Experiential Learning In Action

The “firsts” just keep coming for The Accounting Friars! In our July 21st posting entitled Teaching Has Taught Me, we published our first-ever “personal reflection essay.” Professor Faith Lamprey, in writing about her teaching experiences, described an experiential activity by a team of students from an Accounting Information Systems (AIS) class.

Her essay inspired Professor Sonia Gantman, the instructor of that AIS class, to respond with her own personal reflection essay. We’re delighted to publish it below, as our “first ever” interactive social media discussion.

The reflection essay of Professor Lamprey describes how a team of Accounting Information Systems class students helped her to gain a new insight into processes in her own company. This is a great opportunity to see experiential learning in action.

The AIS experiential learning project is challenging for students. It forces them to do many things that they did not do before – reach out to companies, interview people, convert their notes into business documentation. For many of them it is also the first team project where they have to distribute tasks and manage interdependencies. The challenges of the project offer students incredible opportunities for learning and growth, and for those who are eager to learn and aren’t afraid of hard work, it enables them to use these opportunities to expand their business acumen and acquire skills that are essential for their future careers.

Experiential learning projects are also challenging for instructors! Every project is unique, each teams works on a different process in a different organization. I meet with every team several times during the semester, read and comment on the drafts of their documents and reports, help them brainstorm and get to “aha” moments. Working with teams throughout a semester allows me to witness the learning process as it happens and brings me tremendous fulfillment. The students’ experiential learning in my AIS class is a great opportunity for me to grow as a teacher and as a mentor, and working with new processes and organizations every semester is a great way to stay current with trends in the industry.

Teaching Has Taught Me

Here is another “first” for The Accounting Friars! We are pleased to present our first-ever “personal reflection” essay, written by Professor Faith Lamprey.

Teaching college level classes is always challenging and fun.  The students have a great desire to succeed in their field in business, but lack the knowledge of how business works and what they will actually be doing once they join the full time work force.

Mastery of Excel skills is something I always stress in all of my classes.  While I use Excel on a daily basis, teaching it to students forces me to keep up on the current versions of Microsoft and learn more of the techniques that are available.  I now use Pivot Tables, Conditional Formatting, and LOOKUP Tables on a regular basis.

Looking at your business processes from someone else’s eyes is a good practice to find places in which you can improve.  Our Accounts Receivable process got reviewed this spring by a team of students from an Accounting Information Systems class.  What they performed is part of the internal control work that is done prior to a financial systems audit.  It included interviews with me and other of our personnel.

The student team prepared narrative descriptions with flowcharts of the processes we use, documented controls we have in place, and identified missing controls.  They came up with a few suggestions for improvements to allow for greater integration.  In Academia we call this type of project Experiential Learning (students doing projects out in the real world) and it is all the rage on campuses.  It was fun to be on the other side of this and sit in the “real” instead of the “academic” chair.

Another thing that students help me with is to think “outside of the box” in solving problems.  This is something we talk about a lot in our industry.  Inexperience, sometimes seen as a weakness, is in fact, many times an asset as these students are not set in always looking at a problem the same way.

They are not afraid to try new things and many times they come up with a new way to look at a problem that provides for a streamlined solution.  Problem solving skills is one of the best things they will take with them into their careers.

They say to really learn something is to teach it and I have found that to be very true.  It is refreshing to work with these young minds and to be able to help them on their road to success.  The students certainly keep me on my toes and they have made me a better business professional in the process.

This essay first appeared on the web site of Aurora EDI Alliance. We have modified it slightly for editorial fit. 

Welcome, MBA Cohort!

Have you ever read the Mission, Vision, and Core Values of the Providence College School of Business? For good reason, it strongly emphasizes our holistic, integrated, and collaborative approach to learning.

These priorities, of course, raise an important question: how should we structure our graduate program in accounting? Should we continue to immerse our Accountancy students within the framework of a general Masters of Business Administration program? Or, perhaps, should we place them in a separate Masters of Science in Accounting (or Taxation) program instead?

Prior to this year, we chose the first option, and thus achieved our integration objectives. Nevertheless, our very success in designing a unified MBA program made it relatively challenging to introduce our students to advanced accounting-specific applications.

So this year, we are implementing a novel approach. Instead of opting for a unified MBA structure or an MSA / MST structure, we are dividing our incoming MBA students into a quartet of Cohort groups. In addition to a full-time student group, a part-time student group, and a “4+1” undergraduate business degree group, Accountancy students can now choose to cluster in their own collective group.

Of course, because we are maintaining our emphasis on holistic learning, all of our MBA students are continuing to engage in collaborative educational activities with broadly defined objectives. Meanwhile, for activities that are specific to the profession of Accountancy, our Department is now engaging two dozen graduate students as a focused Cohort.

What do our executives and faculty members think of our plans? According to Jacqueline Elcik, the Assistant Dean of Graduate Programs, Assessment & Student Engagement:

“The PC MBA program is very excited about the start of the MBA Accounting Cohort. The MBA Program has been working with all of the academic disciplines in the PCSB to deliver a high-quality program, focused on the specific needs of young 4+1 professionals who are focused on certification and careers in public accounting. We think that the unique combination of MBA courses and accounting electives will help prepare students for the CPA exam and for the future workplace.”

Professor Michael Kraten, who will design and teach the new Accountancy Cohort capstone course in Summer 2018, is likewise enthused about the opportunity to explore advanced Accounting content. “Although we’ve always presented an Accountancy capstone course in our undergraduate program, we’ve never been able to cover the advanced Accounting capstone applications that are ideally addressed in a graduate course. Finally, now we can … and indeed, now we will!”

The ultimate impact of the new Cohort approach will reveal itself over the course of the upcoming year. And during this time, our PCSB will continue its track record of innovation and continuous improvement.

The Real World

Have you ever heard of the phrase “The Ivory Tower”? It’s designed to imply that the college experience is somehow divorced from the real world.

At Providence College, though, nothing could be further from the truth. And for the past month or so, the students and faculty of our Accountancy Department have been fully engaged with the world around us.

In early April, for instance, accounting ethicist John Thornton of California’s Azusa Pacific University traveled across the continent to spend two full days on our campus. He engaged 150 undergraduate and graduate Accounting and Sustainability students to explore questions of ethics and morality from a theological perspective.

That same week, PwC’s United States Assurance Leader Maria Moats traveled up to Providence from the New York metropolitan region to “… introduce herself to PwC new hires and interns, present in managerial accounting classes, and meet with the Center for Career Education and Professional Development.”

Ms. Moats, who has also served as PwC’s Chief Diversity Officer, dedicated much of her visit to discussing concerns regarding diversity and inclusion. She met with our Department Chair Christine Earley “… to converse about programs to address the underrepresentation of first generation college students in accountancy programs.”

Meanwhile, back in the classroom, Professor Sonia Gantman’s students in Accounting Information Systems engaged with Peter Pan Bus Lines, the New England Patriots’ ProShop, and a pair of on-campus programs to “work with real-world organizations and compare what they learned in class with what happens outside of class.”

According to Sonia, “Finding a client organization on their own, interviewing people about their jobs, dealing with logistics contingencies, and handling interdependencies within the team are all invaluable experiences … that help students get a better grasp of the profession and prepare them for the job market.”

And what about our charitable endeavors? On April 22nd, a group of accounting students, faculty, alumni and professionals from PwC braved the cold and rain to volunteer at St. Mary’s Home for Children during our Seventh Annual Day of Service The event was sponsored by the PC Accounting Association and PwC.

Students worked alongside PwC professionals, performing landscaping and yard clean-up of the grounds, trimming trees, assembling bicycles, and even setting up Xbox units. The weather didn’t dampen the spirits of the volunteers, and we accomplished a lot!

Thanks to PwC for providing food, water and hot coffee throughout the day, and thanks to the volunteers for their hard work and dedication to the children and staff at St. Mary’s. We hope to see even more volunteers out there next year!

Welcome, John Thornton

Can you believe that a full year has passed since we published our very first blog posting? How shall we celebrate the first anniversary of The Accounting Friars, our Department’s social media hub?

By exploring new online applications, of course! Next week, we’ll utilize our blog to support our efforts in obtaining student feedback about a new curriculum innovation. On April 3rd and 4th, we’ll be delighted to welcome Azusa Pacific University Professor John Thornton to campus to meet with our students and to address our undergraduate capstone and graduate ethics courses.

John is the Bobbi Leung Chair of Accounting Ethics at Azusa Pacific’s LP and Timothy Leung School of Accounting. He maintains research interests in ethics and the accounting profession, with an emphasis on auditor independence, auditor litigation, and whistle-blowing activities. He’s agreed to visit our campus, and to contribute to our efforts to incorporate Christian values into our study of business ethics and morality.

All of our blog readers are welcome to click on the Student Feedback link of our blog’s home page to view their suggestions. And, as always, we welcome the feedback of all of our colleagues as we continue to embrace the new online technologies of the social media era.

Blockchain Technology

In our previous blog posting, Faith Lamprey demystified the technology of Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) for us. So we thought … why not tackle another technology for our readers?

In this posting, a trio of PC professors discusses the mechanism of the blockchain. As is now our customary practice, we peer reviewed this posting in a blind review format to ensure the quality of the content.

Stephen Perreault
Stephen Perreault

Organizations are now exploring the adoption of an innovative new technology that could improve the reliability of business information. This technology, known as blockchain, utilizes a network of many independent parties to authorize and record transactions on a public ledger.

Why a public ledger? This approach allows many different sources to confirm proposed transactions, creating a multi-party validation system that is purportedly impervious to unauthorized modifications that violate the existing record. Thus, information that is created with blockchain technology is supposedly more accurate and more verifiable than transactions that use traditional authentication methods.

Here’s a simple example regarding a credit card purchase between a customer and an online vendor. Normally, when a customer submits an order, the vendor checks with a single financial intermediary to confirm that the customer has sufficient credit to complete the transaction. The vendor only seeks a confirmation with a single bank and, once the confirmation is received, the bank updates its records to reflect the new credit balance.

Now imagine that the same purchase is verified using blockchain technology. Under this scenario, the vendor seeks an authorization for the transaction among all parties in the blockchain network. All of these parties have a current and complete copy of the customer’s available credit, and thus all can reach a joint consensus on the customer’s ability to pay for the transaction.

When they reach this consensus, they all add a new transaction (i.e. a block) to the existing record (i.e., the chain), thereby creating a shared recording of the transaction. Every party on the network can then use the new chain immediately as an updated record to authenticate future transactions.

Because multiple parties confirm each transaction, it is purportedly very difficult to manipulate the data without authorization. Therefore, this approach represents a potential improvement for organizational record keeping, although it presents new challenges for business enterprises and their auditors.

Stephen Kuselias
Stephen Kuselias

What challenges? Ironically, some believe that blockchain technology may become disruptive to the audit profession because it provides opportunities to verify transaction data more effectively and efficiently than current audit methodologies. In other words, it may reduce audit costs and improve audit quality simultaneously.

Consider the case of an auditor testing the existence of a client’s recorded revenue. This assertion is typically tested by confirming a sample of transactions with a client’s customers, and then by examining sales invoices, cash receipts, and other supporting documentation.

These audit procedures are often time-consuming because customers may not respond to confirmation requests in a timely manner, and because supporting documentation is often paper-based and must be carefully scrutinized for reliability.

Using blockchain technology, sales transactions between an audit client and its customers are recorded in a public general journal. An auditor thus needs only to verify that a transaction is recorded in a blockchain in order to test whether a revenue entry is supported by a customer payment. Because the blockchain is stored across a network of computers, and not within a single centralized database, falsification of the transaction data is supposedly impossible.

In other words, the simple existence of the relevant block provides the audit evidence that the transaction actually occurred between the parties. A verification process such as this could easily be automated, reducing the need for intervention by a human auditor. This is why the technology may prove disruptive to the audit profession.

You may have noticed, though, that we keep using the words “purportedly” and “supposedly” while describing the presumption that falsification of information within a blockchain is extremely difficult or even impossible. Why do we keep doing that?

Michael Kraten
Michael Kraten

It’s because, in the world of online technologies, hackers have become proficient at coordinating unauthorized invasions of web sites and other systems by widely distributed servers, personal computers, and web-connected home devices. Recently, for instance, a public utility in New England was attacked by thousands of such devices, operating under the control of an anonymous entity.

Proponents of blockchain technology assure us that the distributed nature of its record keeping function provides a higher level of authenticity. And yet, given the ongoing threat of Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks, such assurances should not be taken for granted.

by Michael Kraten, Stephen Kuselias, and Stephen Perreault (in alphabetical order)

How EDI Helped Santa Deliver Presents This Christmas

We’re delighted to introduce an exciting new feature on our blog! Beginning with this post, we are peer reviewing all intellectual content in a blind review format.

That’s a standard scientific approach for ensuring the quality of our published material. When we receive each piece from its author, we send it to a reviewer with expertise in the subject matter. The reviewer communicates concerns and suggestions to the blog editor and publisher, who holds independent discussions with the reviewer and the author.

The author then revises and resubmits a final version for publication. Throughout the process, the author and reviewer remain anonymous to each other.

To the best of our knowledge, we’re the first academic institution anywhere to adopt a standard policy of blind reviewing intellectual content for a blog. The process does indeed require more effort … but it’s a small burden to bear for scientific integrity!

And without further ado, here is our first-ever peer reviewed blog posting:

lampreyThis past year, for the first time ever, online sales in the U.S. surpassed in-store purchases. An annual survey by analytics firm comScore and UPS found that U.S. consumers are buying more items online than in stores. The survey, now in its fifth year, polled more than 5,000 consumers who made at least two online purchases in a three-month period.

According to its results, shoppers now make 51% of their purchases online, compared to 48% in 2015 and 47% in 2014. Cyber Monday achieved a new record this year, with $3.45 billion spent online, a 12.1 percent increase over 2015. This was the largest online sales day ever in the United States.

Most people have become very comfortable with, and even reliant on, buying products online. For many of us, it is now our preferred method of purchasing goods.

Are you aware of what is working 24/7 “behind the scenes” to streamline and automate the entire process? No, it is not Santa’s Workshop of Elves! It is a technology called Electronic Data Interchange (EDI), and it has been deployed by companies for decades, long before the Internet became a household word.

In fact, EDI helps us without any one even knowing it! For instance, each time we visit our doctors, when they file claims with our insurance companies for payment, the requests are transmitted electronically using EDI. And when we use Tax Software to prepare our tax returns and hit the Send key to transmit them to the IRS, the software converts our data into an EDI format and delivers the content electronically in seconds.

EDI communicates business transactions between Trading Partners via documents in standard electronic formats. The data that is generated from each transaction is “mapped” onto EDI data segments and then transmitted between Trading Partners. When data is received by the Trading Partners, the EDI data segments are “mapped” to their application files, and the data is processed accordingly. When set up properly, this can all be accomplished without any human intervention.

So how does EDI help with online ordering? Online Retailers rely on numerous suppliers to stock adequate inventories of the items they sell to consumers. They require their suppliers to ship the items directly to us. Even mighty Amazon does not stock all of its items for sale in its own warehouses!

Suppliers use electronic catalogs (in EDI, we call them 832 Catalogs) to post their items online with product descriptions, pictures, and pricing information. This information can be used to populate the item information on web sites. The suppliers send their available inventories (via 846 Inventory Inquiries / Advices) to the online retailers so they can communicate, on their web sites, how many of each item remains for sale.

When we place an order, the web site sends it to the supplier via an 850 Purchase Order, with codes to indicate that the order should be drop-shipped directly to us. The supplier acknowledges to the retail web site system via an 855 Purchase Order Acknowledgement that the order was received, and that it can ship the item.

When our order is ready to ship, the supplier sends all of the shipping information to the online retailer via an 856 Advanced Shipping Notice. It then sends us a “Your Order Has Shipped” e-mail message. The supplier also sends the online retailer a bill for the item shipped via an 810 Invoice.

There is even an EDI document, called an 820 Remittance Advice, that informs the supplier that payment has been made. It can also instruct the retailer’s bank to initiate a funds transfer to the supplier.

Faster than Santa can lay his finger aside of his nose, give a nod, and rise up the chimney, EDI can help to make sure that our orders are processed and delivered in time to place under the tree for Christmas morning.

This article has been re-posted on Faith’s web site. Please feel free to visit her there!

Faith Lamprey