A problem-based learning project for accounting classes

Students work in groups to refine a driving question.
By Iralma Pozo, CPA

To better prepare students for the innovative digital workplace of the future, educators should strive to improve students’ critical thinking and collaboration skills. One of the many ways to do so is by using problem-based learning in class. Here’s an example of a problem-based learning assignment that I’ve used successfully in my auditing classes, which could easily be adapted for use in other courses.

Description of the assignment

In an auditing class I teach, I base an assignment around the driving question: “How do artificial, cultural, and emotional intelligence affect accounting and auditing in general as stakeholders increasingly value social good, social responsibility, and sustainability?” I have students narrow the focus of the question and turn it into a semester-long group project culminating in a presentation and paper.

During the project, I ask students to meet in teams of five for 30 minutes four to five times during the semester. In the first session, students brainstorm about the question and develop it into a more specific one. I walk around the classroom and ask probing questions to guide them in coming up with a question that addresses a more specific issue but leaves enough leeway for developing a discussion, finding enough resources, and producing a presentation and paper. Each group of students has to get their idea approved by me and check in during the scheduled times.

Students have come up with some interesting topics to explore during this project, including Starbucks and sustainable coffee, the GlaxoSmithKline fraud case, the Metropolitan Transit Authority budget, ethics and artificial intelligence (AI), and using AI to transform the future of the profession. There has been great in-class group discussion on how students will tie their questions to auditing concepts.

This assignment has been successful in that it encourages students to think critically, collaborate, communicate, organize, and do research. Their in-class discussions and selected topics show they have been able to align auditing and accounting to topics and companies they engage with daily. The students have fun while engaged in learning. They come up with creative ways to present, such as using videos and visual aids. Their level of confidence and enthusiasm in the topic is elevated, as they are able to use problems to increase their knowledge and apply it to audit.

Instructions and timeline

These were the instructions I gave students:

  1. Read this question: How do artificial, cultural, and emotional intelligence affect accounting and auditing in general as stakeholders increasingly value social good, social responsibility, and sustainability?
  2. Work with your group to create a question about an issue to be addressed within the scope of this larger question.
  3. Discuss your question with the professor for feedback and approval.
  4. Discuss possible ways that the issue can be resolved/addressed.
  5. Prepare a six- to 10-minute presentation and a two-page report to show your results.
  6. Include an example of an actual or fictional company to explain the issue and possible resolution.
  7. Refer to the rubric provided for details on how your presentation will be graded.

Below is an example of a timeline I used to scaffold the project:

Session 1:        brainstorm

Session 2:        define your project and submit idea

Session 3:        start outline and annotated bibliography

Session 4:         submit outline and annotated bibliography

Session 5:        start paper and presentation draft

Session 6:        finalize paper and presentation draft

Session 7:        submit paper and presentation

Session 8:        submit peer evaluation

Iralma Pozo, CPA, is an independent consultant with more than 15 years of financial expertise, and she is an adjunct lecturer in accounting at John Jay College. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Courtney Vien, senior editor, at Courtney.Vien@aicpa-cima.com.

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