Opening the flow of learning with Liberating Structures

Liberating Structures are a collection of 33 seriously fun strategies to help people engage and work together. These powerful methods can be used in classrooms, meetings, strategic planning sessions, workshops, presentations, and more!

Photo credit: Nancy White

In B.C. post-secondary, we have started using Liberating Structures to transform our classrooms and organizations by introducing these tiny shifts in the way we work, learn and collaborate together.

To help others discover the power of Liberating Structures, we hosted a two-day workshop on February 22-23, 2017 at SFU Harbour Centre, in Vancouver, B.C.

Throughout the two days, we harvested participants’ ideas for applying Liberating Structures activities to their work and lives. A few of the big themes that emerged were in the areas of supporting student work and assignments, learning design, faculty development, meetings, projects, and organizational development.

Aligning with our value of openness, all Liberating Structures methods are shared under a CC BY license allowing users to distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon their work, even commercially, as long as users credit them for the original creation. We highly recommend a workshop, but if you can’t attend one in person, you can still grab these tools and try them for yourselves!

Our Liberating Structures workshops are co-facilitated by BCcampus’ Tracy Kelly, Senior Manager, Learning and Teaching who began her LS journey back in 2013 when practitioner and self-proclaimed choco-queen, Nancy White, came to a Spring ETUG Workshop, introducing these exciting, energetic, dynamic activities that had everyone talking to each other in meaningful ways. From there, Tracy Kelly was hooked and sought out training directly from Keith McCanless, co-developer, Liberating Structures, by way of a workshop in Wisconsin and as a mentee when Keith came out west to mentor a few folks from the B.C. post-secondary education sector.

Tracy is “excited about the potential of ‘unleashing and including’ everyone. These are great methods to support collaboration and interaction, whether in a classroom or meeting room.”

As Dr. Arvind Singhal, a “Liberated Professor” from The University of Texas at El Paso shared recently at an events hosted at Royal Roads University on Positive Deviance: A New Paradigm of Social, Organizational, and Behavioral Change, about how it’s essential to find positive tools for creating change by doing small things, differently.

“Liberating Structures invites us to transform how power dynamics play out because the power is put into everyone’s hands, flipping how we conduct learning and leading” Tracy shares.

Out of the 33 Liberating Structures, how do you pick a favourite? Well, it’s not easy, but we managed to get Tracy Kelly to share her top picks.

“I really love TRIZ because it invites us to examine our work first with great humour and fun, and then it flips… and we see our work from a very different perspective and we are challenged to consider creative destruction as an important step toward rebuilding and renewal” says Tracy.

“I love Troika Consulting too! It’s such a great method for leveraging the brilliant ideas and expertise from a group to apply to their very real challenges” Tracy adds. “You can use it with any group of people, with any problem or creative challenge they face – there are no limits.”

Director of Innovation, Open Learning at Thompson Rivers University, Brian Lamb attended the Liberating Structures Workshop in February and shared some of his experiences from using some of these newly acquired tools with his Learning Technology and Innovation team.

“I have been focusing on the LS processes that are intended to open up discussion and begin exploration of some of our common challenges” Brian explains. “To those ends, I have tried out Wicked Questions and 1-2-4-All. Both have worked fairly well I was especially pleased to promote participation from some of our team that tend to be less likely to speak up. Now that we have made progress on identifying our challenges, I am looking forward to trying more LS to begin to prompt suggestions and strategies on how to address them. I’ll be counting on some of the many excellent colleagues I connected with at the BCcampus workshop to help me move that along. I confess I am still a little intimidated at the thought of implementing some of the more ambitious LS approaches.”

“I also found myself employing an impromptu 1-2-4-All when I did a classroom visit and was struggling to get students to speak up” Brian continues. “It definitely got things going.”

“I came out of the BCcampus workshop feeling like I was given a number of techniques I could use right away, and I am looking forward to going deeper” adds Brian. “I think this will help us get a lot more out of our meetings, and tap the creativity and wisdom of more of our colleagues.”

Stay connected!

This is BCcampus’ second two-day Liberating Structures Immersion Workshop, and although we don’t have plans yet for a Feb. 2019 offering, we are working with Royal Roads University on a fall offering, on Oct. 23-24, 2017.

Since this well-attended event, we’ve launched two user groups on the west coast to share stories, strategies and upcoming sessions. You can join them here:

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