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Inside Teaching : April 2011
www.atra.edu.au | firstname.lastname@example.org CURRICULUM & ASSESSMENT 41 One such student, after reluctantly selecting an introductory accounting unit, dramatically changed her tune and declared, half-way through the course, that it was her favourite subject and that she was now considering majoring in it. What inspired such a change of attitude? The answer, I think, was that she discovered that accounting was interesting, but for teachers that simply begs a further question: How can you make accounting interesting? After teaching accounting at technical and further education (TAFE) and at university level for about 20 years, I believe the answer lies in three simple principles. Instilling a love of accounting and a basic understanding of the concepts involved, requires: • positive expectations • lots of practice in the basics, and • innovative ways to make accounting more enjoyable. Let’s explore these three principles a little more. Positive expectations – or give it a bit of vroom George Bernard Shaw, in his play Pygmalion, probably better known in its film adaptation, My Fair Lady, explores the theme of positive expectations, summarised perfectly by Eliza Doolittle who explains, ‘The difference between a lady and a flower girl is not how she behaves, but how she is treated.’ It should be the same in our classrooms. If we treat our students and their learning with enthusiasm, with the expressed positive expectation that they will enjoy accounting and will be successful, then the likelihood of their success is vastly increased. Our students will rise to fulfil our expectations. By contrast, negative expectations on our part will beget negative performances on the part of the students. In undergraduate teaching degrees, ‘Vroom’s Expectancy Theory’ is frequently featured. According to Victor Vroom, a professor in the graduate business school of Yale University, the strength of student motivation depends in part on how much they believe they can succeed in their learning. As teachers, we have an important, ongoing role to play in providing a platform of uplifting expectations. Inspired by a personalised, confident and positive expression on the part of their teachers, students will often rise to higher levels of academic and practical achievement simply because someone obviously believes in them and in their ability to grasp difficult concepts. For example, when I teach accrual accounting, rather than declaring that this topic is ‘a little abstract and sometimes difficult to grasp,’ I take a positive perspective. I say something like, ‘Today’s topic has some really unusual terms in it and although it may at times sound difficult, actually you’ll find that it’s quite simple, once we get into it. I’m sure you are going to enjoy learning some new accounting terms today. You could even impress people at your next dinner party!’ A little light- hearted, positive scene-setting does wonders for the motivation and engagement of the class. Let’s face it, though, accounting can appear confusing at times to the uninitiated. Some things just don’t, at first glance, seem to be sensible or logical. Take, for example, ‘Goods and Service Tax input tax credit,’ which has a debit balance; or the fact that ‘accrued expenses’ are not actually expenses, but liabilities. Then we have ‘prepaid expenses’ which are not expenses, but assets. Students can also be forgiven for being initially confused when we have one report with three different, equally-acceptable titles: income statement, profit and loss statement or statement of financial performance. I simply tell my students that some critics claim it is all a conspiracy by accountants to confuse people and ensure that accountants are the only ones who understand the terms, so that they can make lots of money. It gets a laugh, and reminds them of their own professional importance and growing expertise.