Teaching Tips and Tricks From the 2017 AAA Annual Meeting

Use these helpful hints in your classroom today.

Courtney Vien

September 12, 2017

The AAA Annual Meeting and the Conference on Teaching and Learning in Accounting are always great sources of classroom inspiration. This year’s meetings, held Aug. 5–9 in San Diego, were no exception. Here are some of the best tips and strategies we discovered.

Student evaluations not that useful? Try crafting your own

Markus Ahrens, CPA, CGMA, professor of accounting at St. Louis Community College–Meramec, felt that the standard course evaluation forms his college provided did not give him the feedback he needed to gauge how successful his classes were. Instead, he created his own evaluations, which included questions such as “How many hours a week do you spend preparing for this class?” and “What would you like to do more of? Less of?”

Ahrens, a 2016 Cook Prize winner, also has students to rate course activities on a Likert scale and provides a space for open comments. That way, the feedback he gets is tailored to his classes.

During midterms, Ahrens asks students this question: “What do you need to do to improve or maintain your grade in this class?” Their answers give him valuable information about how well they are preparing and how much they are learning.

Help non-majors grasp the importance of accounting

Billie Cunningham, Ph.D., EY Teaching Professor Emeritus at the University of Missouri, teaches introductory classes taken by many non-accounting majors. To help them become more engaged with the material, she acknowledges their backgrounds and illustrates ways they will use accounting concepts even in non-accounting careers. For instance, when Cunningham, also a 2016 Cook Prize winner, teaches budgeting, she mentions that when her students are promoted to senior roles, they will most likely be responsible for staying under budget and will be evaluated on how well they use their organization’s finances. Learning about the relevance accounting has, and its importance to business decision-making, she noted, has even convinced some of her students to change their major to accounting!

Ease the transition to class with music

Students arriving at Mike Ozlanski’s classes settle down to a song. Ozlanski, Ph.D., assistant professor of accounting at Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove, Pa., plays a song before his classes begin, timing it so that the song concludes just as class is about to start. This tactic, he said, encourages students to show up on time because they want to know what the day’s song will be. The music also helps him get in the right mindset for class.

Ozlanski often chooses songs with lyrics that correspond to the day’s lesson. (The line about driving a Range Rover you can’t afford in the Chainsmokers’ “Closer,” for instance, could be used to illustrate budgeting and cash flows.) Sometimes, he asks students to analyze the lyrics as a homework assignment. He also uses songs to break up 90-minute class sessions, playing one as “intermission” midway through while students are having small-group discussions.

Use clickers to improve attendance in large classes

A few participation points can be all it takes to motivate students to attend large lecture sections. Susan Convery, CPA, Ph.D., professor of practice at Michigan State University, gives students one point for each class they go to. The catch is that they must earn the point by attempting to answer at least two of three or four clicker questions per class. Convery times the questions strategically, always posting one during the first five minutes of class, and one at the very end of class. The opportunity to earn the participation point is enough to ensure that students don’t arrive late or leave early, Convery said.

Reach out to the students in the back row

Jennifer Cainas, CPA, instructor at the University of South Florida, teaches introductory classes with large lecture sections, and often cliques of students sit together in the back row. On occasion, these groups will become disruptive or distracted. To prevent this, Cainas makes a point of walking up to the cliques during small-group discussion time to introduce herself and interact with them. That way they get the message that she expects them to engage with her during class, and not just joke around with each other or listen passively.

Have a great teaching tip to share? Tell us about it at academicnews@aicpa.org or at the AICPA Academics LinkedIn group. We’ll feature the best tips in an upcoming issue of Extra Credit.

Courtney Vien is a senior editor, magazines and newsletters, for the AICPA.