Assignment directions can often prove difficult for students to follow in online learning. Students don’t always ask when they have questions, and they can’t just hang back after class or casually stop by office hours for clarification. The best assignment prompts are clear prompts, but it can be hard to know which prompts are or are not clear until several students (or even whole classes) have already performed poorly.
Enter the TILT framework.
The Transparency in Learning and Teaching (TILT) project advocates the use of a very simple framework for assignment prompts. The framework lays out the steps students take to complete an assignment and by what criteria they will be graded. It motivates students by providing the context behind the assignment, so fewer assignments feel like “busy work.”
The TILT website links to several publications that credit the framework with increased student confidence, improved retention rates, a deeper connection between students and the course, and higher grades. These effects are especially seen among first generation students and underserved students. According to the data, TILTing an assignment makes it more accessible and equitable.
Applying the TILT framework to an assignment doesn’t change the assignment itself. In other words, students will still be doing the same thing they did before. The adjustment is applied solely to the prompt – the written directions given to students -by matching it to a simple template. As can be seen in “The Template” image, the framework includes the Purpose of the assignment, the Tasks required to complete the assignment, and the Criteria by which students can evaluate their success. These three parts will be explained more in depth in the context of online learning below. Additional resources such as the following can be found on the TILT website:
In the Purpose section of the template, tell students why they’re doing the assignment. Include context within the course and in the context of their careers.
Laying out an assignment’s purpose motivates learners by providing them the “why” behind the work. It makes learning more relevant.
Have you gotten feedback that your carefully crafted discussions feel like busy work? Or do students wonder why you want them to take low stakes, multiple-choice quizzes in an MBA course? Perhaps they would change their minds if they knew that those discussions build a community of inquiry, or that those multiple choice quizzes let them practice retrieving information from long term memory.
Purpose is our favorite place to bring up theoretical topics such as metacognition. It’s also a perfect spot to remind students of the learning objectives associated with that assignment.
Do you find yourself answering the same procedural questions over and over? Are there common mistakes you want your students to avoid or tips you can give them? Do you want them to follow a certain sequence? Lay all that out in Tasks.
But let’s say you don’t want to tell them exactly what to do. Let’s say you don’t want to give them step-by-step directions and to have them find their own way for pedagogical reasons. Or maybe you want them to feel free to submit a PowerPoint presentation rather than be tied to a written paper. Tell them that, too!
The Tasks section is where we provide clarity in online assignments. Be proactive here and save time answering emails later.
Criteria for Success
Criteria is the spot to point out that you’re using a rubric and where to find it so students can self-evaluate before they submit the assignment. If you don’t use a rubric, how will you be evaluating the assignment? What criteria will you use to judge success? Don’t make students guess; tell them.
This is also a good place to provide examples of past assignments (or at least portions of examples).
This section is also a great place to outline your expectations for academic integrity. Is it OK for students to share their paper with a relative for help with grammar? Can they work with a classmate? Academic integrity includes a lot of gray areas. Make your expectations clear here, so you’ll have fewer fires to squelch later.
Our experience in using this framework is that it feels really good to be organized. But more importantly, fitting the content to the framework reveals what information is missing from the original prompt. Here’s what one of our UW MBA Consortium instructors, Andy Miller, has to say about it:
“[The TILT framework] made sure there was a clear set of skills and knowledge I wanted students to get out of the assignment. This way, I confirmed I was giving homework assignments that were relevant to the course. I was also surprised at how easy it was. I had always thought about the sections it asked for; TILT provided me an opportunity to document those rather than losing them.” ~Andy Miller, UW-Oshkosh
The entire TILT website is a treasure-trove of information, as are your iDocs instructional designers. Contact us for help TILTing your assignments.
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