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Q&A: Tips to Flip the Script on Accounting Instruction

How to flip the classroom with a tough subject like accounting? Dr. Curtis DeBerg has it figured out—and has an online textbook replacement that proves it.

Educator

Curtis DeBerg, PhD, CPA

Professor of Accounting, California State University, Chico

PhD in Business Administration; MS in Economics; BS in Accounting; Founder, Sage Global

When Curtis DeBerg, PhD, started to feel that traditional approaches to accounting instruction did not always help students succeed in the class, he knew that the problem was not student apathy. “My colleagues believe a high failure rate means a need for more rigor, but I don’t believe that,” he says. “I think a high failure rate means a poor teaching rate. About 95% of all introductory students are not accounting majors, and these students don’t need more rigor. They need better ways of being taught.”

So he began investigating the flipped classroom approach, creating video lectures that students watch as homework, freeing up time for more dynamic interactions in class. Since then, DeBerg has created 50 accounting-focused nano-lecture videos designed specifically for his Introduction to Financial Accounting course at California State University in Chico. Now, instead of requiring students to buy a $300 textbook, DeBerg has students purchase a course pass for a nominal amount, which allows them to access an extensive, curated collection of online resources that include his videos, sample clicker quizzes and tests, readings (which are also succinct), and any other resources they need to complete the course.

Along with saving them money, DeBerg’s digital catalog makes students’ learning experience more organized, compact, and easy to understand. In surveying his students at the end of the term, over 90% have said “they love this approach, [instead of using a textbook].” They also are attaining better grades on the final exam, which is created by another instructor in the department. “We have to teach to the learning objectives, because we don’t know what will be on the final,” says DeBerg. “My students do just as well as or outperform other students on the final, so this approach has been vetted.”

Context

“The flipped classroom approach changed the way I teach completely. It allows me to go deeper and more conceptual with students in class, because they’ve already watched my short, snappy videos.”

— Curtis DeBerg, PhD, CPA

Course: ACCT 201 Introduction to Financial Accounting

Course description: Introductory study of the information system that measures, records, and communicates the economic activity of an entity, in monetary terms, to stakeholders outside of the organization. The study of assets, liabilities, owners’ equity, revenues, expenses, gains, and losses as they relate to the preparation of financial statements communicating an entity’s financial position, results of operations, and cash flows.

See resources shared by Curtis DeBerg, PhD, CPA

See materials

DeBerg’s unique video modules

Below, DeBerg answers some of Course Hero’s questions about his unique and innovative approach.

Q: Course Hero: How did your online module site come about?

A: Dr. Curtis DeBerg: A former student made the website for me. He was 19 years old at the time, and he made an A in my class. He said, “I’ve taken the liberty of doing the first three lessons for you.” It’s sequential: Students just have to go select the date, watch the video lecture, do the reading assignment, and do the homework. He’s now living in Australia, and every semester I give him the material, and he updates the due date.

Q: What does an average module look like?

A: On an average day, students watch three or four videos, which are 3 to 12 minutes long. By the second week of the semester, I switch from videos to Excel. In the first 25 minutes of class, they get quizzed using an iClicker quiz, and then I go over it. This allows me to diagnose what’s happening and go deeper into detail of what they’ve missed. My rule is if the class gets 70% or better on the quiz as a class, I don’t go over it anymore. I assume the other 30% of the class hasn’t yet watched the videos or taken good notes. If I had a structured “lesson plan” coming into the class, I’d be woefully unable to address the students’ needs this way.

The first classroom session of the week, on Tuesday, I go over homework and go deeper, and then in the next session, on Thursday, I put students into their groups to have them compare group answers and do a group exercise. The group exercises require them to use Excel when solving accounting problems or doing research about real companies on the Internet. A lot of professors don’t allow laptops or cell phones, but why would a carpenter go to a carpentry class without a hammer?

Q: Why did you decide to make your own videos?

A: When most faculty flip the classroom, they use videos from the existing textbook. If the students aren’t reading the textbook, they aren’t watching the videos either. And the textbook videos are long and boring. Or they come chock-full of music and interactivity, which I don’t think is as effective as me showing them how to use an Excel spreadsheet or how to build a budget. If students are going to rely on me, I’m going to make them short, exciting videos that are relevant to that day’s topic. And it’s me the professor teaching them, not a canned textbook narrator with bells and whistles, or a boring professor who drones on and on.

Q: Is your course completely textbook-free?

A: I have students read cases, but I don’t ask them to read much in the way of hardbound textual information or even electronic text. I do use a free online textbook that a friend created, but I only go there when there’s a point I want to go deeper on. I do everything else via Excel and going online to different websites, because there is so much better info on the web than there is in a textbook. It’s just a matter of harnessing that.

Q: How do you use Excel in your class?

A: My teaching style is really Excel based. Any accounting or finance teacher would be remiss if they weren’t using Excel as their main teaching pedagogy. There are so many things I can’t do on a blackboard that I can do on Excel. One example is making sure every journal entry balances after each transaction is posted, without using debits and credits. Students simply create a formula that says, “Add up all entries on the left side of the accounting equation, and subtract all entries from the right, and you should get zero. If not, you are out of balance!” Another example is that Excel can show how every transaction affects the financial statements with each transaction, rather than waiting until the end of the period. This can be done even if an instructor insists on using debits and credits to teach transaction analysis.

By the second week of class, the students all know Excel spreadsheet skills because they watch the video I’ve made called “Professor DeBerg’s Top 10 Things to Love About Excel.” After that, I give them a competency quiz, so I know they have a minimum level of skill. Then I don’t ever have to write on a board anymore.

Q: How has the flipped classroom approach affected your teaching?

A: Flipping the classroom has made me a better professor. It changed the way I teach completely. It allows me to go deeper and more conceptual with students, because they’ve already watched my short, snappy videos and taken notes on them.

Flipping the classroom also helped me become more organized. I know exactly what I am going to do every day, but I let student questions guide how I approach a topic. Students are reporting more satisfaction, the course has a smaller failure rate, and it’s a lot easier to teach.

Q: What video advice do you have for other educators?

A: Accounting has not changed much in the last 500 years. An asset is still an asset. So when you make videos, you will be able to use them for years. Also, don’t be afraid to use humor.

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