September 3, 2019
Volume 4, Number 2
The Unwritten Rules of College
Mary-Ann Winkelmes looked out at her students one evening 15 years ago. Even now, she can remember their day jobs: banker, security guard, plumber, lounge singer, priest.
She had dedicated her life to the art and architecture of the Italian Renaissance. But why, she wondered, did students in Harvard University’s extension program need to learn about it?

Yes, there is inherent value in studying beauty, mosaics, and Michelangelo. But her students weren’t going to become art historians. After the course was over, what would they take with them?

Ms. Winkelmes was inclined to think about pedagogy; at the time she was associate director of Harvard’s Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning. What she wanted her students to carry forward, she realized, was more fundamental than frescoes: It was how to learn.

But how can a professor cultivate that? The question gnawed at her as she trained faculty members in teaching at Harvard, the University of Chicago, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her quest has animated more than a decade of studying how students learn and what instructors can do to help make it happen.

While at Illinois, she led a grass-roots assessment project of 25,000 students at 27 institutions in seven countries. Results showed that a simple approach can yield big results. Making the process of teaching and learning explicit to students — especially those who don’t know what to expect — helped them see what Ms. Winkelmes calls "the secret, unwritten rules of how to succeed in college."

As an increasingly broad and diverse cross section of students enters higher education, knowing those rules matters more than ever. Without them, students stumble. They might miss the point of a paper, drift during discussions, or feel overwhelmed or aimless. But all students can thrive, Ms. Winkelmes says, if the tacit curriculum is made plain.

When teaching is what she calls "transparent," students better understand the rationale for assignments and how they’re evaluated. New research on several campuses shows that students taught that way are more confident academically and feel as if they belong in college, which helps predict whether they succeed and remain enrolled.

The data suggest one practice in particular — giving assignments — that, done transparently, has a significant effect on students. Here at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, where Ms. Winkelmes is now principal investigator of the project Transparency in Teaching and Learning in Higher Education , she has distilled that finding into a straightforward protocol.

Professors who have signed on to the project consider three questions when creating assignments: what, exactly, they’re asking students to do (the "task"); why students have to do it (the "purpose"); and how the work will be evaluated (the "criteria"). Then the instructors explain those things to their students. That’s it.

Beyond faculty members in several departments at UNLV, people in online education, the library, even recreation services here are focusing on those three things. In the classroom, knowing the task, purpose, and criteria can help motivate students and make their courses relevant. In other areas, the information can help them navigate an intimidating system. To Ms. Winkelmes, the protocol helps students meet higher expectations of rigor, which, in turn, can ensure equity in educational quality.

Its three components are deliberately modest. Spelling them out for students does not mean wholesale changes, like flipping courses. It requires no fancy technology. Instead, the protocol is designed to give faculty members a ready technique to improve learning.
As minor and perhaps self-evident as the underlying questions may seem, it’s surprising how often they go unexamined.

As creatures of academe, professors often take for granted the logic and the rhythm of their courses. Some have forgotten how much they know and care about the material relative to their students, who may simply be meeting requirements.

An assignment can become an old standard, reliable but creaky. Consider this one, from an introductory psychology course at Harvard about 15 years ago. A ghost is in a mansion with the characters from Scooby Doo. Each has suffered an injury to a different part of the brain, like the amygdala or basal ganglia. "The plan is simple," the assignment reads. "Someone needs to confront the ghost without getting too scared, someone needs to try to figure out what the ghost is saying, and someone needs to figure out what the next plan of action should be." The students must decide which character carries out which task and explain why.

During a workshop at UNLV last semester, Ms. Winkelmes asked a group of faculty members to identify the purpose of the assignment.

They drew on their understanding of college’s hidden rules, guessing accurately that the assignment had been designed to gauge students’ knowledge of parts of the brain. "Obviously," said Carryn Bellomo, an associate professor of mathematics, "you’d need to understand brain terminology."

"And how would you know if you were doing the project well?" Ms. Winkelmes asked. What are the criteria for success?

The professors looked at the assignment. The most explicit instruction was the most superficial: to use 12-point type, double-spaced, with one-inch margins.

Ms. Winkelmes returned to the math professor’s "obviously" comment. "To us as teachers, as people with Ph.D.s who’ve been doing this for years, it was easy," she said, "though even we had to dig a little bit."

To continue reading this story, please click the link.

– by Dan Berrett, Teaching Newsletter: The Chronicle of Higher Education.

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Announcing: Gather & Share Events
The FCTL is offering "  Gather & Share  " events on the 1st Monday of each month, from 3:45pm - 4:45pm in ADUC 310. The objective is to have a "topic" area and share a couple of ideas and then have folks gather and share about the topic.

The Next Gather & Share Event:
Topic: Student Engagement
When: Monday, September 9, 2019; 3:45pm – 4:45pm
Where: ADUC 310
Educator: FCTL
Synopsis: Join FCTL in exploring “Student Engagement” at this “Gather & Share” event. Come ready to “chat it up” with your colleagues on this important topic. Refreshments will be served.
Trying Something New: Book Reads
Instead of offering traditional professional developments, the Faculty Center for Teaching & Learning (FCTL) is offering something new this semester: Book Reads. Faculty, staff, and students may participate in these book reads. As of now, these are planned:

Fall 2019 Book Reads:
  • Carol Dweck - Mindset: The New Psychology of Success - Led by Michael Dobranski
  • Dr. Michael Merzenich PhD, - Soft-Wired: How the New Science of Brain Plasticity Can Change Your Life - Led by Kent Price
  • Joshua Eyler - How Humans Learn: The Science and Stories behind Effective College Teaching (Teaching and Learning in Higher Education) - Led by Daryl Privott
  •  Mary-Ann Winkelmes (Editor), Allison Boye (Editor), Suzanne Tapp (Editor), Peter Felten (Foreword), Ashley Finley (Foreword) -Transparent Design in Higher Education Teaching and Leadership: A Guide to Implementing the Transparency Framework Institution-Wide to Improve ... Practices for Teaching in Higher Education) - Led by Kim Nettleton

More specific information on meeting times will be announced soon, but if you are interested and want more information, or if you would like to lead a book read, please email Daryl Privott at .
Blackboard Buzz
Student Preview
Do you want to check a Blackboard shell before making the course available to students? Would you like to see your course from the students’ point of view? If so, try the Student Preview feature before deploying your course.

With Student Preview, faculty can experience a course exactly as their students will. This feature allows faculty to review the availability of course content including those triggered by particular student interactions.

YouTube has a video tutorial on the Student Preview tool. For on-campus support, email
What I Love About Teaching Campaign
Hello Educators!

We are looking for your response to the question "What do you love about teaching?"

Click the link below to share your response:
Call for Proposals
(Due: September 13th)
KOSS (Kentucky Organization for Student Success) Conference, October 24-25, 2019, at the Historic Boone Tavern Hotel in Berea. For more information, checkout their FaceBook page:
2019 Tri-State Conference on
Diversity & Inclusion

The Conference will be held September 27, 2019 at Morehead State University and is being chaired by staff in the Office of the President and Communications and Marketing. The 2019 conference theme is Equity in Education: Erasing Opportunity Gaps.  All workshops will be centered on the central theme of diversity and inclusion with a focus on achievement gaps for marginalized student populations. Information on past workshops can be found at
Sponsoring Institutions
Ashland Community & Technical College
Marshall University
Marshall University School of Pharmacy
Ohio University-Southern
Morehead State University
Morehead State University-Ashland
Mountwest Community & Technical College
Shawnee State University
University of RIO Grande

Leadership in Higher Education Conference
October 3-5, St. Louis

A Leadership Conference that Gives You More!
Seven Unique Conference Tracks:
  • Academic Leadership and Professional Development
  • Administrative Leadership and Professional Development
  • Diversity and Inclusion
  • Program and Department Evaluation and Assessment
  • Faculty Hiring, Development, and Assessment
  • Institutional Culture and Climate
  • Special Topics in Academic Leadership

Scaled for networking and reflection, this conference provides multiple opportunities to meet with other like-minded peers. 

The Leadership in Higher Education Conference limits registrations to a manageable size to support a collaborative gathering of higher education professionals. We’ll examine trends, strategies, and best practices over two and a half impactful days.

Budgets are scarce. That’s why this year, we’ve reduced our registration fee by $200. Still the same great conference—at an even better value!

For more information, click here .
Ambassadors for Excellence in Teaching
Morehead State University