Showing posts from January, 2010

How You Test Is How They Will Learn

Quick Announcement: If you want to see our new (free, online) Financial Accounting textbook, you can go to -- heck, start reading and get an accounting education. You can check out the Socratic Method and watch my videos. See how many of embedded exercises you can answer. ** No matter what students or faculty tell you, students learn based on how they are tested and graded. Too many teachers tell students “I do not want you to memorize; I want you to understand.” Then, they test memorization. The grapevine in college is strong. If your tests emphasize memorization, then every student will know that by the third day in class and they will react accordingly. So, ask yourself what your complaint is about your students (it is hard to have a perfect class; I assume you will have some complaints). Then, ask yourself whether there is something that you can do through the testing process to fix that complaint.

Book Is Now Available

Okay this is not really a blog posting but just a quick announcement. If you are teaching at a college or university and would like to get a hardcopy version of the new Financial Accounting textbook that I have written with C. J. Skender of UNC, please send an email to It is hot off the presses and ready for your consideration. And, in case you want to see exactly how I have spent the last three years of my life doing, here is a short promo letter that I wrote this morning about this new textbook. I have long been frustrated with textbooks on the market, especially at the introductory level when students are first being exposed to accounting. To me, the “traditional” textbook is (a) too expensive, (b) too boring, and (c) too confusing. Without a textbook that guides students through the material and helps build their interest, it is difficult for any teacher to have a successful classroom experience. In this time of rapid technological innovatio

Renewing the Energy Level

Today was moving day here in my classes at the University of Richmond. I find that after about 2-3 weeks even the most enthusiastic student starts to get a bit lethargic. There is something about every day looking the same that eventually gets to be a grind. And, learning is never efficient if it feels like a grind. So, when I sense a drain in the energy level of my students, I come in and move everyone in class around. I have a seating chart so I just print up a new one and move the students around in a random fashion. I move the ones on the left to the right and the ones on the front to the back and so on. Usually, I feel an immediate surge of enthusiasm. All of a sudden, things feel new again. It won’t last forever but for another 2-3 weeks, they should do better. In addition, I want the students to get to know the people in class other than just their friends. I think that should be a goal of every college class. Moving them around helps that. I also want to see

Preparing for Obama's SOTU Address

I might tune into the SOTU (State Of The Union) address tonight. Unfortunately, I have to watch the Unknown Kids (unknown Wife has a girls night out). If I weren't, I might be willing to try one of the following SOTU drinking games: From the Huffington Post From the San Francisco Chronicle From the New York Daily News But, since I have to watch the kids (and I want to have a liver once I'm 60), I guess I'll just have to content myself with SOTU Bingo .

What Do You Want On Your Tombstone?

It is early in the semester so I want to ask you to consider a question. Several years ago, Tombstone Pizza ran a series of television ads that asked the question “What do you want on your tombstone?” Although the company was trying to sell their pizzas, the ads also made people think about how they wanted to be remembered. Not a bad question to ponder. When I give teaching presentations, I often ask the members of my audience to write down in one or two sentences exactly how they would like to be remembered by their students. My point to them is that you cannot be the type of teacher you want to be unless you really know how you want to be remembered. Afterwards, I’ve had dozens of people tell me they had never thought of the question until I asked it and, then, it really made them think about their teaching from a new perspective. Several years ago, the seniors here at the University of Richmond were holding an awards ceremony and they voted me “the most feared professor in th

R.I.P. Mark Bertus (12/21/1971 - 1/26/2010)

A serious and sad note today - Mark Bertus (a finance prof at Auburn University) passed away early this morning at the age of 38 after a long battle with cancer. He leaves behind a wife and three children, and is now pain free and in the presense of Joy Himself Those of you who knew him can read the story of his last couple of years as chronicled by his wife Rhonda at their blog . I was fortunate to have known Mark these last few years. He was fun to hang around with at conferences, always quick with a laugh and a wisecrack (upon hearing that the Unknown Wife was pregnant, he immediately said "Congratulations - who's the father?"), and absolutely in love with his wife and kids. He was also an amazing teacher - just read a few of the comments at their blog, and you'll quickly get a sense as to how much his students loved him. For those who knew him, here's some info from the blog: The funeral will be held 10 a.m. this Friday morning at St. Michaels Catholic Ch

Moral Hazard and Conventional Wisdom

Was moral hazard, in the form of expectations of a bailout, responsible for the reckless behavior that led to the banking crisis? James Surowiecki argues , quite convincingly I think, that the moral hazard argument is overrated: In order to believe that the banks engaged in reckless behavior because they assumed that if they got into trouble, the government would bail them out, you have to believe not only that financial institutions thought it would be fine if their share prices were driven down to near-zero as long as they were rescued in the end. You also have to believe that the banks knew that what they were doing was reckless, and that there was a meaningful chance that it would wreck their companies, but decided that it was still worth doing because if everything went south, the government would step in. And that, even before Dimon’s comment yesterday, always seemed improbable, because all of the accounts of the banks’ behavior in the years leading up to the crisis suggest that

The Regulator's Dilemma

If there’s one idea that has achieved consensus over the past few months, it is that regulators were asleep at the switch as the credit bubble inflated. A better regulatory system would have preempted the bubble, precluded the need for bank bailouts, and saved the world much misery. If only it were that easy! Imagine that you are the regulator in charge of the banking industry. What are your aims? Well, on the one hand you want to prevent ‘unwarranted’ bank runs. An unwarranted bank run is one in which the bank did nothing wrong, and is actually well-capitalized, but due to ‘irrational’ investor panic faces a potentially life-threatening short-term funding gap. Preventing unwarranted bank runs is what lies behind well-known CB catchphrases such as “contagion”, “systemic risks”, “lender of last resort”, and “too big to fail”. On the other hand, you as the regulator are (moderately) in favor of ‘warranted’ bank runs. If a bank does something stupid, it should pay. Depositors shou

Critical Points in the Learning Process

Author’s Note: Before I get started today, I wanted to mention a note that I received from Professor David Albrecht. I am always pleased to pass along information that might help in better teaching. From David: I've been blogging for a while. My blog is at On my blog, a have a page of links http://profalbrecht.wordpress/com/links/ for all other accounting professors that blog. You might be interested. ** I have long believed that there are three critical points in the learning process: (1) what students do prior to class to prepare themselves to learn, (2) what takes place during class, and (3) what happens immediately after class to help the students solidify the material that they have just heard and discussed. If I were to guess, I would think that teachers spend about 10 percent of their time and energy on helping

Making Sure the Message Gets Through

A mere 45 years ago, I was on my high school debate team. I still remember the wonderful lady who was our coach. At the first meeting of the season, she said something that I have never forgotten: “When you say something, you know exactly what you mean so it sounds clear as glass to you. However, no one else can see inside of your head so even the simplest message can slip by your listeners as they try to catch up with and organize your words. Always remember, there are three steps in getting your message across to your audience: tell them what you are going to tell them, then tell it to them, and then tell them what you told them.” I think every teacher could benefit from that guidance. We often say something that sounds as clear as glass to us and then wonder why our students fail to comprehend. When I started to write my Financial Accounting textbook (for, I was disturbed by how poorly students seem to understand what they had read. I wanted to


I don't discuss it much on the blog, but those of you who know me know that I'm a bit of a political junkie. So, I've been watching the goings on in the Massachusetts Senate race the last few weeks. I grew up in a neighboring state, and was fed a regular serving of Kennedy media in my younger years. So, to see a Republican senator elected to Ted Kennedy's old seat is nothing short of amazing. By all accounts, Brown did as masterful a job of campaigning as Coakley did a horrendous one. It should make for interesting times the next few weeks as the Democrats decide what to do as far as the Health Care plan is concerned. This may be the death knell for it. Time will tell.

Stepping Stones

When I wrote my free on-line teaching tips book ( ), I compared the education process to walking across a pond on stepping stones. The student is trying to go from ignorance to understanding and the teacher plays many roles in this process. Two of the most important are (a) placing those stones in a logical sequence that best guides and promotes the learning and (b) helping the student get from one stone (concept) to the next—especially in areas that can be difficult for a person with limited (often very limited) knowledge. Early in the semester, at least in my Financial Accounting class, I do a lot of thinking about sequencing. In an introductory class, students know little or nothing. They can get lost and frustrated very quickly and lose interest or confidence. I believe that many textbooks do not do a particular good job in the sequencing of material in the early chapters. In general, here is the sequencing that I have been tryi

Fun With Faculty Parking

I was watching the Unknown Baby Boy today while the Unknown Wife went to physical therapy (she recently threw her back out - luckily, it's gotten better). So, I got to my office later than expected. When I did, it was raining a bit, and the faculty lot behind my building was full. Then I saw one car (a bright red Mustang convertible without a faculty sticker) that took up two spaces. That's right - it's raining, he/she didn't have a sticker, and had taken up two spaces in a lot that they didn't even belong in - thereby ensuring that at least two people who belonged there could use the lot. So, I wrote them this little note (suitably wrapped so it wouldn't get soaked): Sorry about denting your car. I tried several times to park in the next space to your left, but it was very tight. I think I hit your rear bumper on the corner, and I might have scratched the paint a bit (but it was hard to tell, since it was raining a bit). Then i tried in the space to

What Are You Seeing?

We had our third class this afternoon. By now, my students have a feel (I hope) for the need to use financial accounting information to make decisions. Today, I told them that the numbers they are seeing are presented fairly in accordance with US generally accepted accounting principles. We discussed what that could possibly mean. Why are reported numbers not absolutely correct in every situation? What is the role of generally accepted accounting principles and who creates this GAAP? What would be the result if there were no rules, if GAAP did not exist? (I always view this as an essential question in understanding the importance of rules.) Immediately after class, I sent them the following email. Especially over a week-end, I like to link the class that they just had to the one that they will next have. “Here is the opening question for Monday's class. In its financial information for 2009, Apple reported sales of $36,537,000,000. What can we say with confidence about

Great Video of The Unknown Baby Boy (And Some FMA Stuff)

I'm grateful that the Unknown Baby Boy has a good disposition. He laughs easily and often, and is generally a happy kid most of the time. Here's a short clip (luckily, he gets his looks from his mother). The quality is pretty poor because I took it with my cell phone, but it give you an idea. The other kid you hear is the Unknown Daughter. Enjoy. On a work related note, looks like one paper's already been submitted to FMA (it helps having good coauthors who do most of the work). I'm still working on the second one, and hope to be done by early evening. Of course, that means I'll probably still be in my office at 11 pm like I was last night - Groan! Updated 8:00 p.m. : The second paper is done and submitted. Of course, at the very end, Acrobat refused to print it (there was something wrong with the version of Acrobat on my system). Luckily a colleague of mine also didn't have a life and was working late also, and it worked on his computer. Murphy neve

A Balancing Act

Yesterday afternoon, we had our second Financial Accounting class. I thought it went well. Guiding an introductory level course is a balancing act at the very beginning of the semester as you try to accomplish basic goals: creating a foundation of knowledge that can be built on throughout the semester while also helping students to understand why the material is both beneficial and interesting. No one wants lost students so you have to make sure that they start to learn the basics sooner rather than later. However, no one wants bored and uninterested students either so you must provide a rationale for doing the necessary work. That can be a real balancing act. I am always intrigued to read the first few pages of a Financial Accounting textbook. Some seem to push students so fast that they must surely get lost, confused, and frustrated while others go so slowly that you wonder if anything is actually learned and whether the students are able to stay awake. Yesterday, I sta

Ongoing Contact

Students today commonly use Twitter and Facebook and, therefore, they receive lots of information on a regular basis. Information comes to them in small bits many times each day. Therefore, the 48 to 72 hours between class meetings can seem like an eternity. It is little wonder that students often seem incapable of remembering what took place in the previous class meeting. The amount of correspondence they have received in the interim is probably massive. I don’t use Twitter because I can’t write anything in 140 characters but I use email A LOT. I want to keep the students engaged in the period between my classes. I want them to think about Financial Accounting every day not just when they are walking into class. The emails that I send to my students vary enormously from motivational to practice questions to simply informational. I often ask the students about these emails in class so they know they need to read them. Yesterday was our first class where we discussed ow


The deadline for submissions to the FMA (Financial Management Association, our national association) national conference is this Friday. I'm trying to get two papers done - one in which I do the data analysis and hand it off to my coauthor for the writeup and another where the reverse happens (she analyzes and hands off to me). Last week I thought I was in good shape. Uh oh - I spoke too soon. First, this weekend when no one is around, my office computer gets cut off from the Internet by the University IT department - they said I had a virus. So, for the weekend I used my laptop for interned access (some citations and work on WRDS), and kept running analysis on my desktop - it has two screens and a lot more power. Come Monday morning my college's IT guy (who is fantastic, BTW) said he'd look at it. So, I backed up all the relevant stuff for the two papers to a portable hard drive and started working on my notebook. I figure he'd scan the hard drives and give it ba

Getting Off To A Good Start

I held my first Financial Accounting class of the semester today. My classes are 50 minutes long and half of that time must be used up on the first day going through the course outline to make sure everyone knows the mechanical stuff. Consequently, we only got in about 25 minutes of real accounting today. When I started discussing financial accounting, I opened with the following question: “I was listening to National Public Radio yesterday morning and some expert made the assertion ‘I think 2010 will be a great year for Apple.’ On hearing this, I said to myself ‘now, that is really interesting’ and started to smile.” Why would such an innocuous statement have any effect on me at all?” Because I had sent out information from the textbook 2-3 weeks ahead, I wasn’t surprised that the first student asserted: “you will start thinking about the possibility of buying some of the ownership shares of Apple so that you can benefit from the company’s upcoming good year?” That lead to


My first Financial Accounting class of the new semester is tomorrow. I am prepared. I am excited. After 40 years, it is nice to feel such anticipation. My goal for the first class is to convince the student that financial accounting is really important to them (regardless of their major), help them understand the topic in terms of the conveyance of financial information to decision-makers, and start helping them to understand that it is actually all quite interesting. In my classes, normally about 11 percent to 24 percent of the students earn the grade of A. I like for the percentage to be small enough to feel really special, a genuine challenge. However, I also want the grade to seem attainable with a reasonably strong effort. I am a big believer that students believe other students (“the grapevine”) much more than they will ever believe any teacher. So, at the end of each semester, I send an email to the students who make the grade of A in my class. First, I want to

Student Preparation/Student Engagement -- The Socratic Method

(In case you are interested, information about the textbook that C. J. Skender and I wrote and which is the basis for this course and this blog, just go to: . It is written entirely in a Socratic Method format which I think will aid student reading and understanding.) In 1991, after I had taught for 18 years, I became disenchanted with the effectiveness of my teaching. When my students prepared for class, they became actively involved in their education and seemed able to understand the points I wanted to make no matter how complex. When they were not prepared, they fell into the role of stenographers and were forced to rely on memorization. Even small points were beyond their understanding. I came to believe, as I still do, that student preparation was the primary key to a higher level of student learning. But how could I get my students to prepare consistently? Not just skim the chapter but actually think about the m

Creating the First Impression that You Want

I am a big believer that you need to set the tone that you want for a class right at the beginning. That first impression forms a foundation that you can build on throughout the semester. I am lucky at the University of Richmond for two reasons. One – I have been here for 30 years so I already have a reputation. I imagine that most of the students that I will have starting on Monday would say this about me: “I hear that he is a good teacher but I hear that he is very challenging and really wants you to learn; I imagine that I am going to have to work hard this semester.” I believe teachers should think about the reputations they are building because students will live up (or down) to what they have heard about you and your class. Two – The University of Richmond provides us with email addresses for our students and I have already sent them three emails getting them ready. I want my students to understand what I expect right from the first day. I want to set the tone righ

Introduction -- Teaching (Financial Accounting)

My name is Joe Hoyle and I am on the faculty of the Robins School of Business at the University of Richmond. I am half-way through my 39th year as a college professor. During that time, I have been fortunate enough to win a few teaching awards. Most notably, I was named the 2007 Virginia Professor of the Year by CASE (the Council for Advancement and Support of Education). In addition, in 2006, Business Week named me “One of 22 Favorite Undergraduate Business School Professors in the United States.” I also manage to make 3-4 teaching presentations each year in locations that range from Las Vegas to Tampa to Philadelphia. In January of 2010, FlatWorldKnowledge will publish a Financial Accounting textbook that I wrote along with C. J. Skender of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. We have worked on this book now for over three years. During that time, we spent a considerable amount of time thinking about teaching and student learning. --How do you engage students

Yale Students Are Sissies

British theologian and satirist Malcolm Muggeridge once remarked that it's difficult being a satirist. You work so hard to put someone into a ridiculous situation, and then they go ahead and do something far stranger and dumber than anything you could have come up with. Yale undergrads provided the latest illustration of Muggeridge's point. Here's the article from the Yale Daily News (The Game refers to the annual Yale/Harvard football game, which is their biggest rivalry): The Freshman Class Council has run into controversy with its T-shirts for The Game. The FCC has decided to change the design of its shirts after the original design, which was submitted by students and voted on by the freshman class, sparked outcry from members within the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community. But after the LGBT Cooperative and other students raised concerns about the design — which contained the word “sissies” — administrators asked the FCC to reconsider. FCC representati

Gotta Love That Global Warming

I just shoveled another 6 inches of global warming off my driveway. I blame Al Gore. On a more serious note, here's wishing you a Happy New Year to one and all. May the best that you saw in 2009 be the worst that you'll see in 2010.