from Inquiry, Volume 6, Number 1, Spring 2001
© Copyright 2001 Virginia Community College System
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This basic literature review and analysis provides evidence that a more varied approach to teaching accounting, based on the Theory of Situational Leadership as applied to instruction, might result in higher success levels in Principles of Accounting 211.
Statement of the Problem
A recent Inquiry article discussed the current situation surrounding some of the difficulties associated with student failure rates in Principles of Accounting 211 (Imel, 2000). The purpose of the research was to determine what types of indicators were useful in understanding the preparedness level of students in Accounting 211. The review drew the conclusion that a relationship does exist between ASSET, SAT or ACT scores and success in 211. With this relationship now supported, the problem that surfaces centers on how community colleges can deal with this phenomenon.
While it has been recommended that colleges play a larger role in the pre-evaluation of students that may result in possible placement in more remedial accounting courses, it is also possible that students enrolled in Accounting 211 courses might have improved success rates as a result of instituting a variety of different teaching methods by community college accounting faculty. This article examines some of the current literature and explores possible methods of improving student success rates in Principles of Accounting 211 by pursuing a variety of teaching methods while at the same time maintaining a high academic standard.
It has been commented that the "why" approach to accounting is more successful than the "how" approach (Tuhkanen, 1976). But the current methods of teaching Principles of Accounting have focused on the "how" approach, and usually this has been accomplished via the vehicle of rote learning. Often, this process involves a combination of lecture by the instructor covering the concepts of any given chapter, followed by a review of exercises and problems located at the end of the chapter. Examination procedures usually require students to complete multiple choice and true/false questions and solve by calculation a variety of problems as covered in the reading material. This pedagogy results in passive participation on the part of the student.
The literature has reinforced the recognition that this passive student/learner model is predominant (Beegle & Coffee, 1991). This same review acknowledges that a wider range of learning techniques and models are currently available, and, although not predominant, are being used on an increasing basis. These methods require students to take an active role in the learning process that, it is believed, will result in better student retention and performance.
Some of these instructional models show that, at least at the Principles level, an overall review of the accounting concepts is preferable to a detail driven approach (Lovell, 1992). This study identified a shift in the accounting approach away from didactic teaching methods and courses swamped by technical detail. Along this same line, a need within the accounting profession showed a shift of the skills needed by accounting students after entering the workforce. Due to technological innovations and a greater concentration on strategic accounting approaches, it is believed that instructors must adapt their teaching methods.
Educators have long realized that developing learning skills in students is of greater importance than rote learning of technical and specialized material. Much has been written in the literature as to how this theory applies to the teaching of accounting. Many writers have identified the development of communication skills as vital in accounting courses (Colvin, 1994). Often communication skills can be enhanced via the application of group activities and projects. These group activities and projects are usually of an unstructured nature and assist the students in group problem solving and understanding of the accounting concepts and principles. This method of teaching helps to develop students’ critical thinking skills rather than the retention of a common body of knowledge.
While not necessarily utilized at the Principles of Accounting level, the use of case studies has been identified as a key success factor for students completing intermediate-level accounting courses (Feldmann & Dow, 1997). This review has also supported the idea that group activities that enhance student communication and interaction encourage a more active learning environment. Concurrently, it is important in this type of learning environment that instructors grade written assignments for both content and communication skills. Examination methods could utilize more essay, case analysis and short answer question types that would encourage the development of these communication skills.
Other authors have identified additional methods for increasing the likelihood of student success in accounting courses. Close contact between student and instructor and the establishment of a business atmosphere in the classroom have also been identified as success factors (Smith, 1979). Of course, class size is a function of college strategy and administration, but smaller class sizes are desirable.
Still others have suggested that the utilization of interdisciplinary courses may result in higher levels of student achievement (Abell, 1999). An interdisciplinary course has been defined as a course with a minimum of two instructors from different departments involved in a class where ideas and perspectives are synthesized. Consider, for example, developing a course that is a combination of accounting and communication. It is possible that this approach might result in some improved or increased level of student interest and participation. This approach might best be left to the upper-level courses and seemingly would not lend itself very well to the Principles of Accounting courses.
Still other writers have surmised that the accounting teaching method required depends on the accounting learning objective trying to be achieved (Bonner, 1999). This framework recognizes the need to first establish the learning objective and the material needed to accomplish that objective. Various objectives require various types of skill sets. It is suggested that learning objectives that require simpler skills can best be achieved with more passive teaching methods while learning objectives that require more complex skills can best be accomplished with methods that require a more active learner orientation. Again, this active learner orientation would include such methods as case studies, group projects and other activities that depend on active participation and greater use of communication skills.
Following the aforementioned strategy, it would appear that since Principles of Accounting 211 involves a simpler learning objective than that of Intermediate Accounting, a more passive learning environment might be appropriate at the introductory level. While this rationale might seem somewhat logical, the predominance of the literature recommends a more diverse approach to teaching accounting principles (Adler & Milne, 1998).
A review of the literature has provided some evidence to show that a variety of teaching methods should be utilized, or at the least, considered in teaching Principles of Accounting. However, several facts remain clear from this review. First, traditional, passive and rote teaching methods are predominant in the accounting area, and, second, Principles of Accounting 211, at least as identified in the Virginia Community College System, continually maintains a very high failure rate (Imel, 2000). This writer, as both an accounting and management instructor, would like to propose a model teaching method that is based on an integration of the two disciplines.
First, it has been this writer's experience that a typical Principles of Accounting 211 class has a variety of students that range from very well prepared for academic rigor to minimally prepared. Students also vary immensely in the seriousness of their preparation for the course both prior to and during the administration of the class. While this evaluation was made based on an urban community college setting, it is believed that this trend might be generalized throughout the community college system. As previously discussed, it is important to ascertain the learning objective skills required for any given course. It is of equal importance to identify and establish the current academic skill level of the students in the course. Given the diverse nature of many community college student bodies, it can be determined that a wide range of student skill levels are present.
Given this assumption, clearly no one teaching method would provide the best approach for all student needs, and thus a variety of teaching methods and styles might be required. Also, rather than assume that all Principles of Accounting 211 students require the same skill-sets, it is evident that different skill-sets exist.
The situational leadership approach from the management discipline provides an excellent model that lends guidance to accounting faculty trying to increase the success rates of Accounting 211 students. This approach is based on the theory that different individuals have different needs and that, in order to effectively motivate these individuals to achieve certain objectives, different leadership approaches are necessary (Hersey, et al., 1996). Translating this theory to the instructional effort, faculty need to be aware of the variety of needs and skills levels of their students and devise appropriate teaching methods to meet those needs. This recommendation does not imply that an instructor should devise a different teaching method for each student, but it does suggest that using a variety of methods may help students achieve success.
One way to operationalize this method would be to incorporate different testing methods into the course content. Consider that some students may be better at multiple choice exams while other students are more suited to essay-type questions. Also, consider that some students may have better test-taking skills or mind-sets than other students, and, therefore, it might be appropriate to offer a variety of graded activities. It is believed that those students who are high achievers would continue to achieve no matter which method is used and that low achievers would benefit from the different teaching procedures.
Different delivery styles might also improve student comprehension. Some individuals benefit from the lecture method while others, with shorter attention spans, lose interest quickly and thus fail to understand key concepts of the material being covered. By varying the delivery method, say from lecture to group activity to individual presentation, instructors can assist students in finding an avenue best suited to help the student achieve the learning objective.
Hersey and Blanchard's Situational Leadership Approach has been widely utilized and accepted in the organizational realm, and this method would probably have the same reception in an academic setting. Educational models are being implemented by leading-edge academic institutions that encourage active rather than passive learning at all course levels while at the same time maintaining academic standards. This same approach could benefit instructors of Principles of Accounting.
Conclusion and Suggestions for Future Research
This basic literature review and analysis has provided some evidence that a more varied approach to teaching accounting, based on the Theory of Situational Leadership as applied to instruction, might result in higher success levels in Principles of Accounting 211. By identifying the various needs established by accounting students, instructors and staffs might be able to develop diverse and iterative teaching methods that have a greater effect on student needs and interests, thus resulting in higher retention and achievement rates in accounting courses offered within the Virginia Community College System.
In order to lend further credibility to this prospect, additional empirical work is needed to examine whether these multiple teaching methods would have the desired effect. To accomplish this end, several 211 courses could be taught with the Situational Method and compared against other sections of the course taught by the same faculty but with traditional methods of lecture and problem calculation. It is possible that this method might be what is needed to help students pique their interest in the course and realize their full potential.
Abell, A. 1999. “Interdisciplinary Courses and Curricula in the Community Colleges” U.S., 4.
Adler, R., & Milne, M. 1998. “The Challenges of Learner-Centred Education.” Chartered Accountants Journal of New Zealand 77 (1): 12-17.
Beegle, J., & Coffee, D. 1991. “Accounting Instructors’ Perceptions of How They Teach Versus How They Were Taught.” Journal of Education for Business 67 (2): 90-99.
Bonner, S. E. 1999. “Choosing Teaching Methods Based on Learning Objectives: An Integrative Framework.” Issues in Accounting Education 14 (1): 11-39.
Colvin, S. R. 1994. “Participative Learning Experiences in the Professional Studies Classroom.” U.S., 14.
Feldmann, D. A., & Dow, K. J. 1997. “Current Approaches to Teaching Intermediate Accounting.” Issues in Accounting Education 12 (1): 61-75.
Hersey, P., Blanchard, K. H., & Johnson, D. E. 1996. Management of Organizational Behavior: Utilizing Human Resources (Seventh ed.). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall.
Imel, P. W. 2000. “Assessing the Preparedness Level of Incoming Principles of Accounting Students.” Inquiry: The Journal of the Virginia Community Colleges 5 (2): 16-21.
Lovell, A. 1992. “Accounting Education: A Developing Debate.” Management Accounting 70 (3): 20.
Smith, D. 1979. “Accounting: ‘I wish someone had told me.’" Business Education Forum 34 (1): 24.
Tuhkanen, J. 1976. “Bookeeping and Accounting: The "Why" Approach in Teaching Accounting.” Business Education 31 (3): 15-16.
Paul L. Ewell is an adjunct accounting instructor at Tidewater Community College, Norfolk Campus, and a doctoral student at Nova Southeastern University. He is also Vice-President of ProInnovate, LLC located in Virginia Beach, Virginia.