Sue Fostaty Young

  • Teaching, learning, and assessment in higher education: the ICE

    Sue Fostaty Young, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario

    Conceptual paper

    Themes: learning and teaching methods, assessment, learning environments, supporting learners

    With ever increasing rates of success, university faculty members are rising to the challenge of creating and implementing innovative teaching strategies meant to provide their students with opportunities to engage in critical thinking, and creative problem solving on their way to deep, meaningful learning. Despite those innovations, students are still most likely to make choices regarding what and how to study based on the assessment model in place (e.g. Ames, 1992; Boud, 1990; Wilcox, 1993), not on how they were taught.

    Because students often regard grades as “a kind of currency indicating what teachers value” (Boud, 1990, p103), the influence of them often swamps the effects of any other aspect of the curriculum, including instruction (Wilcox, 1993, p. 7). Now, a pressing challenge for university faculty members is to find and implement a method of assessment that reflects and supports valued learning processes and deep learning as well as it does desired content outcomes.

    This paper outlines the ICE model of qualitative learning assessment (Wilson, 1996; Fostaty Young & Wilson, 2000), it’s implications, successes and limitations for use in higher education, and illustrates its utility through current-use examples.

    ICE, an acronym for Ideas, Connections and Extensions, is based on a cognitive development theory of learning similar to that put forth by Biggs’ and Collis’ SOLO taxonomy (1982), and describes learning as a process of growth from novice toward expert. The simplicity and utility of the model makes it relatively easy for faculty to articulate expectations for learning and even to describe what demonstrations of learning might look like at each of the three levels. ICE provides students with a blueprint for learning so they become better able to plan for their own improvement and, in short time, to engage in self-directed learning and effective self-assessment. Practical examples from several disciplines will be discussed.


    • Ames, C (1992). Classrooms: Goals, structures, and student motivation. Journal of Educational Psychology, 84(3), 261-271.
    • Biggs, JB, and Collis, KF (1982). Evaluating the Quality of Learning: the SOLO Taxonomy.New York, NY: Academic Press.
    • Boud, D (1990). Assessment and the promotion of academic values. Studies in Higher Education, 15(1), 101-111.
    • Fostaty Young, S and Wilson, RJ (2000). Assessment and learning: The ICE approach.Winnipeg:MAN. Portage and Main Press.
    • Wilcox, S (1993). Evaluating learning in higher education: A guide to the literature. Higher Education Group Annual, 7-22.
    • Wilson, RJ (1996). Assessing students in classrooms and schools. Kingston: ON. Queen’s University