To be successful as an auditing professional, students must learn to interact effectively in group settings. We introduce the weekly group Extra Credit Opportunity (ECO) as an instructional resource designed to facilitate group interaction in the classroom. The ECO consists of three questions that students discuss in an assigned group, and should be able to answer, provided that they have thoroughly read the assigned materials for the week. Survey responses from 173 auditing students show that students perceive that the ECO facilitates interpersonal interaction and communication, promotes effective group decision making, and also fosters classroom preparedness, stimulates learning, exposes students to exam questions, and incrementally improves student grades. Overall, we believe the weekly ECO is an efficient and effective tool that can be used by educators to implement nontraditional group work and interaction in the classroom.
Both the academic (e.g., Apostolou, Dorminey, Hassell, and Watson 2013) and professional (e.g., KPMG 2011; PricewaterhouseCoopers [PwC] 2016) literatures emphasize the importance of being able to interact in groups as a core professional competency that is essential for success in accounting. For example, auditing professionals regularly work on audit engagements in assigned audit teams comprised of unacquainted auditors, and also must interact with unfamiliar client personnel (Johnson et al. 2003; Westermann, Bedard, and Earley 2015).1 Thus, to become successful professionals, students who enter the auditing profession must become accustomed to working with others and be able to communicate effectively both within their audit team and with client personnel. This paper describes the use of a weekly extra credit opportunity (ECO) as a tool that will help undergraduate auditing students acclimate to working with unfamiliar individuals and improve their group communication skills.
The ECO consists of three easy-to-grade questions (i.e., multiple choice, other objective format, and/or short answer), which are based on required textbook readings. Procedures for executing the ECO include assigning the composition of student groups (assignments differ weekly), passing out the ECO to group members who are physically sitting together, and allowing 10–15 minutes for group discussion. Once completed and handed in, the instructor immediately debriefs each question, carefully linking correct answers to prior or upcoming course learning objectives. Thus, the ECO provides an opportunity for students to practice expressing their thoughts with their peers in a group setting.
The ECO represents an alternative classroom tool that has a distinct advantage over traditional extra credit quizzes (Thorne 2000; Miller 2006) and daily motivational quizzes (Braun and Sellers 2012). Specifically, the ECO is completed in groups rather than on an individual basis. Therefore, the ECO provides a mechanism for educators to provide their students with repeated and meaningful group experiences.2 Importantly, the prior literature is generally supportive of the idea that collaborative learning via group work has many benefits, including interactive learning through group discussion (Clinton and Kohlmeyer 2005), and increases in motivation (Clinton and Kohlmeyer 2005), effort (Kerr and Tindale 2004), and accountability (Cuseo 1992).
In the next section, we discuss how to develop and administer the ECO. We then describe student feedback/perceptions of the ECO. Finally, we present our conclusions.
THE EXTRA CREDIT OPPORTUNITY
We developed the weekly ECO in our undergraduate auditing course in order to provide repeated and meaningful group experiences and systematic exposure to questions related to both conceptual auditing theory and application of those concepts. A typical ECO contains three questions that students should be able to answer, assuming that they have thoroughly and thoughtfully read the assigned textbook chapters. Consistent with our audit course objectives, the ECO focuses on concepts and the application of those concepts rather than on traditional financial accounting rules or calculations. Creating the ECO should take less than 20 minutes per week, which includes selecting questions to include, creating the ECO student handout and instructor answer key, and assigning groups.3 Overall, we consider the length of time necessary to develop, administer, and score the ECO to be minimal, given the related benefits.
The ECO can be administered at any time during the class period for which it is most convenient for the instructor. The instructor assigns groups, passes out the ECO, and allows approximately 10–15 minutes of weekly class time for completion and discussion, depending on the types of questions and levels of question difficulty. Once completed and handed in, the instructor immediately debriefs each question, linking correct answers to prior or upcoming points in the lecture. The immediate debrief is important because it provides students with feedback and helps the instructor identify areas that may require additional focus during class discussion. Scoring should be performed after class and may take up to 15 minutes, depending on the number of groups and types of questions assigned. Appendix A presents a sample ECO. Appendix B presents a sample syllabus description. Next, we discuss specific points for ECO development, customization for instructor preferences, and tips for implementation.
The ECO presented in this paper consists of three short-answer, multiple-choice, and/or other objective format questions based on the reading assigned for the week.4 We suggest that the structure of the ECO remain flexible to mirror the overall goals of the individual instructor for any given class period.5 For example, in our respective undergraduate classrooms, one of the authors likes to familiarize students with the CPA exam and one of the authors likes to familiarize students with her classroom exam. Consequently, the ECO mirrors the structure and level of difficulty of those respective exams (e.g., combination of multiple-choice, other objective format, essay, and simulation questions). However, in the graduate classroom with a “critical thinking” focus (e.g., case work, academic articles, audit simulation), one author has utilized the ECO to reflect more subjective questions based on assigned cases and readings.
Timing of ECO
There are multiple junctures during the class period that this exercise may take place. The instructor should consider factors such as length of class, class meetings per week, (e.g., one 2.5-hour class meeting per week or two 75-minute class meetings per week), class start time, and/or composition of students (e.g., majority of students work full-time and commute, majority of students are full-time residential students). We suggest that ECOs be administered at least on a weekly basis. However, the exact number of ECOs will vary based on instructor preferences.
In our classrooms, the ECO often takes place at the beginning of class prior to the class lecture, as we find that this usually encourages on-time class attendance and advanced preparation of the assigned materials. However, there are a variety of reasons why the ECO may be more suitable for a time other than the beginning of class. For example, some students may have difficulty arriving on time due to greater work-school-life challenges, or some lectures are dense and students could benefit from an interactive exercise. The major disadvantage of administering the ECO at a time other than the beginning of class is that the instructor may have covered the questions as part of the course discussion, thus decreasing the importance of student preparation before coming to class. However, a benefit of this timing may be to encourage greater student attention and participation in class. Overall, we believe that the timing is entirely up to the instructor, depending on the contextual factors of the class and instructor goals.
We suggest forming groups of between three and five students, which prior research indicates as the range of optimal group size (e.g., Libby and Blashfield 1978; Solomon 1987). Although there are many benefits to group assignments with consistent group members (e.g., Kerr and Tindale 2004; Clinton and Kohlmeyer 2005), we believe that it is important that the instructor assign a differing composition of ECO groups on a weekly basis. First, it allows students to become accustomed to working with unfamiliar students, which is comparable to regularly meeting new client personnel on audit engagements.6 Second, it helps to mitigate the risk of systematic free-riding; i.e., teams are re-assigned for every ECO, thus students cannot anticipate relying on a consistent team. There are different ways that instructors can assign groups in order to ensure differing group composition on a weekly basis. We provide suggestions for group assignment in Appendix C.
While instructor assignment helps to mitigate the risk of systematic free-riding, the instructor must always be cognizant of the possibility of free-riders in class and take appropriate action if needed. For example, instructors may consider the following: (1) occasionally allow students to select their own groups; (2) call on an individual student to present their group's answer rather than debriefing each question; (3) require a “statement of participation” from each group and allow students to point out free-riders to the instructor (Clinton and Kohlmeyer 2005)—those students identified as systematic free-riders may be required to complete future ECOs on an individual basis; (4) use smaller group sizes than suggested above (e.g., groups of two to three individuals rather than groups of three to five individuals); or (5) occasionally make the ECO an individual rather than a group assignment.7
For the following description, we assume groups of five students selected from a class of 30 students (i.e., six groups of five students). The individuals within the newly formed groups should physically sit together, moving seats if necessary. Each group of five students will receive six copies of the ECO (i.e., one copy for each student and one copy to turn in with the collective group responses). Each group member must write his/her name on the copy that is submitted to the instructor. Some groups finish quickly, for example if they are more prepared and/or agree on question responses more readily. Other groups may be less prepared and/or engage in more hearty discussion regarding the group response. Groups also will differ in their approach to discussion; for example, some groups will spend time individually completing questions and subsequently engage in discussion, other groups may have one individual lead the group through discussion and resolution of each question. We like to set a timer that is visible to students so that students are aware of their remaining time for completion. When the allotted time is finished, the instructor collects one copy of the completed ECO from each group.
Once the student responses are collected, the instructor immediately presents the correct answers. By doing so, students quickly learn the effectiveness of their pre-class study practices and whether they understood the material that was assigned for class. They are then in a position to ask questions about problem areas during the class lecture/discussion. Problem areas tend to be highlighted during the scoring process, which serves to identify areas of emphasis for subsequent lectures. In short, immediate feedback serves to complete the learning experience (e.g., Bonner and Walker 1994; Earley 2001).
Credit is awarded to individual members of a group. If a group answers three out of three questions correctly, then each group member earns three extra credit points, which are added to each individual's cumulative grade.8 If a group answers two out of three questions correctly, then each group member earns two extra credit points, added to each individual's cumulative grade. If a group answers one out of three questions correctly, then each group member earns one extra credit point, added to each individual's cumulative grade. If a group answers zero questions correctly or only answers individual questions partially correctly, then no additional points are awarded. Thus, in our classroom, there may be up to 30 extra credit points available to students.9
Overall, we find that allowing students to earn points on an incremental basis noticeably motivates students, yet does not overly inflate grades, presuming that the exams provided are a moderate to challenging level of difficulty. We recognize that the potential for earning three points per ECO may or may not be substantial depending on the total number of points available to the student (and difficulty in obtaining points) over the course of the semester from exams, assignments, cases, etc. Individual instructors should modify the point structure, number of questions, level of difficulty, or frequency of use as they see fit for their individual course.
Notes on Administration
There are at least three administrative considerations for the ECO that merit further consideration: (1) absences, (2) use of textbook/notes, and (3) course applicability, which we discuss in turn. First, we understand that students may have valid excuses (e.g., work commitments, personal emergencies) for missing class; however, we do not allow students to make up ECOs for any reason. We explicitly state this policy in the written syllabus. We also reiterate this policy on the first day of class by indicating that ECOs are a means of in-class, group extra credit and that the student grade is not harmed due to absence. Second, we prohibit students from using their textbook or notes while completing the ECO. Students work in groups and are encouraged to engage in discussion, thus relying on the “mental notes” of the collective group. Third, while this paper specifically discusses the application of the ECO to an undergraduate auditing course, the ECO may also be suitable to other upper-division undergraduate or graduate courses across disciplines.
We collected data regarding students' perceptions of the ECO in eight sections of undergraduate auditing at one eastern university10 during the 2013–2014 academic year. We used a modified version of the Braun and Sellers (2012) questionnaire, a review of the prior academic literature on higher education, group work, and our own experiences in public accounting and academia to design our survey instrument.11 We distributed the survey online during the last week of each semester and awarded students who completed the survey with one point of extra credit. Among the 173 usable student responses, the mean percentage of extra credit earned from the ECOs was approximately 3.5 percent of the student's final course grade.12
The survey results, reported in Tables 1 and 2, indicate the ECO was effective in achieving its objectives. Ninety percent (Table 1, Panel A) of students indicated that they met students they previously had not known, supporting our assertion that the ECO provides a mechanism for interaction with other, unfamiliar, students in a group. One student commented:13
Working in groups is constantly used in the real world so it is beneficial for the student to be exposed to such environment where he or she will have to work with different individuals they have never worked with before.
Sixty-two percent of students felt more comfortable interacting with unfamiliar students after being exposed to the ECO. One student stated, “[the ECO] gave me a chance to meet other students in class and feel more comfortable to work with different people.” Eighty-four percent of students believed that working in groups allowed individuals to teach and/or learn from other students through group discussion.
Table 1, Panel B shows that 73 percent of students indicated that they had been on a team involving a free-rider on more than one occasion during the semester, while only 60 percent indicated that they, themselves, had been a free-rider on more than one occasion during the semester. So, while many students expressed satisfaction working in groups, other students felt frustration working in groups due to the existence of free-riders:
Some group members would not read the chapters … [and they] benefited from the work I had done when they chose to come to class unprepared.
Table 2, Panels A and B indicate that a majority of students had a favorable view of the ECO, suggesting that students believed the ECO had a positive impact on student motivation, preparation, discipline, and learning. Specifically, 83 percent of students agreed that they kept up with the assigned textbook readings, 86 percent agreed that they came to class more prepared, 80 percent felt that the ECO helped them learn the course material better, and 91 percent agreed that they gained basic knowledge of the material before coming to class. The following quotes support the scaled assessments:
The ECO encouraged me to keep up with the reading as opposed to just skimming it. Therefore, I was more engaged in the class and had an understanding of what we were discussing.
Normally before exams I cram all of the chapter readings into the few days before the exam. I tend to push reading to right before the tests and if I do read the chapters it tends to be very brief and I don't take notes. With the ECOs I read every chapter, took notes, and felt more prepared for class time and the exams.
Unsurprisingly, what students liked the most about the ECO was the benefit of incrementally earning extra credit: “they were not freebies” and as a result “they provide an excellent chance of raising little by little the likelihood of enhanced grades.”14 What students liked the least about the ECO was free-riders, individual ECOs, and the inability to obtain partial credit; however, many students expressed that there was “nothing to dislike,” and some students indicated that they “looked forward to” or “enjoyed” the ECO. Overall, 82 percent of students gave a strong positive overall evaluation (“excellent” or “very good”) for the ECO.
To be successful as an auditing professional, students must learn to effectively interact in a group setting. This paper describes the implementation of a weekly in-class extra credit opportunity (ECO) as a mechanism to motivate group interaction in the classroom. The ECO consists of three questions based on the required textbook reading. The instructor assigns student groups and allows 10–15 minutes for discussion and completion. Once completed and handed in, the instructor immediately debriefs the ECO, tying correct answers to prior or upcoming learning objectives in the lecture. Overall, we believe the weekly ECO is an efficient and effective tool that can be used by educators to implement nontraditional group work and group interaction in the classroom. We believe that the ECO can be used not only in undergraduate courses, but also in graduate courses, perhaps with greater emphasis on more subjective or case-based material. In short, the ECO was designed to be flexible in implementation based on instructor goals.
The results of our survey, completed by 173 auditing students about their perceptions of the ECO, reveal that there are at least three notable benefits and one drawback of the ECO. First, the ECO provides students with a repeated and meaningful group activity that facilitates interpersonal interaction and communication with other (often unfamiliar) students. Second, by providing an incentive to read the assigned textbook material in advance of class, the ECO provides motivation for students to come to class prepared. Third, the ECO provides systematic exposure to questions related to both theoretical auditing concepts and the application of those concepts requiring professional judgment. Finally, the ECO as a group activity is subject to free-riders. While this observation is not particularly surprising, our experience has shown that the variety of techniques outlined in this paper appear to mitigate this problem, at least in part.
As with any research, this study is not without limitations. The purpose of this paper is to describe an alternative to traditional in-class quizzes, which is flexible in design, based on an individual instructor's goals. We present empirical evidence on students' perceptions of the effectiveness of ECOs in eight sections of undergraduate auditing; however, we do not test for social desirability bias of student responses (i.e., student feedback was tailored to appease the instructor), nor do we test whether the ECO provides stronger benefits than traditional in-class quizzes. The latter may be examined by future research by way of controlled experiment. Future research may also examine whether there are systematic differences (e.g., differing motivations, academic standing, or prior experiences with group work) between students who take advantage of ECOs and those who do not. We also describe the ECO as an in-class technique that is likely not suitable for online courses; future research may examine online collaboration and offer a revised ECO format suitable for distance learning. Finally, while the ECO is one approach to improving group interaction and communication with unfamiliar individuals, we recognize that there are other effective approaches to improve these skill sets (e.g., group case studies).
In sum, we believe that the use of the ECO improves auditing education because it provides instructors with a mechanism to help students develop skills in interpersonal interaction, communication, and group decision making. Consistent with prior literature on auditing education (e.g., Knechel 2000) and CPA firm recruiting materials (e.g., PwC 2016), we believe that a greater emphasis on these competencies should be included in auditing courses. Thus, we encourage instructors at other schools to consider implementing the ECO as part of their weekly course routine.
We acknowledge that auditors may be familiar with each other to a greater or lesser extent, depending on their office experience (e.g., number of client rotations) and/or nonprofessional overlap (e.g., personal friendships). Similarly, students may be familiar with each other to a greater or lesser extent, depending on the university environment (e.g., class sizes) and/or student academic and social overlap (e.g., involvement in club/fraternity).
We offer the ECO as one tool that can be integrated simply and efficiently into an instructor's current classroom structure. For those instructors wishing to implement a comprehensive, small-group interaction approach to learning in the classroom, see Michaelsen and Sweet's (2008) summary of team-based learning.
As both authors have been preparing ECOs for nearly eight years, the preparation time, for us, is generally five to ten minutes (selecting or reusing questions and making copies), which may increase slightly based on the number of versions that need to be created (for multiple sections of the same class) and/or whether a new textbook edition is being used. There is a learning curve for any new activity, and preparation time for an instructor who is newly adopting the ECO is likely to decrease over time.
Some examples of source material for the ECO include (1) CPA review materials (e.g., Gleim CPA Review, Becker CPA Review), (2) review questions from the assigned (or other) textbook(s), and/or (3) review questions from assigned readings or cases. In our classrooms, we select questions that are indicative of important learning points (e.g., purpose questions or application questions related to key concepts) to be discussed in that day's discussion/lecture. One author prefers multiple-choice questions and the other author prefers open-ended and matching questions.
The authors have been administering the ECO in their respective classrooms since Fall 2008, and the exact number of questions and question format for the ECO continues to change over time. That is, the initial ECO consisted of ten multiple-choice questions based on a required CPA exam review text. However, after receiving feedback indicating that students would prepare for the ECO at the expense of textbook preparation, we revised the ECO to consist of three questions of varying formats (e.g., multiple choice, short answer, matching) that aligned with the assigned textbook readings. As such, the ECO evolved to the format presented in this manuscript based on student feedback and instructor goals.
Importantly, assignment of group members has the potential added benefit of helping students expand their existing network, which may have short-term and long-term benefits for students.
The instructor should explicitly state the possibility of individual ECOs in the syllabus—please see Appendix B for suggested language. We believe that the instructor should be careful not to overuse individual ECOs, but should only use them to keep students surprised, except in the case of identified systematic free-riders.
We describe the ECO as a form of “extra credit,” yet we recognize that some instructors may wish to implement the ECO as a “for credit” group exercise (i.e., group quiz) rather than as an “extra credit” exercise. Importantly, neither author has implemented the ECO as a “for credit” exercise; thus, the student satisfaction data presented in this paper cannot be extrapolated to this setting.
This example presumes a 14-week semester containing two challenging midterm exams, one moderate final exam, and no ECO on the first day of class or on exam days. Thus, the instructor would administer ten ECOs over the semester, with three points available to be earned each week.
The ECO is currently being used in at least six different university auditing courses; however, given the flexible nature of the ECO, each instructor has adapted the ECO to fit their own preferences, and thus there is a lack of consistency across classes. For this paper, we collect data and examine the effectiveness of the ECO at one East Coast university as implemented by two instructors who collaborated to ensure that a consistent format and scoring structure was used.
The authors have been administering the ECO in their respective classrooms since Fall 2008. The authors have received “general” feedback from students via university evaluations (2008–2010) and have administered a formal survey focusing on ECO structure, student motivation, and class preparation since 2011. The ECO has evolved based on student and instructor feedback and in turn we have refined our survey based on both the evolution of the ECO and review comments. In 2013 we added questions specific to group work. The survey contains questions related to working in groups (12 scaled, one multiple-choice, and three open-ended questions), experience as a (with) free-rider(s) (three scaled questions), potential benefits (11 scaled questions), and an overall assessment (one scaled and two open-ended questions). The survey also contains questions about how students perceive auditing relative to financial statement accounting (13 scaled questions), critical thinking (eight scaled questions), as well as challenges faced during the semester (ten scaled questions). These questions are no longer within the scope of our study; thus, the related analysis was removed from the manuscript.
Examination of grading records indicates that 68 percent of students received one partial letter grade increase (e.g., from B to B+), 19 percent of students received two partial letter grade increases (e.g., from B to A−), and 13 percent of students received no letter grade improvements (e.g., stayed at a B).
In addition to asking scaled questions, we asked two open-ended questions aimed at understanding what students liked the most and the least about the ECOs. We selected quotes that were representative of, and served to highlight, scaled responses.
One additional benefit worth noting is that instructors who currently use the ECO anecdotally state that there is little/no student haggling for grade improvements or additional extra credit to improve their grades at the end of the semester.
Grouping of students may consist of specific characteristic differences or a combination of those characteristics. Prior literature indicates that the selection of group members with intent may be an important predictor of group effectiveness (e.g., Livingstone and Lynch 2000; Pieterse and Thompson 2010). For example, Cuseo (1992) suggests that groups may be deliberately formed to maximize heterogeneity and diversity of perspectives. While intentional grouping of students represents one option available to instructors, we perform haphazard group assignments in our classroom.
Extra Credit Opportunity | Chapter 10 | CLOSED BOOK/NOTES
What is a walkthrough of internal control? What is its purpose?
Distinguish between a test of control and a substantive test of transaction. Provide an example of each.
The primary objective of performing tests of controls is to obtain:
a reasonable degree of assurance that the client's internal controls are operating effectively on a consistent basis throughout the year.
sufficient, appropriate audit evidence to afford a reasonable basis for the auditor's opinion, without the need for additional evidence.
assurances that informative disclosures in the financial statements are reasonably adequate.
knowledge and understanding of the client's prescribed procedures and methods.
Sample Syllabus Description
Weekly Extra Credit “Opportunities”
You will have the opportunity to earn additional points toward your cumulative grade. Each week, you will be given an extra credit opportunity, “ECO,” which consists of three questions (short answer, multiple choice, and/or other objective format) that cover the material in the assigned readings for the week. ECOs are closed book/notes; however, you will complete these opportunities either individually or in teams of two to five people, which I will randomly assign each week. Opportunities will be held the first 15 minutes of each class. If you are not in class, there are no “make-up” opportunities—no exceptions (for any reason). If you are late for class, and you show up with less than 5 minutes remaining, you will be permitted to complete the ECO on your own in the remaining period of time only.
The points assigned to opportunities will occur as follows: If your group gets 3 out of 3 answers correct, you will receive 3 additional points, added to your individual cumulative grade. If your group gets 2 out of 3 answers correct, you will receive 2 additional points, added to your individual cumulative grade. If your group gets 1 out of 3 answers correct, you will receive 1 additional point, added to your individual cumulative grade. There is no partial credit awarded on ECOs. You must get the entire question correct in order to receive ECO points (e.g., if you are asked to explain the relevance of 3 financial statement assertions and you are only able to correctly explain 2 financial statement assertions, you will not be awarded credit for the question).
It is important to note that if you do not receive points from an ECO during a particular week, this cannot hurt you. Doing well on the opportunities can only help your grade. 100% of students who choose to participate in the weekly ECO have earned 1 or more points toward their final grade. Past ECO results show that approximately 85% of students receive at least a boost of one grade (e.g., B− to B) by participating.
You can earn a total of 30 ECO points over the course of this semester (3 possible points per week × 10 weeks), which is equivalent to 3 full letter grades on any one exam. As this is a significant source of potential extra credit, there will be no other extra credit offered in this course.
Group Formation Suggestions
In this appendix, we provide suggestions for assigning groups (both haphazard and intentional), assuming a class of 30 students, selecting five students per group.
Haphazard Group Formation
Candy. Bring a bowl of miniature candies to class and have each student select a piece of candy. Ensure there are six different types of candy in the bowl (e.g., M&Ms, Snickers, Skittles). Groups are formed based on the candy that the student picked.
Pick the “shape” out of a hat. Using any word processing program, create a page that has six different shapes (e.g., #, $, *). Cut the paper so that each paper strip has one shape. Put the paper strips into a hat/bowl and have students draw out of the bowl. You can perform this same procedure with numbers, pictures, sports teams, holiday symbols, etc. Consider adding one or two “FREE” cards to the bowl. The student(s) who picks “FREE” can select any group they wish.
Count-off (i.e., go around the room and count each student 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6; 1, 2 …).
Intentional Group Formation15
Levels of academic achievement (e.g., GPAs, exam scores, prior semester grades).
Learning styles (e.g., deep processors and shallow processors).
Personality profiles (e.g., as measured by the MBTI).
Ages (e.g., traditional and nontraditional students).
Geographical background (e.g., country/continent of origin).
Our sincerest appreciation to Karen Braun, Mahendra Gujarathi, Denise Hanes Downey, Christine Nolder, Brett Rixom, Amanda Roberts, and two anonymous reviewers for their valuable feedback.
Editor's note: Accepted by J. Gregory Jenkins.