The Accounting Educator
The Newsletter of the Teaching and Curriculum Section
A Response to "Speak Out"
Editor's note: This column contains a response to the "Speak Out" column included in the Spring 2000 issue. We welcome additional responses to this topic.
From Denise Nitterhouse, MBA, DBA; Associate Professor; School of Accountancy, DePaul University; 6/11/00
I agree with James Rebele's call for accountability in "Technology, What Can and Should it be Used for?" and share his desire for research that demonstrates that IT improves learning. However, I disagree vehemently with his suggestion that we have a moratorium on integrating technology in the curriculum until we have evidence that it improves student learning. I argue that we should integrate information technology (IT) in accounting education at every opportunity as long as it does not impede student learning. That is a much weaker requirement, and an important difference to understand.
It has become quite clear that accounting graduates will need to use IT throughout their accounting careers, whether they are in audit, tax or corporate accounting. According to both IFAC and the AICPA, it is our responsibility as educators to teach students both IT concepts and skills that they will need in their accounting careers. If we can teach accounting skills and concepts at least as well with IT as without IT, then we should teach them in the manner that best prepares students for their careers, i.e., using IT. IT skills are as necessary for today's and tomorrow's accountants as was good penmanship in the 19th century.
We acquire and hone our skills by practicing them in the environment where they will be used. Using spreadsheets, databases, presentation software, Internet, and email should be second nature to accounting graduates. Using IT needs to be the default option for our graduates, not the exception, or unavailable. When faced with a new task or challenge, accounting graduates should automatically seek an IT solution. They should not automatically adopt an IT solution if it is not the best alternative, but they should seek one, and have the depth of understanding needed to critically evaluate the pros and cons of all the viable alternatives, whether IT based or not. This high level of mastery comes only with continual use and practice. Students who begin developing that mastery with guidance from similarly competent educators seem likely to have a competitive advantage in the job market and throughout their careers. Thus, I believe that we should use IT in accounting education whenever it does not decrease our ability to teach accounting, in order to teach non-accounting IT skills and work habits that will benefit graduates in their practice of accounting.
I have primarily taught a required undergraduate MIS course for the past 15 years, but I still occasionally teach accounting courses as well. This perspective has shown me two significant problems with integrating IT in accounting education. The first problem is the need to take time away from accounting topics to teach IT skills and concepts. The second is the lack of IT skills and knowledge in many accounting faculty. I will propose a solution for the former, and leave the latter to braver souls.
Since the late 1980's, accounting faculty who wanted to use IT in their classes have lamented the need to teach basic IT skills. Many IT literate faculty have struggled with the dilemma of whether to take the time to teach IT skills in order to be able to use them for accounting assignments. If time is taken away from accounting topics to teach IT, then using IT may indeed interfere with the ability to teach accounting, because less time is available for accounting topics. In institutions that have traditional, full-time student populations and few transfer students, curriculum design and enforced course pre-requisites can ensure that students acquire the needed concepts and skills before they take an accounting course that uses IT. This is not a viable solution for institutions that have a high proportion of non-traditional, part-time students and many transfer students from a variety of feeder institutions. Because of the pace of change in IT, a student who took the pre-requisite course more than two years ago or at another institution may not have learned the needed skills. On the other hand, many non-traditional part-time students have acquired the needed concepts and skills through self-study, on the job training, or other means. They are justifiably frustrated by being required to take and pay for a pre-requisite course that covers material they already know.
IT concept and skill testing and prerequisites seem to be an obvious solution, but one that few academic institutions have implemented. White-collar temporary employment agencies have used such testing for more than a decade. Microsoft has recently introduced the MOUS testing and certification program for its suite of Office products. It seems that IT testing would be a value-added, mission-consistent and financially rewarding line of business for academic institutions, but outsourcing to existing testing agencies is also a possible route for implementation. Hands-on IT skill test and objective IT concept test pre-requisites would let accounting educators use IT in their courses without having to teach it. Test completion followed by skill practice should be valuable to graduates in the job market. Perhaps accounting educators can lead the way to improved IT competency for all business graduates.