The Value of Transparency in the Classroom for Equity-Minded Teaching
Written by Noah Ringler, PFF Fellow and Doctoral Student in Psychology, Claremont Graduate University
Transparent assignments have been a pedagogical tool growing in popularity, primarily due to the benefits it shows amongst underserved students (e.g., Winkelmes, 2015; Winkelmes et al., 2016). For those of you who aren’t familiar with the concept, transparent assignments place an emphasis on educators making several ideas clear to their students: 1) what is the purpose of the assignment? (i.e., purpose) 2) what they need to do to complete the assignment? (i.e., task) 3) how are students being evaluated on the assignment? (i.e., criteria).
Research investigating the benefits of transparent assignments have shown promising results. For example, Winkelmes and colleagues (2016) conducted an intervention where 35 faculty members across 7 different institutions were asked to tweak two assignments to satisfy the requirements of transparent assignments (which can be found here). The researchers found that transparent assignments enhanced students’ sense of belonging, sense of mastery, confidence, graduation and retention rates, and levels of achievement. These benefits were especially pronounced for underserved students (e.g., minorities, first-generation college students, lower income) thereby making it one of the better pedagogical techniques to promote a more equitable classroom.
Transparency in the classroom works for the same reason transparency works in any relationship. By making the implicit explicit, and not making assumptions about the other party’s knowledge, we create a clearer line of communication and understanding. Interestingly, the value of transparency in the classroom has largely been focused on assignments but may have benefits across several different domains in the classroom.
The Transparency in Learning and Teaching Project (TILT) does a great job of laying out a variety of ways we can implement transparency in the classroom (see here). Indeed, Transparency should be a foundational piece to any course and can be implemented in several ways beyond transparent assignments. While TILT details a variety of ways we can implement transparency in our course, I think one of the most important pieces to quickly highlight is transparent design.
Transparent design encourages us to explicitly discuss and develop the course goals with our students and detail how the assignments, and overall structure of the course assist in developing those goals. What should be clear to students is the purpose of the work in the class, the knowledge they will gain as a result, and the value of such skills beyond the class and in their everyday lives. Along the way, we remind our students of what they are doing and how it relates to the overall goals of the course. Accordingly, the student is more likely to understand where they started, where they are, and where they are going.
To reiterate, transparency is a principle that can be emphasized in every aspect of your course and I’d encourage anybody interested in intentionally building transparency into their courses to visit the TILT website to learn more. While I emphasized the importance of transparent design, these principles should be implemented into every aspect of our courses. By intentionally building transparency into our courses, we can create a better line of communication with our students, build student self-efficacy, student belonging and ultimately, student achievement.
- Winkelmes, M. A., Copeland, D. E., Jorgensen, E., Sloat, A., Smedley, A., Pizor, P., … & Jalene, S. (2015, May). Benefits (some unexpected) of transparently designed assignments. National Teaching & Learning Forum, 24 (4), 4-7.
- 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.