GeoEthics > How to Teach GeoEthics > Learning Goals and Assessments

Learning Goals and Assessments

David Mogk, Department of Earth Sciences, Montana State University and Monica Bruckner, SERC, Carleton College, based in part on material developed by participants at the 2014 Teaching GeoEthics Across the Curriculum workshop.

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Carefully thought-out and articulated learning goals can guide activities and course design that successfully incorporates GeoEthics education and that can demonstrate students' mastery of geoethical concepts. The On the Cutting Edge Course Design Tutorial provides this advice on Setting Overarching Goals: learning goals should be student-centered, articulate what students should know and be able to do, promote development of higher order thinking skills (interpretation, analysis, synthesis, evaluation), and be concrete and result in measurable outcomes. Assessments of students' attainment of the defined learning goals should be well-aligned with clearly articulated expectations. Example learning goals and assessments are explored below.

Learning Goals

The National Academy of Engineering (2009) identified student learning goals for GeoEthics Education in a 2009 report disseminating outcomes from a workshop. The report detailed the skills and knowledge that should be developed in ethics education, including:

  • Recognizing and defining ethical issues
  • Identifying relevant stakeholders and socio-technical systems
  • Collecting relevant data about stakeholders and systems
  • Understanding relevant stakeholder perspectives
  • Identifying value conflicts
  • Constructing viable alternative courses of action or solutions and identifying constraints
  • Assessing alternatives in terms of consequences, public defensibility, institutional barriers
  • Engaging in reasoned dialogue or negotiations
  • Revising options, plans, or actions

Further, workshop participants at the 2014 GeoEthics Across the Curriculum workshop identified the following learning goals. Geoscience students should:

  • understand and identify the range of their responsibilities, from personal to global
  • understand that health of a geoscience community is based on common understandings of right and wrong in the context of their disciplines
  • be able to identify frameworks that exist within geoscience communities to address ethical issues; these frameworks are based on disciplinary understandings of moral philosophy
  • develop the skills to anticipate and to recognize ethical issues so that they can act appropriately
  • understand community, legal, and employer-specified context for appropriate actions
  • identify what resources are available to help them navigate ethical issues as they occur
  • use existing frameworks to discern viable solutions to ethical dilemmas, in which two "goods" are in conflict with one another
  • effectively communicate the rationale for their decisions
  • ethically interact and communicate with communities, including communities in which they work/ do research
  • critically read scientific papers such that they can identify weak points or holes in the articles that may be misleading
  • in a given problem, be able to:
    • identify stakeholders
    • identify benefits and risks (i.e., consequences, trade offs)
    • respect and recognize (and potentially empathize with) perspectives of others
    • recognize short- and long-term goals of making a particular decision
    • recognize relevance of spatial thinking in geoethical issue
    • recognize information needed for analysis of the issues, gaps in knowledge, assumptions, and uncertainty in decision
    • articulate logic behind their ethical choice
    • explain why ethical behavior is important
    • track/monitor and reflect on the outcomes of decision (when practical)
  • develop an appropriate level of sensitivity (e.g., noticing a conflict of interest vs a conflicting interest)
  • acquire an understanding of geoethical concepts
  • show an ability for reasoning through problem solving
  • develop the capability for decision making (e.g., what do we do about the conflict of interest?)
  • demonstrate a moral commitment and responsibility of action, including
    • moral sensitivity: being able to recognize ethical issues/concerns
    • moral understanding: understanding moral concepts
    • moral reasoning: deliberating about ethical conduct, interpreting and applying rules, balancing competing values, resolving moral/ethical dilemmas
    • moral courage: doing the right thing even if it may require some personal cost


Assessments aligned with learning goals can help evaluate students' mastery of concepts related to GeoEthics. Assessments that are specific to students' mastery of ethical reasoning include:

  • Assessment–Measuring Students' Moral Development – from the Illinois Institute of Technology, Center for the Study of Ethics in the Professions (suggestions on types of graded assignments, advice on grading assignments, assessment of program effectiveness, and a bibliography)
  • Assessment and Evaluation – from the National Academy of Engineering, Online Ethics Center for Engineering and Science; – recommended criteria and rubrics for assessing student learning and an annotated bibliography!
  • Ethical Reasoning Value Rubric – from the Association of American Colleges and Universities
  • Ethics Assessment Rubric – from the University of Minnesota-Duluth, School of Business

Assessments strategies and methods recommended by the 2014 workshop participants include:

  • Student writes a personal environmental ethic statement accompanied by a one paragraph justification/explanation. Assessed by how clearly the reasoning behind the statement is expressed.
  • Scenario analyses
    • Describe the advantages and disadvantages to behaving in an ethical manner. (May relate to a specific case or a set of cases.)
    • Right vs right dilemma
    • Describe some of the ethical issues that are likely to be encountered.
  • Important to assess the explanation/reasoning behind their answer.
  • Pre & post tests using the above techniques.
  • A longitudinal study of students' attitudes and knowledge toward ethics, involving some assessment at the beginning of a major's program and another at the end, in order to discern changes.
  • Program-level improvement might include linking an ethics experience with other university priorities, such as writing-across-the-curriculum or service learning or critical-thinking-across-the-curriculum.
  • Program-level improvement might include inviting speakers to departmental colloquia who offer presentations with ethical content.
  • Administer a pre-test prior to administration of a module with ethics-rich content, and a post-test afterwards to assess (short term) improvement in ethical knowledge.
  • Institute a badge system that could be tied to experiential learning and asynchronous learning. When students show a competency or reach some plateau, they earn a badge.
  • Repeated application of a kind of non-graded survey to determine perceived self-efficacy: measuring intent to behave in an ethical manner.
  • In-class discussion of a scenario designed to elicit information of how a student reasons-through an ethical situation.
  • Using a rubric to score an analytical essay in which a student works her way through an ethical issue.
  • Use structured interviews or discussion of examine case-based scenarios
  • Create written explanation of ethical aspects of a decision/scenario
  • Informal approaches include: classroom exercise techniques short ungraded quiz define conflict of interest define prof responsibility reasoning, give a case or problem, and then student responds; instructors develop and provide rubric and scaffolding level
  • Formal approaches include papers, examinations, and thorough evaluations of specific scenarios to evaluate student approach; professors should develop their own mechanisms for formal assessment

GeoEthics Program Assessments