I have long argued that students will always do much better in any class if they feel a sense of urgency. The only question is whether that urgency needs to be externally driven or whether the students can be expected to create it for themselves.
As many of you will know, Professor Beresford served as the chairman of FASB (Financial Accounting Standards Board) from 1987 until 1997. Since that time, he has been the Ernst & Young Executive Professor of Accounting in the J. M. Tull School of Accounting at the Terry College of Business at the University of Georgia. Over the years, he has held an unbelievable number of other prominent positions in the business and accounting world.
Professor Beresford writes here about his own undergraduate education and the method by which his accounting professor at the University of Southern California created that essential sense of urgency in his students. I only have a few quick comments.
(1) – I would bet that the students walked into Professor James’ class each day extremely well prepared and, as a result, learned a ton about accounting. He certainly understood motivation. I just hope that none of the students had a nervous breakdown.
(2) – Although this method of teaching seems a bit harsh, do note that it successfully created one of the most influential accountants of the past 50 years: Dennis Beresford. You cannot argue against that outcome. I do not know what happened to all of the other students after graduation but this method worked extremely well in one case.
(3) – Faculty members often complain that students have changed over the years (they have gotten soft and lazy). From this account, maybe it is not the students who have changed but rather the faculty members who have changed. Perhaps faculty members were once more willing than today to put these kinds of demands on their students.
From Professor Dennis Beresford:
“I enjoyed your latest teaching blog, ‘There Will Be No Quiz.’ It reminded me of my own experience at USC where the professor who taught my two Intermediate classes and one Advance class had a policy of never announcing any of his exams (except for the final, of course). Yes, I meant to say exams and not just quizzes. So we came to class each period not knowing whether we would have a lecture and discussion of homework problems on the assigned topic or the entire period would be devoted to an exam. He announced this policy at the beginning of the semester and the students would start to anticipate an exam if we hadn’t had one for some time. But we never knew whether it might be in the fifth week, the seventh week, or so on. I can’t recall if we know how many interim exams we would have during the semester but I believe it was at least a couple before the final.
“Most students were aghast at this policy but I actually thought it was great. That’s because I was never a ‘study all night before the exam’ type of guy. I worked my way through school and almost always spent at least 20 hours at my outside job. But besides that it’s always been my approach to keep up to date with my classes or other obligations. I figured that if I didn’t read the materials and work the problems while they were fresh in mind I was losing the opportunity to take advantage of what I had heard in class and wouldn’t be able to ask timely questions to reinforce the material right away. I’m sure there were times when I went back to try to review things for an exam but not too many. I just tried hard to learn things well the first time around so I wouldn’t have to re-learn them again later. That served me particularly well in Professor James’ classes and it’s worked pretty well throughout my career too!”