Pronunciation /trænˈspær.ənt/
1 see through
2 obvious; clear and easy to understand or recognize
3 open and honest, without secrets
Cambridge dictionary 2019

Transparent pedagogy is partly about making your intentions (your learning design) clear to the students. It’s partly about helping them to understand what to expect from you, and what is expected of them. It can be a great way of establishing responsibilities and partnership in the learning environment, and circumventing passive ‘consumer-style’ approaches to learning. But it’s also about developing metacognition, helping students think about how learning works, and how knowledge is constructed. Below are some examples that I think illustrate this approach really well.

This publicly-available Digital Sociology Syllabus by Prof Tressie McMillan Cottom is a great example, as it outlines the rationale behind her pedagogic choices, and openly prepares her students for the challenges of the chosen approach. I love how frankly she describes the requirements to her students – my favourite bit is this:

“Throughout the course, I expect you to engage each other’s work and the assigned reading substantively. We do not do that “leave a comment on a thread every week by five where you just write two sentences for a grade” nonsense in this course. This is not an independent study class with me or a MOOC. You should learn from each other as much, if not more than you learn from me.”

The syllabus is for an online course, which arguably makes clarity all the more important, but the idea can be applied across the board – in face to face and blended teaching.

Transparent pedagogy is also about exposing the process of learning, focusing on the journey rather than the ‘end goal’ and making it clear when and how learning is happening as the course progresses. The idea of palimpsests is used by Amy Collier to illustrate this process; I particularly like this part:

“Palimpsest can frame how we think about student learning–that it accrues and traces on individual students’ histories and humanities–what they already bring to the educational environment. We can recognize that students will build and connect learning across the time they engage with us and with our institutions. That’s why portfolios projects that focus solely on creating final products (something that can be shown to an employer) miss the point. Palimpsest in student portfolios would allow students’ previous work and thinking to color the “final product.””

This metaphor emphasises two key ideas for me. First, transparent pedagogy is about dialogue, not just a set of instructions or a brief. You can’t make a student learn in a particular way just by explaining your intention, but you can help them see how it’s intended to work, and give them the language to analyse it. They will bring their own understanding to what you are offering and combine these to create something new.

The second point is that it’s honest. Learning is messy, uncomfortable, and rarely linear. This article by Jake Wright makes a case for transparent pedagogy as an effective response to “naive skepticism” from new students, which he claims can derive from a number of sources including distress at the disturbance of a previously held world view. He describes his approach as “metadisciplinary discussion” which should be meaningful, accessible and reinforced throughout the course.  Wright argues that this approach can help students in introductory courses move past simplistic views about right and wrong answers and handle multiple interpretations – not by confrontation, but by encouraging them to practice “thinking like a disciplinarian”.

Finally, transparent pedagogy is also really beneficial when it comes to sharing teaching experience. Whether for peer observation, team teaching or handing over a course to a new member of staff or partner, having an explicit and detailed explanation of the thinking behind the construction can make all the difference in terms of delivery and student experience.

If you’d like to get some ideas on how to try this, get in touch with the Learning Design team. Or alternatively, if you’re already doing this, let us know how it’s going! We’d love to know if it’s making a difference for you and your students.



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