Teaching the introductory courses in any major can be extremely challenging. Often those classes are made up of a group of diverse individuals whose interest and aptitude for the subject can vary greatly across students. In many cases students taking the course are only there to fulfill a general education requirement, for example in the business core classes I teach the typical make up of my students includes 80% non-majors and 20% majors. For my department (accounting), there was a constant struggle to entice more students to enroll and explore additional core classes, let alone major in any of our discipline offerings.
Our department decided to make a change. Armed with the goal of wanting to recruit more students into considering accounting as their major, we made three changes to our core, introductory classes:
1. Move Lectures Outside the Classroom
Students do not all learn at the same pace. Instructors are often faced with the problem of their lecture being too fast for some and too slow for others. To solve this problem, we used an online program (McGraw-Hill Education’s Connect®) to move the lectures outside of class to allow students to tackle them at their own pace.
We used the following Pre-class, Class, and Post-class assignment format:
This format encourages self-paced learning. The graph below plots students’ video lecture time with assessment quiz scores. In this class, students watched 52 lecture videos and took an assessment quiz after watching each video. The video lectures averaged 10 minutes in length (8:40 total time). Notice that most students use considerably more time than 8 hours and 40 minutes to watch the videos with some students spending more than 30 hours watching the videos. What is particularly interesting is that most of the students expended whatever time that was necessary to comprehend the material. This is evidenced by the fact that the majority of the assessment scores appear above the dotted line representing an average pre-class quiz score of 80%. While the time spent watching the lecture videos varied greatly, the majority of students attained the 80% comprehension benchmark.
By letting students take their time and tackle the material at their own pace they understood the material better. Most importantly, though, they weren’t discouraged early in the semester. Students en masse no longer thought that accounting was too difficult or “not for them”.
2. Make it Fun to Come to Class
Moving the lecture outside of class also gave us the time and opportunity to completely redesign what it means to come to class. Our goal was to design a class that students enjoyed attending. We adopted the following format:
- Mini-Lecture – 5-10 minutes mini-lecture: The lecture topics vary from more detail on a difficult topic, to watching a Shark Tank video followed with discussion, or to a business lesson that fosters personal development.
- Review Game – 10 minutes: We use Socrative to allow students to compete in teams on content from the prior class. These review games ensure that students understand last class’s material before moving forward. Small prizes incentivized a friendly competition that students took seriously.
- Drill Quiz – 40 minutes: Students work in teams to complete a quiz drilling concepts covered in that day’s videos. Socrative is used for quiz administration.
Under this format students learn by doing and teaching other students. Our classes soon became extremely active and engaging. Classes become highly attended. Students would also get so involved in the class that staying after class would become the norm.
3. Focus on Content that is Important to All Majors.
Core classes of any discipline often fall into the common trap of teaching to
the major instead of teaching to the subject material. For example, we
recently determined that our introductory financial accounting class focused
heavily on accounting procedure. Unfortunately, focusing on specific
procedures and upper-level nuances alienated the majority of the class. We
also discovered that alienating the majority, many of whom were still
undecided in their future pursuits, negatively impacted our ability to attract
accounting majors in the future. And let’s face it, students are heavily
influenced by their peers. If the majority of the class (i.e. non-majors)
develops an adverse view of accounting and introductory business courses,
their negativity will likely influence the few who would otherwise find the
- Accordingly, we decided to change the focus of our course to topics that are of interest to all majors. It is hard to come up with a good argument for why a marketing major needs to manually record an accounting event using debits and credits. However, almost everyone will agree that all majors need to be able to read financial statements. Recognizing these realities, we altered our introductory curriculum to focus on content that could benefit all majors. . We used clips from “Shark Tank” to help students understand how accounting affects real world decision making. These content changes not only engaged the entire class but also motivated a greater interest in pursuing accounting as a major down the road.
Overall, these three changes have tremendously improved not only the way we teach our courses but have also led to an increased interest from students in pursuing accounting as a career path. With students now enjoying coming to class our drop / withdrawal / failure rate has gone from north of 40% to south of 15%. And Accounting is now the second most popular major at UAB. While we as instructors all feel passionately about what we teach it’s important to take a step back every once and a while and see what can be done to attract students to your discipline. Introductory courses and general education requirements might be the only exposure students have to your discipline, so make sure to think of them when building your curriculum and always be recruiting!