Motivation in the First Accounting Course

By Kimberly Gee Turner, Vance P. Lesseig, and John G. Fulmer, Jr.

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MAY 2006 - In any undergraduate business curriculum, the first accounting course has several purposes. Most important, it introduces potential business and accounting majors to a new body of knowledge. The first course is also a recruiting tool for the accounting profession.

Because the first course is usually taken by both accounting and nonaccounting majors, one of the challenges is finding the appropriate balance of material for both groups. Another challenge is motivation, because not all freshmen and sophomores recognize the importance of the course, and many lack enthusiasm.

There is evidence that both accounting and nonaccounting students do not perceive much value from the first accounting course (Clement C. Chen, Keith T. Jones, and D. David McIntyre, “The First Course: Students’ Perceptions of Introductory Accounting,” The CPA Journal, March 2004). Both groups are unconvinced that the course will help them succeed in their careers. The proper motivation will help change this perception and make the course more effective.

Many agree that motivating students is a primary task of educators. Most also agree that there is no motivational “magic bullet” (Kenneth Cox, “Motivating Students for Lifelong Learning,” Web Tools Newsletter, July 2000). Furthermore, it has been suggested that whatever level of motivation students bring to the classroom is transformed, for better or worse, by what happens in the classroom (Barbara Gross Davis, Tools for Teaching, Jossey-Bass, 1993).

The authors sought to determine if motivation can be increased by showing the relevance of the course material to a student’s main concentration of study, whether it was accounting, another business area, or a nonbusiness area. This motivational tool is based on the presumption that the more that students believe they will apply accounting concepts in their careers, the greater their interest and enthusiasm for the course. The results were encouraging and showed that relating accounting concepts to chosen professions clearly enhances the learning process, and makes accounting more interesting and relevant to accounting majors and other business and nonbusiness students.

The Motivational Tool and Process

Two introductory accounting classes, taught by the same professor, were compared. One class was taught in a traditional manner and the second by using career-usage topics. The professor selected career-usage topics that relate the concepts in the introductory course to each student’s chosen discipline. Exhibit 1 lists these topics.

The students were organized into groups of four, based on their majors. In the career-usage class, there were three groups of management students, two groups of marketing students, one group each of accounting, finance, and entrepreneurship students, and two groups of nonbusiness majors.

Two types of evidence were used to judge the effectiveness of the motivational tool. First, some statistical analysis was undertaken, and second, anecdotal evidence was recorded by the professor. It was particularly important to discover if this motivational tool affected the following:

  • Class excitement about accounting and its usefulness
  • Students’ eagerness to learn
  • The percentage of students that drop the class
  • The number of students that change their major to accounting
  • Class grades
  • Class attendance
  • The percentage of students that submit homework assignments
  • The percentage of students who take tests on time
  • Class participation, including questions asked in class
  • Students’ requests for assistance outside of class.

Quantitative Findings

The overall class performance was examined by analyzing the students’ grades in the two classes. The average grade point average (GPA) for the traditional class was 2.5; for the career-usage class it was 2.8. While this finding is interesting, there are many factors that impact performance in any class. To control for some of these factors, a statistical analysis was undertaken of the grades earned in each class.

The results showed that even after controlling for various student characteristics, the career-usage class performed better than the traditional class. The evidence is positive and significant. Based on the results, it became clear that something had an impact on the students in the career-usage class, and it may have been the motivational tool.

In addition to overall class grades, the authors analyzed whether the proportion of students receiving a grade of C or better differed between the two classes. In the traditional class, the proportion that received a C or better was 56.82%, while the career-usage’s class was 73.33%, a noteworthy difference.

The student drop rates for the two courses were also compared. This is of interest because a lower drop rate could signify that the class was more interesting or that students thought they had a greater chance of success in the class. The traditional class experienced a drop rate of 13.64%, while 2.22% dropped the career-usage class. The lower drop rate for the career-usage class may indicate greater interest in the subject, a finding supported by the anecdotal evidence.

Anecdotal Evidence

The professor kept a weekly diary of student interest and activities. The results are presented in Exhibit 2. All evidence points to class attendance for regular classes and tests being higher in the career-usage class. In addition, more students submitted homework and put in extra time to get it correct. Moreover, the professor thought that students in the career-usage class were more eager to learn, that class participation was of higher quality, and that out-of-class sessions were more frequent and productive. Interestingly, two of the 44 students in the career-usage class changed their major to accounting.

A Successful Motivation

It is generally agreed that motivation has an effect on student performance and learning. Both the quantitative and the anecdotal results were encouraging. They indicate that tying accounting concepts to career applications can be used successfully in an introductory accounting class. The more that students realize accounting concepts can be applied in their careers, the greater their interest and motivation will be in the class, as well as in the accounting profession and business in general. When a professor works to combine accounting concepts with usage in a student’s career, the benefits are positive and rewarding.

Kimberly Gee Turner, MBA, is an assistant professor of accounting in the department of accounting and finance at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Chattanooga, Tenn.
Vance P. Lesseig, PhD, is an assistant professor of finance at Texas State University–San Marcos, San Marcos, Texas.
John G. Fulmer, Jr., PhD, is a First Tennessee Professor and Associate Dean in the department of accounting and finance at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Chattanooga, Tenn.




















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