Leading the Class Into the 21st Century

One college professor is making sure tomorrows CPAs know how to solve problems.

The door in Maryland Hall reads room 200, but students might think theyve walked into Multimedia Computer Techniques rather than Introductory Accounting I or II. From the moment you step into Professor Barry Rices classroom at Loyola College in Baltimore you know something is different.

There is a blackboard, but this CPA educator hasnt written on it in five years. Students have handheld keypad polling devices at each desk to answer questions during impromptu quizzes. The overhead projector has been replaced with a permanent multimedia console that features a computer with an Internet connection, a VCR and a laser disc player. A large projection system hangs from the ceiling and stereo speakers are mounted on the front wall.

Welcome to the accounting classroom of the 21st century.

The bell rings, and the freshmen and sophomores settle into an hour of learning they describe as a new-wave tool for education and downright cool. In the middle of the lecture and without warning, Rice calls up his CompuPic 32 program on the network and flashes a young womans picture on the screenthe student hes chosen to answer his last question. Whether she knows the answer or not, she has to think, and the exchange is guaranteed to get other students in the class thinking as well.

Surprises always await students in Rices classroom as he uses technology to teach accounting basics. In fact, his style often raises eyebrows from peers who question whether students actually learn in this environment. Its a criticism Rice has fought since the first day he decided to think out of the box that is the traditional college classroom.

I do not give quizzes; I get feedback, Rice says, referring to the instantaneous way of checking whether students are learning. I do not show movies; I use multimedia. I do not entertain students; I engage them in the learning process. The traditional classroom is a dinosaur and ought to die!

Characteristics of a Pathfinder
  • Develops and champions a successful new service for a firm, employer or profession.
  • Plays a key role in making a new service successful.
  • Has the ability to grow a practice or expand services to meet employer needs.
  • Makes extensive use of technology and has plans to increase use as innovations become available.
  • Exhibits creativity and entrepreneurial attributes.
  • Is sensitive to othersshows understanding and empathy.
  • Has personal plan or vision for the future.
  • Is willing to take reasonable risks in order to grow professionally.

Source: CPA Vision Project Web site ( http://www.cpavision.org ).

Because of this innovative use of technology and his creativity in adapting it to the classroom, as well as the leadership role he has taken with other technology-related educational projects, the AICPA has chosen Rice as a pathfinder in its Vision Process. Rice, 55, believes in turning out accounting graduates who are prepared for the world beyond college. And the best way to do this, he says, is to stimulate students by using the computer technology the rest of the worldespecially businesshas embraced.

Rice says educational publishers have been slow to develop high-tech material for colleges, and most educators wont take the time needed to produce material in this fashion. Creating lectures entirely on a computer is just too much work for anyone who doesnt have the drive, tools or inclination to address this in their teaching, he says.

Over the past six years, as technology has become progressively more user-friendly, Rice has changed his accounting lectures. Today, he creates his material at home and uses the Internet to upload it onto Loyolas server. Mixing Asymetrix Toolbook, a multimedia authoring package that lets him move through topics in a nonlinear fashion, with the presentation software, PowerPoint, he infuses his lectures with dynamics aimed at keeping the attention of students who have grown up with the fast pace of MTV and the World Wide Web. For example, he can click on hypertext and go to any page in the virtual textbook or to any location on a page, while bringing up boxes and incorporating audio, animation and graphics that further illustrate his point.

Rice continues to give tests the way theyve always been given, because there arent enough computers for all the students in the class, but he hopes eventually to move to online tests proctored to prevent cheating. He also plans to take these techniques further this fall when he will teach two sections of Accounting I over Loyolas Intranet. Fifty-five students already have registered for the class. Students will access it by using their ID numbers and a password. With money from a grant he was awarded, Rice will be putting in 50 hours a week for about 8 weeks this summer to prepare for the class. I will cease to be a sage on the stage and become a guide on the side, he says. I hope to prove that students will learn more because they can spend as much or as little time as they need on lecture presentations.

Rice hasnt always taken the progressive stance he does today. He graduated from college in the early 1960s, and after positions with Price Waterhouse, Arthur Andersen and a local firm in Roanoke, Virginia, left public accounting in 1970 to pursue graduate study at the University of Maryland at College Park. Inspired by a long line of educators in his family, and believing teachers are born, not made, he made the move to education after serving as a graduate assistant for five years at Maryland.

Joining Loyola in 1975, Rice taught students the rudimentary aspects of accounting in much the same fashion as every other accounting professor before him. He didnt know much about technology before the mid-1980s, when he discovered CompuServe and Loyolas VAX mainframe. He began advocating technology as early as 1984 by requiring his students to go into Loyolas computer labs to submit their homework via electronic spreadsheets and term papers, but he was frustrated that students werent responding in class to questions he would ask about the material being covered.

In 1986, when he began to see that graduates were entering the workforce without a real grounding in the technology skills required for business, Rice wrote a computer literacy policy for Loyolas students. The policy still exists at the college and is always being amended; in 1994, Rice added Internet proficiency to the statement and he expects to update it as needed to keep in step with changing technology.

For More Information

To learn more, visit Barry Rices Web site at http://pacioli.loyola.edu/rice , or send an e-mail to rice@loyola.edu . The Web site also includes links to the home pages for each of his courses, as well as to AECM, the discussion group site for educators, at http://pacioli.loyola.edu/aecm , and his general site for the accounting community, CPAS-L, at http://pacioli.loyola.edu/cpas-l .

In 1988, he invited other educators to his first Trends in Computerized Accounting Education Conference. This meeting, which he organized to exchange technology ideas and provide evaluations from hands-on users of educational accounting software, was held five times over the next 10 years. Technology has since made the conference obsolete; past attendees can now exchange information using the Web.

A chance meeting in 1991 with a former University of Maryland mentor, Roger Hermanson, helped Rice bring technology into the classroom. The two men discussed how, at one time in the mid-1960s, Hermansons classroom was outfitted with mechanical keypads embedded in the desks and connected to rotary dials at the front of the room to give the professor feedback on multiple-choice questions. Rice got the idea to take the old Q&A system further by using handheld keypads as polling devices in the same way companies today use them to gauge opinion at large meetings. Rice worked with Loyolas Information Services Department to get an IBM grant in the summer of 1992. The grant allowed Loyola to install a multimedia computer and keypads in a refurbished classroom, and Rice subsequently became the colleges first faculty member to experiment with technology in class.

I force my students to take a position in little more than a minute on any question, Rice explains. Most students have been able to fake their way from kindergarten to twelfth grade by memorizing and not thinking. After the freshman year, I insist they do analytical thinking on problems. Many are taken aback at first, but it forces them to use their minds.

And based on his frequent contact with practitioners through continuing education programs, committee work with the Maryland Association of CPAs and firm visits, Rice believes thats just what CPAs in firms and in businesses are finding they need young recruits to do. Rice thinks many schools still dont prepare students for that.

The classroom is not the only place Rice uses technology. He serves as coordinator of Accounting Education Using Computers and Multimedia (AECM), an electronic interest group he created early in 1994 as a forum for discussion of hardware and software for accounting education at the college and university level. More than 1,000 subscribers from more than 30 countries have exchanged information on a variety of topics ranging from noteworthy educational accounting software and hardware and related conferences, workshops and seminars to questions such as, What is the best software to use in my managerial accounting course?

Using his experience with AECM, last August Rice developed CPAS-L, an online forum for CPAs outside of education to address issues affecting any area of accounting. Already, more than 200 subscribers contribute regularly to the discussions of software, hardware and client-related matters. Its another way Rice stays in touch, not just with accounting ideas in academe but also with accounting practices in the real world. That way, he can pass what he learns back to his students, giving them the firm foundation theyll need to negotiate the changes and challenges theyll face as CPAs in the next century.

CPAs should be like Indiana Jonescreative, innovative and open-minded, Rice says. One of the most important things in life is learning how to break the rules. Too many college accounting programs, Rice feels, force students into little boxes. At Loyola College, Rice is trying to help students step beyond that and think for themselves. They have to learn not only how to use the tools at hand to survive but also to experiment with the unknown to discover what lies ahead, he says.

SCOTT H. CYTRON is a Dallas-based consultant advising CPAs and other professionals across the country on issues related to marketing, public relations and communications.

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