Investigating a University Classroom Where the Participants are Purposely Invited, Included, and Engaged Through Liberating Structures

Vanessa Sandoval, University of Texas at El Paso


The purpose of this research was to investigate how a classroom that employs Liberating Structures (LS) is perceived and experienced by class participants. Liberating Structures (LS) are simple protocols of how people interact while they work and learn together, allowing for inclusion and engagement of all participants at the same time. The research examined how the use of LS practices and processes in a classroom influences participants’ sense of inclusion and engagement, their sense of being part of a learning community, and their perceptions of the learning and relational outcomes that accrue. Various methods of data collection and analysis—participant observation and (auto) ethnography, in-depth and focus interviews, and participants’ weekly learner notes—were employed. These data were coded openly, and constantly compared for common themes and emerging patterns with respect to what LS make possible in a classroom. From my analysis of an LS classroom over a semester-long period, it was clear that when an instructor pays purposive attention to the five micro-structural elements—an invitation, use of space, distribution of participation, group configuration, and sequencing and time allocation—the group outcomes are of a higher order and quality. Participants felt included and engaged and part of a cohesive, tolerant, and open learning community. Such feelings manifested through a variety of processes and mechanisms, including from participants’ sitting in a circle, learning each other’s names, sharing food, hosting visitors, trusting each other, feeling safe in voicing their opinions, taking ownership of their learning, and feeling included and engaged in the conduct of the classroom. Further, the instructor’s facilitative attitude, and corresponding actions, were found to be highly conducive to the creation of a vibrant learning community.

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Recommended Citation

Sandoval, Vanessa, "Investigating a University Classroom Where the Participants are Purposely Invited, Included, and Engaged Through Liberating Structures" (2017). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI10619936.