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Cover Sheet

Lee, Chrisann and Bisman, Jayne (2006) Curricula in introductory accounting: The
‘old’ and the ‘new’. In Proceedings Accounting & Finance Association of Australia &
New Zealand Annual Conference, Wellington.Accessed from:

http://eprints.qut.edu.au

Current author contact details: c.palm@qut.edu.au


Curricula in introductory accounting: The ‘old’ and the ‘new’

Chrisann Lee & Jayne E. Bisman


Charles Sturt University

A paper for presentation at the Accounting & Finance Association of Australia & New Zealand
Annual Conference 2006,
Wellington, New Zealand, July

Ms Chrisann Lee
Associate Lecturer
School of Accounting C2-1
Charles Sturt University
Bathurst NSW 2795
AUSTRALIA
Ph. 61 2 63384427
Fax 61 2 63384405
Email: clee@csu.edu.au

Dr Jayne Bisman
Associate Professor
School of Accounting C2-1
Charles Sturt University
Bathurst NSW 2795
AUSTRALIA
Ph. 61 2 63384101
Fax 61 2 63384405
Email: jbisman@csu.edu.au

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Abstract
Coupled with significant debate over the last several decades about the state of accounting
education per se, including concerns about the use of transmissive models of teaching and
inattention to the development of students’ generic skills, introductory subjects in accounting
have also been the target of considerable criticism. In particular, the narrow content and technical
focus of such subjects has come under attack, as has the quality of the student learning
experience, given the influence that this experience may have on students’ perceptions of
accounting and their subsequent choice of major and career. In this paper we examine a number
of these issues and build a profile of the current curriculum of introductory accounting subjects
based on a review of subject outlines and textbooks and a cross-sectional survey of the
objectives, content, and teaching delivery strategies of these subjects in Australian universities (n
=21). The research is particularly germane given the current climate of university reform where
distinctions can be made not only on the basis of notions concerning ‘old’ (or traditional) and
‘new’ curricula and teaching methods, but also between ‘old’ and ‘new’ universities and those
which service metropolitan or regional areas. There was a twofold purpose to the research, being:
(1) to provide a benchmark against which universities can compare their own curricula, and
which may also provide useful information to professional bodies, and (2) to assess if there are
apparent differences in the way particular groups of universities have designed and delivered the
initial subject in accounting. The results provide a range of information for benchmarking IA
subjects in terms of learning objectives, subject orientation, topics, assessment, and innovations
in teaching delivery and learning strategies. The results also indicate that curriculum and teaching
and learning strategies across ‘new’ and ‘old’ universities, and regional and metropolitan
universities, are generally comparable.

Keywords: accounting education, introductory accounting, curriculum mapping


.

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1. Introduction
The last few decades have seen much change in the business landscape and in the evolving nature
and expanding role of the accounting profession, leading to accounting education being at a
crossroads (AAA, 1986; Arthur Andersen & Co., et al., 1989; AECC, 1990; Patten & Williams,
1990; Sundem & Williams, 1992; Williams, 1993; Nelson et al., 1998; Albrecht & Sack, 2000).
So too, Australian university education in general is at a crossroads, with the higher
education sector facing wide-sweeping reforms as a result of the Crossroads review (DEST,
2002). The original Crossroads paper, together with subsequent papers forming part of the
Higher Education Review Process, has had the effect of dichomotising the university sector into
‘old’ and ‘new’ universities (so-called research versus teaching universities), together with
differential funding formulae proposed for regional universities compared to their metropolitan
counterparts.
While the Australian university sector is undergoing significant adjustment, and the roles
of accountants and the profession are evolving (AAA, 1986), the profiles and characteristics of
students entering universities in general, as well as introductory accounting (IA) subjects,1 are
also rapidly changing (Wilson, 2005; Rankin et al., 2003). However, the process of accounting
education is perceived as being essentially stagnant (AAA, 1986; Albrecht & Sack, 2000). It has
been widely argued that accounting education has been deficient in equipping students with the
requisite set of generic competencies (AICPA, 1998; Mohamed & Lashine, 2003), and that
models of teaching are too conventional, based merely on knowledge transmission (Williams,
1993; Saunders & Christopher, 2003) and heavy reliance on a largely homogeneous set of
textbooks (Williams, 1993; Sullivan & Benke, 1997).
Furthermore, content is often narrowly focused and overly concerned with the
technicalities of the double entry system, and students may, in consequence, develop negative
perceptions about accounting and the accounting profession based on their experiences in IA
subjects (Pincus, 1997a, b). Poor student learning experiences in IA have the potential to
adversely affect the number of accounting majors and graduates.
Within this framework, the research described in this paper, which was part of a larger
exploratory study, targeted several key themes emergent from both the literature and the data

1
The term ‘subject’ refers to a single unit of study undertaken as part of an undergraduate program. Some
institutions may refer to these as ‘units’ or ‘papers’. In the USA the term may be synomymous with ‘course’.

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concerning the orientation of the first IA subject (on the preparer-user spectrum), teaching
delivery methods (whether traditional or innovative), assessment (components and weightings),
and educational objectives and strategies.
Data were collected and quantitatively and qualitatively analysed for these aspects of IA
subjects forming part of accounting degrees accredited by the major professional accounting
bodies in Australia (CPAA and ICAA). The study was designed to examine whether universities
and particular groups of universities have maintained the currency of their IA subjects, and to
inform curriculum development and pedagogy in IA subjects offered by Australian universities.
This paper is divided into five sections. Section 2 provides a discussion of the literature in
accounting education relevant within the IA context. The research methods are outlined in the
third section and the research results are provided in section 4. The final section summarises the
findings and limitations of the research.

2. Accounting education and the ‘crossroads’


Rapid developments in information technology and the growth of globalisation have led to
significant changes in the business environment (Albrecht & Sack, 2000), both in Australia and
overseas. As a consequence, in order to remain competitive a majority of accounting firms have
recognised the need to broaden their service scope to include specialised activities, such as
consulting and business advice (Parker, 2001) and, therefore, greater innovation and creativity are
required from accounting practitioners.
Just as the business environment within which accounting graduates work is changing, the
profile of accounting students is also evolving, with the diversity of profiles having implications
for accounting educators. For example, it has been suggested that teaching delivery and
instructional style needs to be recast to better cater for the specific needs of the large proportion
of international students studying at certain institutions (see Rankin et al., 2003; Hartnett et al.,
2004). In addition, the arrival of the net generation on campus is changing the dynamic of
university classrooms (Barone, 2005, cited in Wilson 2005). These students have very different
learning styles from those of previous generations and so educators need to reassess their
instructional techniques (Dobbins, 2005).

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2.1 General concerns about accounting education
The traditional accounting curriculum has been criticised for being ‘rule-based and demanding
rote memorisation; with students being trained rather than educated’ (Carr & Mathews, 2004,
p.93), and as a result of perceived deficiencies, a number of organisations and academics have
called for change. The most influential of such studies include those of the Bedford Committee
(AAA, 1986), the international accounting firms’ Perspectives on Education (Arthur Andersen &
Co., 1989), the AECC project (1900, 1992), and the report from Albrecht and Sack (2000) in the
United States. Similar reviews designed to introduce changes in accounting education were also
commissioned in Australia and New Zealand, including that of the Mathews Committee (1990)
and Lothian and Marrian’s (1992) report to the New Zealand Society of Accountants.
Various sources have also expressed concern about deficiencies in the generic skills and
core competencies of accounting graduates (Arthur Andersen & Co., 1989; Lovell, 1992; Cho,
1999; Mohamed & Lashine, 2003). To this end, the AICPA (1998) developed the Core
Competency Framework for Entry into the Accounting Profession, which identifies three
categories of competencies, being; functional, personal and broad business perspectives. The
competencies address the skills necessary for students to receive a well-rounded accounting
education regardless of their choice of career path (Foster and Bolt-Lee, 2002).
The opportunity for developing students’ generic skills is closely related to curriculum
design. Traditional curricula that centre on technical skills and place emphasis on memorisation
of transaction recording procedures may discourage students from developing competencies such
as critical thinking (Saudagaran, 1996; Springer & Borthick, 2004). A strong imperative exists
for introducing innovations into accounting courses to enhance students’ thinking, abstraction
and communication skills, consistent with the goal of lifelong learning (Howieson, 2003).
Despite attempts to address shortcomings, accounting education continues to be
dominated by a narrow, procedurally-based view of the discipline (Patten & Williams, 1990;
Nelson, 1995; Sharma, 1998) and such emphasis on the technical and procedural aspects may
lead to passive teaching techniques which focus on the transference of a body of knowledge
(Bonner, 1999; Boyce et al., 2001; Saunders & Christopher, 2003) at the expense of the
development of generic skills.
Transmissive or traditional models of teaching are characterised by one-way
communication (Williams, 1993), by textbook-based, lecture methods (May et al., 1995), and

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with emphasis on conveying specialist content and having rote-learned information regurgitated
in final examinations (Adler & Milne, 1997c). In contrast to the transmissive model, an active
learning model encourages students to actively engage, participate and interact in the learning
process (Adler & Milne, 1997a; Keddie & Trotter, 1998; Still & Clayton, 2004). To make this
change requires innovation in teaching and assessment, and the development of a pedagogy that
encourages student-centred learning, which is both active and experiential, and promotes
knowledge transformation and learner-reflection (Bisman, 2005). Not only will new teaching
approaches help develop students’ generic skills (Adler & Milne, 1997b; Boyce et al., 2001;
Kern, 2002), but there is also the opportunity to address the issue of students’ negative
perceptions of accounting and the profession (see for example, Friedlan, 1995; Caldwell et al.,
1996; Crumbly et al., 1998; Buckmaster & Craig, 2000).
A further issue is heavy reliance on textbooks and textbook problems in teaching, which
Williams (1993) termed the ‘one right answer syndrome’. While some educators propose using
textbooks as resources rather than as drivers of the curriculum (Albrecht et al., 1994), May et al.
(1995) reported that only about 45% of the accounting faculty surveyed supported abandonment
of the textbook-driven, precepts-based approach as the primary means of instruction. Some
educators (see Ferguson et al., 2005) also argue that ‘because so little variation existed in the
process of teaching financial accounting, financial accounting textbooks looked remarkably alike’
(Sullivan & Benke, 1997, p. 181).

2.2 Specific concerns about introductory accounting


Courses that are accredited by the professional accounting bodies normally have core IA subjects
(CPAA & ICAA, 2005), although a significant proportion of students enrolled in these subjects
are often non-accounting majors. This leads to debate concerning the appropriateness of focusing
on the technical aspects of accounting, rather than the usefulness of accounting information to
assist economic decision-making.
It is argued that the old curriculum, which emphasises memorisation of accounting
pronouncements and the mechanics of recording transactions, does not provide a complete
picture of today’s environment (Adler, 1999). Students receive a distorted view that could
discourage them from majoring in accounting, and many that are attracted to the field might not
be well suited to the demands of the field (Cohen & Hanno, 1993; Adams et al., 1994). The
AECC suggested restructuring IA subjects such that the first subject in accounting should offer a

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broad introduction to the discipline, taught from the user’s perspective rather than the preparer’s
perspective. Many believe the new approach provides accounting majors with a greater
understanding of accounting concepts (Cherry & Reckers, 1983; Baldwin & Ingram, 1991;
Bernardi & Bean, 1999).
Related to this user or preparer’s orientation is the question of whether teaching debits
and credits is essential in IA. Pincus (1997a, b) and Diller-Hass (2004) both strongly argued for
an approach that stresses understanding accounting information. In addition, with the
proliferation of computers, many commentators challenge the appropriateness of focusing on
teaching manual bookkeeping in IA subjects (Doost, 1999; Albrecht & Sack, 2000). However,
opponents suggest that removing debits and credits from the IA syllabus is a disservice to
students (Vangermeersch, 1997a, b). Vangermeersch (1997a, p.582) reasoned that ‘as the debits
& credits approach has survived many eras, this approach has proven its adaptability’.
Nevertheless, Ingram (1998, p.414) argued that:

Focusing on bookkeeping in an introductory accounting [subject] is much like focusing on


how to construct a telescope in an introductory astronomy course … [It] still may have
some practical value to some students, but it misses the more profound purposes for
understanding the subject.

In research conducted by Bernardi and Bean (1999) the conclusion was that teaching IA on a
preparer basis, versus a user approach, produced no significant differences in students’
performance in intermediate accounting subjects. While performance may not be impacted, there
are other implications when adopting a preparer perspective in the IA subject. Many students
equate accounting with bookkeeping, and see accounting as a boring, unexciting, number
crunching activity (Friedlan, 1995; Marriot & Marriot, 2003). Buckmaster and Craig (2000, p.
375) commented that perceptions such as ‘accounting is dull in content and unadventurous in
mode’ can discourage students from developing interests in accounting. A study carried out by
Mladenovic (2000) confirms that negative perceptions of accounting were common among IA
students and several other studies reinforce the point that the learning experience in IA subjects
has a profound impact on influencing students’ perceptions of the profession (Inman et al., 1989;
Fisher & Murphy, 1995; Friedlan, 1995; Saudagaran, 1996). The AECC (1992, p. 1) emphasised
the importance of the first subject in accounting, stating that it ‘shapes potential accounting
majors’ perceptions of (1) the profession, (2) the aptitudes and skills needed for successful

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careers in accounting, and (3) the nature of career opportunities in accounting’. Studies by Adams
et al., (1994) and Cohen and Hanno (1993) also provide empirical support for the importance of a
positive experience in the first IA subject.
In light of these debates, and within the current higher education reform climate that
emphasises quality audits and enhanced performance of the university sector, we argue that a
curriculum mapping study would enable the comparison of IA subjects across universities in
Australia and that the benchmarks resulting from this study may provide a base for, and enhance,
curriculum evaluation and development processes.

3. Research method
Multiple methods were the means for collecting and analysing comprehensive data structured
around the key themes of the investigation. The relatively small size of the population of
institutions recognised by the Commonwealth Department of Education, Science and Training
(see DEST, 2002), and that offer an accounting degree (n = 38), allowed for the entire population
to form the sample. The primary unit of analysis was an IA subject of an individual university,
although clusters of universities by locations (regional/metropolitan) and types (‘new’/’old’
universities) were also used in analysis to identify significantly different patterns in curricula.

3.1 Data collection


Data collection involved two rounds of document review, together with survey questionnaires
administered to subject coordinators of the first IA subject.

Subject outlines The first round of data collection, using a procedure previously applied in
accounting curriculum research in Australia (see Hogan, 2002; Mathews 2003), involved retrieval
of subject outlines (as customarily provided to enrolled students) for IA subjects. Documentary
data gathered in this manner was deemed to be more complete and up-to-date than that available
from other sources, such as university handbooks. Twelve universities were contacted and their
IA subject outlines obtained.

Secondary source documentation The second round of document review, involving the
common, principal prescribed textbooks of IA subjects, was based on a list compiled from the
initial review of subject outlines. Textbook publishers were requested to provide current copies of

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the relevant texts. Nine textbooks were obtained for review, and publishers were also asked to
supply the adoption reports for these books.

Survey questionnaire A survey instrument was developed, strongly focused on the key research
themes and informed by the prior steps in the research design. The survey included 30 questions
eliciting responses covering a range of demographic details, and information on subject content,
delivery, assessment, and educational objectives and strategies. Most questions were close-ended,
requiring numerical responses or responses on various scales. The section on objectives and
strategies covered a variety of pedagogical issues, expressed in the form of ten statements. These
statements were developed based on Tyler’s (1949) fundamental curriculum and instruction
questions and Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives (Bloom et al., 1956). The statements
required a response on a five-point Likert scale (anchored with 1 = Strongly Agree and 5 =
Strongly Disagree), along with two open-ended questions about innovative teaching and learning
strategies and active learning instructional methods. Two rounds of pilot testing of the survey
were carried out (n = 9) with the intention of improving the clarity and sequencing of questions
and the appropriateness of scales. An extract of salient sections of the survey instrument appears
in the Appendix.

Distribution of questionnaires A hard copy of the survey questionnaire, as well as the URL for
an online version, was posted in late 2005 to the IA subject coordinator2 in each Australian
university, and further questionnaires were distributed to relevant academics attending the CPA
Accounting Educators’ Forum, 2005. One round of follow-up was instituted.

3.2 Data analysis


A range of qualitative and quantitative techniques were used to analyse the data, according to the
key themes identified in the review of literature. Several triangulation methods were utilised to
aid in verifying the data and thus improve data validity (see Bisman, 2003). Within-method
triangulation, using multiple primary and secondary data sources, and between methods
triangulation, based on document review and survey questionnaire analysis (Denzin, 1978), were
applied, together with researcher-subject triangulation (Cohen and Manion, 1989) for

2
Where known, or to the Head of Department for distribution to the relevant subject coordinator.

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corroboration of the researchers’ results with the research subjects, and investigator triangulation
(Duffy, 1987) to deliver researcher convergence.
A battery of independent samples t-tests3 was conducted to investigate the existence of
significant differences in IA subjects between ‘old’ and ‘new’ universities, and regional and
metropolitan universities, using these categorical groupings consistent with the arguments arising
from the Crossroads review (DEST, 2002).

4. Results
4.1 Document review of subject outlines
Subject outlines for the first IA subject, sourced from 12 universities, were included in this round
of data analysis. The subject outlines were analysed focusing on learning objectives, topics,
principal prescribed textbook, teaching delivery methods and assessment.
There was a wide range of differences found in the learning objectives listed in the subject
outlines. The number of objectives listed ranged from as few as two to as many as 14, with an
approximate mean of eight. The nature of the learning objectives also varied across institutions,
however, by using pattern-matching techniques a number of common themes were identified.
The most frequently identified themes among these learning objectives, in order of descending
frequency, are presented in Table 1.

Table 1 Learning objectives disclosed in subject outlines


Learning objectives Percentage of subject
outlines (n=12)
• Prepare financial statements 92%
• Interpret financial statements 75%
• Understand the role of accounting 67%
• Record transactions 50%
• Identify accounting information users 42%
• Understand the principles of financial reporting 33%
• Make ethical judgments in business 33%
• Apply double-entry accounting 25%
• Use accounting equation 25%
• Identify internal control issues 25%
• Identify various business structures 25%
• Understand and design a simple accounting information system 25%
• Communicate accounting information 25%
• Develop spreadsheet skills 25%

3
Each test was preceded by a range of assumption tests, including tests to assess equality of variances.

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There was an almost 50/50 split between learning objectives emphasising the conceptual
significance and decision-usefulness aspects of accounting information, and those stressing the
technical preparer’s perspective. It is of significance that more than 90% of the subject outlines
reviewed listed “prepare financial statements” as a learning objective, whereas only 75% listed
“interpret financial statements” as an objective. Although less than 20% of subject outlines listed
learning objectives related to management accounting, such as costing, budgeting and capital
budgeting, when the topic details disclosed in subject outlines were examined it was discovered
that a much higher proportion of institutions were teaching these topics (see Table 2). This
observation could suggest a misalignment between the learning objectives and syllabus in a
number of institutions. Few subject outlines made specific mention of developing students’
generic skills, such as communication and spreadsheet skills. While these skills were listed as
learning objectives in these few subject outlines, analysis of the assessment components of the
subjects revealed that in most cases these objectives were not accompanied by an associated
assessment item. On the other hand, for subjects that did not mention generic skills in the
learning objectives, there were often assessment items that specifically mentioned a generic skill
or skills. This result provides some evidence of misalignment between learning objectives and
assessment.
An average of 12 topics appeared in the subject outlines reviewed and a summary of the
most common topics appears in Table 2. The table reveals that there is considerable emphasis on
technical topics, and taken together with the results of the analysis of learning objectives, it
appears that a preparer’s perspective is the more prevalent.

Table 2 Topic analysis (per subject outlines)


Percentage of universities
Topic name/nature n = 12
Accounting process of recording business transactions 92%
Role of accounting & the business environment 75%
Financial statement analysis 67%
Internal control & bank reconciliation 67%
Accounting information systems & sub-systems 67%
Retailing operations & inventory 58%
Cash flow statements 42%
Management accounting, costing & CVP analysis 42%
Accounts & bills receivable 42%
Non-current assets 33%
Capital budgeting 25%

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Teaching delivery methods were, at least on the surface, largely conventional, with all responding
institutions adopting a delivery method combining lectures and tutorials, with the clear majority
favouring three hours of class contact per week.
While most subjects included within-semester and final examination assessments, one
responding institution had a unique assessment practice, allowing students to choose between (a)
final examination (100%), (b) mid-semester exam (40%) plus final exam (60%) or (c) class mark
(10%), mid-semester exam (30%) plus final exam (60%). More than 50% of universities used
assignments and/or tutorial participation and/or mid-semester exams/tests/quizzes as assessment
components. Some used accounting practice sets, although very few included a group-based
research project or assignment. The weighting of the final examination as an element of
assessment ranged from 40% to 70%, with 60% weighting the mean, mode and median for the
sample. Clearly, the majority of responding institutions placed more emphasis on the final
examination than on within-semester internal assessments.

4.2 Analysis of principal prescribed textbooks


The subject outlines reviewed also contained information regarding the principal prescribed
textbook. The most commonly prescribed textbook was Kimmel et al., Accounting: Building
Business Skills. Nine principal textbooks were identified based on the review of subject outlines
and publishers’ textbook adoption lists. The textbook analysis focused on reviewing the topics
and sub-topics listed in the table of contents of each textbook. Textbooks were classified
according to the schema applied in Sullivan and Benke’s (1997) analysis of introductory financial
accounting textbooks. The chief categories were: ‘conventional’, representing texts focusing on
debits and credits; ‘moderately conventional’, including those featuring debits and credits, but
with less overall technical emphasis; ‘revolutionary’, which were non-debit/credit based and
adopted a user’s perspective; and ‘transitional’ and ‘moderately revolutionary’ for those near the
mid-point of the scale. The results of this review appear in the following matrix (Table 3).

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Table 3 Categorisation and features of main introductory accounting textbooks
No. (%)
No. Coverage of debits & Coverage of technical Classification
Author/s chapters credits accounting equation topics of textbook
Atrill et al. 13 Only in appendix Yes, in Appendix 3 Transitional
(23%)
Bazley et al. 21 Briefed in the topic on No 1 Revolutionary
worksheets (5%)
Birt et al. 13 Briefed in the topic on Yes, with accounting 1 Moderately
business transactions worksheets (8%) Revolutionary
Hoggett et al. 25 Yes Yes 12 Conventional
(48%)
Horngren et al. 24 Yes Yes 15 Conventional
(63%)
Jackling et al. 23 Yes Yes 4 Moderately
(17%) Conventional
Juchau et al. 20 Yes Yes 6 Moderately
(30%) Conventional
Kimmel et al. 17 Yes Yes 10 Conventional
(59%)
Peirson & 22 Yes Yes 13 Conventional
Ramsay (59%)

While there was a diverse range of technical topics covered in the textbooks, there were a number
of topics that were commonly presented in all textbooks. These topics included areas of
management accounting, such as CVP analysis and budgeting. While ethics and corporate
governance were mentioned, along with other business issues, in textbooks classified as
conventional, ethics and corporate governance were presented as stand-alone topics in the more
revolutionary categories of texts. Almost half of the textbooks reviewed fell into the
Conventional category. These textbooks appeared to place relatively more emphasis on the
technical aspects of accounting. Results of this textbook review corresponded with the analysis of
learning objectives and topics undertaken as part of the review of subject outlines.

4.3 Analysis of survey questionnaire


A total of 21 of the 38 universities surveyed completed the questionnaire yielding an overall
response rate of 55.3%. Table 4 presents a breakdown of respondents by State/Territory, and
Table 5 displays a summary of respondents by institutional type (per classifications used in
DEST, 2002).

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Table 4 Responding institutions by State/Territory
No. universities in Responses Respondents as a percentage
State/Territory State/Territory received of the population
QLD 7 5 71%
SA 3 2 67%
NSW 11 7 64%
VIC 8 5 63%
ACT, NT & TAS 4 2 50%
WA 5 0 0%
Total 38 21 55%

Table 5 Responding institutions by type


No. universities Responses Respondents as a percentage
Institutional type of type received of the population
Intermediate established (1960-1986) 9 6 67%
Old established (before 1960) 10 6 60%
New (after 1987) 19 8 42%
Unspecified 1 5%
Total 38 21 55%

According to location, there was an almost even response rate from metropolitan (55%) and
regional (53%) universities, based on their incidence in the underlying population. However,
since response rates varied across states and types, tests were conducted to determine the level of
non-response bias. Firstly, responses to key questions by on-time (n=13) and late respondents
(n=8) were statistically analysed using the Oppenheim (1966) method, with results indicating an
absence of significant non-response bias. Secondly, demographic characteristics of respondent
institutions were compared with underlying population proportions. An element of bias may be in
the sample since there were no respondents from universities in Western Australia, and ‘new’
universities responded relatively less. These factors limit the representativeness of the sample.

Student profile The proportion of accounting major students in the IA subject was quite evenly
spread between the 0-40% and 41-80% bands. In no case was the IA subject studied by more than
80% of accounting majors. The total number of students in the IA subject ranged from 180 to
1,800 with a mean of 650. Almost half the responding institutions had an average of 21-40% of
international students enrolled in the subject and about 30% of respondents indicated that 41-60%
of the cohort comprised international students.

Syllabus and textbooks One of the key focus areas of the research was on the adoption of the
technical (debit/credit) perspective versus a user (decision-usefulness) orientation in IA subject

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syllabi. Question 7 (see Appendix) asked respondents to rate the topic content of their
institution’s IA subject on a spectrum from 100% technical preparer’s perspective (rating = 1) to
100% user’s perspective (rating = 5). Ratings ranged from 1 to 5 and the mean rating was 3.33,
which can be interpreted as the IA subject generally having a balance between perspectives.
However, 25% of respondents viewed their subject as being more technically oriented, while
43% rated their subject at 4 or above. There were no statistically significant differences in
responses based on whether universities were ‘old’ or ‘new’, or metropolitan or regional.4
To further analyse these responses, an examination of the principal prescribed textbooks
of responding institutions was undertaken to assess if the chosen books aligned with respondents’
ratings of the subject orientation. Based on survey responses, two textbooks were popularly
prescribed, with Kimmel et al. dominating, and prescribed by about 30% of universities, and the
Atrill et al. textbook by 25%. As presented in the earlier textbook analysis section, Kimmel et al.
was classified as conventional, with an intense focus on technical topics, whereas Atrill et al. was
classified as transitional, having less focus on technical content. The 30% of respondents who
had adopted the Kimmel text corresponded with the 25% of respondents who rated their subject
with either a 1 or 2 on the subject orientation spectrum. Similarly, the 43% of respondents who
rated their subject with a 4 or 5 corresponded with the 40% adoption rate of the revolutionary,
moderately revolutionary, and transitional categories of textbooks (see Table 3).
The survey results showed that most textbooks were fairly newly adopted with about 50%
of respondents indicating that the textbook had been prescribed for less than two years. Only one
of the 21 respondents had been prescribing the same textbook for more than eight years.

Teaching delivery methods The pattern of two one-hour lectures plus one one-hour tutorial was
the most common for the IA subjects surveyed. Workshops were conducted only in about 30% of
institutions. Most of the subjects were supported by online learning resources, with Blackboard
being the most dominant platform used (in 38% of cases), followed by WebCT (30%). In 20% of
institutions, IA subjects were supported by other online learning resources, including textbook
websites and internally designed subject websites. Fewer than 15% of responding universities did
not make use of any online facilities.

4
The classification of universities as ‘old’ or ‘new’ was based on pre and post-1987 university establishment dates,
in accord with DEST (2002). Metropolitan and regional university categorisations were self-selected by respondents
and checked against criteria concerning capital city/non-capital city campus locations and student catchment areas.

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Assessment practices This section presents an analysis of the assessment practices prevalent in
the IA subjects surveyed. Sixty two percent of the subjects surveyed had a final exam weighting
in the range of 41-60%, whereas the remaining respondents indicated that the final examination
accounted for 61-80% of total assessment value. Table 6 provides a summary of the
characteristics and weighting of non-exam components of assessment. Percentages shown in the
left-hand column indicate the weighting afforded particular items.

Table 6 Components of non-exam assessment


Assessment Item No. (%) respondents Assessment item No. (%) respondents
Assignments Assignments
0-10% 5(24%) Individual 5(24%)
11-20% 5(24%) Group 5(24%)
21-30% 3(14%) Both 1(5%)
31-40% 1(5%) DNA5 3(14%)
None 7(33%) None 7(33%)
Total 21(100%) Total 21(100%)
Tests Tests
0-10% 4(19%) Invigilated 8(38%)
11-20% 8(38%) Online 2(10%)
21-30% 2(10%) Both 1(5%)
31-40% 1(5%) DNA 5(24%)
> 41% 1(5%) None 5(24%)
None 5(24%) Total 21(100%)
Total 21(100%)
Practice sets: Group Presentation:
10% 3(14%) 5% 3(14%)
None 18(86%) None 18(86%)
Total 21(100%) Total 21(100%)

Table 6 reveals that assignments and tests were the two most common non-exam assessment
items utilised in IA subjects. Neither practice sets nor group presentations were commonly used.
In addition to the results presented in Table 6, a range of other assessment items were used,
including tutorial work in seven (33%) universities, a group project in one university, and a
generic skills assignment in another university.

Educational objectives and strategies The next series of results, presented in Table 7, relate to
survey questions that provided a list of statements concerning the overall educational objectives
and strategies that apply to IA subjects and invited a response on a five-point Likert-scale (1 =
Strongly Agree, 5 = Strongly Disagree).
5
DNA means did not answer and reflects item non-response.

16
Table 7 Educational objectives
Question No. and statement Range Median Mode Mean
Q20a. The overall objective is about the transferal of technical knowledge to
train the student in gathering financial data for the preparation of financial
reports 2-5 4 4 3.38
Q20b. The objective is to develop students’ comprehension of basic
accounting knowledge 1-4 2 2 1.86
Q20c. The objective is to enable students to apply accounting knowledge in
their everyday life 1-4 2 2 2.05
Q20d. The objective is to broaden students’ interests in accounting 1-3 2 2 2.00
Q20e. The objective is to enable students to evaluate and judge the value of
accounting information for business decision-making 1-3 2 1 1.71
Q20f. There is an emphasis on procedures, terms and principles of
accounting 1-5 3 2 2.86
Q20g. The focus is on the conceptual significance of accounting 1-4 2 2 2.19

Referring to Table 7, the validity of these responses is demonstrated by triangulation with other
data from the survey, particularly with Q.7 which asked respondents to rate their IA subject on
the 1 to 5 technical-user’s continuum. However, responses to Q.20e and Q.20g seem to be at odds
with a variety of other data collected, including that concerning prescribed textbooks, as well as
that derived from analysis of subject outlines and relating to learning objectives and topics.
A similar battery of tests to those conducted for responses to Question 7 were applied to
the responses to these statements. Only two statistically significant differences were found, both
on the basis of location, and are reported in Table 8. These differences reveal that IA subjects
offered by metropolitan universities were significantly more likely to be rated as having broad-
based objectives, aimed at application of accounting knowledge, than were equivalent subjects
offered by regional universities.

Table 8 Significance tests (n=21)


Question No. Metro mean Regional mean t-statistic p value
Q20c. 1.75 2.44 -2.36 0.03
Q20d. 1.75 2.33 -2.31 0.02

Two other statements included in question 20 (see Table 9) revealed a high level of agreement
among survey respondents regarding the promotion of active student participation in the learning
process. However, encouragement of students to work in teams was not favourably rated by
respondents, with more than 40% either disagreeing or strongly disagreeing with the statement.

17
Table 9 Educational strategies
Question No. and statement Range Median Mode Mean
Q20h. A range of innovative teaching and learning strategies are used to
encourage students to apply accounting concepts to real-life situations 1-4 2 3 2.43
Q20i. The instructional method encourages students to be active participants
in the learning process 1-4 2 3 2.14
Q20j. The teaching encourages students to work in teams 1-5 3 4 3.05

For Q.20h (Table 9) there was a statistically significant difference (t=-2.64, p=0.02) in mean
responses, such that IA subject educators in metropolitan universities (mean=2.00) were more
likely to use innovations and relate learning to real-life situations, than were educators in regional
universities (mean=3.00). This difference accords with those reported in Table 8. In addition to
responses to Q.20h (Table 9), qualitative techniques were applied in analysing responses to the
two open-ended questions in the survey (Q.21 and Q.22) which also concerned innovative
teaching and active learning strategies used in IA subjects. Very similar responses were received
to both questions and an illustrative selection of responses appears below:
• use of computer-assisted learning/web-based learning, such as subject chat room, online
resources, and online quizzes
• competition in group share market games
• peer mentoring in class
• real world research projects and case studies, including ethical cases
• team teaching, video teaching and guest lecturers
• student group presentations.

5. Findings and conclusion


While a range of methods were employed to gather corroboratory data through triangulation, the
standard limitations are relevant in respect to the one-shot, cross-sectional survey questionnaire,
including the issue of the representativeness of the sample. The data, results and findings are
contemporaneous, and the research results may not be generalisable to accounting education in
other settings or nations.
The overall results are equivocal for IA subject orientation on the technical versus
decision-usefulness spectrum. The higher proportion of textbooks classified as conventional in
the textbook review may shed some light on the relatively high percentage of technical topics in
the subject outlines reviewed. While this observation would suggest that the learning objectives
and topics in a subject influenced the selection of textbook, as the dovetailing of survey results

18
for orientation and primary textbook suggest, an alternative explanation is that a subject’s
syllabus was dominated by the selected textbook.
While teaching delivery follows the traditional lecture and tutorial format, supported by a
textbook, numerous innovations in delivery and assessment were extant. For example, application
of e-learning and online resources is apparent in IA subjects and assists in accommodating the
learning styles and preferences of students of the net generation.
In a number of instances there appeared to be a misalignment between learning
objectives, topic coverage and assessment items, which requires redress. Further, there is little
formal evidence of generic skills development, which does not mean that it does not occur, but
that it is not explicit in the objectives, content and assessment items of many IA subjects.
Opportunities for development of teamwork and leadership skills in IA subjects also appeared to
be meagre. However, suggestions to innovate in terms of delivery and learning experiences need
to be tempered by recognition of large class sizes and staff/student ratios, which can effectively
limit the number and range of new and emerging educational and assessment strategies.
Contrary to schismatic arguments concerning ‘old’ and ‘new’ universities and which have
arisen as a result of the Crossroads review, we found no statistically significant differences in
terms of subject orientation, subject objectives or teaching and learning strategies between the pre
and post-1987 universities surveyed. We also found few significant differences between
metropolitan and regional universities in relation to these aspects of IA subjects. The results
indicate that ‘old’ universities do not sacrifice teaching for research, and nor have ‘new’
universities doggedly maintained an overwhelming technical focus based on their college
inheritance. However, this absence of significant differences between groups of universities is a
function of modalities and does not indicate a lack of diversity. Rather, diversity is readily
apparent at the level of individual subjects and institutions.
Of the eleven features sought of universities as part of the Higher Education Review
Process (DEST, 2002), those five most relevant to considering an individual university subject,
such as the IA subject, maintain that sustainable universities are learner centred, high quality,
responsive, diverse and innovative. Based on these key performance indicators it would seem that
teaching and learning in IA subjects in Australian universities do not rate at all poorly on this
scorecard.

19
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Appendix
Survey instrument (extract)

RESEARCH PROJECT

Analysis of current curriculum in introductory accounting subjects in Australian accounting degrees


Questionnaire for Subject Coordinator of the First Introductory Accounting Subject

SECTION 2 – INFORMATION ABOUT THE CONTENT OF THE SUBJECT

For the purpose of this research, a technical preparer’s perspective is one that has a focus on the procedural aspects
of accounting, i.e. recording transactions and producing financial statements; whereas a user’s perspective is one that
focuses on the use of financial information to assist economic decision-making. For example, a subject in which the
preparation of journal entries, T-accounts, trial balance and financial statements are covered extensively would be
considered as a preparer’s perspective; whereas a subject in which the focus is on financial statement analysis and
application of accounting information to assess business performance is considered as a user’s perspective.
7. Please rate the subject in terms of the topic content on the following spectrum:
1 2 3 4 5
100% 100%
Technical User’s
preparer’s perspective
perspective

SECTION 5 – QUESTIONS ABOUT EDUCATIONAL OBJECTIVES & STRATEGIES


20. Below are a number of statements concerning the overall educational objectives and strategies that might
apply to the introductory accounting subject offered at your institution. For each statement, please indicate
your level of agreement from Strongly Agree (SA), Agree (A), Neutral (N), Disagree (D), Strongly
Disagree (SD).
From your institution’s perspective, in this introductory accounting S A N D S
subject: A D
The overall objective is about the transferral of technical knowledge to train
the student in gathering financial data for the preparation of financial reports.
The objective is to develop students’ comprehension of basic accounting
knowledge.
The objective is to enable students to apply accounting knowledge in their
everyday life.
The objective is to broaden students’ interests in accounting.

The objective is to enable students to evaluate and judge the value of


accounting information for business decision-making.
There is an emphasis on procedures, terms and principles of accounting.

The focus is on the conceptual significance of accounting and accounting


information for business decision-making.
A range of innovative teaching and learning strategies are used to encourage
students to apply accounting concepts to real-life situations.
The instructional method encourages students to be active participants in the
learning process.
The teaching encourages students to work in teams.

23