Problems,
practice sets, and case studies are related activities
that involve students in finding solutions, either as
individuals or in groups. Problems are relatively limited
exercises with clearcut answers; practice sets generally
involve a series of questions or activities about related
data and may require students to make their own
connections; case studies are more elaborate and
ambiguous problems with no clearcut solutions. These are
all used in accounting education today and all have a
role in developing the student's ability to learn.
Learning to solve problems prepares the student to handle
practice sets which in turn develop the student's ability
to deal with the complexity of case studies. In terms of
the learning diagram in Figure 4.2, the teaching process
becomes more complex as the student moves from attaining
knowledge to developing intellectual skills to
intentional learning.
Problemsolving
exercises should involve students in a series of
activities that help them learn how to approach problems
in general as well as how to solve a specific problem.
The process should include at least these basic
steps:
 Defining
the problem as clearly as possible, seeing its limits
and its implications.
 Assembling
and evaluating all available relevant data, using
research and analysis skills.
 Identifying
assumptions inherent in the problem and data and in
their own approach to the task.
 Examining
potential solutions and their possible consequences,
looking at a variety of options.
 Adopting
and evaluating a solution, considering its potential
effectiveness.
All accounting
students know that they will be doing problems as part of
their coursework. Practically every chapter of every
textbook includes problems that illustrate or apply the
material presented in the chapter. Problems may also
appear on exams. Students may perceive the problems as
busywork, and give them only cursory attention. But well
planned problem assignments can help students understand
and retain the principles of the field and begin to enjoy
the challenges of their future profession.
Beginning
students are likely to focus more on whether they got the
right answer than on how they reached the solution and
what they are learning in the process. Yet, as most
faculty know, students may learn more from analyzing and
understanding their mistakes than from getting the answer
right the first time. It is not easy to encourage
students to examine and learn from their mistakes. To do
so, we need to minimize the student's risk, perhaps by
working in pairs and groups. Students can be encouraged
to compare answers and, more important, compare how they
reached them. They may solve problems in groups, working
through each step together so that all see how to reach
the answer as well as what the answer should be. Some
programs are using computer software that records
students' thinking processes as they solve problems so
professors can see where difficulties lie.
Using problems
to help students learn requires that they focus more on
the process than on the solution. Students can be
encouraged to ask questions like how and
why and when might the process be
different. They can be asked to connect a problem with a
local, real life situation, or even to write their own
problems for a fellow student to work. Working problems
can help students learn to learn if the problems engage
students more with meaning than with
mechanics.
The practice
set method of instruction may be used to assist students
in organizing and connecting knowledge, and in learning
to think analytically. Practice sets are offered by most
accounting textbook publishers. Many are available as
computer assignments. A focus on intentional learning
does not require that instructors discard practice sets,
but rather that they use them in new and purposeful ways.
If properly constructed and administered, the practice
set method of instruction can be an effective way to
enhance the lifelong learning skills of accounting
students.
Practice sets
in accounting courses can be used to encourage and
motivate students to question accounting procedures and
systems, to organize their knowledge as well as their
effort, to connect and adapt learned theory and
procedure, to reflect on the environment, setting, and
context of the business simulation, and to adapt business
solutions to the practice set requirements. Faculty can
help students become intentional learners by discussing
with them the learning and problem solving processes they
are experiencing.
Perhaps the
greatest danger in using practice sets is creating the
impression that there are exact answers or solutions, and
that, unless one discovers these, one will not be
successful as an accountant. The practice set experience
should develop an understanding of accounting procedure,
theory, and issues; the attributes of intentional
learning; and an appreciation of the complexities of
accounting practice.
The case
method has gained popularity as a way to teach students
to think analytically and learn to make good decisions.
Case studies are now available as computer simulations of
business problems. More will be said about these in our
discussion of technology. Many accounting professors are,
of course, familiar with the case method which medical
and law schools have used for many years. The case method
is not yet widely used in undergraduate education, and we
are still learning how and when to use it effectively.
Many accounting faculty are finding the case method to be
a promising way to enhance the learning of their more
advanced undergraduate students (Christensen, 1987;
Knechel, 1992).
Essentially, a
case is a story with characters, a plot, and a problem
situation. A case may be a short paragraph or page simply
describing a problem and the two or three people involved
in it. Or the case may be long and complex, focusing on
an entire business with many details, multiple problems,
and a large cast of characters. Discussion of a case may
be relatively structured, with the instructor asking a
carefully designed set of questions that lead students to
examine all the nuances of the case. Or discussion may be
completely open, with students expected to do the
analysis and lead the class themselves. Obviously,
students who are inexperienced with the case method
should begin with relatively simple cases and the
instructor should provide patterns for analysis and
structured discussion. More advanced students may
progress with experience to more complex cases and less
structured assignments.
A case method
course or assignment requires strong commitment from both
students and faculty. To be successful, the students need
to have basic knowledge of the subject, the motivation to
work intensively alone and with other students, and
enough maturity to risk sharing their ideas in the
classroom. Faculty, in addition to firm control of the
subject, need skill in and understanding of the case
method. Their role is to assign cases, guide student
analysis, and participate more as coach and colleague
than as professor. Faculty need to be able to listen, to
question, to guide discussion without forcing its
direction. The temptation to "take over" the discussion
must be steadfastly resisted. Like students, faculty need
to be willing to take risks in the case method classroom.
Both faculty and students may need to learn new roles if
they are to be successful in using case method study to
develop intentional learning.
FORMAT
FOR CASE PRESENTATIONS
 Present
a concise statement of the accounting
issue(s) involved in the case.
 Examine
the economic substance of the transaction
that created the accounting issue(s) under
consideration in the case.
 Based
on your work in 1 or 2 provide a discussion
of alternative solutions to (i.e.,
resolutions of) the accounting issue(s)
identified in the case.
 Present
your recommendation of what, in your
professional judgment, is the most
appropriate solution to the accounting
issue(s) identified in the case.
Used
in Financial Accounting 310 at the University of
Alabama
by Professors Tom Lee, Mike Dugan and Mary
Stone

Advantages of
the case method include: students learn to analyze
reallife situations; they learn to make decisions based
on analysis; they are involved in the learning process;
they learn to express and practice communicating their
ideas in a group; they learn to see and decide among a
variety of responses to a given situation. In a
successful case method course, the class may develop a
sense of community, learning to function as a cohesive
learning group. All of the students will be heavily
involved in preparing cases, in presenting their own
analyses of and solutions to the case problem, and in
listening to and critiquing the ideas of their peers.
Principles and theories will evolve through open
discussion that may bring new ideas to the instructor as
well as to the students.
All five
attributes of intentional learning can be called upon in
a case discussion course. The learner can practice
questioning in preparing the case and in class
discussion. Organizing ideas will be an essential part of
case preparation and will lead to connecting knowledge
from case discussion with other cases and with work
experience. Reflecting will occur as the case discussion
is debriefed in class and as the learner uses what is
learned from one case to prepare for discussion of
another case. And finally, adapting is what case method
teaching is all about, applying what has already been
learned to new situations as presented in the cases
assigned in the class.