I teach Introduction to Financial Accounting, which is usually the first accounting course anyone takes. It’s really bad to go to a class and start lecturing from bullet points about abstract concepts. I want it to be fresh and real. When you start talking about real-life companies, it becomes more interesting. It’s storytelling. So I decided two years ago to create a blog called Accounting in the Headlines, where twice a week I write a short article. It’s one to three paragraphs where I take some news item that’s in the popular media and recast it in accounting terms.
I’m a voracious reader. When I read stories, I’m looking for news about companies that are recognizable, because students learn best if they start with what’s familiar. From an education standpoint, I buy into this idea of scaffolding: You start with what the student knows. The student might be familiar with a company. I can then try to explain that new concept in layman’s terms without getting really detailed. If you were to throw a company’s annual report at students and say, “Here, let’s just figure it out,” it’s overwhelming; it makes no sense.
Accounting is like a foreign language to students the first time through, but stories about real companies let them see that accounting isn’t just for accountants. This material affects everyone. A lot of my students aren’t even business majors. Fashion majors and sports administration majors, for example, have to take financial accounting. They get to see that accounting issues in a company might impact them. Stories really show the applicability of accounting and why we need to understand it.
As a faculty member, it can be difficult to find real-life news stories related to accounting that you can use in the classroom. The blog is my offering to other accounting educators. They’re welcome to use it in their own classes. I hear from my colleagues that they do use it. In fact, my husband is an accounting professor, and he uses the stories in his class.
My class is delivered in a unique way. It is pretty exciting. My classroom holds more than 200 students. In addition, a large number of students attend my class live online. My graduate assistant comes to class with me, and we’re actually doing live broadcasts of class. Students see a small video of me during class, but they also see what’s on the screen like PowerPoint, Excel, or whatever tool I am using. If I draw on the screen, they see that, too. They can hear my voice. My graduate assistant runs a chat room, and students can ask questions and interact with us even though they are not physically in the classroom with the rest of the students.
It’s not just this one-way broadcast. My audience is the students online and the students physically in front of me. I can answer questions from the people in front of me, and my graduate student is answering the students online, and then she lets me know if there’s anything I need to know. Class is recorded so that my students can go back and review it. It has almost a little bit of an entertainment flavor to keep them engaged, and that’s where, again, the stories come into play.
To make class more interactive, I can send questions to any web-enabled device they have: a smartphone, tablet, or computer. That’s how students earn participation credits for class. I’m not going to drone on and on for 75 minutes. To sit and just listen to someone talk doesn’t allow you to learn. Using technology to ask students questions about the material allows me to get immediate feedback from all of my students, not just the ones sitting right in front of me. It also helps engage the students with the material. When you think about a room with 200 students sitting in it, how many students do you think are going to sit there without their phones in their hands? Why not embrace that to make it part of class instead of fighting it?
—As told to Sheon Ladson Wilson, a freelance writer in Durham, N.C.