What is a Commentary?
A typical unit in our online courses includes learning objectives, a commentary, and required assignments or activities. The commentary is our online equivalent of the traditional classroom lecture. Taking advantage of what we know about how people learn best online, the format of the commentary is quite similar to the pages on this blog—the content is optimized for online delivery with headings, bulleted lists, short sections of text, multimedia, interactive elements, and an informal, narrative approach.
Your instructional designer can help you with all aspects of your commentaries, from brainstorming to editing to incorporating multimedia. Focus first on writing your content, then work with your ID to fine tune the content and optimize it for online presentation. When getting started with a commentary, ask yourself, What story do I want to tell to show students the relevance of the content, and how they can apply what they are learning?
A Commentary Should…
Here’s a checklist for what a commentary should do…
- Align with the learning objectives for that week or unit.
- Offer the instructor’s insight on the topic and provide context, much as a classroom lecture would. Some examples include:
- A suggestion to take certain things into consideration as they study this topic.
- An anecdote or example that relates to the materials under study.
- A real life story or illustration of the main ideas for the unit or readings.
- An insight to the significance of the topic in the bigger picture.
- Go above and beyond what the text and readings have to offer. The commentary is intended as value added; we assume that grad students can read and summarize the assigned readings themselves.
- Represent the “big picture” of what students are learning and how they can apply this information in their personal or professional lives.
- Include some multimedia to complement the text and appeal to various learners and learning styles. Video clips should not be longer than 5 minutes unless the material is truly compelling enough to warrant a longer video. Images can represent concepts you are discussing in the commentary:
- A video clip works well for demonstrating a process, such as how to use Excel to build a financial statement.
- Popular media clips of TV shows or advertisements may be used to represent concepts that otherwise take a lot of explanation. These multimedia clips can also be the basis for discussion.
- Be the instructor’s original thoughts on the topic. Any non-original material should be cited.
- Follow copyright and accessibility recommendations.
A Commentary Should Not…
Here’s a checklist for what a commentary should NOT do…
- Be an outline or summary of assigned readings. It should not be a PowerPoint or read like a page cut from a textbook. Students will have read the assigned readings themselves and don’t need it repeated in the commentary.
- Be so “personal” that the commentary could not be used if another instructor taught the course.
Personal stories like “when my son was 12, he broke his arm and…” or “in my first year of grad school, I learned an important lesson…” probably shouldn’t be told in the commentary—at least in this format. These kinds of stories can be great as a news item that appear at the appropriate time each semester, OR they can be made more generic: “An important lesson that many of us in the field have learned is….” Personal opinions can be expressed in a format such as, “Another way to look at this is…” or “Some practitioners in the field disagree and believe that …”
- Be a “talking head” video (when the instructor talks directly to the camera with nothing else going on in the video). You might instead use a series of short mini lectures / video clips in conjunction with some explanatory text. Research shows that the best way to enhance student learning when using video in online courses is to use short clips (under five minutes), be focused, and include demonstration and opportunities for interaction.
Hibbert, M. (2014). What Makes an Online Instructional Video Compelling?
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