Applying a framework-based approach to teach complex problem-solving to Accounting students
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Accounting transactions are becoming more complex, and more extensive accounting guidance is provided on a continuous basis in the accounting standards. In addition, accounting guidance changes often and additional guidance is added to the standards regularly. In view of this immense amount of accounting knowledge that an accountant can be expected to have, exacerbated by often multifaceted structures in accounting problems, it can be challenging and onerous to solve certain accounting problems. The premise of this study is that accounting problems can also be solved in a less complex manner with reference to the foundational accounting concepts included in the Conceptual Framework for Financial Reporting (CF). The solution to the accounting problem using the CF should result in a similar answer had the detailed, complex accounting guidance been consulted. This is based on the understanding that the detailed guidance is consistent with the CF and that the CF is not underdeveloped. In the experience of the author of this dissertation, however, the CF is rarely used to consider the accounting treatment of specific transactions and the first point of reference is usually the detailed, specific guidance. In order to impart a practice of incorporating the CF in problem-solving, the study in this dissertation is underpinned by educational philosophies rooted mainly in constructivism, and specifically in Ausubel’s subsumption theory. Applied to accounting education, this theory suggests a frameworkbased approach whereby educators first instill a detailed knowledge of the CF in an Accounting course and thereafter present details of specific accounting transactions by building and crossreferencing to the foundational concepts in the CF. In addition, the paradigm in Accounting courses should also incorporate problems and experiments through which students can construct their own knowledge, rather than being passive recipients of an educator’s teaching style. Recent literature on framework-based teaching suggests that such an approach is beneficial as it enhances lifelong learning. This study reported on a framework-based approach incorporated in an Accounting course and aimed to determine students’ ability to solve complex accounting problems by referring only to the CF, as well as to determine the factors that could influence their ability to solve the problems and the preferred problem-solving approach of students in facing future accounting problems. In order to address the broad aim of this study, it was divided into two sections, each to identify and analyse a different aspect of accounting problem-solving that incorporated the CF. The study in this dissertation focused mainly on an interpretive research paradigm. The first project had the primary objective of determining whether students have the ability to solve complex accounting problems by using only the CF and determining which factors could influence their ability. This was established by analysing the content and results of an assignment administered to third-year Accounting students at a South African university in which students were required to solve problems using only the CF. The second project had the objective of determining the preferred future approach students will take in solving accounting problems after they have been exposed to a framework-based assignment. This was established through qualitative measures and augmented by a questionnaire to analyse the students’ perceptions. The contributions of this dissertation are manifold and include, but are not limited to, the realisation that a conceptual approach to accounting education is beneficial in Accounting courses. The results in this study indicate that the ability of students to solve complex accounting problems by referring only to the CF may depend on the complexity of the scenario and the students’ familiarity with the problem. In addition, after being exposed to a framework-based assignment, students may tend to prefer a mixed approach in solving accounting problems, which entails a combination of the concepts in the CF and specific accounting guidance governing a particular transaction. The author also believes that this study makes a practical contribution by providing an actual framework-based assignment which can be used or adapted by other Accounting educators to use in similar courses, or to help them develop similar assignments or case studies or to replicate the study. From an educational perspective, it is recommended that Accounting educators incorporate an emphasis on the CF in their teaching approach. As students are exposed to opportunities to exercise their judgement using the concepts included in the CF, they will gain experience in this and be able to exercise better judgement in future. Each time a student is exposed to a problem requiring to be solved using the CF, or is required to make necessary judgements with regard to the CF, it will lead to the creation of new knowledge which the student can constantly link and cross-reference to existing knowledge and experiences. It also appears that, when students are exposed to problem-solving using the CF, it may lead to accountants adopting a more balanced approach by considering more CF constructs in solving future accounting problems. Although the study in this dissertation was conducted at only one university, its implications are by no means limited to this institution. Extrapolation of results cannot be attempted due to the nature of the research design, but the results in this study are valuable and enhance accounting education literature in better understanding students’ problem-solving abilities and their preferred problemsolving approach. The research is therefore valuable to any Accounting educator, as well as the institutional bodies guiding accounting education and its syllabi. It is hoped also that some of the findings will inspire other educational institutions to promote a framework-based approach in an innovative manner.
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