One Easy Way Faculty Can Improve
Student Success

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by Lisa Cook and Daniel Fusch, Academic Impressions

There has been a lot of talk recently about how faculty serve on the "front lines" of student success, and how changes to syllabus design or implementation of more active learning strategies can have a big impact on students' academic success and persistence.

Mary-Ann Winkelmes, coordinator of instructional development and research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, associate graduate faculty in the History Department, and senior fellow at the Association of American Colleges and Universities, has developed an approach she calls "teaching transparency." It isn't a pedagogical strategy, but rather a framework that faculty can use to help students better understand the rationale and relevance of specific learning activities and the steps they should follow to complete an activity successfully.

"It's a simple adjustment to teaching," Winkelmes notes, but one that has a demonstrated impact. In one study at seven minority-serving institutions, Winkelmes found that when faculty revised just two assignments to be clearer about their purpose, task and criteria, there was a statistically significant increase in student success for all students, but a particularly notable increase for underrepresented, first-generation, and low-income students.

We spoke recently with Winkelmes to learn more about the Transparency in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education project (TILT Higher Ed), her research findings, and how faculty can directly improve their students' performance.

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