While instructors know what they expect from students, these expectations are not always clear to their students. In this episode, Mary-Ann Winkelmes joins us to discuss what happens when instructors make their expectations transparent to their students. Mary-Ann has served in leadership roles at campus teaching centers at Harvard, the University of Chicago, the University of Illinois, the University of Nevada – Las Vegas, and Brandeis University and is the Founder and Director of TILTHigherEd.
- Transparency in Learning and Teaching (TILT)
- Transparent Design Template for Students The Unwritten Rules (one-page handout)
- Finley, A., & McNair, T. (2013). Assessing underserved students’ engagement in high-impact practices
- Walton, G. M., & Cohen, G. L. (2011). A brief social-belonging intervention improves academic and health outcomes of minority students. Science, 331(6023), 1447-1451.
- National Center for Education Statistics (NCES)
John:While instructors know what they expect from students, these expectations are not always clear to their students. In this episode, we explore what happens when instructors make their expectations transparent to their students.
John:Thanks for joining us for Tea for Teaching, an informal discussion of innovative and effective practices in teaching and learning.
Rebecca: This podcast series is hosted by John Kane, an economist…
John:…and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer…
Rebecca: …and features guests doing important research and advocacy work to make higher education more inclusive and supportive of all learners.
Rebecca: Our guest today is Mary-Ann Winkelmes. She has served in leadership roles at campus teaching centers at Harvard, the University of Chicago, the University of Illinois, the University of Nevada – Las Vegas, and Brandeis University and is the Founder and Director of TILTHigherEd. TILT is an acronym for Transparency in Learning and Teaching in Higher Ed. We are very much fans of the TILT approach and have referred to it often in workshops on our campus (and on previous podcast episodes). Welcome, Mary-Ann.
Mary-Ann: Thank you. I’m really delighted to be here with you. And I appreciate the opportunity to speak with you on Tea for Teaching.
John:We’re very happy to have you here. You’ve long been on the list of people we’ve wanted to invite. So we’re very pleased that you’re here today. Today’s teas are:… Mary-Ann, are you drinking tea?
Mary-Ann: I am indeed. And I’m drinking a Sencha green tea today. That’s my new favorite kind of green tea, Sencha.
Rebecca: Nice. I have English breakfast today.
John:And I am drinking a mixed berry Twinings black tea…
John:…which I haven’t had in a long time. I wanted to mix it up a little bit today.
Rebecca: …mixing it up with mixed berries. So, Mary-Ann, can you tell us a little bit about how the TILT project came about?
Mary-Ann: Sure. This was years back, I want to say in the early 2000s, late 1990s, where I was working at the BOK Center for Teaching and Learning at Harvard University. And I was leading a seminar group discussions about teaching and learning. And we began to think about the question: “What happens when you tell students why you’re teaching how you’re teaching, just what happens when you tell the students more about your choices as an instructor, how you’re choosing to shape the learning experiences for the students?” And that’s not often something that we think about first when we’re thinking about what’s the content of the course. But we began to think about that a lot. And we had a kind of metaphor about the Wizard of Oz, and pulling back the curtain to show what was happening behind the scenes to build the experience. And then somehow through that conversation, the word transparency emerged. And that became the word that we used pretty regularly from that time on. When I moved to the University of Chicago, that was the word we were using, and it kind of stuck. So that’s kind of where it started. And it started alongside of my career as an educational developer. And it’s kind of been, for me, in the background or on the side, as something that I’ve been kind of tracking along with as a project. It’s still there, it keeps going. And just about a year ago, I began to work on TILT as my full-time job, which I’m really happy to be doing now because it gives me an opportunity, not just to do a guest talk here or there, or a keynote address, which is usually a one time-interaction. But now I have the flexibility to connect with institutions around a longer-term project. So if there’s a faculty learning community that emerges from a first talk that I would give, I get to follow up with them later and see what’s happening and check in with them. Sometimes I get to see the assignments before and after, which I really like. And I invite those now, because we’d like to publish some of those on the TILThighered.com website. And there are some schools that I’ve been working with in the state of Washington for several years now running with their TILT projects. And that emerged from a project we did with the entire state system of Community and Technical Colleges in Washington State. So I have opportunities now like that, where I can work with larger scale TILT projects that take more time, because this is my full-time job now. And I’m really happy about how that’s working, because I feel like it’s getting larger beneficial impact for students in a way that’s more efficient than when my full-time job was at an individual institution.
John:Could you give us an overview of the TILT framework?
Mary-Ann: Absolutely. So the TILT framework is meant to be a very simple tool that is a framework for an ongoing kind of communication among teachers and students. And in all of our studies, we asked teachers to use this framework in their own way at their own discretion, because we know that it’s not really possible to expect that people would do the exact same things with it. So our research is based on the premise that people are using this framework in their own way, at their own discretion, in a way that feels consistent with their teaching style. So there are three parts to this framework: purpose, task, and criteria. And what we ask in all of our studies is for teachers to engage students in conversation about three aspects of a particular assignment or a project or even an in-class activity. Before the students do a piece of work that we want them to complete, we’re asking for teachers and students to have a conversation about three aspects of the work before the students start working on it. And those three aspects are the purpose, the task and the criteria. Now the purpose kind of consists of two pieces. The first part is talking about the skills that students will practice while they’re working on the assignment. And then how are those skills useful, not just now in this course, or maybe in college and other courses, but how are these lifelong learning skills that will be useful for the student in their careers after college or in their lives ongoing? And then the second part of the purpose is about the content knowledge. What new information or what disciplinary information will the students be researching, or gaining, or applying when they’re working on the assignment? And how will that be also similarly useful to them, not just now, or in college, but beyond in their lives? The task, that’s the second part of the TILT framework, and the task is sort of about what are the teacher’s expectations about how students will approach the work? And for the students, it’s kind of like mapping out their game plan, like, what’s the first thing they will do? Will they Google something? Will they go to office hours? Will they go seek out a research librarian? Will they go into the lab and start mixing something like, what’s the first thing they’ll do? And then a sequence of what they plan to do after that until they submit the work. In an ideal world, the teachers and the students would have similar expectations about how that would go. In some cases, though, teachers have a pretty legitimate pedagogical reason for hiding that, that they don’t want students to know how to do the task. And I found this to be the case, particularly in fields where creativity is really important: performing arts, studio arts, even engineering or some STEM courses, where teachers really want students to cast about for a while and kind of use their imagination and see if they can come up with something unique, if not into the discipline, at least unique for the student to try to figure out some new process. And there’s value in that. When teachers want to do that, we did have some pushback from teachers in our original TILT research studies, where they said, “What happens if we don’t want to tell students how to do the work, like part of the task is for them to figure out how to do the work?” So in that case, we asked for those teachers to just say something like, “Part of the purpose of this assignment, in addition to the skills and the knowledge we’ve talked about, part of the purpose is for you to struggle and feel confused, while you invent your own approach to the question.” And we think this is what helps to preserve the student’s sense of confidence and their sense of belonging. Because instead of having that moment of panic of “Oh, no, I don’t actually know how to do this, I don’t even know where to start, I don’t know where the resources are, I don’t know what I’m doing. Maybe I shouldn’t be doing this, maybe this isn’t for me, maybe I shouldn’t be in this major, or in this course.” Instead of going to blaming it on themself or to questioning whether they’re up to the task at all, students can say instead, “I am totally lost right now. And that is exactly where I’m supposed to be. I know I’m on track. I’m doing great. This is the confusion part that comes before the clarity. And I know that because we talked about that and the professor said, this is part of what we expect to happen. This is intentional, this confusion, you’re supposed to feel lost right now.” So that’s sort of what we can say about the task. And the benefit of students knowing upfront what the task is, or knowing how they plan to approach the assignment or the project, the benefit there is that students get to spend 100% of the time they’ve allocated to work on this project, doing their best quality work, and they don’t lose time trying different approaches to see if this or that is going to work or looking for resources that aren’t what the teacher intended for them to be using. Instead of losing time, on the “how,” students get to spend their time so that what teachers receive then is most of the time what we’re looking for, which is “What is the student’s highest capacity right now?” Let’s see an example of the best work that the student can do right now, so we know where they’re at and we can bring them further so that they can advance in their learning. But if we accidentally end up in a situation where a teacher didn’t intend for the students to be confused, they expected the students to take a particular approach that they may have even mentioned at some point in class. So that’s why they think the students know that that’s the expected approach. I don’t want to say the correct approach but at least what they expect students to do. So if we think that students know how to do what we expect them to do, and the students don’t know what we’re expecting them to do, then there’s this chunk of lost time, where what we’re measuring then in the end is what happens after the students spend a chunk of their time lost trying to figure out how to approach the work, and then whatever time is left after that doing their best quality work in the amount of limited time that’s left. So part of the “task” piece of the framework is about what do we want to measure? Right? Do we want to be assessing the best quality work that students can do? Or do we want to be assessing what happens when you give a really varied, diverse group of students a particular assignment to do and you don’t give them 100% clarity about how to do it, and then kind of what you’re measuring is which students have, through no fault of their own, not encountered that information in their lives before coming to this course. And then you also get to identify who are the students that maybe because they had some other kinds of privileges that not all the students had, who are the students that can figure it out faster, because they come equipped with those privileges. So you can begin to see that this is an equity issue. So if talking about the purpose of the assignment kind of speaks to the student’s motivation, and to the value that they will gain from doing the work, and maybe to their ability to assess if they’re getting that value while they’re doing the work, the task speaks to even more of an equity situation where we’re trying to get all of the students to the same starting line of understanding of how to do it, and of having all the resources they would need to do the work to complete the work. And we want to make sure that students are all at that same starting line before they start the assignment. So that’s kind of the equity piece of this. And then finally, the third part of the framework is about criteria. We want students to be able to understand while they’re doing the work, how well are they doing. We want them to be able to make corrections, if they end up with a finished version that doesn’t look like what successful work would look like in this kind of a scenario. But if the students have never seen what successful work looks like, and they probably haven’t, because why would you assign them to do something that they’ve already seen many examples of; they wouldn’t be learning anything new. So kind of by definition, students aren’t going to know what successful work looks like when it meets this or that criterion in the discipline. So what we encourage teachers and students to do there when they’re considering the criteria is to offer students more than just a checklist or a rubric, because the words on a rubric or checklist might mean something different to the student who hasn’t done this kind of work than they do to the teacher who’s really immersed in this kind of work. An example I sometimes offer is, let’s say, I asked students to write up an analysis of a 15th century wooden painted sculpture of the Madonna and child from when I was teaching Italian Renaissance art history courses. In an art history course, the word analyze, like the tasks, the actions that you take when you are analyzing something, that’s a very, very different activity than analyze in the context of an economics course, or in the context of a chemistry course. But if the student hasn’t done this kind of analysis before, you can’t know for sure that they know what you’re asking them to do. So we kind of have to talk that through and students are going to need to see some examples of real world work in the discipline so that they can, with you, in a class meeting, talk about how do we evaluate analysis in this example from the real world, or in that example from the real world. And you won’t find any one example that matches every criterion of the assignment you’re asking students to do, usually, so you need several examples. The benefit of several examples is also that you can begin to talk about the relative success with which different examples are meeting a particular criterion as well. So once we’re in a conversation with students, and we hear back from them, that they’re telling us, what we had hoped they would understand about the skills they’ll practice and the knowledge they’ll gain, that purpose, about how they’re going to approach the work, the task, and about how they’ll know that they’re doing good quality work, the criteria, once we hear students telling us that, that’s the moment that things have become transparent. It is that activity of communication, that conversation with students about purposes, tasks, and criteria, that’s where the transparency comes from. And when we are done with that conversation, we know that students are at the same starting line of readiness In terms of their understanding of what they’re going to do, and also, in terms of their confidence that everyone has the resources that they need, in order to complete that work
Rebecca: What faculty believe is important for students to learn doesn’t always align with the goals of students. Can you talk a little bit about some strategies for bringing these into better alignment?
Mary-Ann: Sure, I think that this kind of speaks to the purpose part of the transparency framework. And often teachers are expecting students to learn something that is very valuable, we wouldn’t spend our time teaching things that don’t have a lot of benefit for students or that they would only use today and it wouldn’t be useful to them later in life. We like to teach things that have value. And so, when we are communicating with students about that value, we’re talking about the skills that students will be practicing. They won’t perfect them on this assignment, but they will begin to strengthen a particular kind of skill set. And they will gain some sort of disciplinary knowledge that can be useful to them later. And we know that sometimes disciplinary knowledge changes over the years as people discover new things and publish new things in any field. Sometimes that knowledge changes. But having some knowledge now does give you important value if you’re going to continue in that discipline or if you want to understand basic principles of a discipline that you might find useful elsewhere. So if students and teachers have a transparent conversation or communication, it could be a written communication, it could be something that they record and put on a website, it could be an asynchronous kind of conversation in an online course. But whatever form that communication takes, I think students and teachers when they’re on the same page about what the knowledge is, what the skills are, that are the focus of this assignment, students will feel more motivated to do the work, because they’ll see that it has benefit for them. And it doesn’t feel like a rote exercise, or just churning out another problem set or another art history analysis paper. There’s some value here that the students know upfront what that value is. And when the teachers hear the students reflecting back to them in this communication, that this is the value that they will be gaining, then we know that students have a kind of motivation to benefit from this assignment.
John:One other issue is that students have come up with some way of learning while they’ve been in elementary and secondary school. But those methods that they picked up are not generally the ones that are most effective. How can we encourage students to adopt learning strategies that they may be resistant to because for example, students, when there have been surveys of what types of learning strategies they found most productive, students often say they prefer to be lectured at, because they learn more from the professor that way. And also, many students don’t like active learning strategies. While they learn more, they don’t perceive it that way. Partly because of those desirable difficulties you referred to before, that when they’re struggling with something, it’s a little bit less pleasant than sitting there nodding and smiling and having everything seem to make sense. How can we encourage students to accept those desirable difficulties associated with learning so that they can learn more effectively,
Mary-Ann: I want to say that this is something that the TILT framework can definitely help us with. And this is not an uncommon phenomenon at all, I even find in my TILT workshops that I do with instructors, that instructors don’t love collaborative learning either. And in fact, many of these TILT workshops that I do will begin with some kind of a research review about “How do we know TILT works? What are the studies and what do they tell us and show us the data?” So we get off on this kind of role, where we’re almost in a traditional lecture format, where like someone’s delivering some information, and people are listening, and then they have questions about it. Or maybe they have challenges to say, “Wait, this doesn’t make sense, let’s talk about this.” And then I kind of switch the method that we’re using. And I’ll ask people to break off into small groups and begin to analyze a particular assignment and talk about where do they see the purposes, the tasks, and the criteria? Before I do that, I acknowledge the fact that we are shifting gears, and that we were doing fine with this sort of Q&A format. You know, look at the research and then think about it and talk about it. Ask questions. Why would I switch that up now? Like we were on a roll, we were doing great. Everybody was sort of on board. Why would I change that now? And so I use the TILT framework to talk about why we’re shifting gears now. What is my purpose in having you use this different method? So if it’s a peer learning method, as it is in the workshops, or as it might be with students in a class, we want to tell students: “Why are we now manipulating your learning experiences this way? Why would I do that to you when I know that sometimes students resist this, when I know that it can be uncomfortable, because I don’t personally always like to do it when I’m in a learning experience?” So if we can tell students, here’s why this is going to benefit you, because you don’t just hear it, but you have to struggle to apply it, you have to fit it not to the situation that I was talking about, where it all sort of makes sense when it rolls over you and you’re hearing it. But you now have to take the principle of what we were talking about, and apply it to this new unfamiliar scenario. And the benefit of that is that you will discover you will hit a barrier at some point in that process, where you will discover the exact piece of information that’s missing for you. You will discover exactly where you hit a barrier to your understanding. And you will have an opportunity right now, right here with me, the teacher in this class, to address that confusing point. And the benefit of doing that now, as opposed to later when you’re doing a graded assignment, is pretty obvious, you get the benefit of having the difficult learning experience in a safe environment that doesn’t lose you any sort of points on your grade. It doesn’t have any negative impact on you the way that it might if you waited until the end of the term to do some massive project and you hadn’t really done a lot of the homework or done a lot of the practices and so you didn’t really know what you didn’t understand until it was kind of too late to do anything about. So I think in short, what I’m trying to say is when we’re asking students to do something uncomfortable, that has a really solid pedagogical reason, that has evidence behind that, it is an evidence-based practice, we want students to know that upfront, because that then will increase their motivation to do it, because they see how they’re going to benefit if they do this thing.
Rebecca: One of the things that students often struggle with is when they start new courses with new faculty, and new ways of doing things and determining what the instructor will expect out of them and out of that learning experience. Can you talk a little bit about how the TILT framework could allow students to shift their focus to learning if it was adopted in the design of the course rather than just an individual single assignments?
Mary-Ann: Yes. And in fact, this is a way that lots of faculty are using the TILT framework, is to think about how do I TILT not just a single assignment, but a whole course. So usually, when people are introduced to the TILT framework, the original ask for all our research studies is would you please do this two times in an academic term, just twice? Because we wanted to see how little change could you make and have a beneficial impact on students’ learning, because small change is much more likely to happen than massive change. But once you’ve made that small change as an instructor, and you see that when you do this with two assignments, there’s some real benefit for students. And on the TILThighered.com website, there are publications by faculty who talk about not just how the quality of students’ work increases, but how the teachers experience in grading, or in responding to students, or in how many students will ask for an extension at the last minute, like these difficulties that teachers often face are diminished, while the benefits for students and the quality of students work increases. So once you begin to see this in the small scale of assignments, teachers then, maybe in the subsequent term, will think about what else could I TILT? Could I TILT in-class activities? Could I TILT a unit of this course? Could I TILT the whole course? And then the effects or the applications can grow. So we can apply this to a single assignment, we could TILT a whole course, we could TILT a curriculum in a department, we could TILT a program, we could TILT an institution’s learning outcomes and thread them through not just all the courses, but through all the co-curriculars too so that students might discover in their work-study job that they’re practicing one of the critical thinking outcomes, that’s a goal for the whole university that connects with what they were doing in their accounting class. And then we can even think about this in terms of a national framework of learning outcomes as well. So there are many scales at which you can apply that to a framework. And one of the things that I’m really enjoying about doing TILT full time, is that I can work with groups of schools, groups of institutions, so not just the Washington State group that I mentioned to you, but several weeks ago I was in the state of Kentucky where working with teams of teachers from institutions across the state, for the whole state system, to think about aspects of how do you map out a path for students to succeed in fulfilling their curriculum? And then how do you pursue that path? How do you complete that path? And in that case, we were using the TILT framework as a strategic planning framework to think about once we know what the plan is, like, once we’ve mapped out our plan for how students can effectively complete their degrees, how do we then communicate the value of that degree, not just to the students who are doing the degree, not just to the students’ families who may be contributing to the costs of doing that degree, not just the costs of the student’s tuition, but the cost of the student not being an earner in that family. And we want to communicate this to all the stakeholders, so the students, their parents, faculty, and staff at the institution, to state legislators who may be voting on packages of funding to higher education in their state, to individual grantors who might be funding particular scholarships. And we want to be able to communicate the value of this degree to every stakeholder in a state system that way. And the TILT framework is very helpful for thinking across multiple audiences, because that’s a pretty difficult task to communicate clearly to all of those different kinds of audiences. But it’s pretty essential for the success of higher education in this country. And so we spent a couple of days using the TILT framework as a strategic planning framework to think about how do you communicate the value of a degree? There are lots of ways that you can apply the TILT framework. Another example is I was working with a school in Texas over the summer, and they were TILTing their entire college success course. Many institutions have that kind of course in the first year, and some of them had TILTed individual assignments. And they decided they wanted to put the team of all the teachers together, and then subdivide that so that a smaller team of teachers was working on each week of the course. And then all the assignments and the lectures or discussions that would go into that week. And then we use the TILT framework as a larger framework to connect that whole course. So that from week to week, the purposes, tasks, and criteria were pretty clear. And students understood the path for all of their learning across that course.
John:Have you tried taking on the Florida Legislature? [LAUGHTER]
Mary-Ann: I have not.
John:That’s a real challenge, I suspect.
Mary-Ann: Yeah, I have worked with schools in Wisconsin. Last week, I was working with a school in Tennessee, right after a couple of their legislators were expelled temporarily. This kind of a framework, I think, can be effective in a lot of different higher education systems and contexts. That’s one of the beauties of it. Because this is something that teachers can do, starting right now, to complement any kind of larger, institutionally driven or federally funded program that might focus on student success. A lot of the time, those programs don’t necessarily feel like they’re directly connected to what faculty members are doing in the day to day in their classes. But using this TILT framework is something that you can do that will advance students’ success that will then make you feel more like you’re connected to these larger ongoing efforts that might be focusing on something that you don’t do directly, like targeted scholarship funding, for example. But that’s part of the beauty of the TILT framework is that it can work in many, many different contexts, and across different scale sizes of projects, as well.
John:And it works nicely for faculty because you end up getting work of the quality and the type that you expect, rather than getting student work that you find disappointing. And similarly, students end up doing work that they’re much more happy with, because they were not guessing at what the instructors want. So it just seems really, really logical. But it’s not always so widely practiced. Your efforts are really helpful for all of this.
Mary-Ann: I think one of the reasons why people might be hesitant to use the TILT framework, you don’t necessarily want to try doing something different that could suck up time that could take time away from delivering important content in the course, and what teachers have discovered and written about and published in the National Teaching and Learning Forum and other places you can see on the TILThighered.com website, what teachers have discovered is that if you take some class time to talk about the purposes, tasks, and criteria for a project before students do it, by the time that practice is completed, everyone has saved time; that time gets recouped, and students have learned a larger quantity of what we had hoped they we’d learn because when we deliver content in a course, we don’t know that students are absorbing it the way that we’d hoped or that they could apply it the way that we’d hoped. So I think by the end of the course, if you’ve used the TILT framework a couple of times, you’re in a situation where you’ve worked in a way that is more time efficient, somewhat, and you arrive at a place that, as you say, is more satisfying for students and teachers, because more of the time has been spent with the students doing the highest quality work possible.
Rebecca: I think one of the things that can be challenging for faculty initially is that if you’ve never communicated in this way, it’s hard to do it the first time, because anything you do the first time is difficult. But once you have a little practice doing it, it’s easy to adopt and expand across a course or across a set of courses.
Mary-Ann: That’s so true. And I think that the way that we’ve structured the TILT framework, it looks so simple, it’s a three-part framework. Applying it then gets you into some complexities that are important to clarify. I think you’re absolutely right, the first time we try anything that’s unfamiliar, just like for students, it’s more difficult. And then we kind of get the hang of it. And then it comes much smoother, and much easier. The TILT framework for starters, is pretty simple. It’s got three parts, right? And I think you could probably share a link to the one-page version of the framework that we give to students, that sort of spells out the framework: purpose, tasks, criteria, the knowledge and the skills. And then at the bottom, there are some of the evidence behind why we know this works and some footnotes, so that students can see on one page, this is a real thing. It works, it helps you. It is, in some cases, equitable, and it is probably worth giving it a try. And if you can see all that on one page as a student, then you might be more willing, especially in a context where a teacher is describing to you why this will be good for you, why this is a benefit for all of us. And then for teachers who have not encountered the TILT framework, when students can bring in this one pager that has some studies listed at the bottom and footnotes, they can see that when the student is asking me, why should I bother? This is actually a legitimate question. This is not a troublemaker student, this is a student who actually knows that they will benefit from knowing a little bit more in advance about this assignment that they’re planning to do. So we try to make it as easy as possible to implement. And then we also try to say only a little bit of this will make a statistically significant difference for students’ learning, so that you only have to try it a couple of times in a whole term. And you’ll probably see the kind of differences that we saw in terms of increases to students’ confidence and their sense of belonging, and their metacognitive awareness of the skills that they were practicing and developing. So if you’re doing anything new or different for the first time, yes, there’s some difficulty to that, but this one is a very, very desirable difficulty. [LAUGHTER]
John:We’ll share a link to that one-sheet document as well as to your website in general. And you do have a lot of research cited on your website. And there’s also some ongoing projects. Could you talk a little bit about those?
Mary-Ann: Yes, we are sharing all the resources that we possibly can on the TILT higher ed website, because we want for everyone to have access to this. Some of the places that benefit most are places that might have the least amount of money that is allocated for faculty development or educational development. So we want to make sure that this is accessible to anyone who would want to try it. And then the studies that we’ve done in the past, there are a few studies that have indicated to us a number of the benefits of TILT. One of the first studies we did was the national study we ran with the Association of American Colleges and Universities. It was funded by TG Philanthropy and my colleagues working on that project were Tia Brown McNair and Ashley Finley. And what we did there was we worked with a group of seven minority-serving institutions from across the country that represented every possible type of minority-serving institution, as well as a range of educational contexts like urban and rural, two-year, four-year, research university, really small in scale, large, residential and non residential campuses because we wanted for teachers to look at our results and see, “Oh, well, this worked for those faculty at that institution, and there are students like my students in that mix, so maybe this would work for my students. And in that study, we started with 35 professors at seven schools and we surveyed about 1200 students and we saw that, for the students who received the more transparent instruction, their competence and their sense of belonging and their metacognitive awareness of the skills that they were developing, those increased, those were higher for the students who got more transparent instruction than for those who got less transparent instruction. And then we also saw in that study some differences that showed us that while all the students were benefiting to a statistically significant level, underserved students were benefitting slightly more. So first-generation students in their family to attend college and ethnically underrepresented students and low-income students have slightly larger benefits than the benefits for the whole group. And then in our second study, we focused on how long does this effect last. So we worked with a group of University of Nevada – Las Vegas students. At the time we were working with that study, University of Nevada – Las Vegas had the most diverse undergraduate student population in the nation, according to US News and World Report. And we know from other studies, like Walton and Cohen’s, 2011, Science Magazine article, for example, we know that when students’ confidence increases, when their sense of belonging increases, they tend to persist longer in a course. So in courses that have higher levels of confidence and belonging, fewer of the students would drop the course, for example, more of them more likely to complete the course. And we wanted to see how long does that last. Is it just that course? And some studies indicate that this could last for a year. And what we did was we kept looking at the retention rates of these students to see how many of them were still registered a semester later, a year later, two years later. And we saw that by the time students were in their third year of university as undergraduates, those students who had received transparent instruction in one of their large gateway intro courses in their first year, those students were a little bit more likely to be still registered as students in their third year. And we’re now tracking that out to six-year graduation rates. So we saw that not only does transparency have a beneficial effect, it’s statistically significant, but that effect lasts for a good long time. And then in the state of Washington, we’re now writing up that study I mentioned with the Community and Technical College System. And I think that TILT is particularly helpful in that environment, because the population of community colleges and technical colleges is a little bit more diverse. And we have more students who belong to that underserved category of students, first-generation, low income, ethnically underrepresented. And what we’re finding from that study is we’re understanding a little more about how does transparency work, and I want to thank all of the researchers who are contributing to all of these studies too, because I’m not an educational statistician, so Daniel Richard, and Carolyn Weisz and Kathryn Oleson are contributing to this study and doing a lot of the analysis, along with help from some graduate students who have been working on this project over the years. What they’re discovering is that transparent instruction has a direct impact on students’ awareness of the skills that they’re learning, and it has a direct impact, similarly beneficial, on students’ sense of belonging. And then separately, sense of belonging has a direct impact on students’ metacognitive awareness and skills that they’re developing. So TILT has this direct effect. And then there’s this other effect between belonging and skill development as well. So we’re finding out more about precisely how TILT works for the benefit of students in these studies. And I think in terms of next studies, I want to be asking questions that really matter to populations of faculty and students around the country. So we open up the TILT research team to anybody who’s curious about this, and a number of faculty have asked about, can we say something more about how this works in an online setting, in an online synchronous setting in an online asynchronous setting, and we’ve got a few publications up on the website about that, but others are looking at that a bit more. And then we have another person who’s looking into just the impact on low-income students to see if we can find out more there about the details of how this works. And I’m really curious to see if we can work with large state systems, what can we find about the most time efficient, most beneficial ways to apply transparency and learning and teaching in community college settings. And I’ve also noticed that as I begin to do more work internationally, because I now have more flexible time to be able to do that, the colleges of applied sciences, like in the European Union, for example, they have a kind of three-year degree that is similarly focused on students’ learning something from their degree like they do here in a community or technical college that will lead them on a path into sustainable long-term employment and a career. So I think that this is going to be a really beneficial place to focus TILT efforts and to do some more research about how can we long term have an impact on not just students’ education, but how that is a pathway into a career. And I’m hopeful that we can find out more about that, like the longer long-term effect of TILT. But I’m also really open to inviting anyone who wants to do more research with the mountains of data that we’re sitting on, to discover something that is of interest to them about how students are learning, and how we can help students succeed more.
Rebecca: I really love all the resources and examples and research materials, worksheets, that are on the website. They’re really handy for folks who are starting out. We always wrap up by asking: “What’s next?”
Mary-Ann: What’s next for me, and then what might be next for teachers and students too. So we’ve talked a lot in detail about how TILT works, and how we know it works, and what more we want to discover about how it works. But I want people to remember that this is really a small effort, it’s a very easy lift that has a really large benefit from the size of that lift. And so I would really encourage teachers and students, if they’re going to do anything at all, even if they have no time to adjust any assignment prompts or to adjust anything about the way that they’re teaching or learning in a classroom. If you use any one single thing, I would say use that framework that we built for the students that has the footnotes at the bottom, and it’s called the “unwritten rules” and that framework, and I think you could probably provide a link to it, that’s what I would hope people would do next, just take that framework with you to anywhere that you’re communicating with your students. And the students will tell you how to make the work more transparent for them. Ask students what they see as the purpose, the task, and the criteria. And you’ll discover very quickly, very efficiently, how you can make that work more transparent so that all students are starting to do the work with the same understanding about what’s expected and with the same set of resources that they need in order to do it. So that’s what I hope is next for teachers and students.
Rebecca: And I hear all the faculty cheering about efficiency, and quick. [LAUGHTER]
Mary-Ann: That’s good. Yeah. So that would be the most time efficient thing to do, I think is to have students teach us more about how to be more transparent. And then in terms of researchers, I’m hoping that researchers will think about what can we learn more about? Can we learn more about what motivates students? Or what forms students’ sense of belonging? Is there anything in our survey data that would shed light on any kind of work you’re doing around that? Is there anything in our survey data that would shed light on more of the research on neuroscience and how that’s impacting learning? Or is there anything in the research that we have in our survey data that might help clarify what would be most beneficial for the very most at-risk students? So if we look at federal government statistics, National Center for Education Statistics about retention rates and graduation rates of different populations of students? Can we double down and look at those students with the very lowest graduation rates? And can we find something about TILT that would be the most beneficial for that population of students? To me, that’s a really important and interesting question. And then I really do want to be finding more locations where TILT could be useful, small scale for teachers and students, large scale for state systems or national systems to be thinking about how to apply this all for the good of students success, and for the satisfaction and time efficiency for teachers work as well.
John:If you’re finding these results of long-term persistent effects from just a single intro course, imagine what would happen if all intro courses use the TILT approach. I imagine the effect would be magnified if it was adopted at a broader level and it is being adopted at many institutions at a broader level.
Mary-Ann: I absolutely agree with you that applying TILT across the largest introductory gateway required courses at any institution would be probably the most efficient way to improve retention and graduation rates. Because if you go for the largest group of students as they enter, and you reduce the number of those students who might be thinking or doubting or wondering if they should continue, and if you increase the number of students who feel confident, who are aware of the value of what they’re learning, in terms of skills and knowledge, and if you increase the number of students who persist from the first year on, then that’s where you’re going to have the best success in increasing retention and graduation rates. I agree with you. I think that’s a really strategically wise place to invest TILT effort.
Rebecca: Well thank you so much. We’re looking forward to sharing this with our listeners.
Mary-Ann: And thank you so much for the opportunity to talk with you this afternoon, I really appreciate it
John:Thank you for all the work you’re doing.
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Rebecca: You can find show notes, transcripts and other materials on teaforteaching.com. Music by Michael Gary Brewer.