It's just so great when your high expectations are fulfilled! I was intrigued by the Liberating Structures activity (micro-structure) that Leva Lee and Tracy Kelly tried out during ETUG's Fall Workshop (25-10 Crowd-sourcing) and even more curious after I read the explanation:
"Liberating Structures are a collection of powerful facilitation strategies that can be used in our classrooms, everyday meetings, strategic planning sessions, workshops, presentations, etc. They are seriously fun methods to engage and work together."
I just returned from an energizing and challenging 2.5 days in the beautiful new Robert H Lee Alumni Centre at UBC, participating in the Liberating Structures workshop that BCcampus Professional Learning and UBC's Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology organized. I'm glad I signed up.
During the 2.5 days, we talked, shared, networked (ate delicious food!) and did the "deep dive", immersing ourselves in testing different variations of many of the 33 micro-structures that are defined and described on the Liberating Structures website.
What stood out for me? What did I notice?
Day 1, immersive learning, high energy, shared reflections, bravery required.
Keith McCandless and his "Dream Team" of assistants took turns presenting "invitations" to an activity – monitoring and managing the time, clarifying confusions. I noticed that activities were kept brief BUT we took time to listen to insights about what worked and what didn't from participants, augmented by brief deepening questions from one of the LS facilitators. I never saw anyone sitting out any of the activities; never saw glazed eyes or tapping fingers or feet. I heard lots of chatter, laughter and yet quiet, intense listening when an invitation was presented to yet another micro-structure. For 100 or more participants – that's pretty amazing.
Day 2, barriers down, clusters of participants sharing scribbled notes or just talking and listening. While still active, this day was a bit of a "dog-and-pony" show. Keith and his Dream Team assistant, Fletcher spent a lot of time clarifying which structure they used and why in different situations. We experienced the planning and linking of micro-structures to achieve different purposes. It became really clear that LS micro-structures were about letting go of control while still guiding direction; about repeatedly examining "purpose" and thinking about "why" and outcomes. While there were times when the metallic chimes that moved us between activities were annoying, we got through an amazing number of wide-ranging discussions and activities in a day – and never missed a break when it was necessary. By end of day, energy level dropped, tired faces, but lots of writing and sharing still happening.
Day 3 – focus on personal or group challenges, lots of breakout groups forming around self-identified areas of interest but people were starting to scatter their attention as their focus turned to leaving. One last engaging structure – a circle within a circle – can't remember what it was called but it was great. Snapped back the energy (just tamped down) and got people smiling and interacting before the final summary and good-byes
What was important?
Tight timing, well-managed – chiming mini-cymbals – annoying but attention catching – used persistently kept the group moving towards outcomes, moving between activities/reflections/questions/etc. Appreciated the respect for time more and more during the workshop.
Repetitive mini-cycles – interesting to experience the effects through different microstructures – having to revisit a statement, an outline, and idea, several times – by myself, with another participant, with a small group and within the large group debriefings – made my own purposes and next steps much clearer and, often more possible.
Inclusion was powerful – activities are structured to integrate this and it was reinforced by the actions of the LS facilitators. I'd think that all the participants felt included and, if they didn't speak out during group debriefings, it was because they didn't want to – not that there wasn't an open invitation and support to speak out. Lots of opportunities to feel "heard" during various activities – either one-to-one or small group. Interesting how much it helped to have others share their insights and add them to the explanations of the facilitators.
Flexibility – modularization and demonstration of possible connections into various strings or "mosaics", use of a detailed storyboarding example, lots of fishbowl opportunities meant that you could really see how you might use the microstructures in every situation – from the personal to the professional.
The Power of Invitations! – crafting these became a real challenge. Great to have examples presented by different members of Dream Team and presented by different participants in our group activities. Framing the invitations well results in greater participation, clarity of purpose, positive approaches to the task at hand, inclusiveness, etc.
Honesty, bravery, openness in sharing – the generosity of spirit and bravery that most participants exhibited, supported and encouraged by the LS facilitators, was inspiring and part of the positive energy in the room. So much easier to come to meaningful outcomes when no-one seemed to be pursuing hidden agendas.
What will I do next?
My 15% solution was to apply a microstructure to this blog post. But I have upcoming challenges to address – potential of broadening my network of potential clients and getting involved in interesting initiatives – perhaps by helping organizations or institutions look at how to use LS micro-structures to engage learners or focus their instructional/learning design initatives?
– preparing a presentation for two upcoming events and ensuring that I blow apart the "presentation by expert" expectation to distribute control and broaden involvement with a judiciously selected "string" of microstructures – starting with a storyboard to guide and gain "buy-in" frrom my co-presenters!
Longer terms – apply some of the micro-structures to revisiting the design of some of the online learning activities we've designed for FLO workshops (Facilitating Learning Online). How can we translate the power of LS micro-structures to the onlne synchronous and asynchronous experience! (and share it with others 😉
Lots to do! I'll report back! Sylvia