October 31, 2018

In keeping with current trends, the Department of Accounting has spent the last year evaluating the curriculum for opportunities to include emerging technologies such as data analytics into the its course work. Part of a long-term project, the department is examining how to incorporate technology into current classes and how to provide additional coursework in these subjects in an effort to better prepare students for careers in the accounting industry.

“It’s changing rapidly and drastically,” Professor Elizabeth Gordon, chair of the department’s curriculum committee, says of the industry. “And so we have to change the way we’re teaching. We’ve gone out and talked with a lot of the accounting firms. We’ve talked with publishers and talked with other teaching resource providers to understand what is available, what’s out there that we can adopt or adapt for our courses as needed.”

Student with Laptop

Student uses new technology in classroom.

Undergraduate students benefit from Accounting Information Systems, a core accounting course, that covers data creation and manipulation, statistical analysis and data management. Students use Access to to explore how to manage and analyze data; the course also includes an introduction to data visualization.

This semester a number of other courses have integrated data analytics and data visualization into the curriculum. Professors Jagan Krishnan and Sheri Risler added an ACL Certified Data Analyst Level 1 Certification to their auditing class. Students learn the process by which data are obtained, cleansed, analyzed and transformed into information using analytic routines. ACL software is used across the accounting industry for fraud detection and prevention.

Professor Cory Ng has incorporated Tableau, an interactive data visualization software, into a graduate level course. Students in the class not only learn how to use the software, but also how to apply it to complex financial and non-financial data and to use it to make intelligent business decisions.

Each student is required to deliver a final project that uses Tableau to visualize a complex data set. The deliverable for this project is a data visualization using an executive dashboard or story point that enables a user to explore the data,” explains Ng. Additionally, students have to prepare a manual on how to use the visualization to explore the data, requiring them to strategically consider the user’s experience.

The goal is not only to teach the students how to use use these tools, but also to teach them how the tools can assist with problem-solving and decision-making. The critical thinking skills developed with these classes will be transferable to many other software programs and real-world situations.

“I firmly believe that students will benefit from developing these skills in their studies and their careers,” say Ng. His students report that they expect to use data visualization in professional settings and that these skills make them more marketable to potential employers.

Professors Risler and Ng discussed the development of their data visualization courses in the Fall 2018 Pennsylvania CPA Journal.