Reimagining First Year Accounting with a Practical Connection

How can we connect with students who have little business experience and ensure they develop the necessary skills to become capable professionals? As business academics and practitioners, we grapple with this issue every semester. At the end of 2022, we presented our story of making practical connections with students at the ASCILITE Conference.

The Practitioner Lens

We started by using our own experience as professional accountants to consider what a first-year accounting student would need. Critical thinking, problem solving, effective communication and in-depth digital literacy are key skills. But the challenge was to create a learning community in both online and face to face environments to support and motivate students to learn what can be both conceptually and practically challenging content.

The Practical Connection

Early development of professional skills, graduate attributes, and readiness to understand business world transactions needs to start in first year. Our student-centred learning environment focuses on students understanding the relationship of accounting information and its users, the business world, and the value of a skilful accounting professional. The content is developed using real-world companies’ financial statements and contains contemporary discussion, practical Excel spreadsheets, and MYOB demonstrations. Students work along with us during lectures. Student feedback has been positive with comments like the ones below. The tasks keeps them focused so much more than passive lectures.

The worksheet attached in the module lecture was really helpful to me by actively engaging me with the materials.

Future Proofing

Being able to use accounting software is an essential skill for accountants and is an expected graduate quality. We wanted to future proof our students’ careers with this transferrable skill. So in tutorials we work through MYOB basic exercises, showing students how to access and use the accounting software.

MYOB is an actual and practical example of the use of accounting, and knowing about this, I can be a better accountant in the future as well as understand other accountants and their procedures.

Reflection is another important business skill for future professional accountants and an essential element of life-long learning. Students developed this skill through two assessment tasks. Reflection resources on Canvas and a short reflection task in tutorials helped scaffold student learning. A feedforward approach was adopted. Students used feedback from the first assessment task to complete the second assessment task.

screenshot of reflection scaffolding used in accounting subjects
Example of reflective activities

The Learning Community

We used the student voice as a narrative to promote student connection and collaboration (Matthews & Dollinger, 2022). The student voice was embedded by playing short videos in tutorials of past students sharing their own experiences, study tips and advice, the aim being to build confidence – if they can do it so can you! The connections between units of study were shown by introducing the staff from the subsequent units in the accounting program and showing how the knowledge and skills will be used in these units. This helps develops a sense of community at a broader scale.

We used the Student Relationship Engagement System (SRES) to send personalised emails to welcome students, provide personalised exam feedback and encourage students who were at risk of falling behind to seek help.

Thank you again for noticing my progress and for your interest in my studies!

Tutorials are collaborative, interactive sessions where students work together on mini-case scenarios with real world examples chosen to develop critical thinking skills. We use a variety of technology tools, such as Padlet and Mentimeter, to aid student-to-student and student-to-staff interaction.

The social aspect of working with my peers is really helpful as it allows me to clarify my ideas.

Screenshot of students sharing their thoughts about Accounting Units with their peers.

The Results?

Success! This unit redesign has been an iterative process of finding the right balance between challenging students to develop their critical thinking and professional skills to prepare them for the future, while not increasing the cognitive load for first year students. Thank you to the Accounting Foundation Learning & Teaching Scheme, and to the Connected Learning at Scale project (CLaS) project and Learning Designer Courtney Shalavin for teaching us so many new ways to improve our Canvas site.

You can read more about the Practical Connection story in Accounting in the ASCILITE Conference 2022 proceedings.

Banner image provided by authors and accounting practitioners Janine Coupe, Louise Luff and Mark Waddington.

About the author

Janine is a Senior Lecturer in the Discipline of Accounting, Governance & Regulation at the University of Sydney Business School and a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (FHEA).

Louise Luff

Louise Luff is a Lecturer in the Discipline of Accounting, Governance & Regulation at the University of Sydney Business School and is a fellow of the Higher Education Academy (FHEA).

Mark Waddington

Mark Waddington is an Associate Lecturer in the Discipline of Accounting, Governance & Regulation at the University of Sydney Business School.

One thought on “Reimagining First Year Accounting with a Practical Connection

  1. One way to ensure students have an understanding of the workplace is to require them to have work experience, as a condition of enrollment. Many academics complain that students have no experience of the world, but do we tell them to go out and get that experience? In teaching computer students professional development courses I had the advantage that the students had experience (that was a condition of enrolment). To be an education student, I had to provide evidence I had a job in education. Couldn’t this be done for accounting? The student doesn’t have to be employed as a professional, and could obtain initial training in the vocational sector (such as at Hamburger University), and just enough to get a job. This had the added advantage that, having seen the menial job the student has as a future without qualifications, they will be more motivated to study. 😉

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