Using technology to find common ground with Millennial learners

After spending a 25-year teaching career in a higher education environment, I have come to realize that it is indeed possible to teach an old dog new tricks. Yes, the somewhat old dog would be me. Many of us in academia are waking up to realize the students we teach today are far different than those who entered our classrooms 20+ years ago. With the help of some gentle nudging, I have taken each of my principles of accounting classes and redesigned them to where Millennial learners can better embrace the study of basic accounting through the lens most familiar to them; that is technology.

Millennial learners expect the use of technology in most collegiate classes they take. Whereas in the past, students would purchase the working papers to accompany the text used; today, not one of my students would have a clue of what working papers would be. By incorporating My Accounting Lab, an online homework and assessment tool, I have the ability to better utilize class time because students come homework-prepared to discuss the problems I have assigned. Rather than having to go desk by desk to check hard copy, paper homework, I can simply do this from anywhere I have internet access and see exactly the amount of time and percentage of homework that has been done either correctly or incorrectly. Some of my students will bring their laptops to class, open to that day’s assigned homework. The freeing up of class time has allowed me to cover additional topics that before I was unable to do, due to the constraint of time.

Millennial learners also want to see relevance to the classes they take. For me, making the real-world connection between the material assigned and its practical application has been vital to the students’ acceptance of the coursework presented.  I have tailored my accounting principles courses around the idea of using real-world accounting current events to further explain the chapter material. Once Millennials see the connection of the material to how small business or corporate accounting functions, there is much less resistance to learning.

Perhaps one of the most important aspects of my principles of accounting redesign was moving students from the rote memorization aspect, to actually understanding the material. Millennials entering college come from the background of memorize and regurgitate. When I first began to use MyAccountingLab, there was a degree of disconnect between the students and myself more-so than between the students and the software. The issue was my students wanted identical versions of the homework given them for the exams they took. It was not uncommon for me to constantly be reminded by my students that the exam problems assigned were not “like” the problems assigned for homework. Regardless of how many times I had reiterated the statement, “your exam problems will not be identical replicas of homework assigned”, students continued to push to remain in their comfort zone of memorize and regurgitate. The use of the online program allowed me to help break the cycle of rote memorization, while utilizing a platform most familiar to these learners; that being technology.

I strongly feel that we, as educators, must embrace the inevitable. Teaching accounting the way it has been taught for decades was not going to continue to work for me, nor was such going to meet my students’ expectations of what a collegiate accounting course should be. Using powerful online, educational technology afforded me the opportunity to revamp my principles of accounting classes through a lens whereby my students actually understand the material. This common ground between Instructor and student has helped make me a more effective instructor, and my students, more effective learners.

For more detailed information about how Dr. Sullivan worked with his students, read the full case study.