Barbara Glesner Fines has written an excellent article on using learning outcomes in professional responsibility class.
The Power of a Destination: How Assessment of Clear and Measurable Learning Outcomes Drives Student Learning
"This monograph is designed as a practical tool for helping professional responsibility teachers to develop effective and efficient assessment practices. A carefully structured program of assessment: the identification of discrete legal research skills outcomes, with defined levels of proficiency, and tools for assessing those proficiencies, can provide both incentive and structure necessary to effecti[vely] preparing students for the daunting responsibilities and challenges of becoming ethical balanced attorneys. The assessment approach to teaching can give faculty and students alike an energy and confidence that will fundamentally change how we think about teaching and learning in law school."
Professor Fines notes that "In teaching, for too long, faculty have measured their success by their inputs – the carefully chosen course materials, the meticulously planned learning activity, the brilliantly delivered lecture – without asking whether all this teaching is actually resulting in learning."
Because she focuses on outcomes, Fines's approach to teaching uses a backwards design.
1. "The assessment process requires beginning with outcomes – with the destinations we plan for our student’s journey through law school." "Choose significant learning outcomes." "[L]earning goals might include subject matter goals, skills goals, or values and attitudes goals."
2. "Prioritize." "After you have narrowed down some priorities for learning goals, you must then depend on the level of proficiency you will expect for student learning." Depth or breadth? (Breadth is usually better.)
3. "Think of the Students." "Just as expectations management is important in representing clients, so too it is important that you understand your student’s expectations, abilities, and preferences in planning learning outcomes. If you don’t talk to your students ahead of time about the outcomes you have for the course and give due respect to their own expectations, you may simply be leading where they do not want to follow."
4. "Make Outcomes Count." "Once we have established our outcomes, we must design assessments if we want those outcomes to count. 'Assessment methods and requirements probably have a greater influence on how and what students learn than any other single factor. This influence may well be of greater importance than the impact of teaching materials.'"
a. "To design assessments, first choose what you want to assess."
b. "After a specific outcome is identified, choose a method for assessing learning."
c. "The final step in the assessment process is to use the data one gains from assessment to improve learning."
In the second half of the paper, Fines "suggests a number of assessment techniques, with examples from the professional responsibility class, that can provide important information about student progress in achieving the learning outcomes [she has] set for a course." These include Socratic dialogue, quizzes and worksheets, graphics, the minute paper, issue spotting exercises, peer-assessed drafting exercises, assessing reflection, short analytical problems, client interviews as summative assessments, peer assessments to evaluate collaborative skills, and traditional final exams.
Professor Fines concludes, "It’s the power of a destination. I urge you to try this 'backwards design’ approach to your teaching."
In sum, the key point in Professor Fines's article is backwards design. Start with the outcomes you want from the class and work backwards from there. Not only will this approach work in an ethics class, it will work in doctrinal and skills classes.