CTLT Dialogues

The Blog of the Center for Teaching & Learning with Technology

Conversations on Teaching – Transparency

Posted by Cathy Kelley on May 11, 2007

In the last “Conversations on Teaching” column I discussed some educational values that contribute to the quality of online or blended courses. These included Transparency, Organization, Alignment, Universal Design, Responsibility, Co-Presence, Appropriate Technology Use, and Ease of Maintenance. Over the next few columns I or some potential guest columnists will be discussing each of these concepts, and give some ideas for how you can realize these values in your classes.

“Transparency” means that your expectations for all aspects of the course are clear and easily accessible to the students. When your expectations are transparent, this means that your students do not have to guess or read between the lines when determining what they need to do next.

You can begin to make your online or blended class more transparent by organizing your course materials into meaningful units (e.g. weeks of study, thematically or topically organized units). Each of these units should contain the same organizational structure. A typical unit structure might include:

  • Orienting statement or paragraph, including transition from prior unit’s theme to this unit’s theme
  • Statement of learning objectives
  • Content (e.g. readings, notes, multimedia materials)
  • Learning activities (labs, assignments, discussions)
  • Assessment (quiz, essay, exam)

Depending on the course material and your teaching style, the content, activities, and assessments may overlap. For example, a lab report may serve as both a learning activity and an assessment. In a class based on experiential learning, there may be no separate text or multimedia content, as the learning takes place during the execution of activities. The important point to consider is that you maintain a reasonably consistent structure across your units. This structure helps students pace their work, thus gaining more control over their own learning.

A clear and accurate statement of learning objectives for each unit also serves to make your class more transparent. When students understand what you expect them to learn, they are able to take more control over their learning.

The use of grading rubrics or other clearly stated grading schemes also contributes to transparency. This is especially so if you share the rubric with the students before they begin work on an assignment. Students become frustrated if the instructor’s expectations of their performance are unclear. The use of rubrics also contributes to the perception that you are fair.

In an online or blended class, it is also very important to give clear and accurate instructions to students concerning how to submit assignments, acceptable document formats (e.g. Microsoft Word or HTML), how to find materials in the class, and other “signposting” information. Ideally, these instructions should be repeated every time you give an assignment, as students tend to forget or get confused, as different instructors have differing expectations.

In short, for every aspect of your blended or online class, it is worthwhile to ask yourself, “will the students fully understand what I expect of them here?” If the answer is uncertain, then consider adding clear instructions.

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