Virtual Liberating Structures Meetup – Monday, August 28th at 7pm PST

As part of the Vancouver Liberating Structures User Group, I’ll be coordinating our first Virtual LS meeting on this last Monday of August, the 28th at 7pm. If you’re interested in Liberating Structures and in particular applying LS in a virtual environment, you’re welcome to join! You can access the Zoom meeting here:

Please arrive early (we’ll open at 6:45pm) to iron out any tech glitches and make sure you have the Zoom software downloaded on either your phone or laptop (check

Here is a detailed structure for the session and also includes links to great resources that one of the Virtual LS specialists Jim Best has put together:

We’ll also invite those interested in V-LS from around the community. Hope to see you all there!

Authentic Experiential Learning – Reflections on UBCO Learning Conference Keynote

Reflections on Keynote at #UBCOLearnConf with Dr. Linda B. Nilson.

Reflection involves self-debriefing and helps students know what to look for through an educational experience. Reflection leads the way to metacognition and self-regulated learning. That can encapsulate self-observation, self-monitoring, self-analysis, self-evaluation. Students, upon reflecting, can start creating decision-making rules and patterns to take with them to other similar experiences. Ultimately, as a teacher, it is the reflection that you will assess. You as a teacher will be able to see the quality of their reflection

Reflective Probes

The term “probes” is new to me in this kind of educational context. “The authentic experience & reflection require corresponding outcomes” – Dr. Linda B. Nilson. Here are some examples of probes:

  • What skills did you gain or improve?
  • How did you overcome your challenges?
  • Describe your decision-making process?
  • What steps did you take along your research process?
  • What problems did you encounter?
  • When and how will these skills be useful in the future?

Learning Outcomes

Questions teachers need to ask themselves before creating authentic learning experience reflection assessments are:

  • What are my learning outcomes for your students’ authentic experience?
  • Given these outcomes, what are your most effective reflective probes to ask and assess (detail important here)

Thoughts on the presentation

It was fascinating to see the breadth and depth of best practices in student reflection on authentic learning. What I would have loved to see was more opportunities for the audience themselves to do some reflection on the presentation itself. Dr. Linda B. Nilson would have benefited from using one or two Liberating Structures such as 1-2-4-All or 15% Solutions!

Wise Crowds Liberating Structure – a supplement to CIQ?

The Liberating Structure known as “Wise Crowds” seeks to “tap the wisdom of the whole group in rapid cycles” (see LS 13 – Wise Crowds). I believe it can be used as a different approach to what Brookfield recommends in his The Skillsful Teacher as the CIQ or Critical Incident Questionnaire (Brookfield 2015, p. 34).

Normally in an anonymous CIQ, students are asked to describe their most engaging, confusing, helpful or surprising moments in the class that week. Their comments are then considered, tabulated and analyzed by instructors, who then respond by adjusting their teaching, lecturing, or assessment instruments for the following week.

I believe the CIQ is an incredibly powerful and sadly underused (at least at my institution) classroom research technique that has many merits. It’s an excellent way to get a snapshot of how students are doing with the learning at any point in the course. The challenge comes when you try to address the issues raised in the CIQ in order to help students better learn. Often you may not have time to address every single question or every confusing concept students raised in the anonymous survey. That’s where the Wise Crowds Liberating Structure comes in.

Rather than have the teacher trying to solve all of the students problems with the learning, she can use the  Liberating Structure (LS) known as “Wise Crowds” (Lipmanowicz & McCandless 2013, pg. 217) to allow students to take control of their learning and consult their peers, the Wise Crowds, for answers to their questions. The Wise Crowds LS allows students to  “gain more clarity and increase their capacity for self-correction and self-understanding” by consulting the expertise and inventiveness of everyone in a group (p. 217). A spinoff benefit of Wise Crowds is that students grow in supportive relationships and “deepen inquiry and consulting skills”. This is because student alternate in being a “client” and also a “consultant” to others. Here’s how you would structure it and set it up in real time.

 Applying Wise Crowds to the Classroom

The following is an adaption to a higher education classroom setting of the “Five Structural Elements – Minimum Specifications for a small Wise Crowds” in Lipmanowicz & McCandless 2013, pg. 217.

  1. Structuring Invitation
    1. Inform students they will be tapping the wisdom of their peers to help them clarify the most confusing  aspects of the course experienced this past week. They will also get the opportunity to be consultants to other students with their own specific needs for clarity.
    2. Each student briefly describes his or her challenge and asks their peers for help. Peers are consultants who ask clarifying questions and offer ways for student to be more clear about the concept raised.
  2. How Space is arranged
    1. Students get into groups of 4 or 5 facing each other, adapting the classroom chairs and setup as necessary
  3. How Participation is Distributed
    1. All students allowed to raise their most confusing concept they had last week
    2. All students given equal amount of time to ask for or get help
    3. All students have an equal opportunity to offer help to other students
  4. How Groups are configured
    1. 4-5 students
    2. Can either be randomly organized to allow for mix of students, or grouped by team based on the teams that are already set up to work on specific projects
  5. Sequence of Steps and Time Allocation
    1. Every student given 5 minutes, broken down as follows: 1 minute to explain most confusing concept, 1 minutes for peers to ask clarifying questions,  2 minutes for advice given by consultants, 1 minute for client to provide feedback to consultants on how useful the advice was.


Brookfield, S. (2015). The Skillful Teacher: On Technique, Trust, and Responsiveness in the Classroom. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Lipmanowicz, H., & McCandless, K. (2013). The surprising power of liberating structures. New York: Liberating Structures Press.

Liberating Structures content, including the image used in this blog post, is licensed under a Creative Commons License.Creative Commons License

Reflections on Hattie’s Visible Learning for Teachers

I just discovered Hattie’s Visible Learning and the following book Visible Learning for Teachers which is more applied to the teaching context. I am truly amazed and excited on this find, and surprised I didn’t find out about this earlier or have been told about this in my more than 12 years of teaching experience.

I’d like to reflect on teaching in my context (Higher Education) based on Hattie’s definition of teachers (Hattie, 2012, pp.19-20)

Powerful, passionate, accomplished teachers are those who:

  1. focus on students’ cognitive engagement with the content of what it is that is being taught
    1. This implies that there must be a way to observe evidence for that cognitive engagement. Assessment is one way to do this, also projects and presentations or simply dialogue between student and teacher. This also brings to mind the necessity of challenging students with activities that are higher up on Bloom’s Taxonomy, i.e. creating, analyzing, synthesizing, applying. Activities that promote that kind of cognitive engagement must be prioritized over things like heavy assessments with multiple choice which just test remembering.
  2. focus on developing a way of thinking and reasoning that emphasizes problem-solving and teaching strategies relating to the content that they wish students to learn;
    1. Problem solving is something we probably need to do more of in Higher Ed, using real-life problems in the particular subject area students are studying. Case studies are a great way to do this, also projects that involve coming up with a solution to a known problem in that area (say, trying to build an ethically based company, or a sustainable business initiative, in the case of Business School students). Teaching strategies then need to be geared towards promoting that problem based learning. SETs for Problem solving from Barkley (2009)  would be excellent to apply.
  3. focus on imparting new knowledge and understanding, and then monitor how students gain fluency and appreciation in this new knowledge;
    1. It would be hard to define “new knowledge” in this age of ever-present knowledge on the internet. Perhaps evaluating what learners already know first would be the first step, then introducing new concepts in a very methodical way, then testing their understanding of those new ideas. There is also an interesting discussion around what it means to “impart” – is that lecturing, just giving a reading to do, or could it be more hands-on in some way? I would like to think that an instructor can impart new knowledge by presenting a new problem to solve and then working backwards to uncover the new knowledge as secret as it were to solving the problem.
  4. focus on providing feedback in an appropriate and timely manner to help students to attain the worthwhile goals of the lesson;
    1. Feedback is always a tricky one, and I often hear teachers not giving timely feedback, or the feedback mechanism is very slow and not very user friendly. In the case of online content, there are quick ways to give feedback to students (such as with assignment feedback or quiz/test feedback that could be relatively instant). The timeliness of feedback is something certain instructors are starting to understand as being very crucial for student development. Once they connect the timely feedback with student attainment of learning goals, they would be more eager to provide that to students.
  5. seek feedback about their effect on the progress and proficiency of all their students;
    1. Normally this is done through “Course Evaluations” but that happens at the end of the course when it is almost too late to change anything. It would only have an effect on the next semester’s students. But feedback on instructor effectiveness in the classroom should probably be done earlier in the year, perhaps by using anonymous surveys.
  6. have deep understanding about how we learn; and
    1. Not enough students and not nearly enough instructors really know “how we learn” and there are often misguided beliefs in effective learning strategies. I loved this article showing how effective certain study habits were: The lesson you never got taught in school: How to learn!
  7. focus on seeing learning through the eyes of students, appreciating their fits and starts in learning, and their often non-linear progressions to the goals, supporting their deliberate practice, providing feedback about their errors and misdirections, and caring that the students get to the goals and that the students share the teacher’s passion for the material being learnt.
    1. That sounds like a great ideal, very all-encompassing and idealistic, but the stance, the belief and passion of the teacher to do this is so important. I’m wondering what motivates the majority of teachers, and whether it is this or other things that motivate them. Often in a classroom of 200 plus students (large lecture halls) teachers can be very detached from students. Some have tried to solve this through discussion groups, online participation, forums, etc. But what this statement is saying is that the attitude of the teacher is so important for there to be a healthy learning environment. Encouraging that stance in teachers requires inspiration, comradery, and mutual encouragement. Perhaps when educatational leaders provide those opportunities for teachers to get together to do just that, more of that attitude can be shared and passed on.


Barkley, E. F. (2009). Student engagement techniques: A handbook for college faculty. John Wiley & Sons.

Hattie, J. (2012). Visible learning for teachers: Maximizing impact on learning. Routledge.

Hattie, J. (2013). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. Routledge.

Team Concept Maps

Team Concept Map (Barkley’s list of Student Engagement Techniques (2009, p 219)

Synthesis and Creative Thinking

  • Team Concept Maps are a SET within the topic of “Synthesis and Creative Thinking”. My target audience to use this SET was a group of volunteer members of a non-profit organization who needed not only to synthesize, discuss and brainstorm on various topics, but also to come up with creative solutions to problems at hand, so from the face of it I thought this could be the perfect engagement tool to use.
  • Barkley states that creative thinking is “the ability to interweave the familiar with the new in unexpected and stimulating ways (Barkley 2009, p 218, referencing Angelo and Cross 1993, p. 181). Team Concept Maps essentially assist in the creating thinking process. This engagement strategy allows students to take a familiar concept and by a process of mapping out those concepts in the context of team collaboration, students in the group can be stimulated to more creative thinking on the particular topic at hand.
  • Barkley defines synthesis as “the process by which pre-existing ideas, influences, or objects are combined in such a manner as to make a new, unified whole (Barkley 2009, p. 218).

Team Concept Maps SET

The way team concept maps work as an activity is that students collaborate to design graphic organizer to convert complex information into visually meaningful displays. Students draw diagrams that display combined ideas of students ideas and understanding on any given topic. Students would get together and discuss an issue/topic/concept, then visualize what was discussed by drawing out a team concept map, or diagram, of how the concepts/ideas/thoughts are interconnected under one given topic. Students would have to be in groups and have sufficient drawing materials (paper, pens/pencils) to draw out their concept maps. However, online solutions such as could also work as it allows for collaborative diagram drawing.

Exampls of Concept Maps

Concept Map

From: (labeled for reuse)

Another concept map using just connecting lines:



Application to my context

I can definitely use concept maps in the context of students in a Higher Ed business school where I work. There are many courses in which students must collaborate in groups to do case studies, group projects, assignments or brainstorming sessions to encourage innovative, entrepreneurial ideas. In this context team concept maps would be very helpful in visualizing otherwise complex topics with a lot of interconnected elements. I would definitely encourage professors to use this technique either in face-to-face sessions or in online learning spaces with tools similar to lucidchart. 


Barkley, E. F. (2009). Student engagement techniques: A handbook for college faculty. John Wiley & Sons.

Angelo, T. A., & Cross, K. P. (1993). Classroom assessment techniques: A handbook for college teachers (2nd ed.) San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Babwahsingh, Michael. (2012). Putting Visual Thinking to Work. Accessed on November 1, 2015 from: