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Teaching and Learning Forum 2005 [ Refereed papers ]
Strategies in teaching accounting in higher education

Jeya Chandra Malar Jayaprakash
School of Business
Curtin University of Technology Sarawak

This paper looks at the teaching strategies adopting in teaching accounting to students. The main objective of teaching accounting is not only to develop the intellectual skills of students but also to provide them with opportunities to work individually, in pairs, small and large groups. Students in addition to intellectual skills also need to equip themselves with professional skills like writing, speaking out, presenting, computer and information literacy, decision making and teamwork. In order to achieve this, new concepts, strategies and methodologies have to be introduced in the teaching of accounting. In the old paradigm teachers were considered as the sole source of information and students approached them for every possible solution for problems encountered.

However, in the modern paradigm the teachers are considered as facilitators and mainly provide their services in the form of guidance to students. This modern approach allows room for students to develop their accounting skills at their own pace and seek information as much as required, thus providing opportunities for self development. The teaching strategies used must therefore be in line with the contextual learning theory where the aim of education is the integration of content learnt with the real world experiences. Therefore, teaching tools such as interactive case studies, simulations and games, group work are widely recommended by several research organizations. The issues dealt in this paper are of high importance as the accounting industry faces rapid changes such as the advancement of new accounting software and packages, which have the capacity to manage the large volumes of accounting information. This paper is based on self reflective approach and addresses the issue of how the teaching of accounting can be developed to suit the needs of students when they enter the workplace.


Introduction

Accounting education incurred rapid changes during the 1990s and institutions of higher educations constantly adapted their course materials to suit the work force and external environment in which one lives (Sampsell, 1997). A study conducted by the American Accounting Association (AAA), in the early 1980s expressed concerns that the accounting curriculum was not keeping up with the dynamic changes of the accounting profession. In the late 1990s, with the aim of aiding educators to develop a broad based curriculum, the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) released its own "Core Competency Framework for Entry into the Accounting Profession". It stressed the importance of not just technical knowledge such as entering in the books of accounts, calculating profits and so on, but also "broader based skills and competencies". The term "broad based skills" here includes critical thinking, communication, teamwork, ethical awareness, technological competence, and independent learning.

Noe (2000) argues that in today's world of business, accounting is used as the basic tool for processing, integrating and disseminating information. Knowing the importance of accounting in today's business enterprises, teachers are entrusted with the task of not just our students achieving excellent grades in their examinations but also to make them become lifelong learners, independent learners and promote their thinking skills. In view of lifelong learning, Parnham (2001, p.58)) states " a key aim for those who provide learning must be to make it easier for the people to learn". The rote learning method used by teachers traditionally made learning more difficult. Therefore to make learning more pleasant and approachable by students at large, lecturers have to move on from the traditional teacher centred approach and move on to the modern student centred approach. Below are schematic representations of the teacher centred and student centred approaches to teaching.

Figure 1

Figure 1: Schematic representation of the teacher centred system in accounting
Adapted from Facilitating Student Learning: A practical guide for tertiary level teachers, p. 84 (Ellington & Earl, 1999)

In modern teaching strategies, the emphasis is on the student centred approach. In this approach accounting students get their input or learn through different modes. They are guided by sources such as tutors, counsellors, other students and also gain information from sources like resources centre, library, media and so on. AICPA in its research identifies several teaching strategies and classroom techniques that can be used in teaching accounting courses. These modern strategies include quizzes on lecture material, demonstrations, question answer sessions, discussions, writing journals, one minute papers and responses, problem based learning, group learning and teamwork, cooperative learning, debates, simulations, role playing, visual and computer based instructions, online teaching, fieldworks and internships.

Figure 2

Figure 2: Schematic representation of the student centred system in accounting
Adapted from Facilitating Student Learning: A practical guide for tertiary level teachers, p. 87 (Ellington & Earl, 1999)

This paper looks at the modern teaching strategies of accounting that have been implemented by educators of accounting at higher educational institutions and also compares how the lecturer herself has adopted some of these strategies to teach accounting and uses self reflective approach towards evaluating the effectiveness of those being implemented.

As a lecturer of accounting at a higher educational institution, one of my goals in teaching accounting is to make all my students become effective learners by promoting deep learning and not surface learning. Deep learning is described as learners who are willing to incorporate new ideas from what they have learned, existing knowledge and personal experiences. Students who are only interested in grades and resort to reproducing what they have learnt adopt surface learning (Campbell 1998). Lynch (2001, p.177) quotes "In order to promote deep rather than surface learning in their students the member of staff must endeavour to motivate and provide various stimulating learning situations". In order to achieve this I resort to several modern teaching strategies and after every lecture and tutorial I reflect on my teaching and its effectiveness on student learning. This self reflecting approach provides me with quality feedback that I can use to plan for my future lessons. Pollard (2002, p.12) considers reflective action as a "willingness to engage in constant appraisal and development". The next diagram shows the key stages of the reflective process as described by Pollard.

Figure 3

Figure 3: The process of reflective teaching
Source: Reflective teaching : Effective and Evidence-informed Professional Practice, p.16 (Pollard, 2002)

Before I look at my own experience in teaching accounting, I review some of the teaching strategies adopted by accounting educators from various higher learning institutions.

Sampsell (1997) from Elmhurst College through the South-Western College Publishing, a leader in providing business education materials, has created a useful online website called "Great Ideas for Teaching Accounting". This website has a list of the different strategies that have been used by accounting lecturers on the different topics such as management accounting, current assets, statement preparation and analysis in accounting thus providing innovative teaching methods that can be experimented in our classrooms. A listing of the core topics is provided on the website and lecturers can easily access the page to go through the required materials available online. Berg (1996), an accounting educator at Wingate College, uses in class peer tutoring for his accounting subjects. He sets out by giving a difficult quiz and then forms groups according to students' performance in the quiz. His groups have 3 students: one who did very well, one mediocre and one poor. These students then work in their groups and he supervises them during lesson. Berg notices that these students continue to work in their groups even outside class timings and a considerable amount of improvement can be noted in the exam results of the poor and mediocre students.

Another technique used by Berg (1996) is "wearing two hats". Whenever he needs to ask students to think from two different points of views such as to understand concepts like accounts receivable and accounts payable, he asks the students to put on a "buyer's hat" when thinking from the point of view of a buyer and put on a "seller's hat" when thinking from the point of view of a seller. This innovative way gives students a different approach towards understanding and learning accounts receivable and accounts payable. Berg states that during his lessons, students became very familiar with the strategy that he started using two hats in reality for his lessons.

Deme (1996) from Lenoir Community College, uses pre-test technique to increase learning. Here the lecturer gives students a pre-test where they can work using their books, notes and together with other students. If students do not achieve the target of 100%, they have to resubmit for a lower full mark of 92% and if mistakes still occur for the next time, a lower full mark of 84% is awarded. The fourth attempt will earn them 76% and the fifth and subsequent time 70%. Students who do not correct all the mistakes will obtain 65%. A student who doesn't sit for the pre-test gets a zero. These marks are averaged and include a total 10% for the overall grade in the unit. Deme observes that through this method students get valuable experience and feedback from the lecturer prior to the test and this improves their performance at the final test.

Nibbelin (1996), from Eastern Illinois University, has designed a form of assessment that is transparent and quite simple to follow and above all is very motivational to students to engage in class participation. He uses bonus coupons for class participation. Coupons are given to students who are able to respond appropriately to questions asked relating to the reading assignment or solutions to homework problems. He has also written up the following guidelines to ensure that the system is more effective and beneficial to all the students.

Bagranoff (1993) states that commercial use software developed for use by commercial enterprises, prepares students for lifelong learning as well as complex technological environment. This form of technology equips students with critical thinking skills to solve problems, as students have to derive their own skills with the lecturer just giving guidance in the form of a facilitator. Bagranoff quotes the Accounting Education Change Commission (AECC), 1990, that the most important objective of accounting education should be to "create a base upon which continued learning can be built ... the overriding objective should be to teach students to learn on their own".

A summary of the teaching and assessment process that I use in teaching accounting can be shown in the flow chart below:

Figure 4

Figure 4: Process of teaching accounting: A self reflective analysis

When we use self reflecting approach to enhance our professionalism and teaching standards, we need to reflect critically and carry out systematic investigation of our own practice thus becoming an integral part of our classroom. Teachers who are using self reflective approach need to show willingness in self appraisal and development. Pollard (2003, p.17) states, " Reflective teaching requires attitudes of open mindedness, responsibility and wholeheartedness".

All of the modern teaching strategies that I implement are with the common goal of making "learners to learn". Reflecting on these strategies provides me with constructive information which can be sometimes discussed even with other colleagues and enable us to improve constantly in the strategies used. Considering the importance of computer knowledge required the accounting business, I combine the use of online teaching mode with other teaching strategies. Through this approach all lecture notes, tutorial work, assessment work, notices are posted in the online folder and students access them at their own convenience. This provides students with an opportunity to access all information relevant to the unit and is able to become more independent learners. Students know their responsibility and therefore check the postings and contents regularly. The only drawback that I have seen is that sometimes students are unable to have access to computer on campus. However, I encourage my students not to wait just before lectures or tutorials to access the online material but instead check materials earlier and also share among their friends working together. In this way they can photocopy materials that their friends have downloaded. Other teaching strategies that I have adopted for tutorial discussion groups include problem based learning cases. This strategy expects students to use their knowledge from information gathered during lectures to solve realistic problems. Students show a great interest in such questions because there is no such thing as a right or wrong answer. All they are expected to do is to give valid reasons or in other words justify the answer they have given.

Another modern strategy that can be used is asking students to develop their own questions and then work out the possible solution for the problem. These can then be exchanged among the different groups to be worked out and presented in class for other group members to comment. This kind of an exercise will bring about a high level of interaction within students in the classroom and improve their oral, presentation and communication skills in addition to developing their critical thinking skills.

I use in class peer tutoring described by Berg (1996) as a teaching strategy. I get the students to form groups, usually about three and encourage them to study together. I carry out regular testing and offer incentives for groups where all members obtain more than 90% during any one of the tests. Though it only happens occasionally, it provides enough motivation for group members to work together and they learn to help one another. I have observed that those who are mediocre or poor benefit tremendously by this peer group support.

Another modern teaching strategy of Berg (1996) that I have adopted is "wearing the two hats". When teaching accounts receivable, accounts payable and Bank Reconciliation Statement, students need to understand the transactions from different views of people. For explaining such information, I find it easier to use the idea of "wearing two hats" (described earlier). This helps students to understand the "mirror imaging" of transactions, understanding that the entries are opposite when approached at the viewpoint of different people. This can pave way for the students to identify the differences in maintaining books of the business, books of the bank, books of the seller and books of the buyer. In other words, students should be taught to think from being the purchaser and again from being the seller. During lesson time, I indicate to students and they put on a "buyer's hat" when thinking from the point of the buyer and a "seller's hat" when thinking from the point of the seller. It is a useful technique to get them involved and they use it when they are working on their own or in groups as well.

Open book assignment is another modern strategy that I use in my classroom. Students work in class to complete the assigned task and are allowed to use their own study materials. They are not allowed to share information and I find that this strategy trains the students to use available information to answer the work. It encourages them to maintain proper notes, read and to be familiar with the study materials they have been provided with.

Introductory accounting classes involving the accounting equation can be demonstrated to students in several ways. I have modified an approach suggested by Gee (1996) and demonstrate to students accounting equation by using 3 jars. The jars are labelled "A" for Assets, "L" for Liabilities and "E" for Owner's Equity. The jar labelled "E" is filled with water and then poured into the jar marked "A", for students to recognise that assets are acquired from owner's equity. Then I fill in some water in the jug labelled "L" explaining to them that the owner can borrow funds from others to invest in assets. This can then be further explained that at any one time, Assets must always be equal to Liabilities and Owner's equity.

Students ability to work in groups, both small and big, can also be enhanced by getting them involved in projects relating to group work and interviewing skills (Schlesinger, 1996). As part of a department project, I arranged for students to interview managers to find out the type of business organisation they belong to and then collect information about their functions, departments and other details. Students recorded the interviews using a video camera and then did a presentation to the class summarising their findings. This was a useful means for students to develop their interviewing, presentation, writing skills and also to work in groups. They also learnt about the accounting topics of business organisations.

From the many studies that have been conducted in this area, it is quite clear that strategies used in teaching accounting forms a core component on the effectiveness of student learning. Therefore, lecturers should look at the strategies that they wish to use, the learning outcomes for that topic and assess its suitability before using them. More research needs to be carried out to measure the effectiveness of these strategies and therefore studies must also be conducted to look at the evaluation procedures used in classrooms so that students are accountable. This greater level of accountability will ensure that the learning process is better achieved by majority of the students.

References

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Author: Jeya is a lecturer in accounting at Curtin Sarawak. She holds a Master of Education from University of Western Australia and a Master of Commerce from University of Madras, and has over 12 years teaching experience at secondary schools in Brunei and Australia.

Mrs Jeya Chandra Malar Jayaprakash School of Business, Curtin University of Technology Sarawak CDT 250, Miri, 98009 Malaysia Tel: +60 85 443 844 Fax: +60 85 443 950 Email: jeya.j@curtin.edu.my

Please cite as: Jayaprakash, J. C. M. (2005). Strategies in teaching accounting in higher education. In The Reflective Practitioner. Proceedings of the 14th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, 3-4 February 2005. Perth: Murdoch University. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf2005/refereed/jayaprakashj.html

Copyright 2005 Jeya Chandra Malar Jayaprakash. The author assigns to the TL Forum and not for profit educational institutions a non-exclusive licence to reproduce this article for personal use or for institutional teaching and learning purposes, in any format (including website mirrors), provided that the article is used and cited in accordance with the usual academic conventions.


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