Active Learning Exercises to Enhance Synthesis and Evaluation Skills in Financial Accounting Louella Moore, Arkansas State University Additional Background on the Cases Synthesis and evaluation are skills essential to accounting work. Yet education specialists (Cline & Fay 1990; Pricer 2008; Hodgkinson 2009; Somers & Stettle 2010) suggest that today’s millennial students have grown up in a culture that discourages independent thinking and formation of reasoned opinions. The problem is compounded in the accounting profession by financial accounting textbooks which emphasize structured learning objectives aimed at learning the rules promulgated by standard setters. Emphasizing current rules without an opportunity for reflection on alternative approaches does not help students understand the underlying issues, problems, and evolving compromises inherent in financial accounting standards. Without an opportunity for students to actively think about differences in accounting presentation in order to synthesize and reflect on key concepts, they may memorize the rules but fail to really understand the fundamental problems inherent in modern accounting practice. Finding an efficient mechanism to incorporate activities that stimulate higher order thinking skills should be an essential ingredient in training programs for accounting professionals. One approach to education is to find the students dominant learning style and cater to that style. For many fields this has resulted in textbooks with more pictures and fewer words. One has to question whether this is really serving the best interests of accounting employers. While some research suggests that personality and learning styles are basically fixed and that students will perform better if instructors use techniques that match the student’s learning style, closer reading of some of the pioneering works suggests that with experience one can gradually become comfortable with multiple approaches. (Kolb 1984 & 1985, Scott 2010) Many critiques report that matching teaching to the learning style may not help students as much as early studies suggested. (Stahl 1999; Franklin 2006; Glenn 2009; Fridley & Fridley 2010; Scott 2010) A study by Naik (2009) reports that students want the instructor to provide very detailed learning objectives, provide his/her own examples rather than asking the students to illustrate the concepts, and prefer questions on the exams to be essentially just like those done in class. The problem with this approach is that it conflicts with the needs of employers who want to hire personnel that can think for themselves, synthesize information, and come up with creative out-of-the box solutions in the workplace. (Siegel & Sorensen 1994; AICPA Core Competencies 2003) An alternative to the assumption that learning styles are fixed and must be accommodated is the premise that certain careers like accounting require certain traits. If these traits can be identified they can be used to recruit individuals most likely to be successful in the profession. Or, alternatively, this paper argues there may be techniques we can use in accounting classrooms that will encourage students to develop their latent learning and
personality characteristics in such a way as to match the needs of the profession they are training to enter. While college level accounting classrooms should be a place where students with a wide range of personalities can feel comfortable and pass the classes, the reality is that specific personality types often gravitate to or self-select to specific types of careers. Accounting employers want to hire individuals who are conscientious in their work, who plan ahead and meet deadlines, and can apply higher order reasoning to solve workplace problems. If these are skills that do not come easily to many students, perhaps our focus should be on developing those skills rather than simply encouraging students to use their dominant personality preference....
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