Illinois Initiative on Transparency in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education

Recipient of the Robert J. Menges Award for Outstanding Research in Educational Development from the POD Network in Higher Education

Read about the project in the AAC&U's Liberal Education and the NEA's Higher Education Advocate

The Illinois Initiative on Transparency in Learning and Teaching aims to improve higher education teaching and learning experiences for faculty and students through two main activities:

  • promoting students’ conscious understanding of how they learn, and
  • enabling faculty to gather, share and promptly benefit from current data about students’ learning by coordinating their efforts across disciplines, institutions and countries.

Since 2010, the pilot phase of the project has involved approximately 7500 students in seventy-two courses at nine universities in five countries.  The initiative is prepared to publish early results, incorporate tens of thousands of participants, and seek external funding.

View the current survey form          Sign up to participate


Participating instructors implement one or more methods for engaging students in explicit (or transparent) dialogue about learning processes and teaching practices, and later survey students about their learning experiences. Results from many types of courses, institutions, students and faculty are compiled and studied.  Participating instructors receive real-time insights about how to improve students’ learning, based on current data gathered from their own students and other, similar students in comparable courses.   The data complements traditional student ratings of instruction by offering a measure of how teaching impacts students’ views of their learning, instead of how students rate teaching performance.


Important new findings have emerged since the project’s early analyses indicated that most of the transparent learning and teaching methods tested, when used occasionally or frequently, had a positive impact on students’ self-reported learning experiences across all disciplines and at all levels of expertise.

  • First, we can distinguish two distinct ways that transparent learning and teaching methods benefit students’ learning experiences: 

1.     Future learning benefits (13 items; alpha .878)

2.     Current course learning (9 items; alpha .883)

[Factor analysis included: Cronbach’s Alpha Coefficient of Reliability, Alpha Factoring Extraction Method, Varimax Rotation Method with Kaiser Normalization]

  • Second, we can begin to identify which transparent methods are most effective for improving students’ self-reported learning experiences with respect to disciplines, levels of expertise, class size, and some demographics.

    (Values in parentheses below are for current course learning and/or future learning benefits, as indicated.   Italics indicate where benefits are even greater for underrepresented and non-traditional students.)

With increasing numbers of students surveyed, we expect to be able to determine how various transparent methods of learning and teaching impact learning across a greater variety of disciplines, class sizes and levels of expertise.  We also expect to understand more about the learning experiences of underrepresented and non-traditional students, for whom transparent learning and teaching methods currently show benefits in the small samples we have gathered. Further, we hope to determine how students’ learning experiences are affected by more or less frequent use of transparent methods.


The Transparency Initiative supports faculty and students in implementing high-impact learning and teaching practices while it identifies practices that offer the greatest beneficial impact on students’ learning. As the number of participants increases, we can begin to determine which transparent methods of learning and teaching are most effective with respect to:

  • discipline
  • course level
  • previous educational experience
  • self-declared ethnicity
  • self-declared major
  • which transparent methods benefit which learning goals.

Longer-term results may include higher retention and graduation rates for undergraduate students, including community college students who transfer into four-year institutions, and increased participation of diversely prepared and underrepresented students in Masters and PhD degree programs.

Institutional Review Board Documentation

Proposed Timeline

  • Spring 2009 (completed)
    • small trial at University of Chicago
  • Summer 2009 (completed)
    • data analysis
    • validation and revision of surveys
    • applications for outside funding
    • application for IRB approval
  • Fall 2009 (completed)
    • U of Illinois trial, 6 courses, various sizes and disciplines, total approx 1500 students
    • validation and further revision of surveys
  • November, 2009 (completed)
  • Spring/Summer 2010 (completed)
    • begin presenting results at higher education venues
  • Spring 2010 – Spring 2014
  • Summer 2014
    • first round of 5-year-out longitudinal survey

Sign up to participate in the Transparency Initiative. For additional information, please contact:

Mary-Ann Winkelmes, Campus Coordinator for Programs on Teaching and Learning
Office of the Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs
University of Illinois
807 South Wright Street, Room 534, MC 317
Champaign, IL 61820
(217) 244-5108     fax (217) 265-4183