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When I teach Managerial Accounting, I emphasize to students that in many areas of business it is necessary to read numbers and understand the patterns that are present.   I have always wondered why some very smart students who study are unable to do either one.   Perhaps it is due to dyscalculia.

Two fundamental skills underlie almost everything I do in the course:

  1. Starting with the average cost for some amount of units and then calculating the resulting total cost, and vice versa.
  2. Identifying the pattern inherent in a sequence of numbers and calculating what would come next, or what came before.

An example of the first skill would be:

If the average cost for 12 units is $2.50, then the total cost for those 12 units is $30.

Another example would be:

If the total cost for 11 units is $33, then the average cost per unit is $3.

The task seems simple.  But there are very smart students at the universities I’ve taught at, and a significant percentage have great difficulty with it.   Students will spend a lot of time in memorization for this type of problem soon to appear on a test, but they never truly get it.

An example of the second skill is found when I lay out the following sequences and ask students to fill in the missing values.  Can you figure out what are the missing values?

The answers are:

The task seems simple.  But there are very smart students at the universities I’ve taught at, and a significant percentage have great difficulty with it.

I know that many accounting professors ridicule students who can’t perform either task, claiming that students deserve bad grades because they never put in the study time to learn what is necessary.  Not me.  I’ve always thought that there is a missing piece to the puzzle of easy problems that are unsolvable for some smart college students.

Yesterday on AECM we started talking about dyscalculia.  Dyscalculia is similar to dyslexia and dysgraphia.  Dyscalculia is the inability to identify numbers, distinguish number patterns, and perform arithmetic operations.  Dyslexia is the inability to identify letters, distinguish letter patterns (i.e., words), and comprehend what is read.  Dysgraphia is the inability to write.  Some people can read very well, but have not learned to write.

Students with a bad case of dyscalculia will have difficulty in identifying the numbers in the following image.

The current thinking is that these are not physical or intellectual incapacities, but rather they are functional or learning difficulties.  All can be overcome.  Dyslexia, which probably affects 5-10% of the American population has received much attention.  But so has dyscalculia, which is thought to afflict a similar percentage of the population.  To see the range of exercises available to combat this learning problem with numbers, visit dyscalculia.org.

Professors, it might be appropriate to refer some students to your campus disabilities office.

To learn more about dyscalculia, please read this wikipedia article or this MSNBC article.

Debit and credit – - David Albrecht.

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I can speak with unquestionable authority on this issue.  Professors hate grading and assigning grades.  After 32 years in the college classroom, I have to admit that students have been accepting of the grades I’ve assigned.  However, every once in a while some student will come a-complaining.

All professors & instructors can relate to the video, “I Am Worried About My Grade.”  Give a student a lower grade than what the student wants, and you risk having the student march into your office demanding a better grade.  Oh, sometimes it is couched in terms of a request, but the tone of request reveals it is a demand.

I’ve taught at public universities and private colleges, and it seems to me that demanding students are worse at private colleges.  And yes, I’ve even heard, “It’s your fault I received this bad grade.”

I found this video on YouTube.  I did not create it.  It does seem to strike a cord, though.

Debit and credit – -  David Albrecht

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For the past two years, my older son has been enrolled in the MBA program of Syracuse University’s Whitman School of Management.  He’s had a profitable time there, learning much and ending up with the job he desired.

On Friday, May 13, I toured the school after attending an awards ceremony and my son’s graduation.

Whitman is a great school, and I’m glad my son went there for his degree.  During the follow-up reception, my son said, “The accounting faculty are gathered on the other side of the cookie table.”  I rushed right over, pausing only briefly to sample the cookies.

Whitman has great accounting faculty (Joseph I. Lubin School of Accounting / Management Information Systems).  They are great in the classroom, and have produced cutting edge academic research.  Some have the good sense to follow AECM discussions and sometimes read The Summa.  My son had the closest working relationships with Kofi Okyere, Joe Comprix and Ginger Wagner.  Moreover, my son now wishes he had majored in accounting instead of finance.  Here is a photo of four accounting faculty members:  Mitch Franklin, Ginger Wagner, Kofi Okyere and Randy Elder.  I could never be a professor at Syracuse, my hair isn’t colorful enough.

L to R: Mitch Franklin, Ginger Franklin, ProfAlbrecht, Kofi Okyere, Randy Elder

Then Joe Comprix, another accounting prof, came over.  Someone remarked that we were wearing the same color and style (blue stripes) of shirt, very accountingish.  I took off my sport coat for the following photo.  Twins, don’t you think?

Joe Comprix and ProfAlbrecht

Thanks for the good time.

Debit and credit – - David Albrecht

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On Wednesday, May 4, I visited the Anderson University (Indiana) Falls School of Business at the invitation of Dean Terry Truitt.  I found an innovative B-school with a mission of serving students in the context of a Christian liberal arts college.

I had a wonderful time, and came away wishing someday I can be a part of something like Falls.  The faculty and students should consider themselves blessed to be a part of it.  There are several reasons why I consider Falls to be special.

First, it is devoted to Christian programming.  All faculty must be prayerful Christians with a sanctified life and active participation in their respective churches.  Why is this important?  Christian behavior, ethics and morals can’t be taught out of a book.  Students must be shown what is right, and have faculty whose primary qualification is a solid Christian life is absolutely essential.

Moreover, today’s business world is a ruthless jungle.  Future business leaders with ethics and morals are needed today more than ever before.  Historically, top corporate business executives have been frequently criticized for rationalizing away proper and admirable behavior in favor of the bottom line.  Middle managers take hits for swallowing their consciouses and sense of right/wrong as they blindly follow the ethics-challenged directives of top corporate management.  I’ve long believed that the key missing ingredient from contemporary B-schools is teaching students how to stand on principle.  This is especially important for accountants and auditors, upon whom society depends for integrity.  Integrity must be nurtured and supported, and if students don’t get it in college it’s unreasonable to expect them to get it in the world of business.  That’s why Falls is a great place to send your college age student.

Second, faculty are active in scholarship, in both application and academe.  Many of the Falls faculty I talked with have had a successful stint in the real world of business, and many continue to consult.  Students benefit greatly from faculty who have been there and are still doing it.  Other faculty are involved in the traditional world of academic research and publishing (Dr. Kent Saunders is the current editor of the Christian Business Academy Review).  The value of this scholarship is proven by the number of Indianapolis business people that enroll in the schools MBA programs.  Falls faculty are credible, respectable, and respected.

Third, the Falls School of Business has a DBA program, designed for faculty teaching at small Christian and private colleges.  This DBA program is not for anyone aspiring for a position at an AACSB school (where more advanced and technical scholarship is required), but it is adequate for service in small colleges (many with ACBSP and IACBE accreditation).

I wish the very best for the Falls School of Business.  It was especially nice to see my friend, accounting professor Cindy Peck.

Faculty and staff of the Anderson University Falls School of Business

Debit and credit – - David Albrecht

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In my 32 years in the collegiate classroom, attending graduation ceremonies has never been high on my list of things to do.  I missed all three of mine.  They were scheduled on Saturday, and I observe the Saturday Sabbath, when working is a “Thou shalt not.”  In my years at Iowa, Virginia Tech, North Carolina-Chapel Hill and Bowling Green State, I didn’t attend because of the work-Sabbath conflict. Then I moved to Concordia  College (Moorhead, MN) and found that I had not the proper clothes to wear to its Sunday graduation ceremony.

It’s called academic regalia, and professors go all out.  Style has an important part to play, so does trying to one-up the other professors down the hall.  This year I borrowed a set of plain regalia and I surely felt out of place.  Professors were wearing gowns of every conceivable color.  Hoods can be colorful, too.  Tams are in, mortar board caps are out.  Gold tassles are absolutely de rigueur.  This stock photo of doctoral gowns does not capture the bright, colorful diversity out there.

This year I’m so glad I attended on May 1.   My first group of Concordia students graduated, and I am proud of every one.  Concordia seems to excel at putting on a graduation ceremony.  The floor of the athletic arena was sectioned into thirds.  Professors filed in, led by old-timers with much experience.  They took the front of the middle section.  Then the students filed in, lines left and right filling the sides symmetrically.  Proud parents and friends filled the seats on either side.  Here’s what it looked like.

After a speech by one of Minnesota’s senators, the task of reading off several hundred names commenced.  Here’s a photo of the college president handing out diploma cases.

Two days earlier, while I was proctoring my last final exam on Friday at noon, my younger son Chris was marching in his own graduation ceremony at the University of Michigan.  He received two masters degrees in music.  He is pictured afterward beside his proud mother.  A trumpeter, his graduate brass quintet played at graduation.

Chris Albrecht's pink hood signifies a degree in music.

Fast forward two weeks to today.  My older son Tom is graduating from Syracuse University with an MBA degree, specializing in finance and healthcare.  He says he should have majored in accounting.  I knew that all along, of course.  His graduation ceremony was scheduled for a Saturday.  The graduate dean of the Whitman School of Management, is pictured here handing Tom his diploma case on Friday in a ceremony for one.

Tom Albrecht's (center) brown hood signifies a degree in business.

Three graduations and they all were special.

Debit and credit – - David Albrecht

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First Student

I’ll remember it for quite some time, for on Thursday I was reunited with my very first student.

A very long time ago, when I was a student at Iowa City High School, I was asked by a teacher to tutor one of his sons in math.  Said son was smart, but simply couldn’t do math beyond the level of arithmetic.  He was hoping that personal tutoring would help.

It was Thursday late, and John came by my office (Concordia college in Moorhead, MN), representing part of the textbook supply chain.  He looked at me, then the name on the door, and hesitantly asked if I was from Iowa City. When I said yes, he informed me that he was my very first student.  And then I recognized him.  Much taller and of course 40 years older, I knew him.  And I couldn’t help but think of his father, a wonderful choral director and soloist.

A few months ago during the holidays, I received an e-mail from a student enrolled in my first collegiate class teaching managerial accounting at the University of Iowa in 79-80.

This year on LinkedIn, I have connected with about 100 of my former students from BGSU.

It’s been a good year for me.

If you are one of my former students, please connect.  Send an e-mail, attach a photo (then and now), and mention who your closest classmates were.

Debit and credit – - David Albrecht

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The following story is being carried by the  ABC NewsAtlanta Journal Constitution, Chronicle of Higher EducationFox News, and Washington Post.  So the story must be legit.

Raymond Taylor, a part-time accounting instructor at Kennesaw State University in Kennesaw, Georgia, was arrested on December 6 for allegedly taking off all of his clothes during an accounting class on November 30.  A student in the class complained to a university official about the incident, leading to his arrest on a charge of public indecency.  He was arrested while on campus.  After spending a night in the Cobb County jail, he was released on $5,000 bond.  The university has terminated his employment.

Mr. Taylor has not yet been proven guilty in a court of law.  However, he is guilty in the court of public opinion.

I’ve been teaching accounting classes for over 30 years, and I know of no academic or instructional reason for an accounting instructor to get naked in class.  Nor do I know of any reason why a student would get naked in class.

Mr. Taylor appears to be a slim, soft-spoken man in his sixties.  At this time, it is simply unknown what, if anything, went on in his classroom.

If the charges are anywhere near true, it puts our minds in a tizzy.  Did any of his former students approve of his radical approach?  What point was he trying to make as he exposed himself?   Perhaps he was making a point about IRS (I’m really sexy).  Perhaps he was discussing assets and decided to show his.  Given his age, perhaps he was talking about liabilities.  Perhaps he was discussing accounting pornography  Who knows?

I wonder if he was more or less revealing than the new TSA body scanning and pat down procedures.

I’ve never tried this instructional technique.  I’m quite sure my students would be grossed out and become sickened, thereby lowering my class evaluation scores.  If I looked as good as Bob Jensen, though, I might try it.

Debit and credit – - David Albrecht

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I have two blogs:  The Summa and Pondering the Classroom.   I hope you read both.

The Summa, as you know, is a commentary type of blog.  Mostly the posts are editorials where I take a position on a current professional accounting or auditing issue, and argue for my position.  Although I occasionally lapse into lifestyle/humor or news, mostly I am providing commentary in which I fit a current event into my worldview.

Pondering the Classroom is what is called a lifestyle blog–about higher education.  Lifestyle posts revolve around reflection and the point I have to make.  It is not about what I ate for breakfast (blueberry waffles), nor it is about why I ate what I ate for breakfast (it was there).  No, it is about issues that come up in my classes and what I think about them.

I have written a few posts that you might find enjoyable.  Click on the links below and check them out.

As you can plainly see, there is no overlap in subject or style.  That’s why there are two different blogs.  I’m hoping you will become regular readers of both.

Debit and credit – - David Albrecht

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Here is a list of my scheduled presentations, as well as the books/videos on my bed stand.

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On Developing a Worldview is proving to be a blog essay with legs.  It’s time to reveal the impetus for that piece.  In waning days of 2009, I received an e-mail:

Hello Professor Albrecht,

My name is Garrett D.; I am a recent graduate of an undergraduate accounting program currently serving in public practice as an audit associate in the Chicagoland area, and am interested in potentially pursuing a career in accounting academia. I have not applied to any programs as of yet, but am rather looking to acquire a fuller understanding of what it means to become an academic, and an accounting academic in particular. Hitherto, my exposure to this way of life has been limited to Stephen Zeff’s biography of Henry Rand Hatfield, fairly intermittent reading of the Financial Accounting Standards Research Initiative blog, and sporadic digestion of select accounting articles and monographs. Your blog has been of interest to me for a while now, and, upon reading your most recent post, “On Being a Blogging Professor,” I was struck by the emphasis you placed on developing a mature worldview as an accounting academic. Though I might be mistaken, I also recall you discussing the development of a “coherent worldview” as an accounting academic in previous posts. This “worldview development” imperative, alongside an intrinsic interest in education as a process, calling, and as a social phenomenon, is, as far as I can tell, primarily driving my interest in academia.

I am curious, if it is not too much trouble, if you will perhaps aid me in this effort to develop a coherent accounting worldview. Would you mind providing me with a recommended reading list of “accounting essentials” to add structure to my excursions within this discipline?

Thank you for your consideration.

Kind regards,
Garrett D.

Such a well-intentioned request.   I delivered On Developing a Worldview, in which the focus is on the process by which a person can acquire a worldview.  I promised a second essay in which I described the path I took in developing my own worldview.  But I didn’t promise a third essay, offering a reading list so that he could start working on his.  I never said never, I just didn’t say yes.

I delivered (and promised) only in part for two reasons.  First, I immediately saw value in a more general response for readers of The Summa.  I didn’t want to scare anyone off by being too detailed in my first essay.  Second, he was asking for something I didn’t have on hand.  So I shirked.   After I published On Developing a Worldview, Garret wrote back:

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I have occasionally written about the need for a professor to develop a mature worldview.  More so than that, we all (whether professor, student, or professional) should consciously develop a world view.  Yes, a world-view is a good thing.  Although there are three accepted forms for spelling the term, it is not a difficult concept.

A worldview is one person’s mental model of his/her reality.  It is a personal framework for organizing ideas, attitudes and theories about some aspect of the world in which a person lives.  When viewed in its totality, it is a personal description of the way all things work.

When we are young and/or inexperienced, our view is limited because we haven’t seen that much of the world.  Thirty two years ago when I first studied accounting, my worldview of accounting was pretty much limited to what was immediately in front of my nose (an only-in-front-of-nose-view).  Likewise, thirty years ago when I taught my first accounting class, my view of the world of accounting education was very limited.  It was not mature.  Never-the-less, I had a mental model of sorts.  Not a framework, it was more like a clothes hamper where I tossed my ideas and a few attitudes.  Somewhere along the path of my life, I built a few theories for explaining how a few isolated things worked (I always had teaching tendencies).  Eventually the clothes hamper was so crammed, disorganized and messy, I had to develop a framework for classifying and sorting everything.  So I worked on it.  And voilà–I had a worldview.

I’ve been asked to post a reading list for developing an accounting worldview.  I can’t, because it doesn’t work that way.  Here’s why.

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A year ago, I posted some links to videos and/or whatever that helped divert my attention from the depressing task of writing and then grading final exams.  That page is still getting hits, but many of the links are broken.  It is time for an update.  Some of these links have some connection to business, accounting, or college.  Most don’t.  That’s why I’m recommending them.

Enjoy!

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