Transparency in Learning and Teaching (TILT)

Table of Contents


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.

How to Practice TILT

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.

Examples of Transparent Teaching Methods

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

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 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

Advantages of using TILT

  • 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. 

Further Training

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

References & Resources