relate to course goals (The Journal of Effective Teaching p. 38) and aims to improve the quality of Higher Ed experience for both students and faculty.

The research demonstrates that when students are exposed to transparent assignments, they gain academic confidence, a sense of belonging and employability skills. TILT moves away from the “what” of teaching to the “how” and “why” of teaching. Research on metacognition has demonstrated that students learn more and retain that learning longer when they have an awareness of why they are learning something and have control over how they are learning. Giving students more agency in the process of learning increases academic success and monitoring this success through collecting data and analyzing this data can enrich academic practice. Transparent teaching methods help students understand how and why they are learning course content in a particular way and how that learning will be useful to solve real world problems.

When it comes to learning, most students have no idea why instructors choose certain course content, activities, and assignments. TILT is an effective teaching strategy that is based on explaining to students “why” they will be doing specific activities. When students are involved in the learning process and know why they are doing something in a course, it motivates them and increases their confidence in their learning. The easiest way to TILT an assignment, course content, or activity is to:

  • Explain the purpose of the assignment. What does it teach? Why is it relevant?
  • Describe the task in some detail. Provide examples with annotations, if possible.
  • Explain the criteria for grading. A rubric is great! Encourage self-assessment and peer assessment.
  • Discuss assignments’ learning goals and design rationale before students begin each assignment: Before each assignment, chart out the skills students will practice for that assignment, define the learning benefits to students, provide the criteria for success in advance and offer examples of successful work and annotate them to indicate how criteria apply.
  • Invite students to participate in class planning and agenda construction: Give students an advanced agenda at least a couple of days before class and ask them to identify related subtopics, examples or application they wish to learn about. At the outset of each class, review the agenda and at the end evaluate the progress made.
  • Gauge students’ understanding during class via peer work on questions that require students to apply the concepts you’ve taught: Create scenarios to test understanding of key concepts and allow discussion in pairs, provide feedback and explicit assessment of students’ understanding before moving to the next concept.
  • Explicitly connect “how people learn” data with course activities when students struggle at difficult transition points: Offer research-based explanations and examples about concepts or tasks students often struggle to master in your discipline.
  • Engage students in applying the grading criteria that you will use to grade their work: Share criteria for success and examples of good work and encourage students to apply these criteria in written feedback for their peers’ work.
  • Debrief graded tests and assignments in class: Help students identify patterns in their graded work and let them review changes or revisions that they made and whether these resulted in improvements or not. Ask students to record steps used for completing assignments and to analyze which parts of the process were efficient, effective, or ineffective.
  • Offer running commentary of class discussions to indicate what modes of thought or disciplinary methods are in use: During a discussion, identify the types of questioning and thinking skills students use, and engage students in evaluating which types of thinking and questioning skills are most effective for addressing the issues in class discussions. Invite students to describe the steps in their thought process for addressing and solving problems.

TILT, when paired with other incremental changes in the course, can be a powerful tool that supports student learning experiences. Stating the assignment’s purpose, task, and criteria and incorporating these simple, but powerful, elements can help make assignments more transparent for students.

  • Purpose: Describe why students are completing an assignment and what knowledge and skills they will gain from this experience. Additionally, explain how this knowledge and skill set are relevant and will help the students in the future (e.g., relevance to students’ major, lives, employment).
  • Task: Explain what students will do to complete the assignment and how to do it (e.g., steps to follow, things to avoid).
  • Criteria: Show the students in advance what successful submissions look like (e.g., provide annotated examples and a checklist or rubric so students can self-evaluate).

Watch Dr. Winklemes explain this in the short video below:

Mary-Ann Winklemes: TILT Template Explanation

  • The TILT method removes common barriers of participation for students such as resistance to new content, lack of control, and lack of expertise which proves beneficial for instructors to gauge class participation and understanding.
  • Instructors can gather information about their students and respond to the findings in the next semester. If gathered early on, these finding may also benefit the same semester and improve student performance in later assignments and participation levels.
  • Because TILT in Higher Ed encourages the collection of data (by using the Transparency survey ) from each class and sharing this data between institutions across countries, instructors everywhere can benefit from the findings by adopting best practices in transparent methods that have been most effective for enhancing students’ learning in similar courses.
  • Benefits diverse student groups: Non-Caucasian students reported greater gains in academic self-confidence and responded more positively when instructors involved them in developing agendas for class meeting and activities.

Dr. Winklemes explains Transparent Instruction and its impact on learning:

Disadvantages of using TILT 

  • Some research has shown that sometimes students do not perceive transparency as a productive use of class time because they are used to a teaching relationship in which instructors do not explain the reasoning behind their lesson plans. For someone who is accustomed to learning in this manner, transparency methods may seem strange. However, explaining how TILT may benefit students, might help.
  • Some students’ experience and skill levels might make them feel that by being transparent, the instructor is insulting their intelligence by not acknowledging their ability to discover the logic behind the lesson plan and its connection to the learning outcomes. Sometimes students in a single course may vary in academic levels and in such cases, instructors might need to set expectations for the class so that experienced students do not feel insulted or belittled because of transparency.

Transparency can be managed according to each instructor’s preference. However, instructors who transparently connect their activities to overall learning outcomes and course goals from the beginning of the course will avoid negative responses previously discussed. Transparency in Learning and Teaching is a valuable method and worthwhile for instructors to consider when conceptualizing their course strategies. Transparent framework helps in transforming assignments and activities to makes them clear and understandable. It bridges the gap between instructor’s expectation of the outcome and students understanding of the assignment and its learning outcome.  Transparent teaching methods help students understand how and why they are learning course content in a particular way and promotes students’ conscious understanding of how they learn. 

Online Course Design Workshop

Online Course Facilitation Program

TILT Resources & Examples

Universal Design for Learning

Active Learning

Equity Minded Teaching

Metacognition Teaching Strategies

Navigating Courageous Conversations

Anderson, A. D., Hunt, A. N., Powell, R. E., & Dollar, C. B. (2013). Student perceptions of teaching transparency. The Journal of Effective Teaching, 13(2): 38-47. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1092137.pdf

Faculty Development. (n.d.). Teach with transparency. California State University. https://www.csun.edu/undergraduate-studies/faculty-development/teach-transparency

Innovations in Learning Center. Transparency in learning and teaching. University of South Alabama. https://www.southalabama.edu/departments/ilc/transparent_assignments.html

North Seattle College (n.d.). Overview of transparency in learning and teaching (TILT). https://canvas.northseattle.edu/courses/1734110/pages/overview-of-transparency-in-learning-and-teaching-tilt

Polk, R., O’Brien, S. P., Carpenter, R., & Williams, L., (2019). Situating transparency in learning & teaching: Introduction to the 2019 proceedings. Pedagogicon Conference Proceedings. https://encompass.eku.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1019&context=pedagogicon

University Center for Excellence in Teaching. (n.d.). Transparency in Learning & Teaching (TILT). Indiana University. https://iu.instructure.com/courses/1540449/pages/transparency-in-learning-and-teaching-tilt

Winkelmas, M. (2013). Transparency in teaching: Faculty share data and improve students’ learning. Liberal Education, 99(2). https://www.aacu.org/publications-research/periodicals/transparency-teaching-faculty-share-data-and-improve-students

Winkelmes, M. (2014). Transparency in learning and teaching project. TILT Higher Ed. https://tilthighered.com/transparency

Winkelmes, M., Bernacki, M., Butler, J., Zochowski, M., Golanics, J., & Weavil, K. H. (2016). A teaching intervention that increases underserved college students’ success. Peer Review, 18(1). https://cte.ku.edu/sites/cte.ku.edu/files/docs/Branding/Winkelmes%20et%20al%202016%20Transparency%20and%20Underserved%20Students.pdf

WSU Office of Assessment for Curricular Effectiveness. (n.d.). Quick guide to transparent assignment design [PDF]. https://ace.wsu.edu/documents/2018/04/transparent-assignment-design-quick-guide.pdf/

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16 Transparent assignment design

Instructor Julie Kedzie writing on a whiteboard.

Transparent assignment design is a component of the Transparency in Learning and Teaching ( TILT ) framework that aims to make learning and assessment more explicit for students. Studies show that conveying the purpose, task, and criteria of assignments helps students meet the assignment’s expectations and increases academic performance (Winkelmes, 2016). Transparently designed educational experiences enhance learning for all students, increasing their academic achievement, sense of belonging, and graduation and retention rates, especially for underserved student populations (Winkelmes, 2016).

To effectively implement this strategy into your course, you can start by stating the purpose, task, and criteria of learning experiences (e.g., an assignment, office hours, group work activity, or a final exam). This method has shown significant results even after modifying only two assignments in a course.

Purpose: The purpose section clearly states the assignment’s learning objectives and connects them to the broader course context and to critical skills and knowledge that students will gain or develop through this experience. In the transparent assignment template, Mary-Ann Winkelmes suggests these phrases: “The purpose of this assignment is to help you practice the following skills that are essential to your success in this course / in school / in this field / in professional life beyond school …” and “This assignment will also help you to become familiar with the following important content knowledge in this discipline …” (Winkelmes, 2013).

Task: In the task section, share concrete steps students should take to perform this activity. You can also discuss potential mistakes students should avoid. If figuring out the process is a part of a task, you could explicitly state that: “The purpose of this assignment is for you to struggle and feel confused while you invent and test your own approach for addressing the problem.” (Winkelmes, 2013).

Criteria for success: In the criteria section, describe the characteristics of the finished assignment and share multiple examples of presenting the result. Share rubrics, evaluation guidelines, and principles. Understanding assignment criteria helps nurture students’ self-assessment skills.

To make your assignments more transparent, consult the TILT checklist,   template , and  rubric  to measure transparency. We also encourage you to participate in our  asynchronous self-paced  Transparent Course Design Workshop .  

The Center for Teaching staff also offer partnership for instructors who would like to produce research on the efficacy of their assignment design. Please see the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) program web pages for more information on developing and conducting SoTL.

💡 Draft a transparent assignment:

Choose a major assignment or a learning activity you would like to introduce to your students during the first days of your course. Formulate its purpose, task, and criteria. Write out and format this assignment as you would for your students. This part should look like an artifact (e.g., a handout or a presentation slide) you could use in your class.

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Designing Transparent Assignments

Transparent Design is a model of designing and presenting course assessments that maximizes clarity and equity while avoiding unspoken expectations. This widely studied model has been shown to improve student outcomes related to course success, confidence, and retention, especially for students from marginalized backgrounds.

Just as Universal Design for Learning focuses on accessibility as a default, Transparent Design emphasizes removing barriers to understanding how to succeed on an assignment by default. While these strategies are particularly useful for equity, they help everyone.

Transparent Design is most effective for non-test assessments such as projects, papers, labs, reflections, and the like. However, the spirit of Transparent Design can also make your tests, exams, and even your syllabus more useful and understandable for students.

Learn more about the advantages of Transparent Design at Champlain College:

Basic Principles

Transparent Design assumes that in order to be successful on an assignment, students need to understand three things:

  • What has this got to do with what we’re learning, and how is it going to fit into mastering what I need to know or be able to do? Why should I care?
  • What exactly do I need to do to be successful? What am I producing?
  • How will I be evaluated and how will that affect my performance in the class as a whole?

In the Transparent Design model, these three things are often referred to as Purpose, Task, and Criteria.

How to Create a Transparent Assignment

The CLT sometimes sees assignment descriptions that have a lot of prompting thoughts but no actual instructions . We also see rubrics that are only tangentially related to the most time-consuming or useful parts of an assignment. In cases like these, the faculty member does not yet know what they want students to do and how they will assess it.

To be able to create a transparent assignment, you first need to know what you are asking students to do and why. Consider these questions:

  • What outcomes does this assess?
  • What exactly do you want students to produce? How will that demonstrate the outcomes?
  • How does it fit into the broader scope of the course? (Consider connections to past and future assessments, scaffolding, and content.)
  • How are you going to evaluate it?
  • How much work is it going to take students to successfully complete it, and is that workload appropriate for the assignment’s significance in the course?

Not all of those questions are about Purpose, Task, and Criteria, but they provide information that’s necessary for you to make sure you are designing the assessment you think you’re designing. To go to the next step — writing a transparent description — you need to be clear for yourself about what the assignment is. (This also makes grading much easier and fairer.)

How to Write a Transparent Assignment Description

The easiest way to create a transparent assignment description is simply to follow the outline of Purpose, Task, and Criteria.

Purpose should be a two to three sentence explanation, in plain language, of how the assessment fits into the course so far and where your students are headed as learners. It does not have to be complicated. Some examples:

  • “In this course so far, we have discussed several case studies of religious activism, using theories of religion and public space to help us understand them. Religious activism is constantly evolving, so in this assignment, you will identify a recent example that’s interesting to you and apply the analytical process we’ve used in our class discussions to it.”
  • “In this week’s reading, you encountered new terminology related to the legal concept of torts. This concept is foundational for understanding civil law throughout the rest of the course. This homework asks you to explore those terms in more depth, by both explaining them and identifying real-life examples.”
  • “Our lecture on Monday covered the basics of the physics of motion. In this assignment, you will practice calculating velocity using physical objects (for which you’ll be given some basic information) and a stopwatch. The differences between the objects and how they behave will be important when we talk about air resistance on Thursday.”

If you have scaffolded assignments, this is an opportunity to make it clear how they build on each other.

Task is usually the longest part of the assessment description. It should tell students very clearly what they need to do. (The depth of these instructions might vary depending on your discipline, the students’ existing expertise, how unusual the assessment method is, or other factors.) Your task section should include:

  • What the students are expected to produce and the parameters of the thing (for example, an essay of 750-850 words, typed, double-spaced, written without use of AI)
  • What question(s) they should answer, what problem(s) they should solve, or what they should create
  • In some cases, the steps they should take to get there
  • The due date (here or in the Criteria section)

Here are some examples, one for a simple, low-stakes assessment, and one for a more complex, summative assessment:

  • Law class homework assignment (Champlain login required)
  • Humanities essay assignment (Champlain login required)

Criteria is a clear explanation of how students will be evaluated. That includes

  • The point value
  • Optionally, the impact of that value on the final grade
  • When it is due and what happens if it is late
  • A breakdown of the value of different parts of the task

The “gold standard” of transparently expressing criteria is a rubric, but creating a rubric in advance is not always feasible or appropriate for a given assignment. It is fine to simply note how points will be allotted, as in the examples above.

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Assignment Design Using the Transparency in Learning and Teaching (TILT) Framework

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Image credit: Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

To understand the Transparency in Learning and Teaching (TILT) framework for assignment design and offer guidelines to implement or tilt existing assignments.

What is Transparency in Learning and Teaching (TILT)?

Faculty teach more than the content of their course. Teaching also entails communicating with students about how they learn and why they learn in particular ways, components that may not be clear, or transparent, to all students at first. Transparent learning and teaching methods explicitly focus on how and why students are learning course content in particular ways, and how they’ll use what they learned in their lives after college. 

Why Design Assignments Transparently, or, Why TILT

Transparently designed assignments can offer equitable opportunities for all college students to succeed. In two related studies conducted by Mary-Anne Wilkelmes, Tia Brown McNair, and Ashley Finley, faculty at participating institutions were asked to list the challenges or barriers that students faced in their educational experience at college (Winkelmes et al., 2016, Winkelmes et al., 2015). Among them, faculty reported that students faced challenges in four areas: preparation (expectations, lack of research skills, inability to see connection to prior knowledge, etc.), time management (underestimating time required, little planning experience, procrastination, etc.), motivation (feeling overwhelmed, anxiety, low self-confidence, and reluctance to ask for help), and access to resources (not knowing how to get help, not having enough time outside of class to seek help). Students who took courses with at least two transparently designed assignments in their first year showed increased academic confidence and sense of belonging in college, and metacognitive awareness of skill development compared to their peers in courses without transparently designed assignments. Additionally, the students were more likely to re-enroll for their sophomore and junior years, increasing persistence in college. 

The simple and small adjustment to teaching that transparent design advocates for is captured in the acronym TILT (Winkelmes, 2019). This tilt is an easily adopted change that can have a large impact on student success, especially first-generation, low-income, and racially underrepresented students. Because students walk into classes with varying degrees of preparation, the key to being more transparent is to learn to see your classroom from each student’s vantage point (Yong, 2017). What challenges might a student face that are not related to the objective of the assignment and where can they go for help in this case? Adopting the TILT framework in course assignments is one way to complement college-wide efforts at inclusion and student success with simple and effective modifications to existing assignments.

How to Design an Assignment Transparently

Transparently designed assignments state the purpose of the activity in terms of knowledge and skills, list the tasks or steps students will have to undertake to complete the assignment, and explain the criteria for successful completion. The following questions are adapted from the “Transparent Equitable Learning Readiness Assessment for Teachers” (Wilkelmes, 2020) and the “Transparent Assignment Template” (Wilkelmes, 2013).

Refers to the long-term relevance to students’ lives in relation to stated learning outcomes.

What knowledge will students gain? 

  • How will you define the specific pieces of content knowledge that students will gain or practice from this assignment
  • How will you link this portion of course content knowledge to the larger context of: recent topics in class sessions, this unit or course module, the whole course, the major/discipline, institutional learning outcomes?
  • How will you demonstrate the relevance and/or usefulness of the knowledge from this assignment to the students’ lives beyond the course, major, or college?

What skills will students practice?

  • If students will practice a specific skill for the assignment, how will you define that skill? 
  • How will you link that particular skill to examples/contexts where this skill is important in the context of: recent class sessions, this particular course module, the whole course, the major or discipline, institutional learning outcomes? 
  • How will you demonstrate the relevance and/or usefulness of this skill to students’ lives beyond this course, the major, or college?

The purpose section can be formulated in the following manner: 

Refer to the resource on taxonomies to describe the cognitive processes (e.g. recalling, summarizing, critiquing, etc.) outlined in the purpose section.

Refers to what activities the student should do/perform to complete the assignment. Note that for assignments where how to solve a problem or create a solution, performance, or other, is part of the task, adding a statement that explicitly states this purpose can help. For instance, a statement such as “the purpose of this assignment is for you to struggle and feel confused while you invent your own process to solve the question” will let the student know that confusion and perhaps a lack of clarity are actually part of the task and that the instructor made this decision intentionally.

  • What will students do?
  • How should they do it? (steps to follow/avoid).
  • Does your description identify a sequence of action?
  • Does your description help students avoid wasting time on unnecessary or unhelpful behavior? 
  • Does your description help students focus their time efficiently on understanding and applying what they are learning?

Refers to the characteristics of the finished product. The TILT framework encourages faculty to provide multiple examples of what these characteristics look like in real-world practice to encourage students’ creativity and reduce their incentive to copy any one example too closely. 

  • Checklist or rubric distributed in advance (so students can self-evaluate)
  • What does excellence look like? (for example, several annotated examples, multiple ways to accomplish excellence)
  • Can you offer students useful criteria for their understanding and learning behaviors so they can know whether they are learning effectively?
  • Can you provide opportunities and guidelines for students to check their understanding such as several annotated examples, multiple ways of accomplishing excellence in this assignment?
  • What is your own standard for students’ achievement? How well must all students understand and apply the concepts and skills to succeed?

View examples of less transparently designed assignments and their transformation to more transparently designed assignments for a Sociology class and a Biology class. For other disciplinary examples of assignments which use the TILT framework visit TILT Higher Ed Examples and Resources (scroll down to “Example Assignments” (more and less transparent section). 

Faculty members interested in receiving feedback on their assignments can contact CITLS to schedule a feedback session with our student fellows trained in the TILT framework. 

How to Introduce a Transparently Designed Assignment to Students

Faculty members who wish to introduce a transparently designed assignment into their courses should discuss the particular purpose (skills and knowledge), specific tasks (steps), and criteria (metric for success) for the assignment with students before they begin to do any work. Discussing the assignment in advance will provide an opportunity to address any questions that might arise and will maximize the time students spend engaging in the task. It will also serve to streamline the assessment portion of the assignment. Faculty members can also contact CITLS to receive feedback on assignments from our student fellows trained in the TILT framework. 

Wilkemes, M.A. 2020. Transparent Equitable Learning Readiness Assessment for Teachers. TILT Higher Ed. 

—. 2013. Transparent Assignment Template . TILT Higher Ed. 

Winkelmes, M.A., Bernacki, M., Butler, J., Zochowski, M., Golanics, J., Harris Weavil, K. 2016. A Teaching Intervention that Increases Underserved College Students’ Success . Peer Review 18 (1). 

Winkelmes. M.A., Copeland, D.E., Jorgensen, E., Sloat, A., Smedley, A., Pizor, P., … Jalene, S. 2015. Benefits (some unexpected) of transparently designed assignments . The National Teaching and Learning Forum, 24 (4), 4-7.

Yong, D. 2017. How Transparency Improves Learning . Teaching Tidbits (Mathematical Association of America blog).

Home › Resources › Transparent Assignment Design

Transparent Assignment Design

Transparent design principles encourage instructors to reflect on how and why they are teaching specific subjects and, more importantly, to communicate these choices to their students. In this way, transparent assignment design promotes metacognition, or students’ conscious awareness of the learning process. This type of assignment design is sometimes referred to as “Transparency in Teaching and Learning” ( TILT ), and the framework asks instructors to explicitly state and explain the following categories: 

  • Purpose. What skills or knowledge will students gain from completing this assignment, and how is it relevant to their education outside of your specific class/context?
  • Task. Detail the steps needed to successfully complete the assignment or activity. Ask yourself whether you are assuming any prior knowledge of your students, or if you have adequately conveyed all parts of the task at hand. You could compose your task as a narrative, a set of bullet point instructions, etc.
  • Criteria for Success.  Provide an overview of your assessment expectations. What does a successful version of this assignment look like to you, as the instructor? This might take the form of a rubric (particularly one that students can use to self-evaluate their work along the way) or an example/model of the assignment (use student examples when possible so that students learn from their peers and are not asked to compare their work to exemplary models written by experts in the field).

For more resources, see our Transparent Assignment Design workshop page. 

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AI Teaching Strategies: Transparent Assignment Design

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The rise of generative artificial intelligence (AI) tools like ChatGPT, Google Bard, and Jasper Chat raises many questions about the ways we teach and the ways students learn. While some of these questions concern how we can use AI to accomplish learning goals and whether or not that is advisable, others relate to how we can facilitate critical analysis of AI itself. 

The wide variety of questions about AI and the rapidly changing landscape of available tools can make it hard for educators to know where to start when designing an assignment. When confronted with new technologies—and the new teaching challenges they present—we can often turn to existing evidence-based practices for the guidance we seek.

This guide will apply the Transparency in Learning and Teaching (TILT) framework to "un-complicate" planning an assignment that uses AI, providing guiding questions for you to consider along the way. 

The result should be an assignment that supports you and your students to approach the use of AI in a more thoughtful, productive, and ethical manner.    

Plan your assignment.

The TILT framework offers a straightforward approach to assignment design that has been shown to improve academic confidence and success, sense of belonging, and metacognitive awareness by making the learning process clear to students (Winkelmes et al., 2016). The TILT process centers around deciding—and then communicating—three key components of your assignment: 1) purpose, 2) tasks, and 3) criteria for success. 

Step 1: Define your purpose.

To make effective use of any new technology, it is important to reflect on our reasons for incorporating it into our courses. In the first step of TILT, we think about what we want students to gain from an assignment and how we will communicate that purpose to students.

The  SAMR model , a useful tool for thinking about educational technology use in our courses, lays out four tiers of technology integration. The tiers, roughly in order of their sophistication and transformative power, are S ubstitution, A ugmentation, M odification, and R edefinition. Each tier may suggest different approaches to consider when integrating AI into teaching and learning activities. 

For full text of this image, see transcript linked in caption.

Questions to consider:

  • Do you intend to use AI as a substitution, augmentation, modification, or redefinition of an existing teaching practice or educational technology?
  • What are your learning goals and expected learning outcomes?
  • Do you want students to understand the limitations of AI or to experience its applications in the field? 
  • Do you want students to reflect on the ethical implications of AI use?  

Bloom’s Taxonomy is another useful tool for defining your assignment’s purpose and your learning goals and outcomes. 

This downloadable Bloom’s Taxonomy Revisited resource , created by Oregon State University, highlights the differences between AI capabilities and distinctive human skills at each Bloom's level, indicating the types of assignments you should review or change in light of AI. Bloom's Taxonomy Revisited is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0).  

Access a transcript of the graphic .

Step 2: Define the tasks involved.

In the next step of TILT, you list the steps students will take when completing the assignment. In what order should they do specific tasks, what do they need to be aware of to perform each task well, and what mistakes should they avoid? Outlining each step is especially important if you’re asking students to use generative AI in a limited manner. For example, if you want them to begin with generative AI but then revise, refine, or expand upon its output, make clear which steps should involve their own thinking and work as opposed to AI’s thinking and work.

  • Are you designing this assignment as a single, one-time task or as a longitudinal task that builds over time or across curricular and co-curricular contexts?  For longitudinal tasks consider the experiential learning cycle (Kolb, 1984) . In Kolb’s cycle, learners have a concrete experience followed by reflective observation, abstract conceptualization, and active experimentation. For example, students could record their generative AI prompts, the results, a reflection on the results, and the next prompt they used to get improved output. In subsequent tasks students could expand upon or revise the AI output into a final product. Requiring students to provide a record of their reflections, prompts, and results can create an “AI audit trail,” making the task and learning more transparent.
  • What resources and tools are permitted or required for students to complete the tasks involved with the assignment? Make clear which steps should involve their own thinking (versus AI-generated output, for example), required course materials, and if references are required. Include any ancillary resources students will need to accomplish tasks, such as guidelines on how to cite AI , in APA 7.0 for example.
  • How will you offer students flexibility and choice? As of this time, most generative AI tools have not been approved for use by Ohio State, meaning they have not been  vetted for security, privacy, or accessibility issues . It is known that many platforms are not compatible with screen readers, and there are outstanding questions as to what these tools do with user data. Students may have understandable apprehensions about using these tools or encounter barriers to doing so successfully. So while there may be value in giving students first-hand experience with using AI, it’s important to give them the choice to opt out. As you outline your assignment tasks, plan how to provide alternative options to complete them. Could you provide AI output you’ve generated for students to work with, demonstrate use of the tool during class, or allow use of another tool that enables students to meet the same learning outcomes.

Microsoft Copilot is currently the only generative AI tool that has been vetted and approved for use at Ohio State. As of February 2024, the Office of Technology and Digital Innovation (OTDI) has enabled it for use by students, faculty, and staff. Copilot is an AI chatbot that draws from public online data, but with additional security measures in place. For example, conversations within the tool aren’t stored. Learn more and stay tuned for further information about Copilot in the classroom.

  • What are your expectations for academic integrity? This is a helpful step for clarifying your academic integrity guidelines for this assignment, around AI use specifically as well as for other resources and tools. The standard Academic Integrity Icons in the table below can help you call out what is permissible and what is prohibited. If any steps for completing the assignment require (or expressly prohibit) AI tools, be as clear as possible in highlighting which ones, as well as why and how AI use is (or is not) permitted.

Promoting academic integrity

While inappropriate use of AI may constitute academic misconduct, it can be muddy for students to parse out what is permitted or prohibited across their courses and across various use cases. Fortunately, there are existing approaches to supporting academic integrity that apply to AI as well as to any other tool. Discuss academic integrity openly with students, early in the term and before each assignment. Purposefully design your assignments to promote integrity by using real-world formats and audiences, grading the process as well as the product, incorporating personal reflection tasks, and more. 

Learn about taking a proactive, rather than punitive, approach to academic integrity in A Positive Approach to Academic Integrity.

Step 3: Define criteria for success.

An important feature of transparent assignments is that they make clear to students how their work will be evaluated. During this TILT step, you will define criteria for a successful submission—consider creating a  rubric to clarify these expectations for students and simplify your grading process. If you intend to use AI as a substitute or augmentation for another technology, you might be able to use an existing rubric with little or no change. However, if AI use is modifying or redefining the assignment tasks, a new grading rubric will likely be needed. 

  • How will you grade this assignment? What key criteria will you assess? 
  • What indicators will show each criterion has been met? 
  • What qualities distinguish a successful submission from one that needs improvement? 
  • Will you grade students on the product only or on aspects of the process as well? For example, if you have included a reflection task as part of the assignment, you might include that as a component of the final grade.

Alongside your rubric, it is helpful to prepare examples of successful (and even unsuccessful) submissions to provide more tangible guidance to students. In addition to samples of the final product, you could share examples of effective AI prompts, reflections tasks, and AI citations. Examples may be drawn from previous student work or models that you have mocked up, and they can be annotated to highlight notable elements related to assignment criteria. 

Present and discuss your assignment.

transparent assignment design example

As clear as we strive to be in our assignment planning and prompts, there may be gaps or confusing elements we have overlooked. Explicitly going over your assignment instructions—including the purpose, key tasks, and criteria—will ensure students are equipped with the background and knowledge they need to perform well. These discussions also offer space for students to ask questions and air unanticipated concerns, which is particularly important given the potential hesitance some may have around using AI tools. 

  • How will this assignment help students learn key course content, contribute to the development of important skills such as critical thinking, or support them to meet your learning goals and outcomes? 
  • How might students apply the knowledge and skills acquired in their future coursework or careers? 
  • In what ways will the assignment further students’ understanding and experience around generative AI tools, and why does that matter?
  • What questions or barriers do you anticipate students might encounter when using AI for this assignment?

As noted above, many students are unaware of the accessibility, security, privacy, and copyright concerns associated with AI, or of other pitfalls they might encounter working with AI tools. Openly discussing AI’s limitations and the inaccuracies and biases it can create and replicate will support students to anticipate barriers to success on the assignment, increase their digital literacy, and make them more informed and discerning users of technology. 

Explore available resources It can feel daunting to know where to look for AI-related assignment ideas, or who to consult if you have questions. Though generative AI is still on the rise, a growing number of useful resources are being developed across the teaching and learning community. Consult our other Teaching Topics, including AI Considerations for Teaching and Learning , and explore other recommended resources such as the Learning with AI Toolkit and Exploring AI Pedagogy: A Community Collection of Teaching Reflections.

If you need further support to review or develop assignment or course plans in light of AI, visit our Help forms to request a teaching consultation .

Using the Transparent Assignment Template

Sample assignment: ai-generated lesson plan.

In many respects, the rise of generative AI has reinforced existing best practices for assignment design—craft a clear and detailed assignment prompt, articulate academic integrity expectations, increase engagement and motivation through authentic and inclusive assessments. But AI has also encouraged us to think differently about how we approach the tasks we ask students to undertake, and how we can better support them through that process. While it can feel daunting to re-envision or reformat our assignments, AI presents us with opportunities to cultivate the types of learning and growth we value, to help students see that value, and to grow their critical thinking and digital literacy skills. 

Using the Transparency in Learning and Teaching (TILT) framework to plan assignments that involve generative AI can help you clarify expectations for students and take a more intentional, productive, and ethical approach to AI use in your course. 

  • Step 1: Define your purpose. Think about what you want students to gain from this assignment. What are your learning goals and outcomes? Do you want students to understand the limitations of AI, see its applications in your field, or reflect on its ethical implications? The SAMR model and Bloom's Taxonomy are useful references when defining your purpose for using (or not using) AI on an assignment.
  • Step 2: Define the tasks involved. L ist the steps students will take to complete the assignment. What resources and tools will they need? How will students reflect upon their learning as they proceed through each task?  What are your expectations for academic integrity?
  • Step 3: Define criteria for success. Make clear to students your expectations for success on the assignment. Create a  rubric to call out key criteria and simplify your grading process. Will you grade the product only, or parts of the process as well? What qualities indicate an effective submission? Consider sharing tangible models or examples of assignment submissions.

Finally, it is time to make your assignment guidelines and expectations transparent to students. Walk through the instructions explicitly—including the purpose, key tasks, and criteria—to ensure they are prepared to perform well.

  • Checklist for Designing Transparent Assignments
  • TILT Higher Ed Information and Resources

Winkelmes, M. (2013). Transparency in Teaching: Faculty Share Data and Improve Students’ Learning. Liberal Education 99 (2).

Wilkelmes, M. (2013). Transparent Assignment Design Template for Teachers. TiLT Higher Ed: Transparency in Learning and Teaching. https://tilthighered.com/assets/pdffiles/Transparent%20Assignment%20Templates.pdf

Winkelmes, M., Bernacki, M., Butler, J., Zochowski, M., Golanics, J., Weavil, K. (2016). A Teaching Intervention that Increases Underserved College Students’ Success. Peer Review.

Related Teaching Topics

Ai considerations for teaching and learning, ai teaching strategies: having conversations with students, designing assessments of student learning, search for resources.

  • Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning

Transparent Assignment Template

This template can be used as a guide for developing, explaining, and discussing class activities and out-of-class assignments. Making these aspects of each course activity or assignment explicitly clear to students has demonstrably enhanced students’ learning in a national study. 1

Assignment Name Due Date:

Define the learning objectives, in language and terms that help students recognize how this assignment will benefit their learning. Indicate how these are connected with institutional learning outcomes, and how the specific knowledge and skills involved in this assignment will be important in students’ lives beyond the contexts of this assignment, this course, and this college.

The purpose of this assignment is to help you practice the following skills that are essential to your success in this course / in school / in this field / in professional life beyond school:

Terms from Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives may help you explain these skills in language students will understand. Listed from cognitively simple to most complex, these skills are:

  • understanding basic disciplinary knowledge and methods/tools
  • applying basic disciplinary knowledge/tools to problem-solving in a similar but unfamiliar context
  • synthesizing
  • judging/evaluating and selecting best solutions
  • creating/inventing a new interpretation, product, theory

This assignment will also help you to become familiar with the following important content knowledge in this discipline:

Define what activities the student should do/perfom. “Question cues” from this chart might be helpful. List any steps or guidelines, or a recommended sequence for the students’ efforts. Specify any extraneous mistakes to be avoided. If there are sound pedagogical reasons for withholding information about how to do the assignment, protect students' confidence and sense of belonging in college with a purpose statement something like this: "The purpose of this assignment is for you to struggle and feel confused while you invent and test your own approach for addressing the problem..."

Criteria for Success

Define the characteristics of the finished product. Provide multiple examples of what these characteristics look like in real-world practice, to encourage students’ creativity and reduce their incentive to copy any one example too closely. Engage students in analyzing multiple examples of real-world work before the students begin their own work on the assignment. Discuss how excellent work differs from adequate work. This enables students to evaluate the quality of their own efforts while they are working, and to judge the success of their completed work. It is often useful to provide or compile with students a checklist of characteristics of successful work. Students can also use the checklist to provide feedback on peers’ coursework. Indicate whether this task/product will be graded and/or how it factors into the student’s overall grade for the course. Later, asking students to reflect and comment on their completed, graded work allows them to focus on changes to their learning strategies that might improve their future work.

Developed by Mary-Ann Wilkemes (PDF) , shared via Creative Commons.

1 Winkelmes, Mary-Ann. “Transparency in Teaching: Faculty Share Data and Improve Students’ Learning.” Liberal Education 99,2 (Spring 2013)

Winkelmes et al, “A Teaching Intervention that Increases Underserved College Students’ Success.” Peer Review 18,1/2 (Winter/Spring 2016).

Transparent Assigment Checklist

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Instructors should design assignments to ensure students actively engage with course content and develop essential skills. Transparent assignment design is a framework for structuring assignments to promote and encourage student learning. Many of these strategies might seem straightforward, and probably include practices you do often, but transparent assignment design is about intentionality and considering what you are asking your students to do and how it can lead to their success.

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A Guide to Transparent Assignment Design

February 6, 2024 • Brier Anderson

Students might find themselves grappling with the mysteries of an assignment, wondering what an instructor’s directions mean, the assignment’s purpose, and its role in the larger context of a course. 

Based on research  from Dr. Mary Ann Winkelmes (University of Nevada Las Vegas, Brandeis University) and the Transparency in Learning and Teaching (TILT) Higher Ed Project , transparent assignment design is  a way of communicating expectations to learners. The framework includes three components for assignment design: purpose, tasks, and criteria. Each of these components creates accessibility by removing barriers or the unwritten rules of what it means to be a college student. Instructors create transparency by describing how students will learn content, why learning experiences were planned in a particular way, and how students will use their learning in the course and beyond. 

Research has demonstrated that this type of explicit instruction and construction of assignments supports all students, but it is particularly beneficial for underrepresented students, first generation college students, and low income students. And these aren’t major shifts. Winkelmes found that transparency in just two assignments per course significantly improved student learning, boosted academic confidence and sense of belonging, and encouraged students’ metacognitive awareness of skill development toward future professions. 

Transparent assignment design is also beneficial to instructors. Assignments are more likely to be turned in on time, students participate in meaningful discussion at higher rates, and there are fewer questions from students about assignment logistics.

So, exactly how do you design a transparent assignment? 

  • Reflect on the learning objectives of the assignment and your course.  
  • Articulate the purpose of the assignment. Explain its relevance to the course objectives and any broader academic and real-world contexts. Describe the skills students will practice and what knowledge they will gain. 
  • Break down the tasks. Divide complex tasks into smaller, manageable tasks. Provide step-by-step instructions and resources to guide students through each stage of an assignment as a checklist using student-friendly language. 
  • Define success. Explicitly outline what a successful assignment looks like (consider sharing a rubric or exemplar). This builds student confidence and allows them to self-evaluate. 
  • Seek student feedback. Although your assignment might seem clear, remember you are an expert in your field and prone to potential blind spots. Student insights can help you refine future assignments. 

Transparent assignment design doesn’t require you to  redesign your course; rather, it improves existing  assignments. This is one small step toward creating a more inclusive learning environment. Interested in learning more about transparent assignment design? Check out STLI’s microcourse –  Designing for Learners: Supporting Student Writers .

© 2024 Brier Anderson. The text of this work is licensed under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 4.0 International License.

Meet the Author

Brier anderson, senior instructional designer, stli, william & mary.

Brier designs online professional micro-learning courses and consults with faculty on course design. Brier’s focus areas include inclusive pedagogy, digital learning, and human-centered instructional design.

Brier Anderson

The Teaching Innovation Blog

transparent assignment design example

Transparent Ambiguity in Assignment Design

How can we both challenge and support students through our assignment design? Learn how careful planning of information, tools, and support can help students navigate uncertainty and solve complex problems.

Assignment design frameworks often emphasize that assignments should be clear (such as Transparent Assignment Design ), or that they should be real (such as Authentic Assessment ). These approaches can be in tension, as real-world situations are often complex, messy, open-ended, and ill-defined. In fact, that ambiguity is part of the appeal of real-world analogue assignments, as they ask students to seek creative solutions to problems and apply their knowledge in new ways. 

With thoughtful assignment design, it’s possible to integrate these two approaches and create assignments that are clear and open-ended. In other words, we can strive to both challenge and support students. 

Provide Information and Tools to Help Students Navigate Complex Problems 

Designing clear and open-ended assignments requires careful thought and planning for what you communicate to students and what tools you provide them. Consider this situation: 

You’re placed in the wilderness and told you must reach any one of three camps. If that’s all the information you have, you’re likely to be completely lost. You have no way to know which direction to go or for how long. You only know you’ve succeeded if you happen to luck into reaching one of the camps. Unfortunately, this is how far too many “real world” assignments are framed. 

What if you were given a compass and a general direction for each of the camps? You would know which direction to go, but you still would have no idea about which path was hardest and how far each camp was. 

Image of a map and compass being held in a forest setting as a comparison to how information and tools in assignment design can help students navigate complex problems.

Being given a map of the area would illuminate the terrain (and perhaps difficulty) of each path. Marking that map with the camps would further help you determine their distance and different ways to get there. Marking hazards or even marking trails would make navigating the path a safer proposition. 

All of these situations are open-ended: you can still choose which direction to go, how to navigate the path, how to avoid hazards, and much more. However, some of these situations are completely unclear, while others provide information, tools, and supports that clarify the situation and help guide decision-making. 

The goal of assignment design should not be to drop students into the wilderness without any support. Likewise, you should not be walking the path for students. Providing information and tools to guide complex problem-solving both challenges students and helps them succeed in meeting those challenges. 

3 Techniques for Transparent Ambiguity in Assignment Design 

Here are three techniques to help you embrace transparent ambiguity in your assignment design: 

Move your focus away from the end product and toward the framing of the problem. We are often taught to frame our assignments as end products: students will write an essay or take an exam or deliver a presentation. Instead, focus on framing a complex problem for students to solve. Explain the problem clearly and thoroughly, allowing students the freedom to explore multiple solutions and determine the best way to address the problem. 

Answer the questions, “What can you say for sure about the final product? What must you leave up to the student to determine?” For example, if students are crafting marketing materials for an organization, then those materials must integrate that organization’s brand standards in a way that is true to the organization’s brand identity. How students integrate those brand standards and what they build with that organization’s brand may be much more open-ended. I call these “creative constraints” – by giving students a clear picture of both what must be and what is flexible, you can spark creativity and deep engagement with the problem of the assignment. 

Provide guiding questions and help students explore possible solutions. As the wilderness exploration example showed, you can support students in navigating uncertainty while still leaving elements uncertain. If you set up a complex, messy problem but leave students completely alone to address it, they will likely feel lost and overwhelmed. One of the best supports for complex, messy problems is questions , not answers. Help students consider the questions they need to answer and support them exploring solutions to the problem. For example, if you are asking students to research a topic of their choice, give them guidance on how to identify their own interests, find a productive topic, and narrow the scope of research. 

Let’s put all of this together to consider an example of an assignment designed with transparent ambiguity. 

An Example: Restaurant Menu Design 

Image of a person holding a restaurant menu.

In a course on graphic design, one assignment I ask students to complete is a restaurant menu. While this may seem like a finished product, I frame it much more as a design problem to solve. I put myself in the role of the owner of a fictional restaurant. I conduct a design brief meeting with students in which I role-play as the restaurant owner, having students ask me questions about the restaurant and what I need in a menu. 

This process has the benefits of: 

  • Helping students explore creative solutions to the design problem being presented. 
  • Being authentic to the types of design situations students will likely find themselves in later in life. 
  • Developing inquiry skills, a necessary part of identifying the constraints of any design situation. 
  • Doing all of the above in the “safe” space of the classroom where I can guide and support students through their learning. 

Throughout this process, I make it clear to students that they are not allowed to omit any dishes from their menu design just because they’re inconvenient to their layout. I also specify that files must be properly prepared for printing, though the details of what that looks like will depend on their individual design decisions. 

I emphasize in the assignment that students must listen to their “client” (me in the role-play) and show evidence that they are working to address the client’s needs. This allows for productive exploration of transparent ambiguity during the design brief meeting. I can share with students my “vision” for the restaurant and its brand. I can share with students how I view my dishes and the experience of eating at the restaurant. Students have opportunities to poke and prod at these areas to gain a better understanding that can inform their decision making. 

The specifics of how students address these areas, though, are open-ended. Should the menu have sections or not? What should those sections be? What color scheme should the menu use? How is the restaurant’s brand incorporated? What markers (gluten-free, spicy, etc.) should be included, if any? How are prices framed? What size and material are used in printing? How many pages should the menu be? How are photographs or illustrations incorporated, if at all? Is there a cover, or does the menu immediately launch into presenting dishes? These questions are all open, but by guiding students in inquiry, I’m able to help them explore how to answer these questions. 

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Additionally, I both provide some of the above questions and support students in brainstorming questions. Before the design brief meeting, we create a collaborative document as a class and determine what questions to ask the “restaurant owner.” I spark the discussion with some of the above questions, then I encourage them to come up with many more. We collaboratively highlight the ones students will actually ask in the design brief session. This process helps students develop inquiry skills while also helping them define the bounds of the assignment.

Helping Students Succeed Through Transparent Ambiguity 

If all this sounds complex and messy, it is! However, it’s also as transparent as possible, giving students core requirements (such as not omitting dishes) and supporting them in navigating the murky areas. Ultimately, this approach both challenges students to explore a complex process and supports them in making that process as transparent and clear as possible. 

Meaningful learning happens when students are challenged and stretched, but also when they are supported and guided. Transparent ambiguity is a powerful way to design assignments precisely because it seeks to do both, guiding students along an unclear path toward solving an authentic problem. 

How do you navigate this tension in your assignments? Share your thoughts in the comments below.  

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Eva joined the Division of Online and Strategic Learning in 2021. Previously, she taught professional writing courses in the English Department, including graphic design and web development. She launched Jacket Copy Creative (now known as Compass Creative), an immersive learning course in which students helped market the English Department (and now the entire College of Sciences and Humanities). She also served as a director of advertising at a social media advertising agency in Muncie. Her interests include UDL, digital accessibility, and design. She’s often busy “hacking” Canvas to do cool things.

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Transparent assignment design is an equity strategy. The goal is to frame assignments in such a manner that all students can begin their work at the same starting point, with a shared understanding of what good work should look like. Research indicates that incorporating elements of transparent assignment design, such as clearly communicating the purpose, task and criteria, into student assignments can demonstrably enhance students’ success, in multiple ways, with a medium to large magnitude of effect. The effect is particularly strong for students from systemically non-dominant populations.

Transparent assignments specifically outline for students three important aspects of the assignment (Winkelmes, 2017):

Purpose: The purpose specifies the skills students will practice and the knowledge they will gain, and the long-term relevance of these to the students in their lives or their disciplines

Task: What specific steps will the student follow, from the first step all the way through until they are ready to turn in the assignment

Criteria: What excellence looks like – giving students an opportunity to evaluate real-world work samples by applying a checklist or rubric

Tools and templates

A list of resources, tools, and templates designed to guide faculty in designing transparent assignments

Transparent Assignment Template  – a template that can be used as a guide for developing transparent assignments

Checklist for Designing a Transparent Assignment – a self-guided checklist for developing and revising transparent assignments

SBCTC Example Assignments (More and Less Transparent) – a collection of before and after samples of assignments, across multiple disciplines from Washington State Community Colleges

UNLV Example Assignments (More and Less Transparent) – a collection of before and after samples of assignments, across multiple disciplines from UNLV

TILT Higher Ed Examples and Resources – a complete set of resources from Dr. Winkelmes including sample assignments pre/post TILTing, PowerPoints, Videos, and other resources

Assignments from SBCTC Colleges – a collection of assignments from SBCTC colleges, pre- and post-TILTing.  Requires Highline credentials for Google log-in

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Additional resources and scholarship

Ridiculously Simple and Very Successful: How faculty in Virginia are making assignments more transparent and equitable (AAC&U Liberal Education) One Easy Way Faculty Can Improve Student Success (Academic Impressions)

Winkelmes, M. (2017, March 3).  Using transparent assignments to increase students’ success [Video file]. Keynote workshop, 13th Annual Advancing Teaching and Learning Conference, Texas Tech University. https://mediacast.ttu.edu/Mediasite/Play/b12b5e876efb42439af4e5f1471064dc1d

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Center for Teaching & Learning

Transparent assignment design.

Transparency in Learning and Teaching (TILT) * is both a national research project and a teaching framework that can be implemented in any discipline by taking extra steps to provide clear assignments for improved student success. By making small, clarifying additions to your course assignments, the data shows that you can have a big impact on student learning. (Winklemes, et al, 2015 , requires UVM login).

With transparent assignments, students are better able to prepare, are more motivated, and have the resources they need. Transparency in assignments increases inclusivity, as well, as it helps to “level the playing field” so all students have the best chance to succeed with your assignments.

Transparency in assignment design has three main facets:

  • Purpose – Provide students with clarity about the purpose of an assignment—how it helps them reach the learning objectives of your course, how they can take the knowledge/skills to other classes, and how it will have real-life relevance.
  • Task – Give explicit , step-by-step instructions to students about what they should do for the assignment and let them know what they should avoid doing.
  • Criteria – Show how the assignment will be graded, using either a checklist or rubric, and provide samples of student work.

Fortunately, transparent assignment design doesn’t require an overhaul or redesign of a course, but instead builds on the assignments that are already there. It can also give faculty more insight into why they’re assigning the work and how it serves their course learning objectives.

* Mary-Ann Winklemes (Brandeis University) is the principal investigator for a national research project on The Transparency in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education project ( TILT Higher Ed ).

CTL Resources

  • CTL working group: Better Assignment Communication: Transparency in Action through TILT
  • Transparent Assignment Design template
  • Recording of 2020 CTL/WID workshop on TILT (Video: 20mins)
  • Workshops on transparent assignment design are on the CTL events calendar at least once a semester.

External Resources

  • TILT Higher Ed website: examples and resources
  • “A Teaching Intervention that Increases Underserved College Students’ Success” [article]
  • “Transparency and Problem-centered Learning” by Mary-Ann Winkelmes (Video: 7mins)
  • "Transparency in teaching: Faculty share data and improve students’ learning. Liberal Education" [article]
  • Assessing TILT in a college classroom . [Article] The National Teaching & Learning Forum, 30 (4), 1-3.
  • An in-depth rubric for evaluation of the transparency of assignment: Measuring Transparency: A Learning-focused Assignment Rubric  [PDF] by Michael Palmer and Jennifer LaFleur from the University of Virginia, Center for Teaching Excellence, and Emily Gravett from James Madison University, Center for Faculty Innovation
  • Just a TAD – Transparent Assignment Design , Laurel Willingham-McLain, Director, Center for Teaching Excellence, Duquesne University, The Flourishing Academic blog.

Winkelmes, M., Bernacki, M., Butler, J., Zochowski, M., Golanics, J., & Weavil, K. H. (2016). A Teaching Intervention that Increases Underserved College Students’ Success. Peer Review, 18(1), 31-36. Retrieved from ProQuest.

IMAGES

  1. Assignment Design and Assessment

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  2. Mary-Ann Winkelmes, David E. Copeland, Ed Jorgensen, Alison Sloat, Anna

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  3. Free 3D illustration colorful assignment report card 10851552 PNG with

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  4. Transparent assignments

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  5. Designer Assignment Sheet

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  6. 3d white sheet of paper document with strokes logo icon. management

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VIDEO

  1. DIY Assignment Front Page Design 📝 #shorts #asmulticreativity #crafts

  2. Create a Turnitin enabled assignment

  3. EASY FRONT PAGE DESIGN FOR ASSIGNMENT 🤩#art #artist #design #youtubecreator #shorts #subscribe#fyp

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  6. what is transparent translucent and opaque object

COMMENTS

  1. Quick Guide to Transparent Assignment Design

    Carefully crafted assignments are a critical part of the teaching, learning, and assessment process. A growing body of research indicates that incorporating elements of transparent assignment design, into student assignments, can: • Serve as a 'road map' for students, providing them with a greater opportunity for successfully meeting the ...

  2. TILT Higher Ed Examples and Resources

    Transparent Assignment Design faculty workshop videorecording ("Using Transparent Assignments to Increase Students' Success," Mary-Ann Winkelmes, keynote workshop, 13th Annual Advancing Teaching and Learning Conference, Texas Tech University, March 3, 2017). Part 1) Research findings; Part 2) Example Assignments

  3. Using the Transparent Assignment Template

    Developed by Mary-Ann Winkelmes, Transparency in Learning and Teaching (TILT) is a straightforward framework for assignment design that supports student success by making the goals, process, and expectations for their learning clear. Using TILT has been shown to improve learners' academic confidence and success, metacognitive awareness, and sense of belonging in class (Winkelmes et al., 2016).

  4. Transparent Assignment Design

    The goal of Transparent Assignment Design is to "to make learning processes explicit and equally accessible for all students" (Winkelmes et al., 2019, p. 1). ... The figure below illustrates an example of an assignment that has incorporated Transparent Assignment Design. Additional examples in a variety of disciplines can be found on the ...

  5. Transparent Assignment Design

    Transparent Assignment Design. The goal of Transparent Assignment Design is to "to make learning processes explicit and equally accessible for all students" (Winkelmes et al., 2019, p. 1). The development of a transparent assignment involves providing students with clarity on the purpose of the assignment, the tasks required, and criteria ...

  6. Transparency in Learning and Teaching (TILT)

    Examples of Transparent Teaching Methods ... Transparent Assignment Design TILT, when paired with other incremental changes in the course, can be a powerful tool that supports student learning experiences. Stating the assignment's purpose, task, and criteria and incorporating these simple, but powerful, elements can help make assignments more ...

  7. PDF Transparent Assignment Design Template for Teachers

    Transparent Assignment Design Template for Teachers This template can be used as a guide for developing, explaining, and discussing class activities and out of-class ... Engage students in analyzing multiple examples of real-world work before the students begin their own work on the assignment. Discuss how excellent work differs from adequate ...

  8. PDF Transparent Assignment Template

    Transparent Assignment Template. 2013 Mary-Ann Winkelmes. This template can be used as a guide for developing, explaining, and discussing class activities and out-of-class assignments. Making these aspects of each course activity or assignment explicitly clear to students has demonstrably enhanced students' learning in a national study.1.

  9. PDF Transparent Assignment Design

    Transparent Assignment Design Template. Purpose. •Skills practiced. Includes long-term relevance to students' lives •Knowledge gained. In relation to stated learning outcomes. Task. •What students will do •How to do it (steps to follow, avoid) Criteriafor success. •Checklist or rubric in advance so students can self-evaluate •What ...

  10. Transparent assignment design

    Transparent assignment design is a component of the Transparency in Learning and Teaching framework that aims to make learning and assessment more explicit for students.Studies show that conveying the purpose, task, and criteria of assignments helps students meet the assignment's expectations and increases academic performance (Winkelmes, 2016).

  11. COD Library: Assignment Design: Transparency Framework

    Take a look at this example of a Less Transparent assignment and a More Transparent revision. Think about the differences between the two. ... Finley, Felten, P., Tapp, S., Boye, A., & Winkelmes, M.-A. (2019). Transparent design in higher education teaching and learning : a guide to implementing the transparency framework institution-wide to ...

  12. Designing Transparent Assignments

    Just as Universal Design for Learning focuses on accessibility as a default, Transparent Design emphasizes removing barriers to understanding how to succeed on an assignment by default. While these strategies are particularly useful for equity, they help everyone. Transparent Design is most effective for non-test assessments such as projects ...

  13. Assignment Design Using the Transparency in Learning and ...

    For other disciplinary examples of assignments which use the TILT framework visit TILT Higher Ed Examples and Resources (scroll down to "Example Assignments" (more and less transparent section). Faculty members interested in receiving feedback on their assignments can contact CITLS to schedule a feedback session with our student fellows ...

  14. Transparent Assignment Design

    Transparent design principles encourage instructors to reflect on how and why they are teaching specific subjects and, more importantly, to communicate these choices to their students. In this way, transparent assignment design promotes metacognition, or students' conscious awareness of the learning process. This type of assignment design is sometimes referred to as "Transparency in Teaching

  15. Dispel Your Hidden Curriculum with Transparent Assignment Design

    The third component of Transparent assignment design is success criteria. Your learners want to know what a successful assignment looks like. Providing success criteria helps dispel hidden curriculum about your expectations. This is an important step because students cannot read our minds—they want to know what you expect in a strong submission.

  16. AI Teaching Strategies: Transparent Assignment Design

    The Committee on Academic Misconduct (COAM) recommends use of these standard Academic Integrity Icons to promote transparent communication with students about the use of various resources on assignments, including AI. The icons were developed for the Carmen Course Template by Ohio State Online staff and Dr. Lisa Cravens-Brown, COAM chair and Associate Vice Chair for Instruction in Psychology ...

  17. Transparent Assignment Template

    Transparent Assignment Template This template can be used as a guide for developing, explaining, and discussing class activities and out-of-class assignments. Making these aspects of each course activity or assignment explicitly clear to students has demonstrably enhanced students' learning in a national study. 1

  18. A Guide to Transparent Assignment Design

    Based on research from Dr. Mary Ann Winkelmes (University of Nevada Las Vegas, Brandeis University) and the Transparency in Learning and Teaching (TILT) Higher Ed Project, transparent assignment design is a way of communicating expectations to learners. The framework includes three components for assignment design: purpose, tasks, and criteria.

  19. Transparent Ambiguity in Assignment Design

    For example, if you are asking students to research a topic of their choice, give them guidance on how to identify their own interests, find a productive topic, and narrow the scope of research. Let's put all of this together to consider an example of an assignment designed with transparent ambiguity. An Example: Restaurant Menu Design

  20. Transparent Assignments » Learning & Teaching Center

    Transparent Assignments Transparent assignment design is an equity strategy. The goal is to frame assignments in such a manner that all students can begin their work at the same starting point, with a shared understanding of what good work should look like. ... TILT Higher Ed Examples and Resources - a complete set of resources from Dr ...

  21. Transparent Assignment Design

    Transparent Assignment Design. Transparency in Learning and Teaching (TILT) * is both a national research project and a teaching framework that can be implemented in any discipline by taking extra steps to provide clear assignments for improved student success. By making small, clarifying additions to your course assignments, the data shows that you can have a big impact on student learning.

  22. Transparent Assignment Design

    Here is an example of an activity that has been created and presented with principles of Transparent Assignment Design. If you choose to redesign an assignment or create one using Transparent Assignment Design, you can bring your content to OTL for a prize this summer! Affordable education. Hands-on training. Experienced graduates.