Figuring Out if It’s a Good Idea—Constructively

Figuring Out if It's a Good Idea—Constructively
Figuring Out if It's a Good Idea—Constructively
A recent issue of the journal Issues in Accounting Education published teaching statements written by the 2016 winners of the Cook Prize, a national prize that recognizes superior teaching in accounting.  Part of the statement, written by Billie M. Cunningham, who teaches accounting at the University of Missouri, describes how she first approached making changes in her teaching compared with how she handles the change process now. …

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A recent issue of the journal Issues in Accounting Education published teaching statements written by the 2016 winners of the Cook Prize, a national prize that recognizes superior teaching in accounting. Part of the statement, written by Billie M. Cunningham, who teaches accounting at the University of Missouri, describes how she first approached making changes in her teaching compared with how she handles the change process now. In the beginning, she used what she called a “seat of the pants” approach, “trying new activities and strategies because they intuitively seemed more logical, they were theoretically ‘supposed' to work, or they appeared to work in other educators' classes” (p. 5). If they didn't work, she stopped using them. She writes that her enthusiasm for new strategies meant she often incorporated several in the same course. And although each had great potential (she reports feeling that in her gut), with more than one being used in the same course, if there were improvements, she didn't know to which strategy she should attribute those improvements. “In the past decade, or so, I have become more measured and analytical in my approach to change ...” (p. 5). Now she relies on “action research.”  After selecting and implementing some sort of change, she triages “different measures—exam results, course evaluations, classroom participation, clicker results—to determine if, together, the measures support the that the change is moving students toward a specific goal, whether that goal is a better classroom environment, better student engagement, or better learning and understanding on the part of my students” (p. 5). Action research provides her with feedback on specific details, and that enables her to make more, often small, changes, tweaking the strategy so that it works better for more students. Previously, without that information, if something failed or didn't work very well, she'd just scrap it. She includes a great example of her first experiences using graded clicker questions during class sessions. There were some technical difficulties and complaints from students about how they felt they were being “forced” to attend class. But she also found out from her action research data collection that students liked some aspects of the clicker quiz questions (the immediate feedback and seeing how other students fared on the question) and that they thought those features were helping them learn. She was able to make informed choices that refined and improved her use of this strategy. In general, teachers do need to grow into more systematic and thoughtful ways of approaching the change process. Too often we hear a good idea, decide to try it, and then assess how well it worked with those gut feelings. We do not collect data. We do not look at objective measures. We come to quick and global conclusions—it worked or it did not work. If it did not work, well, it could be the strategy, could be the students, or it could be us, but no matter, we will not use it again. There are better ways—ones with more potential to grow our effectiveness as teachers and ones more likely to promote learning for students. Reference:  Editorial (2017). Summaries of the teaching domain statement of the 2015 and 2016 Cook Prize Winners. Issues in Accounting Education, 32 (2), 1–15.