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.

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