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Talking Teaching: managing and matching mutual expectations with ICE

01 Jul 2019 | Duncan Cross Duncan Cross is the programme leader for the PGCert Teaching and Learning in Higher and Professional Education, as well as supervising research students, at the University of Bolton. He is also a Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. Here he talks about using a communication model seen in clinical practice for framing conversations with learners.

I have a fairly broad teaching and learning background, having taught in HE contexts in the UK, overseas and in work-based contexts and all of these experiences have often led me to a pragmatic view in my undertakings, using what I learn/learned from my various roles to support learning and teaching. Transferring what I knew about a communication model in a clinical context to working with students and managing and matching their expectations in an HE context seemed like a ‘no-brainer’. 

I first came across the health belief model and the Ideas, Concerns and Expectations (ICE) model working with colleagues in the NHS whilst working with refugee health care professionals and international medical graduates on training programmes for clinical communication skills. Over a number of years, I had heard anecdotes around the use and misuse of the model with patients in managing their expectations and had an opportunity to try the model in a completely different context, initially with learners on postgraduate research programmes, though this has been used with learners on undergraduate programmes as well. This led to me doing a TEDx Talk in 2017 on how we can use the model and that was then  used for university-wide student inductions.

The ICE model is often taught and used as a unidirectional tool to gather information and build a picture of a person’s perceptions, fears, and anticipated solutions or barriers to their current situation. With this information, the listener would offer a response from our perspective to manage their expectations.  This can be very top down and can lead to expectations being mismanaged or ignored. A true dialogue doesn’t necessarily occur, and at times a checklist approach is used to ‘ICE’ the person and manage them in a formulaic way rather than using it to gain valuable insight into perceptions.

In a health context, this can translate to a doctor managing a patient’s expectations of a diagnosis. In education, we can translate this to a tutor managing a learner’s expectations. And I’m sure that as you’re reading this, you can think of a time that you have been managed in a conversation and left completely dissatisfied with the outcome, and other times when you’ve had a really positive experience.

Personally, I believe that if we truly want to get more out of the conversation and move away  from that unidirectional tool then we need to share it and make it clear that we are framing a conversation  around ‘Idea, Concerns, and Expectations’ and move away from 'I' and start using 'we' in the conversations we have with our learners. 

I have used this in tutorials with students and framed a conversation with the following questions

Idea – What do we think a degree/PhD journey looks like?

Concern – What do we think are the main challenges for gaining a degree?

Expectations – What do we think we should be getting out of our time here

By framing the questions in this way we can open the conversation to equal power distribution with the participants, but we are also making it clear that we may agree or disagree on our perspectives. By creating the space for discussion, we are able to engage in a dialogue about our Ideas, Concerns and Expectations and manage them together to come to a shared understanding. 

That shared understanding might be that ‘we don’t agree about things’, and that is ok to a point. If a learner’s understanding of the expectations of a degree is misplaced, we are able to guide them to resources and support much more easily if they understand why we are referring them to a service. By having that open conversation, we are able to move from managing expectations to matching expectations, which can lead to clearer communications and help us to gain insight into different perspectives.

For me the beauty of using the model in a more open way is that anyone can initiate the discussion when they are unclear about a situation because let’s face it, it’s not always the learners’ expectations that need managing or matching.

More information about how I use the ICE model can be found here and My TEDx talk can be found here:



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