Magazine article Liberal Education

Transparency in Teaching: Faculty Share Data and Improve Students' Learning

Magazine article Liberal Education

Transparency in Teaching: Faculty Share Data and Improve Students' Learning

Article excerpt

Faculty rarely have opportunities to research their students' views about how their best learning happens in college or graduate school. Even less common are the means for teachers to gather such information from colleagues on a large scale and distill it into pragmatic insights about teaching practices i best suited to their I own particular students. The Illinois Initiative on Transparency in Learning and Teaching is a grassroots assessment project doing just that, and it demonstrably enhances students' learning. The project has two main goals: (1) to promote students' conscious understanding of how they learn; and (2) to enable faculty to gather, share, and promptly benefit from data about students' learning by coordinating their efforts across disciplines, institutions, and countries.

Statistically significant early results indicate distinct current and future learning benefits of particular teaching and learning methods that are specific to discipline, class size, level of expertise, and student demographics. Reporting of the results helps faculty identify and adopt the learning and teaching method(s) best suited to achieving the desired outcomes for the specific population of students in their courses. And ongoing analysis suggests that benefits for underrepresented and nontraditional students might be leveraged to promote higher retention and graduation rates for these groups, and even increased participation of diversely prepared students in master's and doctoral degree programs.

The Transparency Initiative complements existing assessments of content mastery and teaching performance by asking students about their perceptions of the current and future learning benefits they are gaining. And it reimagines the scope of impact by sharing the aggregate data and findings (anonymously and with the approval of an institutional review board) across the institutional and national confines that usually circumscribe such research. Since 2010, the initiative has involved more than twenty-five thousand students, one hundred sixty courses, and twenty-seven institutions in seven countries.

The practices tested share several things in common: they are transparent, requiring explicit conversation among teachers and students about the processes of learning and the rationale for required learning activities; they involve relatively minor adjustments to any teacher's current practice; and they are consistent with research-based best practices in higher education.

Studying transparent teaching practices

With faculty and students as a starting point, the Transparency Initiative developed from a desire to research a phenomenon that faculty reported anecdotally in a series of pedagogy seminars at Harvard University, the University of Chicago, and the University of Illinois: students' learning outcomes improved when they understood how and why instructors had structured their learning experiences in particular ways (Winkelmes 2013). Prior research on metacognition demonstrated that students learn more and retain that learning longer when they have an awareness of and some control over how they are learning (Cohen 1980; Dunlosky and Metcalfe 20009; Francis, Adams, and Noonan 1998; Light 1990; Nelson and Dunlosky 1991; Perry, Hall, and Ruthig 2007). Research also suggests that training students to understand how to have more agency in their learning increases their academic success (Perry, Hall, and Ruthig 2007; Gynnald, Holstad and Myrhaug 2008), and that monitoring students' understanding of their learning can enrich assessment practice (Micari et al. 2007).

To find out more about their students' experience of this phenomenon, a small faculty cohort at the University of Chicago worked with the Center for Teaching and Learning there to develop a questionnaire in order to gather students' perceptions of their learning experiences. The first online survey was tested for reliability, validity, and factor loadings in the spring of 2009. …

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