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Teaching Tuesdays: Transparency is Key

The P3 Collaboratory is pleased to continue “Teaching Tuesdays,” our summer weekly series centered around best practices for remote instruction and teaching effectiveness.

“Transparency,” as it is used in the scholarship on teaching and learning, means to teach while making obvious the intellectual practices involved in completing and evaluating a learning task. Transparent teaching and course design has been shown to reduce learning inequities in the classroom, improve student outcomes and instructor evaluations, and help instill students with a better understanding of how learning works. Beyond the obvious benefit of helping students understand the hows and whys of a particular assignment or lesson, transparent teaching also prompts teachers to think more deeply about learning, grounding metacognition in their pedagogy.

While instructors should aim for transparency in both face-to-face and remote instructional environments, transparency is especially important online. Given the number of new online learners (and instructors) in today’s digital classrooms, transparency helps ensure a common understanding of learning outcomes and strategies, and lends a sense of purpose to all assignments and assessments in the course. It is highly recommended that instructors of online courses devote time to ensuring that their course design, learning goals and assignments (especially graded assignments) are all clearly explained.

Transparent course design means explaining the teaching philosophy or scientific research that informs your course’s development and implementation. It is important to let students know why you are sharing this information and how it will benefit them.

Elements of transparent course design can include:

· A message from you explaining the design of your course.

Sample language:

As you may know from experience, there is great variability in the design and structure of online courses. There is also great variability in what is expected of students in terms of participation and performance. The following description will help you understand how the design of this course is intended to help you achieve the learning outcomes of the course.

· Clarification of what type of online learning experience you are offering (i.e. hybrid, flipped, fully online, self-paced, group-paced, synchronous, and asynchronous) and why. For definitions of these course types see here and here.

Sample language:

This is a fully online, asynchronous course, meaning that there are no requirements for you to meet face-to-face or virtually. The course was designed this way to allow for maximum flexibility, so you can integrate learning course content into your busy lives. That said, this is not a self-paced course, meaning that you are expected to submit assignments and participate in discussion by specific due dates. Although these due dates require time management on your part, many students find that the weekly due dates keep them engaged in learning and on track with the course requirements.

· A clear explanation of how students will be assessed or evaluated and how your assessments/evaluations align with learning goals. (This will be easy if you have already done the work to align your assessments with your course learning outcomes, as suggested in last week’s Teaching Tuesday email.)

Sample language:

In order to ensure that you develop the knowledge, skills, and dispositions necessary to take the next course in this sequence, you will be required to take quizzes at the end of each unit (8 in total). Each quiz is worth 5 points, and your combined quiz scores are worth 40% of your total grade in the course. In order to help you develop important life and career skills, there are also weekly activities designed to help you develop critical thinking skills (2 points each; total of 25% of course grade) and a final project that will require creativity as well as collaboration with peers (25 points; 25% of total grade in the course).

Transparent assignment design means doing all you can to ensure that your students understand the purpose and requirements of each assignment in your class as well as how the assignments work together as a whole.

Elements of transparent assignment design can include:

· Use of clear and jargon-free language to explain how an assignment helps build important skills and will assist them in their future coursework or career.

· Embedded tutorials explaining the tools or learning strategies required by assignments.

  • RU Libraries has created a number of tutorials and guides (many video based) on everything from getting started in the research process to how to use citation software. You can browse their tutorial topics here and then learn to how directly embed their videos into your Blackboard on Canvas page.

  • RU-N's Information Technology (RU-N IT) team is a key source of technological know-how for students and instructors. If you want to provide your students with an orientation to a digital tool supported by RU-N, consider scheduling a tutorial for your class with a member of RU-N IT staff. The tutorial can be recorded for later asynchronous access.

· Use of the TILTHigherEd Transparent Assignment Template and Checklist when designing an assignment.

· Developing a structured assignment timeline or project flowchart that illustrates for students how to successfully pace their work on long-form or multi-step assignments.

Taking a transparent approach to online teaching helps students understand the purpose of your course components and demonstrates that you care about their success and are thoughtful about the learning process. Some relevant references to explore on this topic include:

We also recommend that instructors explore the ongoing workshop series and video tutorials offered by our colleagues at the Teaching and Learning with Technology (TLT) division. A snapshot of the synchronous workshops being offered June 17 (tomorrow) - June 23 is below. Visit the links to register!

June 17, 1pm (1.5 hours), “Fundamentals of Designing Online Courses

Other upcoming workshops of interest:

June 25, 1pm (1.5 hours): “Teaching Models for Fall 2020: Understanding Synchronous, Asynchronous, and Hy-Flex Class Structures” (Facilitated by CTAAR, Rutgers-New Brunswick)

July 8, 3pm (1.5 hours): “Engaging Students in Synchronous Sessions

Brought to you by the P3 Collaboratory for Pedagogy, Professional Development, and Publicly-Engaged Scholarship at Rutgers University-Newark

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