Four tips for boosting student engagement in the accounting classroom
After several long months of teaching remotely, college accounting professors must use creative student engagement strategies both online and in the classroom setting. In addition, professors must also foster a positive emotional connection to the learning process and bridge the gap between knowledge and active learning. Research shows that creating a more engaging learning environment increases students’ focus and motivates them to use higher-level critical thinking skills. According to Patricia L. Samson, professor and researcher at the University of Calgary, “The more students are engaged in the classroom, the more willing they are to actively participate and contribute to an effective learning environment.”1
Creating a more engaging learning environment can be especially challenging for accounting professors due to the nature of the subjects covered in college-level accounting courses. Here are four student engagement tips to help college accounting professors reconnect with their students:
1. Flip the classroom.
Switch the traditional order of classroom learning and virtual learning: in this approach, students learn theoretical concepts at home, on their own time, and the professor uses classroom time to have students solve problems as a group. For example, the professor might present each chapter through video lectures to be watched at home, with examples of problems at the end of each lecture. This allows students to watch the mini-lectures when it’s most convenient for them, without having to set aside a two-hour block of time. The flexibility to fit virtual learning in around other commitments allows students to work at their own pace, write down questions they have and pre-submit their questions to their professor before class. This approach also allows the professor to proactively manage material covered during class time.2
In a flipped classroom, class time is “re-purposed for inquiry, application and assessment.”3 Since accounting concepts tend to build upon one another, a professor might, for example, use the first five minutes of class time to discuss the concept of revenue recognition before reviewing how to prepare an income statement. Actively reviewing material that builds on itself during class time reinforces concepts from past classes before addressing questions about new material.
2. Use inquiry-based learning.
Flipping the classroom allows accounting professors to incorporate inquiry-based learning, which promotes student engagement, curiosity and experimentation. Instead of lecturing during class time, professors can encourage students to ask questions and find solutions to accounting problems collectively. For example, the professor might ask a student to solve a problem on the whiteboard showing the step-by-step process they used to find the solution. This way the professor can correct and guide the student and better understand how students think and learn.4 When professors use class time for inquiry-based learning, students learn by doing hands-on work instead of by taking a test—suddenly school isn’t so boring, and class time flies by as students explore and answer their own questions.
3. Include authentic learning experiences.
Professors are always looking for new ways to make learning concepts stick with their students. College campuses are a breeding ground for discussions about real-life news and current events, and authentic learning keeps students engaged by incorporating relevant real-world topics into the learning experience.5 Accounting professors might use the real-life example of the fall of Enron to teach accounting fraud concepts like booking one-time asset sales as revenue, as well as what internal controls can be implemented to prevent financial statement fraud. Other accounting classroom student engagement strategies include inviting a guest speaker to talk in-depth about what a controller’s job actually entails6 and discussing the national debt crisis and how operating in a deficit adds to the national debt.
4. Teach practical communication skills.
Today's college students primarily use electronic devices to connect and communicate with other people. As a result, they often lack the strong face-to-face communication skills needed to succeed in the workplace. To help prepare students for professional roles, professors should incorporate face-to-face communication exercises into their classes. For example, an accountant who works for a tax firm will need the right skills to successfully engage with their clients and accurately communicate tax issues, and most accountants will need the skills to effectively present financial results to a number of internal and external personnel. Accounting professors can incorporate these skills into their classes by asking students to partner up to present mock financial statements based on a sample scenario given during class.
As the classroom and technology evolve, accounting professors must continually adapt their teaching style to discover how to engage students both online and in the classroom. These four techniques can effectively help students retain learned concepts in the long term. I encourage all educators to try each student engagement method, or a combination of techniques to see which ones work best for them.
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- Samson, Patricia L. “Fostering student engagement: creative problem-solving in small group facilitations.” Collected Essays on Learning and Teaching, Volume 8, 2015. https://doi:10.22329/celt.v8i0.4227.
- “31 student engagement strategies for any college course.” Top Hat, 24 June 2021. https://tophat.com/blog/student-engagement-strategies/.
- “Engaging students in learning.” University of Washington Center for Teaching and Learning, n.d. https://teaching.washington.edu/topics/engaging-students-in-learning/.
- Team XQ. “What is inquiry-based learning? (IBL).” Rethink Together, 17 July 2020. https://xqsuperschool.org/rethinktogether/what-is-inquiry-based-learning-ibl/.
- Sabin, Maggie. “What is authentic learning and how do I use it?” AtlasNext, 6 May 2021. https://www.onatlas.com/blog/what-is-authentic-learning-and-how-do-i-use-it.
- Denison, Christine. “Preparing students for real accounting.” Strategic Finance Magazine, 1 Oct. 2018. https://sfmagazine.com/post-entry/october-2018-preparing-students-for-real-accounting/.