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Identifying Learning Objectives and Assessing Ethics Across the Curriculum Programs

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Assessing the effectiveness of an Ethics Across the Curriculum (EAC) program depends on having clear answers to two questions about the aim of the program: (1.) Who is it that the EAC program is intended to serve? and (2.) What good is the program intended to achieve for them? While EAC programs come in many shapes and sizes (See the surveys of types of EAC programs in Davis 2018 and University of San Diego 2009.), almost all would answer these questions in the same way. Their goal is to benefit the institution’s students, that is, to enhance the students’ learning of ethics in some beneficial ways. The first three sections of this article will focus on the best way to identify such Learning Objectives for an EAC program and how to use these Learning Objectives to assess the program’s effectiveness in benefitting the students. The final section will discuss some additional assessment questions about EAC programs, especially for programs with more limited resources that cannot assess their program’s effectiveness in the best way.


  • Ethics
  • Teaching ethics
  • Ethics across the curriculum
  • Assessment
  • Learning objectives
  • Moral awareness/sensitivity
  • Moral reasoning
  • Moral motivation

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  1. 1.

    Note the use of the expression “moral/ethical” here and in what follows. The terms “ethical” and “moral” have many subtly different meanings in ordinary speech and the meanings of these terms are rarely carefully distinguished from one another. For clarity in this essay, I shall stipulate that the terms “ethical” and “moral” will be treated here as synonyms and used interchangeably to indicate that we are talking about something that ought or ought not to be done. No additional content will be implied when either of these terms is used. More complicated distinctions within this arena of discourse are best made explicitly rather than buried in unexpressed connotations of these or other terms. The expression “ethical/moral” will be used from time to time below to emphasize this point.

  2. 2.

    The expression “other reflective skills”—later abbreviated to “reflection”—is used here along with the term “reasoning” in order to emphasize the role of narrative judgments along with more deductive or syllogistic components of judgment in careful moral/ethical reflection.

  3. 3.

    Rest and Bebeau include ego-strength, as a factor in overcoming barriers to action, in the fourth component while these seem to this author to be better combined with the other aspects of identity-formation in the third component, i.e. as part of a person’s Motivation/Conviction/Character. In this way the fourth component can be reserved for the person’s abilities and skills is overcoming specifically situational barriers to the person’s doing what he or she judges ought to be done and is motivated to do. For a more detailed description of Rest’s four components, see Bebeau (2006).

  4. 4.

    Obviously, therefore, an assessment that only verifies that the learners can correctly state the standards of conduct in a published code of ethics, for example, is not an assessment of ethical learning.

  5. 5.

    Note the words “correctly” and “appropriate” in this sentence. At a minimum, teachers in such programs need to guide students to fill in the gaps in their awareness of what is morally/ethically at stake and call the students’ attention to the kinds of skills—e.g. looking at the situation from the perspective of everyone affected by it—that will enhance their Sensitivity/Awareness. Similarly teachers may be able to enhance the skills of Reasoning/ Reflection that the students have brought with them by guiding them to test the reasonableness of their judgments about what ought to be done—e.g. by adjusting various facts about the situation and asking students to determine what ought to be done under those conditions.

  6. 6.

    See the description of such a course in Davis (2018). Note also the phrase “benefitted from” in this sentence. Some of students who have received credit for a course in moral theory may not have benefitted from it; that is, they may not have achieved the growth in Reasoning/Reflective skills that it was intended to achieve. From the point of view of their Baseline, such students are little different from students who have not taken a course in moral theory at all.

  7. 7.

    By “different kinds of moral/ethical considerations” I am referring to the different kinds of moral/ethical data processed by and the differing ways of processing employed in: moral/ethical thinking that is rule-based versus moral/ethical thinking that is rights-based, or virtue-based, or case-based, or based on comparing the harms and benefits of various possible actions’ outcomes. Courses in moral theory typically focus on and asses the importance of the differences between some or all five of these approaches to moral/ethical thinking.

  8. 8.

    For more detail on typical Baselines for EAC programs, see Ozar (2001).

  9. 9.

    The phrase “values/principles/ideals” is used here as a placeholder for the whole range of ways in which a situation can be morally/ethically significant and thus for the whole range of moral/ethical “data” about a given situation that would then, ideally, be effectively processed in moral/ethical Reasoning/Reflection.

  10. 10.

    The rubrics for grading assessments of learners’ progress often identify a certain level of performance as the “target learning” for the program, and then indicate levels of performance that are “advanced, i.e. beyond the target” and “making progress, i.e. growth, but not yet at the target level” and possibly “no progress, i.e. no significant change from Baseline,” and so on.

  11. 11.

    See Society for Professional Journalists (2014).

  12. 12.

    See for example the five kinds of moral/ethical thinking named in Footnote 6.

  13. 13.

    It is worth noting that imitation itself, though it arguably comes naturally to humans in some measure, itself has skill-aspects since it can be improved through self-reflection and directed attention. This suggests that its skill-aspects may also be a focus of educational efforts under the proper circumstances.

  14. 14.

    This assessment is obviously a “summative” assessment, i.e. it aims to determine how much of the intended learning took place from the beginning to the end of the program. It is taken for granted here that the teacher will be constantly assessing the effectiveness of his or her teaching by many different means and adjusting it accordingly.

  15. 15.

    Because the first focus of this literature is on what the students will be able to do as a result of the learning experience, i.e. on the outcomes of the learning—with the assignments and other teaching strategies derived from this starting point rather than the other way around—the approach in this literature is sometimes called “Backward Design” or “Outcome-Centered.” See for example Wiggins and McTighe (1998), and Ozar (1994).

  16. 16.

    For solid empirical evidence that such learning can be achieved through educational programs and for examples of very sophisticated assessment tools (including significant evidence of the tools’ validity and inter-grader reliability), see Bebeau (2006), Bebeau and Monson (2008, 2012), and the research cited in these articles.

  17. 17.

    See Bebeau and Monson (2008, 2012).


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Correspondence to David T. Ozar .

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Ozar, D.T. (2018). Identifying Learning Objectives and Assessing Ethics Across the Curriculum Programs. In: Englehardt, E., Pritchard, M. (eds) Ethics Across the Curriculum—Pedagogical Perspectives. Springer, Cham.

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