by Tatiana Fedyk, Business Administration
Teaching Effectiveness Award Essay, 2006
A common perception is that accounting is difficult to teach because it mainly consists of a list of routine accounting rules with guidance for how and when these rules should be applied. Students taking Introduction to Financial Accounting are those who think about accounting as a prerequisite for their future job, but not as an interesting subject they have a strong passion for — a fact that makes the incentive part of teaching extremely difficult.
When I began to teach Introduction to Financial Accounting (UGBA 102A) two years ago, I would search the web for jokes about accounting and accountants to bring some fun into my classes. It worked in a sense that students laughed during boring accounting sessions and my evaluation was not bad at all. But I myself was not satisfied. Jokes brought some moments of relaxation, but they didn’t help in my attempts to teach students. So, at the beginning of this academic year, I chose a new strategy: make the subject itself interesting and funny, attractive and gameful. For every discussion, I created some entertaining exercise related to the new topic just covered in class. Though difficult at the beginning, it became easier with every new preparation and brought a lot of excitement into my classes. For one of the first topics, the content of a balance sheet, I prepared a “Weird Balance Sheet”: a simple balance sheet, but containing some crucial errors both in form and content. This exercise was useful and unexpectedly fun even for me. Where I had made only seven mistakes, my curious students found a whole dozen! During the next few sessions, when we had covered all four main financial statements and discussed how they are related, I brought into class the financial documents of three different companies: Amazon, Intel, and General Electric. The trick was that I deleted the names of those companies from the titles of all documents. So the game was to find which document belonged to which company. This exercise was a kind of an advanced puzzle hunt; there was only one way to group the documents, and in order to find that way students had to exercise all of their detective abilities and pay attention to tiny details, which in the long run are essential skills to succeed as an accountant.
However, good teaching means not only accomplishing my goals but also fulfilling those of my students. What are the students’ goals except solid knowledge of the subject? Good grades. Therefore, I followed every two or three nice atmosphere – fun exercise – free conversation classes with one really intense preparation session. The format of that latter discussion consisted of presenting the material with interspersed relevant practice exercises, answering questions, keeping the pace really intense, and focusing on building practical skills. I think that that mix of friendly, open, game-containing discussions with hardcore preparations for the midterms and final exam worked just perfectly. Student attendance in my class was more than 90%, which was not bad considering the fact that accounting GCI sessions are not mandatory. And, most significantly, the grades of my students were from 2 to 10 percentage points higher on every exam compared to the grades in similar classes.
So now I can say that accounting as a subject can be almost as captivating and for sure as exciting to teach as psychology or Ancient Greek history. All you need is a strong determination and good childhood games memories, and you will get a grateful audience.