Make the last day of class meaningful

End your semester on a high note.
By Marcia Layton Turner

In the mad dash to prep students for finals, the last class of the semester may become a way to tie up loose ends — more of an administrative day than anything else. But some instructors elect to take a memorable approach to that last class session. Here are a few of accounting faculty members’ best ideas for ending a class on a high note:

Ask students to reflect on the class

Some professors, including Cathy Scott, Ph.D., associate professor of business accounting at the University of North Texas at Dallas, use the last day of class to encourage students to think about what they’ve learned.

Scott leads with a quote from John Dewey: “We do not learn from experience … we learn from reflecting on experience.” Then she asks the students two questions: (1) What was the one biggest takeaway from this class? and (2) How do you see yourself using what you learned here in a future career?

Students have 20 minutes to respond to the questions in writing, earning 10 points (worth up to 1% of their final grade).

According to Scott, “this activity helps students reflect on what they learned and sometimes what they overcame.” In Principles of Accounting classes, for instance, students often doubt themselves, she said. The final exercise helps them “see how much they learned and that they overcame their fears.” 

Make it a rewarding review session

Other professors opt to help their students prepare for the final exam during the last class by providing review materials and exercises that help them solidify their new skills and abilities.

Robert “Bobby” Duron, CPA, Ph.D., associate professor and director of the School of Accounting at Husson University in Bangor, Maine, helps his students review by handing out or posting select questions from past tests or quizzes in the form of a 10- to 20-question multiple choice quiz.

The quiz does not count toward a grade, Duron explained. It is given as a mock assessment so that students can see how much they have learned. “At the conclusion of the quiz, I ask the students to submit their answers for grading to see how they did,” he says. “They usually ace it or get close!”

He reported that “this is an extremely meaningful, reflective, and rewarding experience both for the students and the professor!”

Conclude with an in-depth discussion

Bryan Menk, Ph.D., associate professor of accounting at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, said that his higher-level class on individual income taxation spends part of the last class reviewing for the exam, and the rest of it discussing a topic that students have researched during the semester.

For instance, on the last day, some of his classes have looked at the changes caused by the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, including “the potential impact and planning opportunities for smaller partnerships and sole proprietorships based on the changes to Internal Revenue Code Sec. 199(A) – Qualified Business Income Deduction.”

“The new law states that a small pass-through or sole proprietorship can reduce taxable income based on a number of criteria,” Menk explained. “We try to delve a little more deeply into which criteria could be manipulated and which ones are beyond the control of a taxpayer.” How could someone increase W-2 wages to a family member and then get the full 20% reduction to taxable income, for example? 

“The students have been examining the rules and they often interpret the rules differently,” Menk said. This exercise, he observed, “is designed to let them see the gray areas in tax. When the students discuss the laws, they see the need for further guidance and clarification from the authorities.” 

The final day of class “is an event that they look forward to and are often very excited, impassioned, and at times heated during the discussion,” Menk said.

Have students lead presentations

Cory Ng, CPA, CGMA, DBA, assistant professor of instruction at Temple University in Philadelphia, takes a similar, but slightly different, approach to his last accounting senior seminar course, which has between 20 and 45 students.

“My last day of class involves students giving a [graded] presentation that demonstrates proficiency and understanding of data analytics techniques. Students evaluate publicly available financial data, perform analysis, and create a dashboard using Tableau,” Ng said. The class and Ng can then ask questions about the data presented.

Because students are encouraged to choose datasets for analysis that they are interested in, such as sports, movies, or travel, the reaction is typically very positive, Ng said. Popular data sets include Airbnb listings in New York City and global sports finances. The class’s favorite dashboard was created by a grad student: “a European travel dashboard that combined crime data, weather data, and price data for food, hotels, and entertainment,” Ng said.

Give students an opportunity to demonstrate expertise

Barbara Arel, CPA, Ph.D., associate dean and associate professor at the University of Vermont’s Grossman School of Business, teaches a fraud and forensic accounting class. During the course, students learn about fraud examination and forensic accounting techniques. Then, on the last day of class they conduct a mock trial as their last graded assignment. The trial requires that they apply their new skills to a case written by Cindy Durtschi and Robert J. Rufus having to do with arson, titled “Arson or Accident: A Forensic Accounting Case Requiring Critical Thinking and Expert Communication.”

“Students play the experts and lawyers for both the plaintiff and defendant, questioning them in front of an independent jury consisting of undergraduate students, fellow faculty, or alumni,” she said. “The jury listens to the trial and votes on the winner.”

Not only is the mock trial a fun way to end the class, “students like the applied aspects of the case and get an understanding of what providing expert testimony entails, which is hard to convey without experience,” Arel said.

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 senior editor Courtney Vien at Courtney.Vien@aicpa-cima.com.

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