Publishing portions of the 2015, 2016, and 2017 Cook Prize Winners' applications in August 2017 and May 2018, respectively, resulted from conversations with Michael A. Diamond (former AAA President and convener of the 2015–2016 Cook Prize Committees) and Terry Shevlin (former AAA Vice President for Research and Publications) at the 2016 AAA Annual Meeting in New York City. We discussed my intent to recognize more fully the contributions these excellent teachers have made to the field of accounting education, as well as the generosity of J. Michael and Mary Anne Cook and the Deloitte Foundation.
Presented below are the compiled portions of the 2018 Cook Prize Winners' applications. I appreciate the help from the three prize winners and from Nancy A. Bagranoff (former AAA President and convener of the 2017 and 2018 Cook Prize Committees), who wrote the “Introduction” section to this year's article. As we look forward to recognizing another group of Cook Prize winners in August 2019, I hope these statements from the 2018 recipients continue to inspire you.
—Valaria P. Vendrzyk
The American Accounting Association (AAA) awarded the first J. Michael and Mary Anne Cook/Deloitte Foundation Prize (Cook Prize) in August 2015. The generosity of the Cooks and Deloitte has allowed the AAA to recognize, honor, inspire, and motivate the very best teachers of accounting among us. For the past two years, Issues in Accounting Education has published an article summarizing the domain teaching statements of the prize winners. This article provides the same for the 2018 honorees.
Every year the Cook Prize Selection Committee struggles to choose the best of the best. Many in our accounting academy are great teachers. For the Cook Prize, we strive to identify the truly superior. We comb through the domain teaching statements, review examples of teaching excellence, note the words of the nominator(s), and try to see through the candidate's vita and into the classroom. The intent of the Cook Prize is to recognize the outstanding teachers who inspire their students to join and excel in the profession of accounting.
Some commonalities I have observed over the years that we have been awarding this prize are that superior teachers care passionately about their students, on both academic and personal dimensions, and they dedicate themselves to continuously honing their craft. None of these teachers “sits still,” and all demonstrate the intellectual curiosity that is a hallmark of success at anything. As you read the domain statements this year, you will see evidence of nonstop searching to be just a bit better. Marsha M. Huber, for example, became a Visiting Faculty Scholar with the Mind, Brain, and Education faculty at Harvard University in order to learn more about neuroscience. This experience helped her better understand how learning occurs. That focus on learning, rather than teaching, is another differentiator of superior educators. Their prime interest is whether their students are learning, rather than simply focusing on their teaching. Robert D. Allen, in recognizing the different learning styles of his students, created a variety of learning aids to support his students in mastering subject matter. He cares about the student learners and what they achieve, rather than his own performance. Carol Hughes also provides opportunities for different learning styles in her class sessions, where she mixes traditional lectures with specially designed small group activities.
Cook Prize winners venture outside of their classrooms, often responding to calls from others to mentor and to share. Their sharing might be through textbooks, academic and professional presentations, and the scholarship of teaching and learning. Bob Allen is a frequent presenter at AAA segment meetings, and both he and Marsha Huber have published multiple papers in accounting education journals. Carol Hughes has contributed extensively at the AAA Conference on Teaching and Learning in Accounting. These teachers also contribute to society through offering their students co-curricular experiences, such as Voluntary Income Tax Assistance. Bob Allen served as advisor to his school's Student Outreach Committee, which supports “at risk” high school students in developing goals for their education.
The AAA awards the Cook Prize with strings attached. We ask that the awardees share their talents with others in the accounting academy. They will do so on the following pages through their domain teaching statements that they prepared for the Selector Committee. The winners will also share through presentations at conferences and meetings, and through their writing. I hope you will enjoy learning from these great teachers as much as those of us who have the privilege and daunting challenge of serving as selectors have done.
—Nancy A. Bagranoff
Convener of the 2018 Cook Prize Committee
II. RECIPIENTS AND THEIR STATEMENTS (IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER)
Robert D. Allen: Winner of the 2018 Graduate Cook Prize
Robert D. Allen is a Professor and the David Eccles Faculty Scholar at The University of Utah, where he has served on the faculty since 1991. He holds both an undergraduate and a Master's of Accounting degree from Brigham Young University and a Ph.D. in accounting from Michigan State University. He currently teaches financial accounting courses to Master's of Accounting students and fulltime, professional, and executive M.B.A. students. His research interests focus on auditors' risk assessments, error projection decisions, and analytical procedures, and he has published articles in The Accounting Review, Auditing: A Journal of Practice & Theory, Issues in Accounting Education, and Accounting Horizons. The AAA has recognized his research contributions with the John R. Wildman Medal Award. Professor Allen has also won many other awards for his excellent teaching, which include the David Eccles School of Business Brady Superior Teaching Award, its Professional M.B.A. Distinguished Teaching Award, and its Executive M.B.A. Distinguished Teaching Award, as well as The University of Utah Distinguished Teaching Award and the state of Utah Outstanding Educator Award. The Teaching, Learning and Curriculum section of the AAA recognized his service with its Hall of Honor Award.
Professor Allen's Statement
As I consider the positive influence outstanding teachers have had in my life, I recognize the responsibility and privilege of being an educator. I work hard to make a positive difference in the life of each student. Students are more willing to put forth their best effort when they know that I care about their current education and future careers. I consistently make incremental improvements to the way I teach and support students. I work to create and use innovative materials that support student learning, and I have frequently incorporated new technologies.
Some of the most satisfying experiences I have had as an educator have been helping students beyond their expectations. I enjoy mentoring students who struggle in class by offering outside help sessions, webinars, and encouragement. I also have enjoyed mentoring exceptional students in their extracurricular research and other endeavors. I have found that taking a genuine interest in students can greatly enrich their experiences. I find it satisfying to know that a little extra work and patience have helped some students have far better experiences than they might otherwise have had. I believe greatness exists in every student. Many students work hard to achieve excellence, while others need some encouragement to help them discover their potential. I love the challenge of helping students see the potential that resides within them. A well-timed word of encouragement to a student who aspires to perform better can make a major difference.
The primary reason why I teach is that I want to make a lasting difference in the lives of my students. In addition to helping them learn accounting, I want to help them recognize their potential. I have recently taught two graduate courses: (1) M.B.A. Financial Accounting, taught to fulltime M.B.A.s, evening E.M.B.A.s, and executive M.B.A.s, where class sizes range from 50–80 students per section, and (2) Contemporary Issues, a M.Acc., case-based, course focused on critical thinking, research in professional standards, and oral and written communication. In spring 2017, my department chair asked me to teach undergraduate Intermediate Accounting for the first time in decades. The administration has also asked me teach other overload courses, and I have agreed. Over the last three to four years, I have taught seven sections per year. Last year, I taught four sections of Financial Accounting to master's students, and three sections of Intermediate Accounting to undergraduates. Currently, I teach about 300 students each year (approximately 200 graduate students and 100 undergraduate students).
Use of Technology and Multimedia to Flip the Classroom in M.B.A. Financial Accounting
Over the years, I have been a leader in using technology in my department and college. I have learned that students with different learning styles appreciate having a broad set of materials from which to learn. Over time, I have created a set of digital learning aids. Three years ago, I used these learning aids to “flip the classroom.” I have created instructional videos that include graphics and animation. These videos are more than recorded lectures. I have created scores of Camtasia videos in which I solve problems using voice over Excel. Students appreciate the visual appeal of these resources and that these learning aids are available whenever they need them. By flipping the classroom, students do the more passive, easier activities on their own and we focus on more difficult problems when we are together in class.
Students have provided me with the following comments about my use of technology and multi-media in teaching my courses:
Flipping the classroom, online videos, online homework and quizzes were synergistic to accelerate my learning for these completely new concepts.
His multi-media teaching methods captivated the class, and Bob was always available for consultation outside the classroom. Bob was by far our best professor in the M.B.A. program.
The Camtasia videos and the Friday webinars were extremely helpful.
He actually made an accounting class interesting and (Do I dare say) fun.
I loved all of the different ways I could learn. Dr. Allen is a master of efficient learning.
The design of the course made for an incredible learning experience.
He made accounting fun. Is that even possible?
Helping and Motivating Students
Accounting is a difficult subject. For some M.B.A. students, mastering basic financial accounting principles is difficult. I work hard to help those who struggle by offering help sessions and answering email questions promptly. By caring for and believing in students, I help motivate them to do their best and to keep trying to improve.
For M.Acc. students, working on accounting cases that require research in professional standards, critical thinking, and professional judgment are very difficult. I strive to push students to improve their understanding of complicated accounting principles, critical thinking, and written communication skills.
My Financial Accounting M.B.A. students have provided me with the following comments about my efforts to help and motivate them:
Without a doubt, the finest and most informative faculty member of the E.M.B.A. program. Bob makes a difficult subject come to life with his incredible teaching style, humor, and care for the students in his class.
In my two years as a graduate student, Bob Allen has been the professor who has encouraged, taught, and helped me the most. He was able to take a difficult subject to teach and make it applicable to our lives and help us learn it.
Bob has an exceptional rapport with students. He balances the right mix of academia and experience. He was motivating, enthusiastic, and held high expectations.
Dr. Allen's Accounting class in the M.B.A. program at the U was both my initial experience with accounting as well as my first introduction to a large university setting. My expectations were that a larger class would decrease my overall learning experience. In Dr. Allen's class, that was not the case. Because of his creative classroom style, attention to the current business environment and intuition for directing his classroom, Dr. Allen far exceeded my expectations. In fact, he stands out as one of my most admired and influential professors.
My M.Acc. students in the case-based elective course provided the following comments about my efforts:
Hi Bob, I hope all is going well for you. I wanted to let you know that your class continues to have a lasting impact on me, even two years later … THANK YOU! I really enjoyed my time in the M.Acc. program, but your class has definitely stuck with me more than any other class. Thank you for everything you do for your students!
This was my most relevant and useful class out of all the classes I took during my master's program. I feel that this class covered topics that will pertain directly to my audit career. I feel a lot more comfortable with the codification.
Bob involved the whole class, and I mean everyone, which I really like.
He is one of the most influential professors I have had up to this point. He cares about each individual student and our success. I look at him as a friend, teacher, and mentor for life.
Mentoring Students in Extracurricular Research and Writing
Over the years, I have volunteered to help students with honors theses, and other undergraduate research. I have formally advised more than a dozen undergraduate students on these research projects. One of my students, whom I assisted in participating in a national writing competition, provided the following comment:
I graduated from the U of U over eight years ago and can still recognize the important role Professor Robert Allen played in my intellectual and professional development. This is particularly surprising because I never had him as a classroom teacher. My only serious sustained contact with him came from an extracurricular activity: he was my mentor as I [competed in] … a national writing competition. He was never asked to advise or mentor me. Rather, he merely encouraged me to drop by his office if I needed help with the manuscript. When I did drop by, he invested many hours over several weeks to read and critique my many drafts. Thanks to his critical eye, my manuscript transformed from an unsightly mess to a crisp article that won first prize. But the award is probably the least important reflection of Bob's influence on my intellectual development. His hard-nosed mentoring, which forced me to rewrite and rewrite and rewrite again, was some of the best training I have received for the academic career I am pursuing. Thanks to Bob's mentoring, I have a good feel for academic scholarship. I have enjoyed the opportunity to work with many great teachers at the University of Utah, University of Chicago, and Columbia University. I have rarely encountered a teacher as committed, giving, and caring as Professor Robert Allen.
Envisioning a Broad Definition of Success
I work to help students see that service opportunities can add to their enjoyment and professional success. I serve as faculty advisor to the Opportunity Scholars program, serve on the board of not-for-profit organizations, and regularly participate in service learning. Two of my students provided the following comments about my support of their service opportunities:
Dr. Allen stands out as a fantastic teacher of accounting and as an interested advocate in his students' future careers.
The greatest teaching moment I had with Professor Allen came outside of the classroom. As our advisor to the student outreach committee (which encouraged at risk high school students to set educational goals) he impressed the need to help others, to consider goals we had never considered before. He helped us to not only learn through the study of accounting, but to learn by giving to others.
Marsha M. Huber: Winner of the 2018 Undergraduate Cook Prize
Marsha M. Huber is a Professor of Accounting in the Williamson College of Business at the University of Youngstown. She joined the College's Lariccia School of Accounting and Finance in 2010, where she primarily teaches undergraduate financial and tax accounting courses. Professor Huber holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science from Ohio University, a Master's in Applied Positive Psychology from the University of Pennsylvania, an M.B.A. with an emphasis in Accounting from Miami University, and a Ph.D. in Hospitality Management from The Ohio State University. She also attended the Mind, Brain, and Education department at Harvard University as a Visiting Scholar. Professor Huber's research interests include accounting education and innovation. She has won several previous recognitions for her teaching, including the Bea Sanders Innovation in Education Award and the Professor of the Year Award from the Youngstown State University's Chapter of Beta Alpha Psi. Her university has also recognized her as a Distinguished Professor in Teaching. Professor Huber has published accounting education articles in journals that include Issues in Accounting Education, the Journal of Accounting Education, and Advances in Accounting Education. She serves as an editorial board member for both the Journal of Accounting Education and College Teaching. Professor Huber is also an active contributor to the Teaching, Learning and Curriculum section of the AAA.
Professor Huber's Statement
My teaching philosophy is to revolutionize accounting education through the interdisciplinary application of positive psychology, neuroscience, and the best educational theories to transform young people's lives and the accounting profession.
First and foremost, I love these young people and their generation. My passion and heart for students connects me with my learners. At one level, we churn out accountants, but I also see myself molding future leaders and visionaries. I am convinced that my students will make the accounting profession better in their own ways as they advance in their careers.
Second, I see my role as a mentor. I look for golden nuggets in my students as I discover their untapped talents such as creativity, leadership, grit, patience, optimism, and wisdom. Because all my classes require reflection papers, I have a chance to share those nuggets with them to help them excel in their callings.
Third, I try to create memorable and enjoyable learning experiences for them. Since every class has a unique group of students in it, I allow my classes to develop organically each semester to fit that specific group. By valuing student feedback, I can create a class that works for them. This iterative, collaborative approach to class development engages students in the learning process.
Underlying my teaching philosophy is my belief that what I do is about their learning, not my teaching. At the core of innovation is discovery and empathy, figuring out what my students are thinking and feeling, and implementing new teaching methodologies that enable them to excel.
I know I am successful when the semester is over and I run into a group of students and they say, “Dr. Huber, our class was special, wasn't it?” I nod and smile. This type of feedback confirms to me that the techniques I am testing are providing promising results. I am still not satisfied, however, because I want to be part of the creation of a new contemporary accounting education paradigm that will serve upcoming generations of accounting students and professionals.
My teaching philosophy has evolved over time and so has my teaching. I will explain to you how my transformation began, the “nuts and bolts” behind my thought process in creating impactful assignments, the reasons why I created the “flex” class, and how I came to teach design thinking to my accounting students.
Early in my teaching career, I was a traditional instructor, delivering lectures and giving tests. In 2005, I stumbled into my first faculty development seminar and heard Dr. Dee Fink, an accomplished faculty developer, speak. He said for significant learning to happen, we must develop six dimensions of learning—knowledge, application, integration, caring, the human dimension, and learning to learn—of which the latter three were new to me.
I felt bored with my teaching at that time, so I thought his paradigm might help me create better classes. In fact, after his seminar, I began immediately revising my classes, and when I finished, the clock read 5 a.m. the next morning.
As the night wore on, I asked myself questions like: “How might I create ‘caring' or ‘the human dimension' in my classes?” Ideas popped into my head as I developed new class projects such as an assignment where students interviewed professionals on how their use of financial statements affected “real-world” decision making. In tax class, students created pamphlets to explain complicated concepts such as depreciation to novice taxpayers, because when we teach others, we learn as well.
I use classroom assessment techniques (CATs) to gauge if my innovations are working by asking students questions like: “What is the most meaningful task we did this semester?” I know my innovations are effective when I read comments such as: “I felt like making pamphlets helped a lot and forced me to actually learn. They do take a lot of time …, but they force me to read and re-read. Writing down the information and then designing the pamphlet reinforced what I read.”
At other times, student feedback can be negative, but these statements are the most important because they force me to change something. For example, when I learned that my students loathed the end-of-the-term mega-tax return project and learned little from it, I created a new challenging, but enjoyable, project to replace it called the Shoe Box Project.
In this project, students create a case (to be solved by another team) that simulates what a tax practitioner might receive from a client. Students, not allowed to write up scenarios (the common practice of textbooks), must instead create and place original forms (W-2s, 1099s, K-1s) in a shoe box for another team to solve.
When asked which class assignment their favorite was, one tax student wittingly wrote:
Though it hasn't been completed yet, … it will be the shoe box case. In the interest of full disclosure, when I heard the parameters of the shoe box case, my initial reaction was, “This is dumb. No one in the real world is bringing their tax information to an accountant in a shoe box.” Not a week later, two people asked me for help with their taxes and both were delivered to me, yep you guessed it, in a shoe box.
Not only do the assignments make for a great class, but also the class dynamics. I began with my background in positive psychology to create a cheerful, hopeful, meaningful classroom experience for my students. At one point, however, I felt the need to learn more about neuroscience in order to become a better teacher. In 2014, I had the privilege of joining the Mind, Brain, and Education faculty at Harvard University as a Visiting Faculty Scholar. The experience that touched me the most was the pervading human “kindness” I felt from others. I also learned three simple “brain” lessons: (1) forgetting is part of learning, (2) no standard learners exist, and (3) students learn in context. I realized that it is normal for students to regress before they can move forward in their learning.
Upon my return, I synthesized my Harvard experience into my teaching. First, I am kind. Second, I let my students know that being confused or doing poorly on a test due to test anxiety is OK, because regressing is part of the normal learning process. They need to give their brains time to sort the material out. I observed that this advice had a calming effect on my students.
I would be remiss, however, not to share how challenges also fueled my transformation as an educator. At my first institution, a liberal arts college, my innovations were accepted. When I moved to a public university in 2010, some colleagues were skeptical of my methods. A few seemed to prefer the “rank and file” teaching methodology over my more “creative” methodology.
Critics thought I was an easy grader because my teaching evaluations were quite good. My previous department chair investigated as well and wrote:
I reviewed her grade assignment from her classes; she assigns a proportionate share of As, Bs, Cs, Ds, and Fs, and does not inflate grades (grade inflation could lead to better student evaluations). From student narratives, students seem to like her classes a great deal, they respected her knowledge of the material and her “real life” examples.
I gathered evidence to show that my innovations worked not only for the critics, but also for my own sake. For example, I learned failure rates in the introductory financial accounting classes dropped 12 percent after we added my innovations—the interview assignment, internal control paper, and financial statement project—to the common syllabus. This decrease is important and significant, especially in Ohio, which bases its state funding formula on completion rates in classes and time to graduation. Regarding my individual tax course, our graduates exceed the national average on the CPA exam in only two of 23 skill areas, with “individual tax” being one of them. The CPA exam pass rates at my university in individual tax are 60.2 percent (the national average is 57.9 percent) and 72.2 percent for our first-time test takers.
My angst intensified when one of my critics became chairperson in 2015. He came to my office one day after an evening student complained about my teaching methods and said, “Fix it. Make it go away.” He left with no discussion, waving his hands above his head as he turned to walk out the door.
At that point, I felt terrified because I was coming up for tenure the following fall.
I immediately contacted a faculty developer who advised me to open the floor for discussion. I learned that my evening students wanted more structured lectures, more informative slides, and less homework. I moved to action and revised my slides, adding more details and examples, making some assignments optional, and sending out weekly checklists on what they needed to do for the next class.
Student feedback was positive, as exemplified by this student comment:
Dr. Huber is absolutely the most passionate teacher I have ever had. You can tell that she genuinely cares about the class and all the students in it. Our class had a bit of a rough patch at the beginning of the semester where Dr. Huber's teaching method didn't match up with our learning styles, but once our concerns were voiced, she immediately worked on changing the course to better suit her students. It was obvious that she wanted the class to be the best class it could be for us, and we know that she spent a LOT of time changing her teaching method to better suit us. It's rare to find a professor as passionate and knowledgeable as Dr. Huber and I'm thankful for having an opportunity to learn from her.
I noticed, however, something else felt amiss in my evening class. This once-a-week, four-hour class did not work for my students. After two hours, they were bleary eyed, scoring 8 percent lower on tests than my day section that met twice a week. On surveys, ALL of my tax students recommended changing the class to twice a week, but the status quo would not allow it. After two years of asking, my department chair allowed me to change the time offering, and the grade differential disappeared.
In retrospect, the evening students' complaint that disrupted my world was probably the best thing that could have happened to my teaching. Their complaint prompted me to re-evaluate everything about my teaching and to ask myself important questions. I discovered many diverse tensions coexist in every class. As I surveyed students to learn more about their time availability, I found some students are only willing to spend a few hours a week on a course while others are willing to do “whatever it takes.” Some students want a holistic learning experience while others only want lectures and tests. Furthermore, since most of my students work, sometimes two or three jobs to make ends meet, it is no wonder they feel so time constrained.
Empathy moved me to ask, “Could I create a class that would work for both full-time and part-time students, working and non-working, at the same time?”
After a few months of contemplation, an idea “hit” me. I needed to establish the “FLEX CLASS.” In doing so, core assignments such as tests, income tax memos, and tax returns would become “mandatory,” and the more peripheral assignments, including many of my “beloved” innovations, would become “optional.” Students could now then personalize their own learning experiences.
One colleague thought my optional assignments would “fall by the wayside.” Surprisingly, they did not, as most students happily completed the assignments for personal growth and additional points, whereas the more time-constrained students focused their efforts on reading the book and studying for tests.
The new format met with favorable reviews, as one student wrote:
I liked it. When I did not have time to do … [an optional assignment], I did not feel like I was missing out or depressed I would be missing a grade. I liked the option to earn more knowledge and more points with the … [optional assignments] and that it was a choice. It limits complaining from students as well since it is not mandatory—students cannot complain if they have too much going on in other classes and at the same time overachievers are satisfied.
I also added a “secret weapon” to my arsenal to enhance collaborative learning—an emergent field called Design Thinking. While at Harvard University, I attended a design thinking seminar taught by a tenured accounting professor at the Harvard Business School, which “rocked my world.” Upon returning to my home university, however, none of my colleagues seemed interested in it. Even so, over the years, I added design thinking exercises to all of my classes to enhance the teaching and learning experience. One day, I used a Design Thinking technique called “affinity mapping” in class. I drew too large clouds on the board—one for taxable income and the other one for non-taxable income. I then asked my students to organize the different types of income in the clouds and develop themes to help them visually to remember this material.
“Dr. Huber,” one inquisitive student asked, “Is there a name to this thing you are doing with us?”
I responded, “Yes, it's called Design Thinking,” explaining to them that “Design Thinking uses a systematic methodology that ensures creative thinking happens every time you use it.”
“Can you teach this to us?” she asked.
“Bingo!” I had been waiting for a student request like this for about two years. I figured my dean and department chair would only allow me to teach such a class via student request. Fortunately, I had one teaching hour free the next semester, and my department chair said I could teach it if I got eight or nine students to enroll, which I did.
I am teaching the class now, and it exemplifies what it means to have a “blast” in class! Teaching something so unconventional feels refreshing.
I asked my students Monday to describe the benefits of design thinking. They said the methodology exposes them to the human side of business, opens their minds to new possibilities, leads to better problem solving, and, most importantly, connects people and is fun.
I invited my “gang” to be part of my application process. In about 15 minutes, they developed a model on why Dr. Huber is a superior teacher. They called it “HUBERISTICS.” They describe me as friendly, helpful, compassionate, flexible, cheerful, optimistic, caring, easy to talk to, and nonjudgmental. I teach with “HUBE ENERGY”—making things fun and engaging, holding students' attention, I am energetic (rather than on autopilot), and motivating. I engage my students with “HUBER-NOMICS,” sharing my extensive knowledge in multiple ways to help them excel, relating stories to the material, and using my experience and complex thinking to make class interesting. In short, I am “HUBERIOR” (short for superior) because I love what I do. I am a unique leader, thoughtful in my class design, making my classes memorable for them.
My students are excited to share their work product with you, which makes me grin.
In conclusion, the transformation to become a “superior” teacher has taken a lifetime, and it will likely continue until I retire. What I do is not random, but intentional. I am always learning more, renewing myself, perfecting my classes, because I cannot ask my students to be their best, if I am not giving them my best.
Natalie, a 2017 alum and a financial representative, shared the following with me on Facebook this week:
Doctor Huber not only have you inspired me as [a] woman in business, but you gave me confidence in knowledge in the field. Your passion in the classroom and endless efforts to communicate your knowledge creatively have forever impacted me. Thank you for all you do!
I feel touched and humbled by what Natalie wrote to me. Moments like these make the adversity I have faced in my academic career worth the risks I have taken.
Carolyn B. Hughes: Winner of the 2018 Two-Year College Cook Prize
Carolyn Hughes is a professor in the accounting department at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College (A-B Tech). Professor Hughes joined A-B Tech's faculty in 2000, and she holds a lecturer position at The University of North Carolina at Asheville, where she earned her undergraduate degree. Professor Hughes also holds an M.B.A. from Clemson University. Like many Cook awardees, this prize is not the first time Professor Hughes has received recognition for her teaching, leadership, and service activities. She received the National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development (NISOD) Excellence Award (for teaching and leadership), A-B Tech's Outstanding Faculty Member of the Year Award, and the Distinguished Teacher Award for Non-Full-Time Faculty from The University of North Carolina at Asheville. Professor Hughes has been active in the AAA, serving as editor of The Communicator, secretary of the AAA's Two-Year College Section, and on the steering committee of the Conference on Teaching and Learning in Accounting. Professor Hughes is active in her community. She currently serves as the site coordinator for the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) and Tax Credit for the Elderly (TCE) programs, and she has received the Hoyt Abney Community Service Award for Excellence in Public Service for the greater Asheville area. In 2010, Professor Hughes received the President's Volunteer Service Award from President Barack Obama in recognition of her service on the Taxpayer Advocacy Panel, a panel that advises the commissioner of the IRS on the efficiency and effectiveness of IRS operations.
Professor Hughes's Statement
Writer Nikos Kazantzakis encapsulated my teaching philosophy when he wrote, “Teachers are those who use themselves as bridges over which they invite their students to cross; then, having facilitated their crossing, joyfully collapse, encouraging them to create their own.” To me, being a bridge for my students means that I help them along a path that connects them to a demanding, but promising career. Many of my two-year students at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College (A-B Tech) see themselves as job, not career, material, and often my major challenge is helping them understand how business and accounting work. While many never become accountants, they can develop the decision-making tools that will help them in business and in life. Preparing this bridge requires a commitment on my part to carefully prepare and set clear, measurable goals and empathize with a diverse group of people from assorted backgrounds. This commitment requires that I respect my students, care about their futures, and encourage them to believe in their abilities.
A good bridge has, first, a strong foundation. I know students are in my classes for a variety of reasons. Some are preparing to transfer to four-year colleges, some are seeking a technical or service degree, and others are enhancing job skills or pursuing personal enrichment. They bring with them diverse perspectives, as well as differing skill levels and educational backgrounds. While this diversity can provide for exciting and enriching classroom experiences, some students need personal assistance. I encourage every student to discuss his or her course progress with me individually, and I make it a point to offer to work with any student having difficulty. I have high standards of performance, which I have incorporated through my own study of accounting. As a professional, I have a responsibility to teach the discipline and maintain its standards, and as a teacher, I have an obligation to make the discipline accessible.
While my teaching methods vary depending on class size and subject matter, I have learned the single best predictor for a successful student outcome is student engagement, and the most effective way to encourage engagement is through skilled mentoring and experiential learning. My overall approach is student centered. I want students involved as active participants in their learning. As one of my mentors once told me, “don't tell students something, when you can ask them.” Some students are more visually oriented, while others gain more by listening or speaking. Therefore, I provide opportunities for each learning style in my classes. To encourage involvement and participation, my class sessions are a mixture of lecture and purposeful small group activities. I develop classes that are thematic and start with a lecture or discussion on the day's subject. Students then tackle scenarios and problems in small groups. The classroom serves as a bridge between the individual and the group. This approach gets students involved and helps build their confidence, while providing me with an opportunity to interact with students and render individual assistance. I have a strong belief in the resourcefulness and ability of students to learn. In the words of educator Ken Bain, “Sometimes, great teaching happens when we simply provide the resources and challenges and get out of the way.”
Another key to effective learning is repetition with variety. Repetition increases confidence and strengthens the brain connections that make learning permanent. Because variety is necessary to maintain interest and motivate students to understand the material, I have created supplementary exercises and small projects to help students measure and improve their understanding of the material. I have designed these challenging projects to underscore specific concepts. Students often mention the interspersing of problems with the lecture and the use of small groups as some of the things they enjoy most about my classes. Variety sometimes incorporates the unexpected. For instance, I wear Minnie Mouse ears when introducing the concept of valuing intangibles, have a rap song for debits and credits, and use apps, games, and simulations at appropriate points in the semester. Some of these activities also serve as a way of bridging generations. I want the enthusiasm and passion for what I am teaching to come through. Learning needs to be “fun” in two ways—process and outcome. If I become bored or apathetic, students will too.
Accounting relevance to current events is also an essential teaching tool. If I can relate accounting to real-world situations, I can often pique students' interest. In order to get students to understand the relevance of the topics and issues we discuss in class, I select articles or news stories on current issues that relate to the class material and incorporate them into class activities and projects. For instance, last year I developed a brief “Go Fund Me” band start-up case and an Airbnb case for use in tax. In my Government and Not-for-Profit class, I have students use a data analytics program called Tableau to perform some very basic analysis of governmental data. Perhaps most important, I have incorporated a writing assignment, based on the ongoing investigation into possible fraudulent activities by our local county manager, into the ethics section of the course. Current events help students synthesize and apply what they have learned, engaging them in discussion, which increases their comprehension, confidence, and curiosity. This approach helps students develop a solid framework incorporating principles and procedures that will help them make sound decisions in their careers and their lives.
Teaching a complex topic like accounting demands that instructors convey ideas and explain complicated issues clearly and succinctly. This requirement can be extremely challenging and demands flexibility on my part. A good example of my having to adapt to my audience is an accounting course that I developed and taught in 2015 as part of the Vera Institute of Justice's initiative at the North Carolina men's and women's correctional intuitions. The initiative's purpose is to reduce the rate of recidivism by giving prisoners educational opportunities and legitimate tools to become entrepreneurs. This challenging project forced me to stretch the limits of my creativity and find new ways to use active learning. After a rocky start, I modified almost every area of the course, as I adapted to students that I had never encountered before. The outcome was ultimately successful, and I was proud of the confidence learners had in their ability to understand accounting concepts. I also taught traditional classes during this time period, and became more cognizant that a classroom's atmosphere reflects the quality of learning. Since different students may have different experiences, adapting and fostering a learning environment in which students feel safe and accepted is important. I create this environment by encouraging students to become part of a strong classroom community in an atmosphere where they can feel comfortable asking questions and trying new ideas. I insist on a high level of acceptance, co-operation, and mutual respect for others from the first day of class.
For several years, I have also been involved with the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program sponsored by the IRS. In this program, two-year students from A-B Tech and four-year students from The University of North Carolina (UNC) at Asheville, a small, public, liberal arts college where I regularly adjunct, prepare taxes for low income and elderly individuals. For students, the program serves as a bridge between the conceptual and the practical. This year, in the four-year VITA section, I incorporated “$2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America” and “The Vanishing Middle Class.” I hold meetings on a regular basis to discuss the readings and their relationship to the students' VITA experiences. This summer, I plan to propose this course for the institution's diversity intensive designation. If I am successful, this course will be the first accounting course to receive this designation. I am also developing ways to incorporate a reading component into the two-year section.