Showing posts from February, 2010

Thinking About Teaching

Thanks for passing along our blog address to others who are serious about teaching. ** You may have seen the video below (it is four minutes long). It had a lot of impact on me when I was creating our new Financial Accounting textbook. The video was apparently created by the students you see and really made me think about the state of education today. As far as I am concerned, education is expensive and, too often, both boring and inefficient. I wanted to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem. As a result, I helped design and create this new type of Financial Accounting textbook. ** As I have mentioned previously, a few years ago I wrote a free on-line teaching tips book ( ). I was lucky, a few people read it and told other people and then I got a very nice review in the Chronicle of Higher Education. As a result, I started getting emails from around the world about tea

It's Exam TIme

I'm writing the semester's first exam for my fixed income class. As usual, I'm not looking forward to the grading (this time, I am NOT giving them any short answer questions - their answers are anything but). I'm hoping at least one of my students can come up with an answer like one of these: 21 seriously funny exam answers For some reason I found this one (#18) particularly amusing. But you can choose your own:

What Do You Need to Know?

Whether you are teaching history, biology, or accounting, there is always the question of how you wrap up a chapter or unit of coverage. Do you just stop or do you try to bring the material together in some type of logical order for the students? Yesterday in class I did something new (even after 39 years) which seemed to work well. I posed the following question to my students: “Assume you are desperately looking for a summer job. A local business calls you in and says that the person who monitors their accounts receivable is going to be on leave over the summer and they need someone to take care of those accounts for a couple of months until that person gets back. They want to make sure that the accounts are appropriate because they have an August 31 year-end and need to have everything ready at that time so financial statements can be prepared. “A person comes in to interview you for this job and asks one simple question: ‘I know you have had a course in financial accounti

Professor's Epic Email Response To a Tardy And Entitled Student

Like most faculty, students coming late to class bothers me - it disrupts the class, interrupts my train of thought, and in general causes a negative externality. In previous years, the problem seems to have gotten worse - in some classes, 15% would wander in after class has started. So this semester, I borrowed a page from a colleague's book. He teaches law for our B-School, and is a former partner for a major Wall Street Law firm. He's very formal in class, is known throughout the school as a fantastic professor, and a bit of a hardass (formal, but a hardass). So now, whenever a student walks into class late, I merely stop talking in mid sentence. I then quietlty wait until the student is seated. At this point, they're usually embarrassed. I continue waiting they have their book AND pencil out. Of course, the spotlight on them makes them extremely uncomfortable. I don't ream them, don't make any faces, comments, or do anything else - merely ask &q

I'm Still Here

As several readers have noted, I haven't been posting much lately. Mostly, I've been working - trying to get ahead in my classes, working on research, and in general keeping a low profile. So, here's a brief update on things. As usual, I've been juggling a couple of projects. One is (finally) just about done - it's been going on for a couple of years now, but the end is in sight. With luck (and, more important, some discipline), it should be done in the next couple of weeks. And then it'll get sent out to the Journal of Banking and Finance (not a top-tier journal, but pretty good). Then I work on another piece that will get sent to Financial Management (about at the same level). Meanwhile, I'm also working on an accounting piece that will be sent to the Journal of Accounting, Auditing, and Finance. SO, with a bit of luck, I should shortly have three pieces under review at pretty decent journals. Meanwhile, in the last two weeks, I've received th

Jello Knowledge

If you are a college teacher and would like to request a desk copy of my new Financial Accounting textbook, go to the following URL and you can see where to click. ** In my financial accounting class yesterday, we introduced accounts receivable. We walked through bad debts, the allowance for doubtful accounts, recording the estimation, and the like. It went extremely well; the class seemed to catch on to the concepts. They had what I call “head nodding disease;” for everything we talked about, they nodded their heads in agreement and understanding. That always scares me to death. I think the learning process often breaks down at certain critical times. If you want to improve a student’s performance, you have to identify and attack those points. Right after class is one of the most critical. Students frequently complain that they knew the material until they took the test and, then, almost by magic, their understanding va

When Do You Cover the SEC?

When a person decides to write a textbook for an introductory course, determining the content of that book becomes a serious responsibility. For probably 90 percent of the students, this will be their one and only exposure to the subject matter. What you include and exclude will—to an extent—determine the knowledge all of those people will carry with them after college. If you leave out a topic, literally thousands of students may never gain any knowledge of its significance. I have always believed that everyone who takes a financial accounting course should develop some general understanding of “the world of accounting” by the end of the semester. I believe that an educated person needs to understand the role of the U. S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the independent audit function. I don’t want to beat the topic to death but I feel that a financial accounting course has to be more than just the creation and analysis of financial statements. Up until this year, I ha

How Hard Should the First Test Be?

I gave my first test in Financial Accounting on Friday (if anyone wants to receive a copy, send me a note at ). I thought it was a very challenging test and I am reminded of the psychological impact of every first test. I give three tests and a final exam during a semester because I want students to have plenty of opportunity to show me what they have learned. However, I understand the special importance of the first test. It can shake the confidence of the best student. It can bolster the confidence of the most timid student. If I make the first test too easy, I worry that my students will feel that I have set the bar fairly low and that less work will be necessary to succeed. If I make the first test too hard, I worry that my students will feel overwhelmed. Everyone likes a challenge but only as long as they feel that success is not impossible to achieve. What are my goals on any test? I want the students to feel it was fair. I want the students

The Essentials

I believe that every course—whether Accounting or Zoology or anything in between—contains a number of true essentials that all students should learn (and learn well). Once a student knows these essentials, they can serve as building blocks to help that student develop a deeper and more complex understanding. Without an adequate knowledge of these essentials, it is really hard to learn anything more complicated. Students who struggle in my course often do so because their knowledge of the essentials is shaky. Therefore, in my class, I strongly push knowledge of the essentials. To do this, I suggest that my students make a list of “three second questions” for every chapter. A “three-second question” is one that is so basic that they should be able to read it, count to three, and give the answer off the top of their heads. In fact, I suggest that they make these into flash cards, with a “three-second question” on one side and the answer on the back. Then, as they study, the

An Epiphany

By now, everyone who reads this blog probably understands that I teach by means of the Socratic Method. I give a list of 3-8 questions one day which serve as “conversation starters” for the next class. In addition, our brand new Financial Accounting textbook (published by FlatWorldKnowledge) is written entirely in a Socratic Method fashion. A question is posed followed by an answer followed by the next logical question and so on. When this process works perfectly, it is because of the questions. You must ask the proper question in order to create an environment for discovery. How do you develop those questions? Don’t the questions have to be something more than “when did Columbus discover America?” or “who won the Civil War?” I had never thought much about the creation of questions until a few years ago. Then, I had an epiphany. I was reading the wonderful book “What the Best College Teachers Do” by Dr. Ken Bain. Dr. Bain and his team selected a group of outstanding c

Is This Really Worth Learning?

It is helpful for a teacher to look at school from the perspective of a student. From the time they first enter kindergarten, each teacher will tell the students that this new subject is truly important for them to know. However, not every subject can possibly prove to be immediately significant to every student. Consequently, they learn to be skeptical (very skeptical). From algebra to zoology, students are told that everything is important but often there is no evidence of that in their own world. That is why teachers often must fall back on grades as an artificial way to force importance: “this material is important to you because it is going to be on a test and affect the grade you will get.” For that reason, when they enter your class, in the back of their mind is the gnawing suspicion: accounting rules are probably not very important regardless of what the teacher is going to tell me. I try to, at least, put a dent that skepticism as quickly as possible. After th

You Can Teach Old Dogs New Tricks

Beside of my computer, I keep a magazine article from the October 30, 2006, edition of Fortune . The article is titled “What It Takes to Be Great.” I have one small part of that article circled and I read it frequently: “In virtually every field of endeavor, most people learn quickly at first, then more slowly, and then stop developing completely. Yet a few do improve for years and even decades.” I want very much to be in that second group and not in the first. I want to be the type of teacher who never stops developing. I know plenty of teachers who continue to teach exactly as they did 5, 10, 15 years ago. I have taught now for 39 years, I want to keep improving. My guess is that you would not be reading this blog if you didn’t share my goal of getting better. One of the neatest things I learned about teaching happened a mere 3 years ago. Did not occur to me for 36 years and then, suddenly, I came up with an idea that has helped my students. Every day I give my stu

Please Note

I have enjoyed all of the conversation that has been generated by the January 31 posting “How You Test Is How They Will Learn.” If you want to read the comments or chime in, just click on “Comments” at the bottom of the post. I think a lot of professors fail to consider adequately what a significant impact their testing strategy has on student learning. I’m always interested in people’s thoughts, especially when it comes to tests and grades. Feel free to let us know your thoughts.

Should You Teach Debits and Credits?

Just a Reminder: If you want to review our new (free, online) Financial Accounting textbook, you can go to -- check out how a textbook can be written entirely in the Socratic Method (and watch my videos). ** I started discussing debits and credits yesterday with my students. I hope to complete the coverage tomorrow. I know some great teachers who believe that double-entry bookkeeping should not be taught in a financial accounting class. They feel that the focus needs to be solely on understanding the information that is reported. I know other equally great teachers who believe that no person can claim to have taken a basic financial accounting course without some understanding of debits and credits. When an author sets out to write any textbook, a lot of critical decisions have to be made. For financial accounting, one of the first is: should bookkeeping with its debits, credits, journal entries, and T-accounts