Transparent Assignment Design

Transparent Assignment Design


What It Is

Transparent assignment design is a framework for structuring assignments to promote and encourage student learning. Based on research from Dr. Mary Ann Winkelmes (University of Nevada Las Vegas, Brandeis University) and the Transparency in Learning and Teaching (TILT) Higher Ed Project, transparent assignment design is a way of communicating expectations to learners. The framework includes three components for assignment design: purpose, tasks, and criteria. Instructors create transparency by describing how students will learn content, why learning experiences were planned in a particular way, and how students will use their learning in the course and beyond.

Why It Matters

Research has demonstrated that this type of explicit instruction and construction of assignments supports all students, but it is particularly beneficial for underrepresented students, first generation college students, and low income students. Winkelmes found that transparency in just two assignments per course significantly improved student learning, boosted academic confidence and sense of belonging, and encouraged students’ metacognitive awareness of skill development toward future professions. 

Transparent assignment design is also beneficial to instructors because assignments are more likely to be turned in on time, students participate in meaningful discussion at higher rates, and there are fewer questions from students about assignment logistics.

Apply It 

  1. Reflect on learning objectives for  the assignment and your course.  
  2. Articulate the purpose of the assignment. Explain its relevance to the course objectives and any broader academic and career  contexts. Describe the skills students will practice and what knowledge they will gain. 
  3. Break down the tasks. Divide complex tasks into smaller, manageable tasks. Using student-friendly language, provide step-by-step instructions and resources to guide students through each stage of an assignment as a checklist. 
  4. Define success. Explicitly outline what a successful assignment looks like (consider sharing a rubric or exemplar). This builds students’ confidence and allows them to self-evaluate. 
  5. Seek student feedback. Although your assignment might seem clear, remember you are an expert in your field and prone to potential blind spots. Student insights can help you refine future assignments. 




Winkelmes, M. A., Bernacki, M., Butler, J., Zochowski, M., Golanics, J., & Weavil, K. H. (2016). A teaching intervention that increases underserved college students’ success. Peer Review, 18(1/2), 31-36.

Cite This Resource

Studio for Teaching & Learning Innovation. (2024, February). Transparent assignment design [Teaching resource]. 

Updated 2/2024