With spring 2020 classes now in the rearview mirror, accounting faculty members have had a chance to reflect on what went well and what could be improved upon when classes restart this fall. Having to suddenly pivot from face-to-face classes to an online-only format due to the pandemic posed challenges for instructors at all levels.
Fortunately, many faculty members experienced “aha” moments along the way that prompted them to change their teaching methods. They shared a number of observations that will shape how their classes will be taught this fall:
Break lessons down into short videos. When her school transitioned to online learning last semester, Christie Novak, CPA, DBA, assistant professor of accounting at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, N.Y., made many short video lectures and integrated practice problems with video solutions. They proved useful. “My students actually asked me to [go back and] make videos for the earlier chapters we covered while still on campus because they could pause, rewind, and rewatch them,” she said.
That approach helped students prep for quizzes and exams, she said. The under-10-minute videos showed Novak working through problems on a white PowerPoint slide, much as she did in front of the class on a whiteboard when teaching in person. According to Novak, videos offer certain benefits that live lectures do not, and she plans to incorporate them into her classes again this fall.
Make recorded video the standard. With many universities planning a mix of synchronous and asynchronous learning, allowing students to access classes 24/7 will ensure they have the best chance to stay on track.
Marcy Binkley, CPA, instructor in accounting at Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tenn., found that “students are not necessarily in charge of their time,” so she decided that her lectures would “all be delivered live (either in person or via Zoom, as circumstances allow), but also recorded so that students may watch as they are able.”
Be more accessible. After giving students a final project in lieu of an exam, Bryan Coleman, CPA, professor of practice in accounting at Assumption University in Worcester, Mass., found that he wanted to give students more ways to contact him.
Since in-person meetings during office hours were not possible, he started using Calendly, an online scheduling app, to allow students to book Zoom appointments to discuss any questions they had. It was a hit.
“I met with a great deal of students one-on-one — much more than I normally would,” reported Coleman. In a typical semester, he said, he might meet with at most 20% of the class prior to the final or a project. This past semester he met with 46.5% of his students — more than twice as many as usual.
Change how you assess students. Given the inability to interact with students in person this spring and the recognition that not all students thrive when learning remotely, some faculty adjusted class rubrics.
Binkley, for instance, formerly awarded participation points for in-class contributions, but she said that in the future she will award those points based on pre-class discussion posts students make on the learning management system Canvas.
Convert exams to projects. Although Coleman has always given a final exam in his Principles of Accounting 1 course, in the spring he chose a final project instead, which required students to prepare a business plan and financial projections for a fictional small business. Student feedback was positive, he said, and he intends to continue using this project, or something similar. His students “really enjoyed putting accounting concepts into use,” he said.
Replacing the exam was also a way to reduce the higher levels of stress students might be experiencing when learning remotely, he said. “An exam under normal circumstances is a stressful situation,” he noted. “When you introduce the remote aspect, you exacerbate the level of stress.”
Similarly, Daisy Valentin, DBA, who teaches at Everglades University in Boca Raton, Fla., gave a final assignment project using financial data from a real organization rather than a traditional final exam. The project consisted of several components, including presenting an analysis to the class. This approach, she believes, “helps faculty assess the students’ comprehension of the material” better than an exam would.
Build more critical thinking skill-building into classes. Having noticed that many of her students needed more emotional support when dealing with the stress of remote learning and the pandemic, Valrie Chambers, CPA, Ph.D., associate professor of taxation and accounting at Stetson University in DeLand, Fla., shifted her focus. Looking ahead, she said, she plans to focus on “building broader critical thinking skills” such as strategizing in class, while making students more responsible for learning facts on their own.
Using a flipped classroom “will require more student preparation,” she said, but will allow her to give more “individualized attention to the areas where students are getting stuck.” Providing personalized attention, she hopes, will help reduce students’ stress levels.
— Marcia Layton Turner is a freelance writer based in Rochester, N.Y. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Courtney Vien, senior editor, at Courtney.Vien@aicpa-cima.com.