Transparent Assignments

inclusive teaching banner_FINALby Sandy Gambill, Sr. Instructional Developer, Reinert Center

What if I told you it was possible to “increase academic confidence, a sense of belonging, and mastery of skills that employers look for when hiring,” in your students, simply by implementing a couple of small changes in the way you present assignments?

That was the challenge given to 35 faculty at 7 different institutions in a joint project by The Transparency in Learning and Teaching Project and the AACU, as part of a study of what would happen when faculty dealing with underserved students (primarily first generation, low income, minority students) redesigned two assignments to be more transparent and project-centered.

Redesigning an assignment for transparency may sound complicated, but it is a relatively simple matter. It’s what Mary-Ann Winkelmes, principle investigator on the study, referred to as decoding “the secret, unwritten rules of how to succeed in college,” and there is a template for it.

The Transparent Assignment Template utilized by the project uses these prompts:

  1. Purpose of assignment: what skills are practiced and what knowledge is gained.
  2. The Task: What to do and how to do it.

  3. Criteria: a checklist or rubric for self-evaluation and annotated examples of excellent examples of the assignment.

Faculty in the study taught two sections of the same course, one with the redesigned assignments and one without. Approximately 1,800 students were involved. Faculty reported that they saw such gains in all students’ learning that it became difficult to keep the redesign out of both sections, and many of them ended up using the template for more than two assignments. Students who took part in the survey around the assignments made statements such as “I knew the purpose of each assignment” and reported increased confidence in “learning on their own” and “applying skills and knowledge from different contexts.” Sections with the re-designed assignments also had significantly higher retention rates.

The complete study is available in the Winter/Spring 2016 issue of Peer Review available here. (http://www.aacu.org/peerreview/2016/winter-spring/Winkelmes)

So, would you be interested in helping your students achieve more through assignment redesign? Contact the Reinert Center for more information.

Resources

Transparency in Teaching and Learning Project
https://www.unlv.edu/provost/teachingandlearning

Peer Review, Winter-Spring 2016
http://www.aacu.org/peerreview/2016/winter-spring/Winkelmes

The Unwritten Rules of College
http://www.chronicle.com/article/The-Unwritten-Rules-of/233245

This blog post is part of the Reinert Center’s 2016-2017 focus on Inclusive Teaching. To learn more about the year’s theme, and about programs and resources associated with it, see our webpage on Inclusive Teaching [LINK]. To talk with someone about how you can design and teach courses in more inclusive ways, contact the Reinert Center at cttl@slu.edu.

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