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Kelly Richmond Pope Lecture: Using an Edutainment Curriculum to Revamp Your Accounting Courses

Dr. Kelly Richmond Pope, accounting professor at Chicago’s DePaul University, shows the student engagement triggered by a hands-on, whodunit activity.


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Dr. Kelly Richmond Pope: Thank you, Chris, and thank you so much for coming, and the invitation to share the afternoon with you and to introduce Red Flag Mania to you. I’m just going to go through a couple of slides. I’ll tell you a little bit more about myself and my Mania maven in crime in this, Roni Jackson—she’s actually come into the Education Summit. And then we’re going to do an episode out of the Red Flag Mania experience. And you all have packets on your table. So, we’re going to open those in one second. So, don’t open it yet. And we’ll have time to have discussion.

[Changes slide.] So that’s me, with my hair a different style. But just to tell you a little bit about me: I like to describe myself as a teacher. I used to describe myself as a professor, but I realized that, where my roots come from, and, really, what inspires me is, what I see elementary education teachers do, and how excited their students were, and how passionate and how vivid the classroom was when we were younger, and how that’s changed as we’ve gotten in college.

So, your table is dressed in crime scene tape and you have a confidential package, just to add some fun to the workshop. So, you’re probably intrigued—what is it? And so, this is what I do in my classroom. I dress the classroom when we do this experience. The only thing different is I’ll play some Law & Order music. I didn’t do that today. But it just sort of sets the mood. And when the students walk in, and they hear the music and they see the crime scene tape, they’re like, “What is about to happen?” So hopefully you have that feeling too.

I’m a filmmaker. So you can watch All the Queen’s Horses tonight if you want to. It’s on iTunes, and Amazon, and Google play, and DirecTV, and YouTube. So you can watch that if you want to. But I started using film in my accounting classes because, really, I felt like my students were bored. And I wanted to let them know how important and how powerful accounting can be. So I started using film. I travel with a film team, and we record all of these types of experiences that I use in the classroom.

So, the last title I give myself is a forensic storyteller. So, there are so many fraud stories that are around us, that surround us every day, and I just bring those to life. And that’s really what I did with Red Flag Mania. My Mania maven Roni’s back in Chicago. She helps me put all this together. She considers herself a brand storyteller. She’s a triathlete, and she wanted me to say that because she’s a competitor by nature. So, you are going to hunt for red flags today in your packets and when you watch the film. And so, she also considers herself a consumer expert, a consumer experience expert. So, this is an experience.

And what I wanted my classroom to be was more like an experience than it was like a class. And so, I wanted it to be more memorable for students. And so again, I’m sure most of you can remember your kindergarten teacher. And you remember that person because of the experience, those memories that you have. And that’s how I want to be with my students.

So welcome to Red Flag Mania. As Chris said, it’s a mini investigative experience. So, if you’re not an accountant, that’s fine, because we all have an inquisitive nature just in us. And if you like solving crimes—who loves a good crime story, out there? All right. We’re ready. We’re ready.

So, this is an interactive workshop. You’ll be placed in a scenario. So, you’re going to watch a film clip, you’re going to be placed in a scenario, and you’re going to be asked to solve a case.

Now, let’s just make sure we know what a red flag is. And as you see on screen, it’s a warning or an indicator of a potential problem or a threat, such as any undesirable characteristic that stands out to an investigator. And you all are investigators. So it may pertain to company stock, financial statements, news reports, personal life. What a red flag is not is gossip. OK, so it has to be evidence-based.

So this is going to be hands-on. I want you to carefully take out your packet. There’s one packet per every two people. So only one person needs to take the packet out of the crime scene tape. And when you take off the red clip, you’re going to see a little folder that says, “Investigative Manual.” OK? Investigative Manual. So what this experience does, it does a couple things. We’re going to improve our level of professional skepticism. So we can’t be too trusting. When we think that there’s something wrong—you ought to have a gut reaction when you feel like something’s wrong. It just doesn’t settle well with you. So that’s professional skepticism that we’re going to work on today. We’re going to use the fraud triangle. When you start going through your packet, you’re going to see some information about the fraud triangle, and we’re going to use that to try to figure out this case. And we’re going to use the fraud triangle to figure out the perpetrator, the person that committed this crime.

So, today, your task is to guess how many red flags are there? How many can you find? And if you look at the packet, if you look at this investigative worksheet, on the back, you’re going to see—in the When We Prey film there’s some red flags, and in the investigative packet, there’s some red flags. When you watch this film—again, you’re going to be placed in a scenario—when you see something that seems odd, just put a little check or a little circle around it. And you might not know why it seems odd, but you might just say, “Hmm, something about this just doesn’t feel right.” OK. So you’re going to keep track of how many red flags. We’re going to ask at the end, “How many red flags did you find?” There might be a winner. OK. So the top part is for the film, the bottom part is for the packets. Anybody have any questions before we get started?

Audience member 1: [Inaudible.]

Pope: Nope, they’re just numbered randomly. No, numbers mean nothing. OK. Yes?

Audience member 2: [Inaudible.]

Pope: So, All the Queen’s Horses?

Audience member 2: Yeah.

Pope: This is a little bit different than All the Queen’s Horses. So, not really related, but just related because they’re both films. OK. So, everybody put their investigators’ hats on. This story is real. The crime happened. You are the investigator. You have to solve it. OK? So you have to pay attention to the scenario you’re about to be dropped in, and pay attention when you see if something just seems wrong. Put a check by it, put a circle by it. [Starts film.]

Film speaker 1: So, I’m starting to notice something’s getting fishy.

Film speaker 2: She didn’t notice anything.

Film speaker 1: I sure do!

Film speaker 3: We were the stand-out church in the community. But when the money started slowing up, so did our contribution to the town.

Film speaker 4: Church activities have been cut due to lack of funds. It could be anything. Or anyone.

Film speaker 5: I mean, where is everybody’s loyalty when things get rough?

Filmmaker: Are you still members?


Film speaker 2: I sure am.

Film speaker 1: Absolutely not.

[Film music continues to play.]

Film speaker 5: So, where’s the money?

[Film music ends.]

Pope: OK. Normally this happens in a 70-minute class. OK. But go back to your packets, and you have some information in a belly band that looks like this. And the first thing that you should focus on is: Bea wrote you a letter. There’s a letter from Bea Miles on her personal stationery, and you want to take a look at that. OK. Not yet! Hold on. Not yet. You want to take a look at that, and then you have some suspect cards. Now, what your task is, is to figure out who is taking the money. OK? But Bea’s writing for help. So you want to read her letter. And then you want to look at the suspect cards. OK? You have a lot of material—you have a partner. You have a lot of material that you have to go through to figure out who could be taking this money.

Now, when you look at the suspect cards, there’s a back and a front. Make sure you read both sides. And then you have some information there about the fraud triangle. You have information about the job descriptions of the different people that you saw at the church. You have background checks. You have financial information from the church. You want to look at all these things. I’m going to give you a whole 17 minutes. [Laughs.] So, you have to work strategically with your partner to just look at everything.

I’m just giving you a brief view of what the experience is like, and what students go through, and what they do. But first: Start with your letter, then look at your suspect cards, and then I’ll let you dig. Now remember, you’re looking for red flags. You’re hunting for red flags. We’re going to see who ends up finding the most. OK? We’ll go around and ask the different tables, but you can start now.

[Audience discusses as Pope circulates.]

Audience member 3: Yeah, he’s got access to the money.

Audience member 4: Why didn’t you see him?

Audience member 3: [Inaudible.]

Audience member 4: That’s why he was there.

Pope: So you might want to look at all these other things. You have all your cards right now.

[Audience groups continue to work together.]

Pope: OK, everyone. Let’s come back together. Let’s come back together. If we had more time we’d go through and dig a little bit longer, but I just wanted to give you an experience of what this is like in an accounting course. And this is really designed for an introductory accounting class. So, what we did is we watched When We Prey—we’re doing Episode One of When We Prey. And so, everyone watched the 15-minute film, and we were placed into a scenario. We were looking, we were placed into Montague Fellowship Church, and Montague is experiencing some declines. And you met a couple of suspects, and we’re going to walk through the suspects that we met. OK.

OK. So, let me tell you a little bit about what we just did, and I’m going to tell you the answer to the question of who stole the money. So, one of the things that I do when I teach is I love to incorporate film and TV in the class. And when All the Queen’s Horses came out in 2017, I was screening it in Chicago, and a person came to one of the screenings—during the Q and A session stands up and says, “I can relate to what happened in Dixon because the same thing happened to me.”

This is a true story. I’d say 95% of the facts that you just looked at are real. We changed the name to protect the innocent. But what’s amazing about this experience is, students often haven’t seen a W-2. They haven’t seen a background check. A lot of organizations never do a background check, and they put a person in place, and that person can steal money, and they’ve had a prior conviction, and they never knew it because they never did a background check.

A lot of students never even look at bank statements. And so you have bank statements. And so, one of the really important chapters in an introductory to accounting class is bank reconciliation. And a lot of professors just don’t really cover it that much. But looking at the bank reconciliation and comparing the bank reconciliation to the—Tammy’s treasurer’s report could tell you some really valuable information. So these—every element in this packet, almost every line, is related to a concept or to an accounting theory. And so, it’s a very fun, interactive way for students to learn about accounting when they really don’t think they’re learning about accounting. And we all have this natural sleuthing in us. And so, it really brings out the class.

I’ve been testing the When We Prey Episode One since March, and we’ve tested it with about 600 students, and I’ll show you some results. But before I show you, talk about that, I want to tell you the answer to the question. Now, everyone that you saw in When We Prey, they are actors acting out a true story. I’m going to switch you a little bit, because now you’re going to hear from the actual victims. So, I want you to hear this four-minute clip, and then I’ll talk again.

[Plays clip, then resumes talk.]

Pope: And so, what happened at the screening of All the Queen’s Horses—pastor starts crying in front of about 200 people and shares this story of what happened to her church. So I said, “Come into my office, let’s talk.” And she came to my office and I did a podcast interview with her, because I use all these different types of elements in class, and podcasts make for good out-of-class assignments. And so, as she was telling me her story, I asked her, “Do you have all the documents from your case?” And this case lasted for 10 years, and she said, “I do. They’re at the state’s attorney’s office.” And I said, “Tell the state’s attorney to send me everything.” So I have all these banker boxes in my office, and we used all the real documents to build out everything that you see there. So, we just changed the names. But these are things that students need to be familiar with. They never have really the opportunity to see these things, and so it’s a great opportunity for them to experience it.

So, the purpose is really to blend a couple of things: to blend film, true crime, business theory, and just whodunit fun. You’d be surprised, the competitions that come up and how students start building out these characters.

Anyhow, what you see here on these pictures [shows slide], this is at our focus group at Texas A&M. And there are about 200-plus students in that class, and [they’re] all going through this experience and just talking, and digging, and looking at everything. And so, the goal is really to sharpen their ethical decision-making skills, improve critical thinking, and develop professional skepticism. And it was a pretty large group to facilitate—but great feedback from them.

So, what it does is, it educates and entertains. Most everything I’m talking about relates back to an accounting theory. And specifically, in an introductory accounting class, every chapter has an internal control and fraud chapter. So this blends nicely with that. The financial statements that are in here allow them to start digging. If they want to do some ratio analysis, you can do that. If a professor wants to build a lecture around that, they can. We’ve given them the basis to do that. And it allows you to identify and evaluate fraud.

[Changes slide.] So the goals: Disrupt educational programming and really create lifelong learners and some really great, skeptical people. You just can’t trust. We always say trust is not an internal control. You have to use the evidence, and really use that to build a decision.

[Changes slide.] So, the target market for this is accounting professors, ethics professors, and business programs, to really get people to think differently about teaching and make the classroom environment a learning experience.

[Changes slide.] I’m going to go through this so we can get to the questions. But just to show you how it breaks down: So what you watched was—or what you saw was Season One of When We Prey, and there’s three different components of it. So, what you did was Episode One, “The Mini.” So that’s Episode One. There are two more episodes: Episode Two is called “The Challenge.” Episode Three is called “The Capstone.” So, Episode Two involves One and Two. Two is about auditing. So, with Episode Two, you go through and look at all the auditing procedures that [were] embedded in the church. What did they follow? What didn’t they follow? And you have to go through and assess risk. So this relates to an auditing course. And so when teaching accounting, one of my goals is to make it real, because it can be, and it should be.

So, when we think about “The Mini,” this is where you are. It’s a one session. The estimated time is two hours. I think we had 30 minutes, but you got a flavor for what it is. And this is something that you can do in class, and it’s something that you can assign [for] out of class. Students can watch the film on their own, and they can do this and dig. What I’ve realized is they really get involved, and they really want to comb through and go through every piece. With this episode, you had the website. In Episode Two, there’s an intranet site where you have emails and voicemails from the IRS. So there is a digital component to this, and it builds every episode. You have depositions between Tammy and an attorney. So it lives and breathes.

There’s a website where you can hear the pastor preach, and you can hear the choir sing. And there’s a piece where there’s even a music video, because the singer that you saw, her real name is Sharon Irving. She actually was a semifinalist in America’s Got Talent, Season 10, so she actually has a beautiful voice. So we made a video. Students like to watch that, just because it’s just super cool. I mean, they are not used to experiencing something that lives. So there are, with the website—people read it and they said, “Well, does the website actually work? If I go to it, can I actually click on things?” Absolutely. “If I click this voicemail, am I actually going to hear a voicemail?” Absolutely. So, we overworked the actors. We got every ounce of their talent when we had them, because we needed them. So we thought about the evolution of a character and all the things that a student would think about.

So—that’s an edutainment curriculum.

[Changes slide.] Some of our pilot tests started in March. We started with some DePaul alumni. We went to Texas A&M. In May, we were at the Accounting Student Leadership Workshop, which is sponsored by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. We had 112 participants from universities all over the United States, and they thought it was great because it’s real, and it lives outside the textbook. So, they thought it was fun. The only thing they—the most criticism we ever had was, “We needed more time.” They want more time to comb through everything. But we just did some test results for the word cloud, and some of them say Tammy is who they picked, on discrepancies. You just see some of the things that they attached to. What did you enjoy about it? “It was interesting. It was fun. It was interactive. It was a video. It felt real.”

One of my graduate students, now, said, “It really felt like what a real investigator would do. And it didn’t feel like busywork. I actually wanted to do it. When I came to class, I actually didn’t want to leave. I couldn’t imagine that three hours could go by that fast.” So, just really positive things that you want to hear from your class.

[Changes slide.] What changes would you make? One person said, “Less documents.” “None.” “More case time.” One of the things that we’re thinking about, we’re toying between digitizing it or not. But so many students have said how satisfying it is to circle a piece of paper. You know, and in this, with our digital babies, it’s interesting that they say, “I liked having a financial statement in my hand. I liked feeling like—ha! I found it.” These are their words, not mine. So, we’re trying to find the right balance between what should be digitized versus what stays paper. But, you know, we’re still working through that.

[Changes slide.] This is our team. So you can see, the When We Prey team’s a pretty large team. If you guys follow Chicago weather, we shot this film during the Polar Vortex. And we had scenes outside and it was, what, negative 40-something degrees. All of those people still came. Because when we described to them what we were doing, [that] we’re trying to change and disrupt the way the typical classroom is by using entertainment in a very thought-provoking way—so, all of those people came. This gentleman here—that’s Sharon right here; this gentleman here is Sharon’s dad. He used to play with Miles Davis. So, there’s so many amazing stories with this group that we just love them. And this is our creative team. This is Abby, that’s Jackie. Abby writes for the Times. And the person that sources all of our papers is Sue.

So we have this group of creatives. And what I encourage other professors to do is find people that are outside of what you know. This wouldn’t look like this if everybody there were accountants. [Laughter] It would have a whole different feel to it if everyone were accountants. So I’ve taken an idea and found some incredible people to make it, to blow it up, in a way that students are really enjoying.

So, I want to open it up to questions, and we can talk. And I want to leave plenty of time for you to pick my brain and ask whatever you like.


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