E-learning for Teaching Accountancy: Turning theory into practice


Just over a year ago I wrote a similar thought piece stating that it was imperative universities ensure undergraduate and post graduate accountancy students have strong IT skills in order for them to be suitably prepared for relevant graduate roles in the accountancy and finance profession.

A year on I still believe strongly that universities need to comprehensively embed IT into the delivery of accounting subjects to allow students to hit the ground running once they embark on their accounting career and, to improve the value for money of the accounting degree product offered.

During the year I had the opportunity to put into practice my theories of the need to increase IT in Accountancy teaching in the undergraduate modules I was responsible for. The specific module I made the changes to, was a second year level five management accountancy module.

I was permitted to undertake formal minor modifications to the module to make it more coursework focused in the assessment method. The shorter first semester remained classroom based with the traditional lecture approach. A significant amount of time was consumed with setting up tables and calculation workings in lectures, diverting from the actual application of the theory. This part of the course was assessed by a short written exam which on the whole yielded satisfactory grades, but I believe there was the potential for some students to have performed better if their confidence in the subject matter was greater.

The style of teaching in the longer, second semester was changed completely  with all the seminars delivered in a computer lab, and all the in class teaching materials, excel based. The materials for the latter were easily and quickly written by myself with pre –prepared worksheets and tables that students could access from the university's open-source, online learning platform, Moodle. Students had to complete excel tables with formulas that demonstrated understanding of the principals studied such as variance analysis and overhead absorption. From this, and in the same excel workbook, concise tables and graphs were created in every lesson and a summary analysis written in the workbook which demonstrated analytical understanding. This approach allowed the student to reduce time on writing out workings and instead concentrate on the practical application of the theories studied and allow time to gain confidence in these areas. This formula facilitated the actual learning of the methodology involved.

This part of the module was assessed through coursework that required excel to be used for all calculations and any analysis was summarised in a word document report that was submitted with the appendix containing the excel generated results graphs and tables.Students used computers to tackle these accountancy tasks whilst sitting in work stations, working on their own and conferring with colleagues to clarify issues. This completely mirrored how accountancy teams worked having looked back at the fifteen years of working within the profession and industry. Whilst I was required to help students with some of the excel techniques taught, I found that they obtained an understanding of concepts far quicker through e-learning.  Students performed very well in assessments with all receiving average to high grades. Additionally, I received very positive student feedback with a large number sating they enjoyed this method of learning accountancy. Students valued the fact that they had picked up practical skills required in the accountancy / finance world.

Prior to teaching in the university I spent a couple of years at a further education college teaching level three accountancy students. Some of the best and ablest accountancy students decided against progressing to university instead preferring to pursue an apprentice in Accounting and studying for professional accountancy exams within their spare time. Some fed back that they didn’t see how incurring huge amounts of debt would be advantageous as opposed to the route they chose.

Though this is anecdotal I am sure it is something that is quite common and will continue to be unless universities become more innovative and value added in the delivery of the discipline.

Paul Caulfield, Teaching Fellow, Birmingham City Business School