Liberating Structures as supporting conditions for virtual cooperation, lectures and meetings
Research Findings by the Chair of Business and Economic Ethics
Normally, group interactions, meetings and lectures are guided by five conventional microstructures, i. e. presentations, managed discussions, open discussions, status reports and brainstorm sessions. Liberating Structures (LS) add 33 more options for microstructures (and practically unlimited numbers of combinations of LS in so-called “strings”) to (co-)organize the way people meet, learn, and cooperate. LS are seen as conditions for good dialogue and teamwork by its global community of practitioners: They are easy-to-learn and easy-to-implement microstructures that enable groups to learn and to work together in an open, inclusive and engaging way. This is because all LS are designed by principle to “Include and engage everyone”.
Liberating Structures in virtual learning environment
Over the last year experimenting with LS virtually in online lectures, events and meetings, group facilitators, leaders, and lecturers learned that the virtual environment needs more (pre-) structure for groups to work and interact smoothly and effectively. At the same time, including and engaging larger groups of students in the virtual lectures needs the (structured (!)) freedom or liberation to do so, for example when expressing their own thoughts and ideas or reflecting on experiences and learnings made in the lecture. LS can help to create conditions for such a (virtual) environment. All microstructures require five structural elements, so-called “min specs” or minimum specifications:
- Structuring invitation
- How space is arranged & materials needed
- How participation is distributed
- How groups are configured
- Sequence of steps & time allocation
#1 Structuring Invitation
LS can improve virtual lectures (and meetings) in the following ways: First, it is key to (1) structure invitations for group work and interactions in a clear and concise manner for LS to work best. Framing is key here. For instance, welcoming the students in a “virtual lab” encourages open experimentation and learning from experiences, also of others.
#2 Virtual space & material arrangement
This is supported by (2) how the virtual space is arranged and materials and tools are used, e. g. to make contents more playful via Mentimeter, writing, drawing, and reflecting on paper, use of reactions and emojis, use of videos, graphics and images, and how the output format of group work is (pre-) structured (e. g., PowerPoint slide, chat posts that are cleaned, anonymized and shared after the lecture with all participants, etc.).
It helps to send an email to all participants of a class or meeting prior to the session that explains the LS that will be used and how they work. Sometimes emails can be sent in advance to invite participants to reflect on questions before the meeting, which serve as inputs for some LS used. This helps to manage and set expectations.
#3 Participation expectations
The last point, expectation management, is also important regarding the question (3) how participation is distributed: For example, lecturers often expect that all students contribute to the class discussion and group work, and vice versa, students can expect from lecturers that they structure and facilitate classroom discussions and group work in a way that enables them to do so.
#4 Group configuration
This includes to structure (4) how groups are configured, e. g. to choose group sizes for breakout sessions so that enough time is allocated to discuss their summarized findings in the class.
33+ Liberating Structures (LS) menue
#5 Sequence of steps & time allocation
Last but not least, attention should be given to structure the (5) sequence of steps and time allocation. Here, precision and timing matter to the experience of effective and engaging group work.
Four Liberating Structures for Virtual Lectures
So, which LS are suitable for the context and content of virtual lectures and meetings to start with? For complex subjects this requires to experiment with and to try out (different variations of) single LS in combination with conventional microstructures such as presentations and managed discussions. From our experience, and the experience of other LS practitioners in the field of education, here are some selected LS that are found to be highly suitable and effective for (virtual) lectures and meetings: Impromptu Networking, 1-(2-)4- All, Chat Waterfall, and Spiral Journaling are frequently used in virtual lectures and meetings.
Felix Wittke’s work as a research assistant at the Dr. Werner Jackstaedt Chair of Business Ethics focuses on the topic of leadership and trust in virtual teams. He supports virtual lectures on a regular basis.