ACADEMIC UPDATE

Business games help students build employment skills

Case study games can add excitement to your classes.
By Usha Mistry

Accounting graduates are expected to have certain skills, such as analytical, communication, and  presentation skills. They are also expected to be able to critically evaluate arguments and evidence, be independent and self-managed learners, and work well with others. Business games can help students develop these skills.

Below, I discuss the results of an experiment using AICPA & CIMA business games in class. I had students complete a game and take a survey to reflect on their experience. The results showed that students enjoyed the game and found it a useful way to build certain employment skills.

The study

AICPA & CIMA have created a variety of business games involving case studies available on the CIMA website. The games are shortened versions of the types of case study questions used on the CIMA exam. All the case studies have a strong focus on employability, encouraging students to develop their soft skills within a team. They give students an opportunity to explore a variety of industries, including construction, manufacturing, health care, computers, telecommunications, aerospace, hospitality, entertainment, and energy. They allow students to encounter situations accountants would typically face within those industries, including advising companies on how to improve performance, profitability, or cost-saving measures, and expose them to such topics as investment, ethical dilemmas, and the difference between profit and cash.

Sixty-two students in the second year of a BA (Hons) Accounting and Finance class played the business game. Students were asked to familiarize themselves with the case study and make their own notes in advance of the game, which took place in week 4 of the class.

The game was hosted by a CIMA facilitator. Before the game commenced, the CIMA facilitator informed the students of the rules and the timing. Students were put into random groups of four to six. They were given flip charts, pens, and blue tac to write their findings for the case study and display them. During the game, the timing was changed to give students 10 fewer minutes to complete their tasks in order to put pressure on them.

Students presented their findings to a panel of judges, displaying their solutions on the flip chart. The judges chose the best three teams to come up in front of the class to present their findings. After a critical evaluation, the judges then chose one winning team, who received a CIMA business game certificate. The whole process took about two hours.

Survey findings

Forty-six students voluntarily completed a paper-based questionnaire after playing the game.

Question 1: The first section of the questionnaire asked students four questions, requesting the use of the 5-point Likert scale, on the following topics: what they thought of the game, how useful they found the game, how well the game was organized, and whether they would play the game again.

Ninety-six percent (n=44) of the students indicated they enjoyed the game, 100% (n=46) found it useful to their learning, 96% (n=44) thought it was well organized, and 91% (n=42) said they would play a similar game in the future again.

Question 2: The second section of the questionnaire required students to select the skills they perceived developing while playing the game. The skills that students chose most frequently included teamwork (n=44, 96%), communication (n=42, 91%), listening (n=40, 87%), and planning (n=38, 83%). The skills students chose least frequently were technical (n=12, 26%), professionalism (n=16, 35%), influencing (n=18, 39%), and leadership (n=18, 39%).

Question 3: The final section of the questionnaire asked students open questions about what they perceived to have gained from playing the game; how the experience of the game could assist their future employment and job applications; and what they would do differently if they played the game again.

The majority of students indicated that they thought the game allowed them to use important employment skills. Some responses included:

"How to work in a team to solve a problem by using/applying a real-life situation to analysis and make decisions. It gave me an opportunity to understand how accountants actually work in real life."

"Competition is set in a very clear and organized manner, with expectations and deadlines explained, which allows us to experience the reality of the business environment where everything is highly professional."

"By discussing ideas, we discovered different views, which meant we needed to negotiate in order to include in our short presentation only the relevant facts; we had the opportunity to have constructive disagreements and to understand that different points of view can lead to progress or just stop the project."

"Introduced us to an area of business we were not necessarily familiar with, and that made us apply general rules of management accounting to a specific niche. It also forced us to think outside the box by putting our personal, real-life experience and knowledge to use in order to discover new ways to improve performance. It put into focus the importance of commercial awareness in our personal development plan."

The majority of students who gave their opinion thought the game allowed them to transfer their learning and understanding in preparation for employment. This is supported by comments such as:

"I will be able to draw from this experience and use it as an example in interviews as well as apply it in other settings."

"The experience has helped me enhance my skills such as communication, confidence, and teamwork, which will be beneficial to me in the future."

With hindsight, students said that if they were to play the game again, they would manage their time better, use a different strategy, plan and organize better, be more confident, share ideas, be more creative, work more on their influencing skills, and recognize everyone's special talents. Below are some students' quotes on what they would do differently if they played the game again:

"We were completely absorbed; we covered so many topics; everyone had good ideas but forgot to keep track of the time."

"Use different strategies, introduce each other, be more prepared and confident in communicating with my team and sharing my ideas."

"I need to work on influencing the team and be prepared to explain several times to get ideas across."

"People are different, and this is a good thing because we can complement each other. I need to be organized better next time and make the most of everyone's special talent."

Overall, based on the evaluation, students did benefit from the game, enjoyed it, and were grateful for taking part in it, with one commenting, "Keep doing this, as it will influence us for our benefit."

Editor's note: View slides with more data about the author's experiment here and a recording of her presentation on it here. AICPA & CIMA business games were previously branded as CIMA business games and in some instances may be branded as CGMA business games. The games are also used in CGMA Global Business Challenge competitions. In some countries, faculty may request the assistance of a CIMA facilitator; to do so, contact your local CIMA office or email academic.partners@aicpa-cima.com.

Usha Mistry is a senior lecturer in accounting at London South Bank University. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Courtney Vien at Courtney.Vien@aicpa-cima.com.

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