Playing with the Possibilities: Liberating Structures Online

Post by Leva Lee, Manager, Learning + Teaching 

On Monday, August 28th, a few of us gathered, somewhat spontaneously, for a “play date” to experiment with using Liberating Structures (LS) online.

We got the word out late, and like most of our face-to-face Vancouver meetups, we didn’t know who was going to show up until things started. We just had to be ready to roll with it. It was a gorgeously warm summer evening, we were rather “chill” and planned for something informal, low-key, social.  Great conditions for discovery learning, or simply said, mucking about learning what we can, hands-on, and in the moment.

Five of us enthusiastically joined in the session from Vancouver, Victoria, Burnaby, and Seattle —from our swinging lounge chairs, sunny backyard decks, cozy kitchens, and kid-filled /“joy-filled” living rooms.

As usual, Barish, ever the teacher, had a lesson plan in place. But embracing the LS philosophy, we prepared thoughtfully with some detail, and then winged it! Such is the beauty and flexibility of LS.

We played  for an hour and did a few rounds of Impromptu Networking and modified version of 1, 2, 4 – ALL   Here’s what we learned:

  • The Zoom computer conferencing environment works well for LS and moving in and out of breakout rooms is easy. Key functions needed for LS are available in Zoom such as chat, breakout rooms, and access to a whiteboard (though we didn’t figure out that the whiteboard was available to us until near the end of our session.)
  • The free service is limited to 40 minutes which wasn’t a huge constraint though we would have welcomed the option for a slightly longer session. The limit did force us to be time-efficient!
  • Slides continue to be important for setting up a Liberating Structure for articulating the invitation, outlining any step-by-step instructions, or highlighting additional prompts.
  • The practice of moving in and out of breakouts is very helpful in order to better understand how timing or sequencing for a LS may need to be modified in the online environment. Allocating time to prepare participants to move from one task to the next and for thinking and finishing a task is important to minimize any participant stress or confusion that could happen in the online context. It would be helpful if the facilitator could give a 2-minute warning before we entered back into the main room.
  • For newbies to online conferencing, a practice run at the start of each session is recommended for moving from the main room to the breakout rooms and back.
  • Roles: There seems to be no timer function with Zoom: someone in each of the breakouts needs to take on the timekeeper role. Rotating the facilitator role meetups is important as it allows different individuals to practice leading and allows all to engage as participants.

In all, we thought the LS online “play date” and experimentation were very helpful. We agreed to do the following:

  • Try out LS with different online tools and document our learning.
  • Consider which LS works best online.
  • Consider and document some guidelines for doing LS successfully online.
  • Schedule regular LS online meetups.

As we think about our meet up schedule for the coming year, we are considering that the Vancouver Liberating Structures User group might meet online every 3rd meeting.  We will discuss with our user group members and if most are agreeable, we will do so, and extend an invitation to our respective user groups in Victoria, Seattle, and beyond to join us in playing with the possibilities of Liberating Structures online.

To find out the latest happenings of the Vancouver Liberating Structures User group and future meetups, please join our LinkedIn group.

Also, be sure to check out news on Liberating Structures at their website and find out about the exciting Liberating Structures app.