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Assignment Design: Transparency Framework


Transparent Teaching Methods

Transparent teaching methods help students understand how and why they are learning course content in particular ways. Learn more at

  • Discuss assignments’ learning goals and design rationale before students begin each assignment
  • Invite students to participate in class planning or agenda construction
  • Gauge students’ understanding during class via peer work on questions that require students to apply concepts you’ve taught
  • Explicitly connect cognitive science data with course activities at the difficult transition points in the semester when students tend to struggle
  • Engage students in applying the grading criteria that you’ll use for their work
  • Debrief graded tests and assignments in class
  • Offer running commentary on class discussions to indicate what modes of thought or disciplinary methods are in use
Transparency and Equity
“Not all college students figure out on their own the reasons why assignments and homework are structured as they are, how to approach the required work, how the work benefits their learning, how to monitor if they are working effectively, and if they are working in a way that will meet the teacher's goals.
“Failing to provide this kind of clarity will perpetuate the disadvantages for underserved students and the advantages for more traditional students, who often have an easier time decoding the hows and whys of academic work.”
                              – Mary-Ann Winkelmes

Transparency Framework

One way to ensure that your assignment expectations empower students to learn course outcomes is to use the Transparency Framework, a format for communicating assignment outcomes and expectations. Transparent Design empowers students by making plain the connections between your expectations and learning outcomes.

An assignment using the Transparency Framework has three explicit components - Purpose, Task, and Criteria.


The purpose statement the question WHY for students and helps them make explicit connections between the assignment and learning outcomes. It:

  • Defines the learning objectives in language and terms that helps students recognize how this assignment will benefit their learning
  • Connects the assignment with specific skills essential to success in the course, in school, in the field, and/or in professional life beyond school
  • Uses terms from Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives
  • Lists of the kind(s) of discipline-specific content knowledge with which the assignment will help the student become familiar


The task section of a transparent assignment clearly defines what activities the student should do or perform and should include a list of steps or guidelines, or a recommended sequence for students’ efforts.

Criteria for Success

The “criteria for success” section defines the characteristics of the finished product for the student. It should:

  • Provide specific examples of what these characteristics look like in practice;
  • include a checklist of characteristics of successful work to help the student know if they are doing high quality work while they’re working on the assignment;
  • indicate whether this assignment will be graded and/or how it might factor into the student’s overall grade for the course


Designing a More Transparent Assignment

One way of practicing paradox in your classes is to use the Transparency Framework, a format for communicating assignment outcomes and expectations. In Part 2 of the capstone, you will revise an assignment in your course and make it “more transparent.” The goal is to clarify your expectations for your students and make the purpose, task, and criteria for assessment explicit.


Transparent assignment design plays a key role in setting clear expectations in your course. By revising an assignment to make it more transparent, you will spend less time answering questions about the assignment and possibly free up time to meet with students, further revise your course for transparency, or simply take a moment to breathe!


Follow the steps below to begin implementing transparent design in one of your courses.

  1. Take a look at this example of a Less Transparent assignment and a More Transparent revision. Think about the differences between the two. Could you figure out the purpose of the assignment, what you needed to do, and how you would be graded in the Less Transparent version? What "mind-reading" did you have to do to figure that out? How could you make the More Transparent version even better?
  2. Read this article about use of the More Transparent design and how it impacted students (based on your preference, this could be skimming, reading sections, or reading the whole thing).
    • 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 18, no. 1/2 (2016): 31-36.
  3. Review the following resources:
  4. Select an assignment from one of your fall courses that meets the following criteria (okay if it aligns with most and not all of the criteria).
    • Higher stakes
    • Due early in the semester
    • Completed outside of class time
    • Typically challenging for students


  1. Assignment meets suggested criteria - The selected assignment is higher stakes (e.g., a paper or project versus a weekly discussion or quiz), occurs early in the quarter, is primarily completed outside of class, and/or is one on which students have struggled in the past.
  2. Revised assignment includes Purpose - The More Transparent assignment includes a clearly stated purpose that connects the assignment to students' ongoing learning, career goals, and/or course and program outcomes.
  3. Revised assignment includes Task - The More Transparent assignment includes clearly listed steps the students will take to complete the assignment successfully. If applicable, any common mistakes students should avoid are also listed.
  4. Revised assignment includes Criteria/Criteria for Success - The More Transparent Assignment clearly communicates, through annotated example, rubric, competencies list, etc. how the students will be evaluated.



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 improve learning and retention (Tapp, A. Boye, & M.-A. Winkelmes, Eds.). Stylus.

A comprehensive guide to the Transparency in Learning and Teaching (TILT) framework which has been proven to increase retention and improve learning outcomes for all students. TILT’s objective is to make learning processes explicit and equitably accessible for all students.

Online Resources

TILT Higher Ed Examples and Resources

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  • Last Updated: Sep 15, 2023 10:01 AM
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