Aarhus University Seal / Aarhus Universitets segl

Academic objectives

Academic objectives

Basis of assessment

Academic objectives (which are also referred to as learning outcomes) describe the knowledge, skills and competences that students must demonstrate in their exams to render it probable that they possess the competences which the course in question is intended to develop.

The academic objectives are defined based on the objectives of the course. The academic objectives will always reflect specific choices, and can never cover all the objectives of the course in question. But even so, the academic objectives are still important. This is partly because they form the basis of the final assessment (cf. the Grading Scale Order), and partly because they provide the clearest insight into what the students need to do to fulfil the course objectives – thereby helping the students to work with the academic content of the course. And finally, clear academic objectives create a sound basis for peer feedback.

Drawing up the academic objectives

The academic objectives can be drawn up based on the following four recommendations:

1. Identify the key qualifications relating to the course objectives.

A large number of academic objectives and a great amount of detail are not sufficient in themselves to ensure a completely satisfactory exam process and a completely clear basis for assessment. The academic objectives you choose should be evaluated critically in terms of how they relate to the course objectives. Try to identify 6-8 academic objectives for each course.

2. Divide your academic objectives into knowledge, skills and competences.

This does not mean that courses must always contain academic objectives in all three categories, but it will help to ensure that all three categories are discussed. The definitions of the concepts of knowledge, skills and competences will help you to identify the differences between the three categories and place the academic objectives in the correct category.

3. Describe the academic objectives using active verbs, nouns and a description of context.

  • Active verbs to describe the form and level of the performance. It’s a good idea to use verbs which are specific enough to give a real chance of assessing the student’s performance. For instance, a verb like “demonstrate” says nothing about the taxonomic level required for the performance. This is relevant in terms of the clarity and transparency of the assessment, and to ensure that the academic objectives can be used to direct the student’s learning process.
  • Nouns to describe the field to which the performance belongs. Specify the subject field as far as possible without preventing the ongoing development and adaptation of the academic content.

  • It may be a good idea to briefly describe the context in which the relevant qualifications need to be demonstrated.

Example: Bachelor’s degree programme in philosophy (2018), course name: Ethics.

Account for selected positions and theories within the fields of normative ethics and meta-ethics, and assess their strengths and weaknesses.

Example: Bachelor’s degree programme in English (2018), course name: English Linguistics 1: Levels of language.

Applies linguistic theory and methods when describing and discussing concepts within and approaches to the study of the phonetics, phonology, morphology, semantics and syntax of the English language.

4. Think about the position of the course in the academic regulations.

Make sure that the position of the course in the academic regulations matches the academic regulations as a whole, the academic qualifications of the students, and the scope of the course. You should also make sure that there is a clear sense of cross-course progression in terms of taxonomic levels. For more information, please see Knowledge, skills and competences.

If you need some inspiration to design the academic objectives, you can download a handout below containing an exercise involving five short steps.

Assessment criteria

In ministerial orders and academic regulations, the assessment criteria are referred to as criteria for assessing the fulfilment of academic objectives. The assessment criteria have two important functions:

  1. They show the students (and the examiner/co-examiner) how the degree of fulfilment is assessed. The assessment criteria are like a yardstick making it possible to assess the extent to which the students fulfil the academic objectives.
  2. They create a sound foundation for criteria-based, formative assessment during the course.

Degree of fulfilment of objectives

The assessment criteria describe how the degree of fulfilment of the objectives is assessed. In other words, they answer questions such as:

  • What is important when assessing the degree of fulfilment of the academic objectives?
  • What aspects of a performance are rewarded/punished?

Here are some examples of what fulfilment of the academic objectives normally requires:

  • A precise account of theories and concepts
  • A clear overview of the topic concerned
  • A clear and academic presentation of the topic
  • A strong correlation between the issue in question and the empirical design used
  • Independence – for instance in relation to the presentation of theory, the problem statement, the design and the conclusions and perspectives

Example from the Bachelor’s degree programme in anthropology

The Bachelor’s degree programme in anthropology has discussed the following possible assessment criteria for the course called “Advanced Anthropological Theory”

Assessment criteria

In the assessment of the degree of fulfilment, it is important that the student:

  • Can independently identify a central debate/issue in the course, as well as identifying the positions relating to this debate
  • Can establish a clear anthropological argument in connection with the debate/issue that has been chosen
  • Can explain and compare various anthropological approaches to the issue that has been chosen, including identifying the strengths and limitations associated with these approaches.

Academic objectives

Knowledge:

  • Demonstrates knowledge of important current topics, issues and theoretical debates in anthropology based on leading international research in selected areas.

Skills:

  • Can relate anthropological theories and debates to theories and debates of other academic disciplines (e.g. philosophy, biology, sociology)
  • Can use key concepts of anthropology in the analysis of current anthropological issues
  • Can present a complex issue at a high academic level in writing.

Competences:

  • Can analyse, assess and reflect on anthropological debates and themes in the light of more general humanistic and societal contexts
  • Can independently construct an anthropological argument in a relevant and cohesive manner.

Please note: Assessment criteria are a new aspect of academic regulations at the Faculty of Arts. We recommend that our departments test the assessment criteria that they have developed before implementing them in the academic regulations. The Board of Studies Support and Degree Programme Quality Assurance (SNUK) and the Centre for Teaching Development and Digital Media (CUDiM) are happy to help, and are also working to produce better guidelines for assessment criteria.