Teach students tech (and more) with award-winning assignments

Students can crunch ride-share data or work through an escape room.
By Courtney L. Vien

From data analytics projects involving millions of rows of data to a virtual escape room that teaches short-term decisions and costing, faculty presented many unique teaching ideas at the 2021 AAA Annual Meeting. Learn about some of the assignments and activities that won AICPA Effective Learning Strategies Educator Awards this year. All the award winners’ and honorable mention winners’ teaching materials — including full assignments, rubrics, teaching notes, solutions, and more — are available on the AICPA’s Academic Resource Database.

Data visualization on two wheels

Michael Ozlanski and Suzanne Seymoure found inspiration for a data visualization assignment in Chicago-area bike-sharing service Divvy. Patrons take millions of rides on the company’s baby-blue bikes each year, and the company tracks data on how long users ride the bikes and at which stations they start and end their rides. This data is publicly available.

In the assignment, Ozlanski and Seymoure have students take on the role of analysts for Divvy, asking them to glean insights from the company’s rider data and present their findings in Tableau visualizations. In the first three steps of the assignment, which are geared toward novice users, students evaluate the company, assess the data, create variables, and put together basic visualizations.

In the fourth step, which is appropriate for more advanced users, students formulate a research question, combine Divvy data with external data such as weather, analyze the data, and share their findings through Canva infographics. This last step works well as a final project, the authors said, and students can complete it either individually or in groups.

This assignment is appropriate for an AIS or data analytics course. The authors have put together a website for it with data from 2018 and 2019. They also have developed step-by-step instructions for the case, a Tableau guidebook for students, and a rubric for grading the infographic.

“Divvying Up Data: A Data Visualization Case” won the 2021 George Krull/Grant Thornton Teaching Innovation Award. It was developed by Michael Ozlanski, CPA, Ph.D., associate professor of accounting at Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove, Pa., and Suzanne Seymoure, CPA, Ph.D., associate accounting professor, North Central College in Naperville, Ill.

‘Turnkey’ data analytics projects that require no prior software knowledge

When introducing data analytics to students, accounting faculty often face familiar hurdles: They lack the class time to teach the subject, and their students don’t all have the same access to technology. Wendy Tietz, Tracie Miller-Nobles, and Jennifer Cainas developed a set of assignments that would address these problems.

They put together a set of data analytics projects about a fictional manufacturing company, using anonymized real data. Students can complete the projects using Google Sheets, Excel, Power BI, or Tableau, so faculty can choose which software they wish to assign.

The projects assume the users have no prior knowledge of the software, so faculty can use them with introductory students and don’t have to be experts in the software themselves to teach them.

The first project is a 20- to 30-minute project where students view a prebuilt dashboard and answer questions about it, such as “Describe a dashboard” or “Define a slicer.” It can work as either a homework assignment or an in-class activity. In the second project, which takes 60 to 90 minutes, students build a dashboard themselves and use it to analyze data.

The authors have developed step-by-step tutorial videos for the projects that demonstrate how to use the software, a student guide, and teaching notes. They will give the materials to faculty who contact them at http://tiny.cc/katm.

“KAT Manufacturing: Interactive Dashboard Projects for Integrating Data Analytics Into Introductory Accounting” received an honorable mention for the 2021 Bea Sanders/AICPA Teaching Innovation Award. It was developed by Wendy Tietz, CPA, CGMA, Ph.D., professor of accounting at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio; Jennifer Cainas, CPA, DBA, clinical professor of accounting at the University of South Florida in Tampa; and Tracie Miller-Nobles, CPA, an associate professor of accounting at Austin Community College in Austin, Texas.

An ‘escape’ for the weekend that teaches short-term decisions and costing

When students in their managerial accounting class struggled with short-term decisions, Jennifer Cainas and Juliana Kralik developed a fun way to help them grasp the topic: They constructed a virtual escape room using Excel.

In the escape room, students play the role of consultants who need to help a lawn care company optimize its operating income. They must analyze a series of short-term decisions within 50 minutes or they’ll be required to work over the weekend. For each decision, using an input-process-output framework, students must identify and analyze the relevant costs and decide whether the scenario will increase the company’s operating income. For instance, students must decide whether the company should shut down its unprofitable lawnmower division, outsource the manufacturing of a specialty part, or change the lawnmower product mix.

For each correct answer, students receive a letter. At the end of the exercise, they can unscramble the letters to get to the final answer, which will let them “escape” for the weekend.

Each of the five scenarios in the escape room builds on the others, and, at the end of the exercise, students see a summary of the decisions the client made. This, Cainas and Kralik said, helps students grasp a concept they sometimes have difficulty with: seeing how short-term decisions affect an organization’s overall financial health.

The escape room exercise is appropriate for beginner managerial accounting classes. Students can complete it online or in person, individually or in small groups. It is designed to work in Excel, though a Canvas version is also available.

“The Great Accounting Escape” won the 2021 Bea Sanders/AICPA Teaching Innovation Award. It was developed by Jennifer Cainas, CPA, DBA, clinical professor of accounting, and Juliana Kralik, CPA, Ph.D. candidate, at the University of South Florida in Tampa.

A case to teach inline XBRL

Few teaching resources exist to teach students about inline XBRL (iXBRL), even though the SEC and the EU both now require filers to use this format. To remedy this gap, Mark Holtzblatt and Kristine Brands developed a case study that asks students to examine why and how German software giant SAP SE adopted iXBRL.

In the case study students learn the basics of XBRL, such as tagging and taxonomies, as well as the history of its development and adoption by regulators and corporations. They then compare XBRL and iXBRL formats, explore how iXBRL is being implemented in many countries, and study how SAP SE came to use XBRL and iXBRL. They also learn to use online tools to analyze financial data displayed in iXBRL. The case study is appropriate for an upper-level or graduate class.

“The Implementation of Inline XBRL (iXBRL) and the IFRS-based XBRL Taxonomy in the EU and U.S. — The Case of SAP SE” won the 2021 Mark Chain/FSA Teaching Innovation Award. It was developed by Mark Holtzblatt, CPA, Ph.D., associate professor of accounting at Cleveland State University in Cleveland, and Kristine Brands, D.M., assistant professor of management at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Courtney Vien is a JofA senior editor. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact her at Courtney.Vien@aicpa-cima.com.

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