Adapted for the web by Jason Joslyn.

By Anthony Blake.

Simulating Tutorials. Semantic items. Combinatorial thinking.
Technology. Evolution. Form and content.
Levels. Mutual understanding. Holistic thinking.
  • Simulating Tutorials.

    Structural communication was developed in the 1960s as an aid to education specifically to simulate the effect of a small group tutorial. An experienced tutor can run a series of tutorials with many different sets of students, responding to them as individuals, from the same versatile structure he has built in himself of the subject matter. This versatile structure is called his 'understanding'. A module of structural communication simulates such versatile structures. It was capable of dealing with a range of alternative interpretations and was not restricted to yes/no or multiple choice answer sets. It was also capable of responding with discrimination to different students' attempts to deal with questions.
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  • Semantic items.

    The critical technical innovation was to make a relatively large set of semantic items (usually c. 20) for each subject domain that was then used by the student to answer questions. The student answered a question by making a selection of a sub-set, in which what is included and what excluded are both significant. Each domain had its own semantic set (universe of discourse) and a set of questions, each question taking a different perspective on the subject. A series of diagnostic tests could determine whether the student had included anything misleading or omitted anything essential, or even more subtle degrees of understanding. The diagnostics led to the feedback of corresponding comments, which were composed as part of the topic.
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  • Combinatorial thinking.

    The approach was based on the power of combinations. Combinations were used instead of multiple choice (which is a collapse of combination to its most degenerate level). This allowed for a variety of acceptable response, with provision for different thresholds and also for a variety of interpretation. The method was eminently suitable for subjects requiring judgement, such as history, as well as subjects requiring precise discrimination, such as physics. It also served as an education in what is generally called 'systems thinking'.
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  • Technology.

    First developed in a pre-PC era, the method found no easy instrumentation at the time, but is now straightforward to implement on computer and on the web.
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  • Evolution.

    The technique evolved over the years into forms that were applicable to management. It has arrived at a new form called 'logovisual technology' (LVT). In LVT, the generation of the semantic set is given over to the participants. In place of a prepared set of questions and diagnostics, the process is conducted more as a dialogue between the participants, who make the selection and combination of items in a physical way, by handling the items as 'objects'.
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  • Form and content.

    Structural communication is almost unique in facilitating communication of form as well as content in parallel.It deals with the dual transmission of information and the meaning of the information as conceived in terms of the relationships between the pieces of information.
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  • Levels.

    Structural communication integrated different levels of learning. The semantic set was first, a set of words that had to be known. It was second, a set of meanings for each item considered separately. The process of question and answer then involved, third, the meaning of the items considered in their relation to each other and to the context in which they were used. Fourthly, the interaction between answer and comments supported unexpected breakthroughs of understanding. This latter is the principle of dialogue whereby two views, if they can be brought and held together (as in the view of the student and the view of the tutor) can generate something new.
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  • Mutual understanding.

    The simulation of the tutorial process, from which structural communication was developed, enabled a cross-personal understanding that was further developed in LVT to foster mutual understanding between people participating in the process. In this two factors were crucial. Firstly, that the referent language of discourse was made explicit and common to all. Secondly, that participants could show how they were thinking to each other.
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  • Holistic thinking.

    Combinatorial thinking leads into holistic thinking. Structural communication and LVT provide tools that in themselves encourage a holistic point of view. At every stage, the participant deals with the whole field and is able to actively experiment with ways in which it can be organized. The method integrates verbal with pictorial thinking and also brings into play a 'playful' element that is physical and immediate.
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Original collaborators with J.G.Bennett:

Projects inspired by Structural Communication:


Send questions or comments to Jason Joslyn

Updated July 10, 2003