Saturday, July 31, 2010

Know What You Want To Accomplish

At some point, a friend of mine gave me the book “Thinking for a Change.” I’ve read bits and pieces over time but never the whole book. This morning, I picked it up and randomly turned to page 54 where I found one paragraph:

“It doesn’t matter whether you were born rich or poor. It doesn’t matter if you have a third grade education or possess a Ph. D. It doesn’t matter if you suffer from multiple disabilities or you’re the picture of health. No matter what your circumstances, you can learn to be a good thinker. All you must do is be willing to engage in the process every day.”

That is exactly the goal I have for my students—word for word. I want each of them to learn to be a good thinker and I firmly believe you attain that goal by engaging in the process every day. That is how I structure my class and that is what I want to promote and that is what I want to help them accomplish.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Three Opportunities

(1) – If you have read this blog for long, you know that I am a big believer in communications with my students. I want them to understand what I am doing and why I am doing it.

In addition, I’m also a big believer in marketing my course. I think students will work harder if you can convince them that the course is fair and the material provides a true benefit.

Hence, I like for my students to walk in on the very first day of each semester with some amount of knowledge and enthusiasm. If that happens, I think the battle is half won. The building process in terms of their knowledge and interest has already begun.

For that reason, I have already sent the students who have signed up for my fall classes two emails to start “priming the pump.” What I am trying to do is help them realize that they can learn a lot from my course (and enjoy doing it) but only if they are willing to do some serious work and thinking. The benefits outweigh the costs.

If you are interested in this communication strategy and want to see a copy of the two emails that I have already sent out to my Financial Accounting class this summer, send me an email at and I’ll see you those copies by attachment.

You wouldn’t want to use the same emails that I sent out but you might want to adapt them to your own style and goals.

(2) – On Wednesday, August 4, I will be participating in a panel discussion about blogging. If you are going to be attending the national convention of the American Accounting Association in San Francisco, I hope you will come by the presentation and introduce yourself. I would love to meet you and have a chance to chat about teaching or about blogging. It will be from 10:15 a.m. until 11:45 a.m. at the Wyndham Parc 55 Union Square Hotel, on Level Four in a room called Cyril Magnin II

As a result, I do hope to do some blogging while I am at the conference to fill everyone in on what I am learning.

If you want some information on the panelists (who are all bloggers), you can check out the details at:

(3) – Also on Wednesday, August 4, I will be participating in another panel discussion. This one is on innovation in accounting education. The folks who were runners-up for the 2010 Innovation in Accounting Education will be talking about their innovations. Consequently, I am discussing the new free online Financial Accounting textbook that I wrote with CJ Skender of UNC. I am going to bring along a 1925 intermediate accounting textbook and compare it to a 2010 textbook to show how little evolution has taken place and why innovation in textbooks is so desperately needed.

This presentation will be from 4:00 p.m. until 5:30 p.m. at the Hilton Union Square Hotel in San Francisco. It is on the Grand Ballroom Level and is in Grand Ballroom Salon A.

Would love to see you there.

I'm Still Alive (but things might make me laugh myself to death)

Because of the end of the semester, some heath issues (since resolved), working on research, and being a bit burned, I haven't posted anything for several months.

But like one of the best business tacticians of our times says, "Just when I thought I was out... they pull me back in". So I guess this is my "welcome back" post.

I just received a referee's report that made me laugh at its awesomeness. First a bit of background: I sent a paper to a lower-tier journal back in June of 2008. There was no response for over a year, so I sent several emails (and voice mails) to the editor with no response. Finally, getting fed up, back in November, I sent him an email (and follow-up voicemail) asking the editor to withdraw the paper. We subsequently got a revise and resubmit another journal.

Then today I get this from the original journal (i.e. the where I'd withdrawn the paper long ago):
RE: XXXXX and the use of XXX

I have now received a report on your paper in which the referee makes a number of recommendations for improvement. Unfortunately I am unable to accept the paper for publication in its current form. However I would be happy to reconsider the paper if you were to revise it along the lines suggested by the referee. I look forward to your resubmission.

The reviewer's comments are given below.

Referee: 1
Comments to the Author

This paper examines the relationship between XXX and XXX. However, Pearson correlation coefficient that this paper uses is very ordinary. And this often does not measure the non-linear relationship for variables. In addition, the paper does not make the necessary statistical test and analysis to the studying results.
Note: emphasis is mine, and I only changed the relatively few words necessary to protect the guilty.

Yes, that is the sum total of the referee's report. I'd always heard that the main difference between "good" journals and "weak" ones wasn't so much the mean quality of reviewer but the variance. Now I have my own data point.

Next time I will make sure to use "extraordinary" Pearson correlation coefficients and "make the necessary statistical test and analysis to the studying result".

update: I told a friend and former classmate of mine about this, and he suggested that "Outstandingly Bad Referee Reports" would make for a fun session topic at a conference- particularly if we had a journal editor select the panel members. However, he suggested that the entertainment value would be much better if you could somehow ensure that (unbeknownst to each other) both the recipients of the reports and the originators were both on the panel).

But that would be wrong. Funny, but wrong.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

What Do We Add?

Over the last few years, my wife and I have become big fans of the video classes produced by The Teaching Company. Two or three times per week, we will watch a 30 or 45-minute video lecture on art or literature or history or religion prepared by a college teacher. I am amazed by how much I now know about topics that once were totally foreign to me.

In watching these videos, I am occasionally reminded of a question that comes up in colleges now and then: Do we need live instructors? Why don’t we find the very best college teachers and film their classes? Then, put those videos up on the Internet and everyone (or, at least, our students) can learn the material without the need of a classroom or a teacher.

Well, the easy answer to that query is that a college education has to be more than the conveyance of information to a passive student taking notes. So, doesn’t that automatically raise the next question that we need to address as teachers: What are we adding in our classes that goes beyond the conveyance of information to a passive student? If the answer is nothing, then maybe we should all be replaced by videos.

As you get ready for the fall semester, ponder how you are going to add value to your students.
--“I’m going to tell them some interesting stories.” -- A video can tell them hundreds of interesting stories.
--“I’m going to tell them about the history of my discipline.” -- A video can tell them about the history of your discipline.
--“I’m going to walk them step-by-step through the essential core of the disciple.” - A video can walk students through the essential core of the discipline.

Those are all important to a class but they could just as easily be done by a person on video. What are you going to do this coming semester in your classes that a video could not do?

We live in a time when too many people believed that they could not be replaced until they were replaced. My assumption is that if you add real value to a process, you become essential. Otherwise, someone will eventually catch on that you can be replaced.

There are many, many ways that teachers add value to the students in their classes. How will you do that in the coming fall? What will you do that couldn’t be replaced by a video?


I hope you will check out all of my other posts about learning and the education processs at

Friday, July 9, 2010

Five Great Characteristics

I am not sure that any students know exactly what a professor really wants from them. My guess is that if you sent a note to your students for the upcoming fall and simply asked—what do you think I want from the students in this class—you’d get some simplistic answers like “learn the material” or “pass the tests.”

Is that really what you want? It sounds so dull. No wonder students find education boring. No wonder they often put out less than an excellent effort.

If that is not what you want from the students in your class, why not tell them? First, you’ll shock them by your honesty. Second, you’ll take an immediate step toward having them think differently about your class. You might even move them closer to what you really want.

I had a very interesting principles class last spring. Okay, I didn’t have that many A students but the class was just very lively and really got into learning about financial accounting. The discussions were marvelous. I looked forward each day to working with them and I think everyone got a lot out of the class.

I wanted to encourage my upcoming fall class to be just as lively. Maybe it had never occurred to them. So, I sat down a few weeks ago and tried to figure out what characteristics I really wanted. As a result, I sent the following note to all of the students who have signed up for my fall class.

“I had a great principles class last semester. It was a lot of fun. The students were active, engaged, curious, questioning, and thoughtful. When you have students like that, it is unbelievable the amount that can be accomplished in a class. My wish for you and the upcoming semester is that you’ll wind up demonstrating those same five characteristics.”


If you could get a class that demonstrated those five characteristics, wouldn’t you be able to accomplish an almost unlimited amount? Notice that I did not include “smart.” It is nice to have smart students because it makes the job easy but if teaching is really what you want to do in this life, aren’t you better off to have active, engaged, curious, questioning, and thoughtful students than smart ones? Smart students probably don’t really need you.

Why did I tell these five characteristics to my new students? Simple—I wanted them to know walking in the door on the first day that I wanted them to be alive in class and use their brains. I don’t want them to sit there and mindlessly take notes. I want them to know that I have different expectations. I want them excited about their own education because if they get excited, there is no end to what they can accomplish.

I wanted them to know what I wanted even before they had ever met me.

Okay, if you can send emails to your fall students, why not think of the characteristics that you would like for them to display in your class? Then, provide them with that list. It should be no secret.

You may want characteristics that are totally different from mine. That is fine. But, if you really want your students to demonstrate specific characteristics, give them a head start. Just tell them.