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Mar 27 / otl

2018 Innovations in Teaching and Learning Luncheon: “The Unwritten Rules of College: Creating Transparent Assignments that Increase Underserved College Students’ Success”

Dr. Mary-Ann Winkelmes, Director of Instructional Development and Research and an Associate Graduate Faculty member in the Department of History at the University Nevada, Las Vegas was our guest speaker on Tuesday, March 20th 2018. The 5th annual Innovations in Teaching and Learning Luncheon was co-hosted by the Office for Teaching and Learning (OTL), the Wayne State University (WSU) National Science Foundation – funded WIDER/SSTEP Grant Program, and the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences. As a part of this luncheon, Provost Keith Whitfield acknowledged the attendees for their commitment towards teaching and learning.

Why transparency?

Keynote speaker Dr. Mary-Ann Winkelmes engaged the over 150 attending faculty members in a lively conversation that centered on the following question: How can we help students succeed in college?

More students than ever before have access to higher education, but yet, historically underrepresented students, such as first generation students and minority students, do not encounter “equity of experience.” Not all students who enter college understand the “unwritten rules of college” which can lead to the following problems:

  • Dr. Mary-Ann Winkelmes presenting TILT

    Dr. Mary-Ann Winkelmes presenting TILT to WSU faculty at the Innovations in Teaching & Learning luncheon

    Underrepresented, first generation, and low income students are half as likely to graduate college in 4 years.

  • The gatekeeper mentality is unsustainable – we can’t expect that everyone already knows the unwritten rules of college; we need to teach them these rules and we need individuals who “think outside of the box” for future research that is innovative.
  • High-achievement in high school can frustrate college success – even students who were excellent students in high school have problems transitioning to expectations in college.
  • Well-prepared novices don’t think like experts – you are an expert in your field and you know why you are teaching the class the way you are teaching it, help your students to see those connections.

Making your assignments more transparent has a significant effect on all your students’ learning but especially benefits traditionally underrepresented and first-generations students.

Transparency in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education – TILT

Dr. Winkelmes’ solution is not only compelling, but simple: Explain to your students why they receive an assignment (the purpose), what they are expected to do (tasks), and how they will be evaluated (criteria).

Here is the simplified “TILT Template” (for a more detailed description, refer to the TILT “Checklist for Designing a Transparent Assignment” handout)

Dr. Mary-Ann Winkelmes presenting TILT

Dr. Mary-Ann Winkelmes presenting TILT to an engaged audience of WSU faculty

  1. Purpose – What is the long-term relevance of the assignment? What is the connection to the learning outcomes of the class?
  • Skills – What skills do students practice when completing the assignment?
  • Knowledge – What knowledge do students gain by completing the assignment?
  1. Tasks – What steps do students need to follow to compete the assignment? How should they do it? What are some common mistakes to avoid?
  2. Criteria for success – How will students be evaluated? Is there a checklist or rubric? Provide annotated examples of previous student work.

Make a simple tweak with a big difference

We challenge you to become part of WSU’s commitment to support our diverse student body that will benefit from more transparent assignments.

The challenge: Change two (2) assignments in a class you are teaching to the TILT format – that’s it!

The OTL is here to support you

Attend one of our upcoming TILT workshops or schedule an individual consultation with one of our consultants to make a small but effective change in your teaching.

  • Redesigning assignments to be transparent for all students: Thursday, April 19th, 1:00-2:30pm
  • Redesigning assignments to be transparent for all students: Friday, April 27th, 10:00-11:30am

Email the Office for Teaching and Learning at or call at 313-577-0001 for more information or to schedule an appointment.


To learn more about TILT, you can view the following resources: