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Home Journal Index 2020-3

Seeking to Reduce Physical Distancing Using Socratic Dialogue in Teacher Feedback

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Mark Brooke
National University of Singapore, Singapore

The paper reports on how I sought to develop and maintain a positive rapport with my students during the COVID-19 pandemic crisis conducting emergency remote teaching (ERT). Due to the transition from face-to-face classroom interaction to online teaching and learning, and the subsequent physical distancing, opportunities to develop close relations with students were reduced. One strategy to deal with this problem that I explored was to change the way I provided written feedback to students. I noticed that my feedback prior to the crisis, using the review tool in Word, tended to maintain an authoritative voice using imperatives such as ‘change to …’; ‘look at …’. I sought to move away from this voice by employing Walker's (2004) DISCOUNT coding system, which presents different communicative moves drawing on Socratic dialogue. I complemented this coding system using modal verbs such as ‘may’ and ‘should’ rather than imperatives to further increase dialogism (Kress & Hodge, 1979, p. 122; Fairclough, 2001, p. 105). It was surmised that this strategy for providing feedback might help to reduce the affective barriers constructed by the physical distance enforced during the crisis. Students’ comments about the feedback structure are shared demonstrating that this strategy is correlated with a supportive and caring approach. Additionally, it was observed that some students also engaged in similar dialogic communication when sending redrafts back. Consequently, it is concluded that the strategy aided in building rapport with students during emergency remote teaching (ERT), but it is too early to hypothesise to what extent it played a role. The next step in the research, as I continue to teach entirely online in the coming semester, is to interview students to ask their views on the use of Socratic dialogue and hedging in text-based communication, and its relationship to building tutor-student rapport.


Emergency remote teaching (ERT), emotional and cultural distance, online text-based communication, Socratic dialogue, hedging