Innovations in accounting education

Accounting Cafe online seminar on 17 February 2022

This Accounting Cafe seminar was hosted by Susan Smith, an innovative and prize-winning accounting educator and Associate Dean at University of Sussex Business School.

Here are 50 minutes of ideas and practical suggestions to help you to deliver innovative accounting teaching, learning and assessment. This is followed by an informal discussion and experiences from other enthusiastic accounting educators from across the world.

02:51Policy and external influences
04:00Accounting curriculum tensions
12:45Homogenisation of the accounting curriculum?
13:29The purpose of innovation
14:41Active learning pedagogies
    — 16:16    — Team based learning
    — 20:53    — Problem based learning
        – 22:24        – Case method
        – 27:55        – Simulations
        – 29:41        – Simulations: gamification
        – 32:08         – Role play
    — 33:29    — Service learning
    — 44:39    — Summary
45:07Pedagogical lens
    — 45:18    — Phenomenon based learning
    — 46:11    — Storytelling
    — 47:52    — Cross cultural learning

Before introducing changes

Susan ackowledges that innovating can be overwhelming and is certainly effortful, so she advises not to innovate simply for the sake of change. Rather, set out clear reasons for innovating and determine what success looks.

Good reasons to innovate include embedding employability skills, or implementing measures to narrow awarding gaps across ethnicities and social inequalities, to increase student retention, to maintain learning outcomes and/or contribute to the university’s other strategic goals.

An additional complication might be that your modules qualify for professional accreditation and must therefore meet syllabus prescriptions to maximise available exemptions and, at the same time, you want your teaching to be distinctive.

Oh, and be sure to enhance student experience while you’re at it!

Active learning

Active learning provides great opportunities for academics to build expertise in specific teaching areas, but the overarching aim is to engage students productively, and research shows that this can benefit all students (Freeman et al, 2014).

Active learning can be interpretated in different ways and covers a broad range of pedagogies. This article provides a small sample of possibilities.

Team based learning

Students are put into small groups which remain in place for the entirety of the module. Before coming to class, each student undertakes individual preparation and completes an Individual Readiness Assurance Test (IRAT) consisting of short answer or multiple choice questions. They then review their answers to those questions in their groups during which they negotiate and submit agreed answers to the same questions: the Team Readiness Assurance Test (TRAT).

Answers provided in the IRAT and TRAT are reviewed by the teacher and class time is used to fill in knowledge gaps and using exercises to apply and extend learning.

Team based learning is widely used across different insitutions which has been shown to reduce awarding gaps and helps to promote collabortion and engagement. Effective implementation requires careful planning and consideration. It requires a lot of upfront work and to be effective must be implemented throughout the module. Research indicates that team based learning improves students’ academic performance, reduces some achievement gaps, and enriches the learning experience (Cagliesi & Ghanei, 2022).

More information: Team-Based Learning Collaborative (TBLC)

Problem based learning

Problem based learning is an umbrella term used to refer to case method, role play and simulations. It develops critical thinking, problem solving and communication skills. It also supports embedded employability skills.

The problem might be a current news stor or a teacher created problem. To be effective it must engage and motivate students to seek out a deeper understanding of concepts. The problem should require students to make reasoned decisions and to defend them and incorporate the content objectives in such a way as to connect it to previous knowledge.

1. Case method

Cases describe real-world scenarios often centred around a specific problem challenge or dilemma. The case method provides an opportunity for students to consider and apply concepts in a practical context. Faculty members with experience or connections with the profession or industry can write their own cases which may also be submitted for publication, for example, Issues in Accounting Education and Accounting Perspectives.

It may be more effective if embedded throughout the module but can also be adopted on an ad hoc basis.

Capstone assessments allow students to demonstrate attainment of learning outcomes over multiple modules (or even an entire year of study) in a single assessment. A case study can provide an excellent foundation for this type of assessment.

There is a lot of support for teachers looking to adopt the case method. The Case Centre provides resources, training and scholarships for new teachers to case teaching. Published cases also attract royalties.

More information: The Case Centre

The Case Centre: scholarships

Harvard Business Review (webinars)

The Case Journal

2. Simulations

Simulations allows students to practice decision-making in a ‘safe’ environment and requires them to focus on specific learning points.

There aren’t many simulations available for accounting and most of those are “off the shelf”, so may not be suitable. There is a cost consideration too.

A specific type of simulation is games based learning (or gamification):

  • Monopoly has been used to help students prepare for an accounting exam (Bergner & Brooks, 2017)
  • The Colour Accounting Learning System uses a board and activities as the basis for demonstrating accounting concepts
  • AccountinGame is a quiz like board game used in classes (Silva, 2021)
  • LegoSerious Play could be used to create an accounting simulation.

There are also various apps and online simulations.

More information: LegoSerious Play

Colour Accounting

Financial Education for Future Entrepreneurs (FEFE)

3. Role play

Role play is a valuable approach that is not much used. It requires students to take on a role and to consider a scenario or problem from that perspective and to communicate and interact with syudents in other roles.

This is better suited to smaller cohorts. A good illustrative example relates to audit education (Powell et al., 2020).

Service learning

Service learning is also referred to as real world, authentic or experiential learning. Students are given access to a real problem and can provide them with the opportunity to add value.

Finding and managing projects is time intensive and scaleability may be problematic.

Riipen is an international platform that connects companies and students.

More information: Riipen


Bergner, J. & Brooks, M. (2017), “The Efficacy of Using Monopoly to Improve Undergraduate Students’ Understanding of the Accounting Cycle”, Advances in Accounting Education: Teaching and Curriculum Innovations (Advances in Accounting Education, Vol. 20), Emerald Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 33-50.

Cagliesi, G. & Ghanei, M. (2022) Team-based learning in economics: Promoting group collaboration, diversity and inclusion, The Journal of Economic Education, 53:1, 11-30, DOI: 10.1080/00220485.2021.2004276. Accessed: 23 March 2022.

Duch, B. J., Groh, S. E, & Allen, D. E. (Eds.). (2001). The power of problem-based learning. Sterling, VA: Stylus

Freeman S, Eddy SL, McDonough M, Smith MK, Okoroafor N, Jordt H, Wenderoth MP. (2014) Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics, Proc Natl Acad Sci USA, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1319030111. Accessed: 23 March 2022.

Powell, L., Lambert, D., McGuigan, N., Prasad, A., & Lin, J. (2020) Fostering creativity in audit through co-created role-play, Accounting Education, 29:6, 605-639, DOI: 10.1080/09639284.2020.1838929

Sangster, A., Stoner, G. & Flood, B. (2020) Insights into accounting education in a COVID-19 world, Accounting Education, 29:5, 431-562, DOI: 10.1080/09639284.2020.1808487

Silva, R., Rodrigues, R. & Leal, C. (2021) Games based learning in accounting education – which dimensions are the most relevant?, Accounting Education, 30:2, 159-187, DOI: 10.1080/09639284.2021.1891107

Suwardy, T., Pan, G. & Seow, P-S. (2013) Using Digital Storytelling to Engage Student Learning, Accounting Education, 22:2, 109-124, DOI: 10.1080/09639284.2012.748505

Taylor, M., Marrone, M., Tayar, M. & Mueller, B. (2018) Digital storytelling and visual metaphor in lectures: a study of student engagement, Accounting Education, 27:6, 552-569, DOI: 10.1080/09639284.2017.1361848

Wahid ElKelish, W. & Ahmed, R. (2021) Advancing accounting education using LEGO® Serious Play simulation technique, Accounting Education, DOI: 10.1080/09639284.2021.1905011.

Susan is Associate Dean at University of Sussex Business School, she holds a PhD in Accounting and is a Principal Fellow of Advance HE, and an elected member of the ICAEW.

In 2021 Susan won the Learning Together Award at the University Education Awards for her work with a staff-student partnership.


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Author: Toby York

Toby York is a chartered accountant and senior lecturer in accounting and finance at Middlesex University. He is the founder of Accounting Cafe.

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