University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP)
"Liberating Structures help create more substance, connections, and ideas in a classroom...with no extra resources. The classroom, the teacher, the students, the chalkboard, the laptop, the projector, and the time spent in the classroom remain the same. What changes with Liberating Structures are certain structural conditions that enhance the quality of interactions among participants, leading to very different outcomes."
In this book chapter, Professor Arvind Singhal shares his own experiences and insights as an educator about the methodology (described in more detail here and at the video links below), called Liberating Structures (LS), characterised on the LS website as "easy-to-learn microstructures that enhance relational coordination and trust. They quickly foster lively participation in groups of any size, making it possible to truly include and unleash everyone. Liberating Structures are a disruptive innovation that can replace more controlling or constraining approaches."
Professor Singhal provides some concrete examples to illustrate the LS approach. This might involve physically moving students from a traditional rows-and-columns classroom configuration into a circular seating arrangement, which he says changes the nature of the learning environment and the interactions - inviting "richer participation, allowing those who are present to verbally and nonverbally affirm, support, or question others." In a small-group classroom discussion, Singhal also sometimes uses a "talking stick", which has been used by the Navajos for centuries to bestow respect on the person who is talking. The talking stick can be passed around to members of the group several times with the idea that no single person dominates, "ensuring that all class participants are engaged and participating". (LS website provides "a menu of thirty-three Liberating Structures to replace or complement conventional practices", such as "Social Network Webbing[, which] quickly illuminates for a whole group what resources are hidden within their existing network of relationships and what steps to take for tapping those resources.")
Included in the chapter are examples of feedback from students who had been part of the LS methodology in Singhal's classrooms. One said: "Through these practices we are working on decentralizing our thinking and actions...[W]e are learning to not adhere to an individual position and to not reject what others have to say." Singhal also reflects on the ways in which use of the LS methodology has transformed his thinking as an educator. For example, he says that he now reminds himself to restrain the urge to lecture or to deliver an answer when a question is asked, for, "efficient as it may seem, learning can be quite superficial when people are just passively watching PowerPoint slides, taking copious notes..., or listening uncritically to the one behind the podium." Singhal notes that shifting his professorial role into what he calls the "Chief Enabler" - seeking to ensure that all class participants feel invited, engaged, and allowed to contribute - is not without its challenges (e.g., control of the classroom space, time, and content is no longer with the professor). However, he has seen in sometimes surprising classroom outcomes "opportunities for deeper, experiential learning for individuals and the collective and deeper friendships and relationships."
Editor's note: Singhal has implemented LS in more than a dozen universities in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Germany, Slovakia, South Africa, Sudan, Columbia, Peru, Japan, and India; as pictured above, in 2013, Singhal used LS in his work with the African College of Wildlife Management in Tanzania on a 4-country media intervention project directed at wildlife protection and conservation and preservation of bio-diversity.
In addition to the 42-minute video that may be seen below, here are some LS media resources:
- Learning Six Liberating Structures, by Henri Lipmanowicz and Arvind Singhal
- "UnScripted: Liberating Structures, by Arvind Singhal
- "Liberating Structures: Inviting and Unleashing All: Lipmanowicz in conversation with Singhal
- Liberating Classroom: Lipmanowicz in conversation with Singhal
- Arvind Singhal on Liberating Structures: Simple, Subtle, and Powerful, Clinton School Distinguished Speaker Series, 2013
Pages 138-144 in The Surprising Power of Liberating Structures: Simple Rules to Unleash A Culture of Innovation, Seattle, WA: Liberating Structures Press, February 2014, by Keith McCandless and Henri Lipmanowicz - sent via email from Arvind Singhal to The Communication Initiative on April 2 2014; and "Professor Takes 'Liberating Structures' Methodology Around the World", by Lisa Y. Garibay, UTEP News Service, March 28 2013 (accessed April 2 2014). Image caption/credit: "Arvind Singhal, Ph.D., demonstrates the liberating structures method of storytelling to a group in Tanzania as part of a campaign to stop illegal hunting and poaching of endangered animals. Photo courtesy of Arvind Singhal."