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An Approach for Designing


									       Lessons Learned:
 One University’s Experience in
   Developing and Revising
      An AIS Curriculum

               By David R. Fordham
                          CPA, CMA, Ph.D.

                  James Madison University
                     Mail Stop Code 0204
                   Harrisonburg, VA 22807

                    Voice: 540-568-3024
                     Fax: 540-568-3010

    Draft Paper -- For Review Purposes Only

               For consideration for presentation at the
       2003 Annual Meeting of the AIS Educator’s Association
                     Copper Mountain, Colorado
For consideration of possible publication in the AIS Education Issue of
              The Review of Business Information Systems
  Lessons Learned: One University’s
 Experience in Developing and Revising
          An AIS Curriculum


       The last decade has seen phenomenal growth in the use of technology and

information systems in the field of accounting. The change has been so dramatic that the

AICPA is revising its national examination to incorporate and utilize the technological

tools now used by practicing accountants. In response to this change, many colleges and

universities have added a concentration in Accounting Information Systems (AIS) to their

accounting programs. This paper describes the process followed by one comprehensive

university to introduce, and then revise, an AIS concentration program. A surprising

finding of the revision process was the unexpected role of the AIS courses in the alumni’s

career development.   These new roles had a major impact on new curriculum.

Draft Copy -- For Review Only.

For consideration for possible presentation at the 2003 AIS Educator Association
Conference, and for consideration of possible publication in the AIS Education issue of
Review of Business Information Systems.

   Lessons Learned: One University’s Experience in
     Developing and Revising An AIS Curriculum


       During the last quarter century, and especially over the last ten years, the field of

accounting has undergone a phenomenal transformation relative to its use of information

technology. The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) has

recognized this revolution, and is in the process of completely revising not only the

content, but the very nature, of its national qualifying examination (AICPA/NASBA).

The Institute of Management Accountants also recognizes the growing importance of

information technology. In 1990, Ross warned that accountants who stay on the

traditional accounting turf “risk being overtaken by computer experts.” (p.27). The 1999

IMA Practice Analysis of Management Accounting concludes that “Ross’s prediction

was on target” (Seigel and Sorensen, p.18).

       In contrast, accounting education has been relatively slow to adapt to the

increasing emphasis on systems and technology. For example, a study published in the

Review of Accounting Information Systems (Bryant et al, 1999) indicated that of all U.S.

AACSB-accredited business schools offering bachelor’s degrees in accounting, just over

2% (only 8 of 350 schools) offered undergraduate programs (majors, minors,

concentrations, specialties, etc.) in accounting systems or a field similar to AIS.

       Recently, however, this has begun to change. Stone (2002, p.3) notes the growth

in the IS section of the American Accounting Association, the growing number of AIS

topics on national accounting programs and meetings, rising ratings of AIS journals and

papers, and several other measures which seem to indicate that higher education is

coming to recognize the essential nature of information systems and technology within

the field of accounting.

        Institutions desiring to add to the AIS content of their programs face two major

challenges. The first is recognized by Fordham & Benke (1997):

                        “One of the major obstacles in instigation of an AIS
                concentration is the short supply of qualified accounting
                faculty. … MIS faculty are often not intimately familiar with
                the details of accounting and auditing. By the same token,
                most accounting faculty are not familiar with information
                systems design or the application of advanced technology.”

        The second challenge is deciding what content to add to enhance the repertoire of

knowledge and skills possessed by their accounting graduates. Bain et al report that over

the last decade, “AIS faculty have consistently identified a few broad topic areas that

should be emphasized” in the first AIS course in an accounting curriculum. But it

appears that deciding which additional topics to supplement the “core” of AIS knowledge

is still subject to some debate.

        The remainder of this paper reports on the approach used by one comprehensive

university to determine what topics should, and should not, be included in an AIS

curriculum. The paper also describes some insightful findings into the perceptions of

alumni about how their experience in the program applies to their careers. The findings

uncover a major revelation about the roles played by the AIS courses in the educational

experience of accounting majors.

       The paper’s intention is to share ideas uncovered by experience – ideas which

might not at first be apparent to institutions and faculty considering the addition of AIS

content to their curriculum.

                               INSTITUTIONAL BACKGROUND

       The institution serving as the subject of this paper is a mid-sized comprehensive

university in the mid-Atlantic region of the United States. The university has just over

15,000 undergraduate students and about 2,000 graduate students. It is located in a rural

setting approximately three hours from several major metropolitan areas with total

population in excess of 10 million. Over 90% of the student body is made up of

traditional resident students, mainly from upper-class professional families. The College

of Business comprises approximately one-quarter of the university’s enrollment (3,600

declared business majors). The College of Business and the Accounting Programs are

both AACSB accredited. The accounting program has remained fairly constant in size

over the past 15 years, graduating approximately 100-120 majors each year. The

university operates a large on-campus recruiting program. Of each year’s graduating

accounting class, approximately half find employment with the big four accounting firms,

another quarter find employment in public accounting with other firms, and a quarter are

employed in industry and government. The program maintains a small (10 student)

masters degree program. The university is located in a state which has approved the 150-

hour education requirement of the Uniform Accountancy Act, but the requirement will

not take effect for several years.


         The original AIS concentration program was developed in response to requests by

several CPA firms who were recruiting on campus in the mid 1980’s. Those firms

expressed a preference to hire accounting majors who possessed some knowledge and

training in information systems analysis and design, EDP auditing and other computer

concepts. The firms demonstrated that they were willing to pay premium salaries to

accounting graduates who possessed this IS knowledge and skill.

         At the time, no formal survey of recruiters was conducted. Ample anecdotal

evidence was provided by recruiters in informal meetings and conversations with faculty.

The topic was mentioned repeatedly by representatives of several major firms. These

requests were supported with the readily-observable starting salary offers to those few

graduates who possessed the IS expertise (double-majors, for the most part). This,

coupled with the literature predicting a rise in the need for technologically-savvy

accountants, was sufficient to prompt the faculty to seriously consider the addition of an

AIS program. After discussing the matter with the institution’s administration, it was

decided that the school should initiate a formal AIS concentration within the accounting


         The firms were asking for additional knowledge, not replacement knowledge.

The concentration curriculum was designed to retain all of the existing accounting

courses, and add the IS coursework as a supplement. Because of lack of resources in the

accounting department, the program relied upon the MIS department for the additional


       The primary subjects mentioned by the recruiters were (a) systems analysis and

design, and (b) EDP auditing. These two courses already existed in the institution’s MIS

curriculum. However, they had prerequisite requirements. If a student took both courses

and their respective prerequisites, the student would have to complete eighteen additional

hours, roughly the same as a double major. Since a double major was already available,

the accounting faculty decided to add a middle-ground option providing one, but not

both, of the primary topics. A four-course concentration would meet this criteria, and

also exhibit the advantage of requiring only one additional semester’s work beyond the

baseline accounting major program of study.

       The four courses in the concentration were:

       1. Systems Analysis & Design; or alternately, EDP Auditing (the primary skills

           asked for by the recruiters);

       2. Intermediate Information Systems Concepts (a prerequisite for the Systems

           Analysis and Design course), or alternately, Telecommunications or Computer

           Security (prerequisites for the EDP auditing course)

       3. Database Design Concepts (a prerequisite for both EDP Auditing and Systems

           Analysis & Design);

       4. Introductory Computer Programming (a prerequisite for the database course).

       It is important to note that a majority of the original four-course set was

determined by the MIS department’s prerequisites for the desired courses in analysis &

design or EDP auditing, rather than an expressed need for the specific material in the

other three courses.

       In spite of the obvious flaws in the procedure used to develop the initial

curriculum, this preliminary combination of courses did indeed impart a valuable set of

knowledge and skills which the AIS graduates found useful on their jobs. As the

graduates and alumni of the program progressed in their careers, and as word of their

success spread, the demand for AIS majors among the recruiters rose quickly. As the

reputation of the program built, more recruiters were attracted to campus. As the

recruiter demand for AIS graduates grew, so did starting salaries, thus increasing student

demand for the AIS concentration. Simultaneously, the university’s MIS program

enrollments were also increasing. This placed great pressure on seating availability in the

MIS classes.

       After several years, the demand for the AIS concentration reached the point where

the accounting department was able to justify dedicating its own resources to the

program. This would not only take some enrollment pressure off the MIS department, it

would also give the accounting faculty more flexibility and control over the content of the

material in the concentration. The accounting faculty took advantage of this

reorganization opportunity. Rather than a curriculum which of necessity was constrained

by MIS prerequisite relationships, the faculty decided to pursue a new curriculum based

on content and knowledge the students actually needed. More importantly, bringing the

concentration under purview of the accounting faculty meant the course content could be

delivered within an accounting perspective rather than the general business perspective

taken by the MIS department.


        At the time of the curriculum review, the accounting program already had a

functioning executive advisory board. This group had been developed in the 1980’s

ostensibly to advise faculty and administration on curriculum matters, long-term strategic

planning, and practitioner requirements. As a practical matter, the board served primarily

as a vehicle allowing business executives to feel they had a “tie” to the institution. The

individuals invited to serve on the board were, for the most part, selected because their

professional positions enabled them to direct resources (donations, recruiting efforts, and

other support) to the institution. This approach to assembling membership of an

executive advisory board is not uncommon.

        Asking executive advisory board members for assistance with curriculum

development is not without danger. Questions must be carefully crafted so as to elicit

useful information (for curriculum decisions) from board members without also

stimulating specific pedagogical recommendations, -- recommendations which if not

adopted by the faculty (perhaps for meritorious and well-grounded reasons) might

actually end up alienating the board members, reducing likelihood of close cooperation in

the future.

        With these points in mind, the advisory board members were canvassed for their

opinions on what makes a good AIS employee. A half-day portion of a semi-annual

board meeting was devoted to a discussion on the AIS curriculum. The comments by the

board were useful in determining that the demand for AIS majors was expected to grow

exponentially over the coming years. The members also revealed that their firms would

continue to support AIS majors with higher salaries, and also that the employers were

quite happy with the skill set and knowledge possessed by recent graduates of the current

program. When it came to consideration of possible changes though, the board expressed

reservations about change. In their opinion the current curriculum was fine as it stood.

In the words of one member, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

          To gain additional detail, the board members were asked to provide names of the

individuals at their firms who directly supervised the recent AIS hires. They were also

asked for the operational and line managers who oversee the day-to-day operations in

which AIS majors would be employed. These operational practitioners were then

contacted by telephone and/or a personal visit by faculty in an attempt to more narrowly

pinpoint the skills and knowledge needed.

                         INPUT FROM RECRUITERS AND ALUMNI

          While data was being collected from supervisors at the firms represented on the

executive advisory board, faculty were also collecting data from firms not represented on

the board. This second set of organizations included both current recruiters and

companies who did not currently recruit on campus but who potentially might hire AIS


          The current and potential recruiters were asked to specify the skill set and

knowledge which would make an accounting major the “ideal” candidate for AIS

employment. Compared to the board members, who as upper-level executives were

somewhat removed from the daily operations and to provide many useful details, and

unlike the first-line supervisors, who sometimes focused on the needs of their current

project requirements, the recruiters were able to delineate a fairly specific set of the

“ideal candidate’s” educational requirements.

       Alumni and graduates of the program were also contacted where possible. Being

almost eight years old, the AIS program had produced well over 100 graduates who were

in the early and middles stages of their professional careers. These professionals could

address the specific strengths and weaknesses of the existing program. They were also

asked to list the skills acquired during the program which were of the most use, and to list

the aspects of the program which they felt were superfluous. Finally, the alumni were

asked to describe any skills which they needed on the job, but which were not provided

as part of their educational experience in the program.

       As will be noted later in this paper, the most insightful information of all was

obtained from graduates and alumni.


       By analyzing the responses from the various constituencies, a common set of

skills and knowledge emerged. The commonalities appeared with surprising consistency.

From this list, an abridged set was identified as being relative to the AIS concentration

(as opposed to the accounting, business, or general education programs). Table 1 lists

these AIS-related topics, organized by whether the topic is covered in the standard AIS

course (required by all accounting majors) or acquired elsewhere in the AIS curriculum.

                                 Insert Table 1 About Here

       One of the more interesting findings is the presence of highly-technical skills

usually associated with vocational training or computer science (not information systems)

degrees. For example, the list includes skills related to network design and architecture,

operation of hardware, the seven-layer Open Systems Interconnect model, information

security, and encryption concepts.

       The fact that so many of the supervisors and recruiters valued these skills in our

graduates, and the fact that such a huge majority of the alumni also reported these skills

to be extremely valuable to their careers, were puzzling. The faculty decided to delve

deeper into the reasons why these skills were included. The results of that inquiry

provided one of the most enlightening revelations of the entire curriculum review, and

will be covered in a later section of this paper.


       The importance of the skills and knowledge shown in Table 1 was confirmed via

a number of avenues.

       The list was reviewed by the executive advisory board, who verified that it

seemed reasonable, and that their firms would find a candidate possessing such

knowledge and skills to be very valuable.

       Most of the supervisors who had been contacted during the “pilot study” were

contacted again, and provided the list and asked for their opinion on its sufficiency. All

fifteen supervisors contacted unanimously endorsed the list as being representative of

what their employees needed to know from their educational program. Eight of the

fifteen supervisors (representing four of twelve firms) reported that their companies

already had remedial training programs in place to impart to new hires many of the skills

on the list. They mentioned that graduates of our AIS program were already skilled in

most if not all of the areas and therefore were being exempted from selected training by

the firm, making them even more valuable and desirable.

       Additional practitioners were contacted. Using the list as a guide, the faculty

asked more direct questions about which skills and knowledge they would need in an AIS

employee. Approximately 95% of the responses indicated the list was a fairly complete

collection. Surprisingly, less than 20% of the practitioners identified a topic on the list as

being unnecessary for an AIS specialty.

       The final two steps consisted of comparing the list to several widely-cited

publications which purport to describe necessary skills and knowledge relative to AIS

(AAA, Bain et al, Moscove et al; Summers; Ingram; Wiggins & Murthy, etc.), and to the

AIS curriculum at other schools with an AIS concentration program (Bryant et al). A

discrepancy was noted at this point. A few of the topics or concepts promoted in the

literature (or included at other institutions) were not represented on the list in Table 1.

And as noted earlier, our assembled list included numerous additional items (mainly the

highly technical topics) which are not mentioned by the literature and not uniformly

included in other AIS programs.


       The discrepancy between the assembled list and the literature/institutional

comparison might be explained by the differences between institutions and their

respective employer pools, and the resultant experience of alumni on their jobs. A hands-

on approach to technology is quite different from a textbook-based approach, for

example. A conceptual-understanding approach is very different from a “training and

operational skill level” approach. Some schools may have expertise in one area

(telecommunication applications, for example) which might be completely lacking at

another school, while the second school might have expertise in a different area

(networking theory, for example). The education received by an AIS major would

naturally reflect the strengths and approaches of the individual institution.

       Recruiters and firms might be attracted to one institution over another because of

the strengths of students in a particular area. Once word circulates about the strengths of

the students, other employers seeking strength in that area would naturally gravitate to

that institution, while employers seeking strengths in other areas might bypass the school

in favor of another institution whose students display strengths in other areas. Thus, any

list of skills valued highly by a recruiter pool and graduates at a given institution is likely

to be highly biased in favor of that institution’s existing strengths, and biased against that

institution’s weaknesses.

       It is natural for students finishing classes in telecommunications and computer

security to gravitate in their careers towards jobs wherein those skills are used. Thus, it

should be expected that they would value the skills learned and being used in those jobs.

Because they possessed the skills, they performed well in those jobs, leading recruiters

and supervisors to endorse the skills as necessary.

       The question arose: should the curriculum continue to perpetuate the skill set

which was developed almost by accident (the initial AIS curriculum which was highly

influenced by the MIS department’s constraints), or should the curriculum be modified to

more closely match the normative models being reported by the literature and followed

by a number of other institutions?

       In light of the faculty’s satisfaction with the existing recruiter base and even the

potential recruiter base polled in the exercise, some faculty were hesitant to ignore the

recommendations of such a large majority of the institution’s constituencies. Other

faculty were in favor of a move towards the normative models being proposed in the

literature, presumably prepared under more rigorous conditions and subjected to wider

review. To help resolve this matter, the faculty decided to go back to the recruiters,

supervisors, and alumni, and delve more deeply into why the technical skills were valued

so highly.


       Table 1 contains some highly technical skills which are normally associated more

with computer science and engineering fields than with information systems. Education

in those areas is normally intended to prepare students more for technician-level jobs

rather than the managerial, auditing, and executive jobs which the recruiters were

seeking, and to which the alumni were aspiring (and many cases, had achieved!). The

seeming incompatibility between the target careers and the skills being valued led to a

more in-depth inquiry. The results were enlightening, surprising, and satisfying.

       One of the changes being considered by the faculty was the elimination of the

programming language requirement. The programming language was a fundamental

prerequisite to almost all MIS courses. Now that the AIS curriculum could be weaned

away from the MIS department constraints, the elimination of the programming course

seemed logical. This was especially true because the programming language used in the

course was COBOL, a decades-old procedural language more suited to legacy

information systems than to modern networked information environments.

       To the amazement of the faculty, alumni were vehement that the programming

course, as well as the database design and development course, be retained in their

current form. The explanation the alumni offered for their position had strong merit

when considered fully.

       The alumni reasoned that the course was not intended (nor was it sufficient) to

make them into programmers; it was intended only to impart an understanding and

appreciation of how computers operate, how software manipulates data elements,

performs functions, stores and retrieves data, and processes data into information. More

importantly, it taught them abstract concepts such as conditional and unconditional

branching, process flow, sequence and return, comparisons, structured design, variable

definitions, and other concepts which the alumni felt helped them immensely in the way

they approached situations, tackled problems, and interpreted their environments.

       In other words, the alumni looked upon the concepts taught in the introductory

programming course as being analogous to a way of thinking and reasoning. They

expressed the belief that the programming course had changed the way they viewed their

world. They felt they were better equipped to analyze business processes because of the

“logic and other liberal studies-type concepts” they learned in the programming course.

The felt that their mastery of analysis, critical thinking, approach to problems and

perception had been changed and improved. (Several also mentioned their attention to

detail was enhanced more dramatically in the programming course than in all their other

accounting courses combined!) Strategies taught for debugging purposes in the

programming course were being used by the alumni as general models for problem

solving. Although problem solving skills were covered elsewhere in the curriculum, the

alumni felt the structure and rigor of the program debugging environment enabled them

to perceive, and thus refine, their skills to a level not attainable through the more

traditional accounting problem solving exercises.

       Alumni felt the database design and development course was essential in it

present form, for a similar reason. They argued that the course had inspired a mental

model of relationships between information and real-world entities. They felt the course

enabled them to understand the mapping of complex business processes and the associate

data elements to a coherent, relational, and synergystic structure, not only in a computer

database, but in their minds and mental analyses.

       The database course made extensive use of Oracle and Systems Query Language

(SQL), and graduates had working knowledge of these tools. The alums had found their

in-depth knowledge and skills in this area to be directly applicable to much of their daily

life, both on the job and off. Even those students who did not use SQL expressed the

opinion that, like the programming course, the mental structure, logic, and approaches

acquired in the course had changed the perspective with which they viewed problems,

tasks, and activities. They were more quickly able to grasp the design and operation of

complex custom business software. They felt they could analyze a problem, extract

meaningful information, and synthesize new inquiries based on the mental development

they had acquired in the database course.

       It was apparent to the faculty that the students viewed the programming and

database courses as fulfilling an educational requirement normally associated with liberal

studies or general education courses, albeit at a more career-specific level. Based on

these comments, and the adamancy with which the alumni expressed their feelings, it was

decided to leave both courses as an AIS concentration requirement. And as a long-term

experiment to explore the newly discovered role of these courses, it was decided to allow

students a choice of programming languages (procedural languages, such as COBOL and

Fortran, versus object-oriented languages, such as Visual Basic, C++, and Java).


       Table 1 contains many topics which were expected. The primary purpose of the

AIS concentration was to impart skills and knowledge in systems analysis and design

and/or EDP auditing, so it was no surprise that systems development life cycle, business

analysis, system analysis, information assurance and systems auditing were widely cited

as essential and important skills, both by the institution’s constituencies as well as the

literature and other institution’s programs.

       But the faculty were not prepared for the ubiquity with which technical topics,

such as networking technology, hardware, and telecommunication systems were

mentioned. Normally, conceptual coverage of these topics is part of a standard core MIS

course required of all business majors. Responses from alumni indicated they felt a

strong need for a level of technical detail and depth of understanding far beyond the

simplistic conceptual principles learned in their core course. When describing the

knowledge in detail, it appeared as though they were valuing technical “training” as

highly as they valued “conceptual understanding”.

       Most surprising was the level of depth which the alumni and recruiters felt was

necessary on such highly technical topics as the 7-layer Open Systems Interconnect (OSI)

model, private-key/public-key cryptography, telephone system services, and similar

subjects normally associated with vocational or technical training.     The alumni were

expressing a strong need for knowledge in a multitude of diverse areas, in more technical

depth than normally associated with professional education.

       A pervading, almost wholly premeating, theme among the comments made by the

alumni of the AIS program was, “I learned an awful lot about (subject A), but I also

really needed to learn about (subject B) and (subject C),” where subjects A, B, and C

were technical skills imparted by the MIS department courses. Those graduates who had

selected the telecommunications course were very satisfied with their level of learning.

Indeed, they felt they learned more about telecommunication systems than they needed to

know. But they were disappointed they didn’t also learn about information security and

systems analysis and design. Graduates who had taken the Intermediate Systems course

and the Systems Analysis and Design courses were satisfied with what they learned, and

even felt their training might have been slightly excessive, but they strongly believed they

would have benefited greatly from some knowledge of telecommunication systems,

information security, and EDP auditing courses.

       These attitudes were expressed time and again by the alumni: the courses they

had taken in the MIS department had been slightly too conceptual, the level of

understanding of a broad set of other topics was insufficient, and that technical

knowledge of those additional topics was essential to a successful AIS career.

       Another common, although less so, theme given in the open-format comments

was the feeling that the existing AIS courses, being taught in the MIS department, did not

have sufficient accounting emphasis or perspective. Said one respondent, “I learned too

much about marketing information systems and management systems, and not enough

about accounting information systems.”

                                 A MAJOR REVELATION

       Deeper investigation involving several hour-long conversations with individual

alumni explored exactly how they were applying the technical knowledge. Were they in

jobs where they had to “get their hands dirty” installing and configuring networks? Were

they in “jack of all trades” occupations where they were expected to serve as database

administrators, network administrators, as well as accounting systems designers? Or did

they supervise technicians and others where they needed to know the vocational details of

architectures, components, and systems?

       The answers revealed that most alumni were in the exact professional-level

positions that the program had originally envisioned: consultants, systems design teams,

system audit teams, risk analysis and assurance teams, and similar professional jobs

involving fairly high level decision-making, critical thinking, planning, development, and

implementation of strategies employing technology to solve business problems. There

were very few in positions thought of as vocational or technical.

       So why did they consider their technical training to be as important as the

conceptual understanding?

       The alums felt that by having been exposed -- hands-on in many cases -- to the

physical manifestations of networks, communications systems, hardware peripherals,

data collection/processing/storage/output equipment, they were able to better understand

the application of technology to solve problems. By seeing concrete examples, by

learning how the pieces of equipment did what they did, by learning what was going

on inside the boxes, the students had been able to better comprehend the concepts

and models and could better relate the physical solution to the abstract problem.

They felt that this comprehension, this technical background, helped them learn new

technology as it appeared, and helped them analyze and make determinations of how to

apply the new technology to solve new problems encountered by their firms and clients.

       In short, the technical-level knowledge enhanced conceptual understanding. The

technical training on topics such as the OSI model, the telephone system services, and

network operation served the same purpose as a “lab session” serves in physics,

chemistry, and biology. The knowledge of the physical details served as an unpinning

and foundation for higher level comprehension and analysis. It facilitated better

“learning after graduation” and helped the alumni cope with the advance of technology

long beyond completion of their degree.

       It was immensely satisfying to the faculty that the alumni were able to discover

and recognize the role these courses had played in their career development. It was also

satisfying that they were able to communicate their perceptions so clearly. In light of this

“revelation”, it was obvious which course of action the faculty should pursue in

curriculum revision.

                       THE CREATION OF A SECOND AIS COURSE

       Consultation with the MIS faculty and an analysis of their course content revealed

it would be impractical to change the content or structure of their classes. The topics

identified by the AIS alumni were very diverse. The only way to give the AIS majors the

broad range of topics, at the requested level of depth, was to either require more courses

of AIS majors, or alternatively, develop a “composite” course covering the plethora of

topics at a level of depth slightly less than the MIS courses but somewhat deeper than the

college core courses and standard AIS class required of all accounting majors.

       It was deemed impractical to require AIS concentration students to take additional

courses. There was already an MIS minor (which has since been discontinued) and a

double-major opportunity for students desiring more coursework. More importantly, the

faculty were attempting to address the comments by alumni that their MIS coursework

had in some cases been too detailed, and did not have the accounting perspective.

       It was decided to design and develop a second AIS course within the accounting

department. This second course would have as its mission four primary objectives:

       1. Be a composite of the more technical topics valued by the alumni and

           recruiters but not covered by the traditional AIS course or the programming or

           database course;

       2. Cover the material at a sufficient, but not excessive, level of depth;

       3. Present the topics within an accounting framework or perspective;

       4. Retain, as much as possible, a laboratory approach which the alumni valued so


       This second course was developed with the learning objectives shown in Table 2.

The composite nature of the course resulted in several difficulties, the primary one being

the lack of any single textbook (or even a collection of textbooks) covering the precise

combination of material at the appropriate level of depth. Hence, the pedagogical

development of the course was problematic. The faculty member volunteering to teach

the course also took on the responsibility of developing the course resources, pulling

from approximately six different textbooks.

                                    Insert Table 2 About Here.


       One of the main purposes of the course is to give students a basis for “lifelong

learning”. The rapid pace of technological development means that any specific product

or technology may be obsolete within a few years of the time the student graduates. The

course therefore emphasizes the underlying concepts of why the technology is being

used, the purposes it serves, the characteristics of the technology which make it

applicable for that purpose, and how those characteristics can be extrapolated to “predict”

what the next development might be. In this manner, students will be much better

prepared for the arrival of new technology, and can more easily adapt to new innovations

and inventions.

       The course uses current events and developments in the information technology

area as a vehicle for much of the content. The course requires students to subscribe to PC

Magazine. The magazine’s columns (“First Looks” on new innovations and inventions,

and several pundit analyses) as well as feature articles and product reviews are used as

supplemental material to reinforce the concepts and content. The course also requires the

use of the Computer Desktop Encyclopedia (Freeman), which is a CD-based reference

material on information technology. That software has been invaluable in convincing the

students that they can indeed keep up with all the acronyms and terminology used in

modern information systems.

       One of the innovative features of the course is the use of student research projects.

Students are formed into three or four person groups at the beginning of the semester.

Each group is randomly assigned three or four research topics. The topics are

deliberately chosen to appear obtuse and unfamiliar to the students at the commencement

of the course. The group is required to research the topic and make a short (10 minute)

presentation on the research question at the start of a class period. Most class periods

begin with a student research presentation. The student presentations are deliberately

scheduled so as to serve as the “opener” for the day’s topical coverage.

       The research projects are intended to serve five purposes:

       1.         Develop the students’ ability to use research tools, specifically the

                  Internet, current periodicals, product vendor information, and other

                  sources, to learn about current, new, and coming technology;

       2.         Demonstrate to students that there are means whereby one can indeed

                  keep up with the dizzying pace of technological development and

                  innovation in the AIS field, and inspire them to appreciate the benefits

                  of staying current.

       3.         Hone the students’ communications skills, specifically oral

                  presentation skills, including the proper and appropriate application of

                  PowerPoint or other media presentation tools;

       4.         Actively involve students in the “discovery” aspect of learning, giving

                  them opportunity to learn on their own, at their own pace, using their

                  own approaches, similar to a lab atmosphere; and

       5.         Offer a refreshing “break” from listening to the same person (the

                  professor) deliver the course content in class.

                             ASSESSMENT OF THE COURSE

       Student feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. Instructor ratings have been

well above the department average. Student perceptions of learning indicate the students

feel they learned a tremendous amount in the course. The course delivery methodology

(student research presentation, followed by lecture, demonstrations or discussion) is very

popular with students.

       Alumni who have taken the course return to praise the course in three dimensions:

(a) content coherence; (b) pedagogical delivery; and (c) sufficiency for their career

needs. The third dimension was the original impetus behind the course development, and

feedback indicates the purpose was well served.

       Numerical assessment data so far has been limited to end-of-course student

evaluations, and comparisons of examination results to course objectives. Informal

feedback consists of comments, emails, notes, letters, and responses to narrative

inquiries. The faculty plan a formal assessment, using traditional survey techniques, and

involving all the major program constituencies (alumni, recruiters, practitioners, etc.) as

part of the next Academic Program Review.


       Figure 1 graphically summarizes the procedure used in developing this AIS

course, and being recommended by the authors of this paper as a model for development

of an AIS curriculum.      An underlying assumption of the entire purpose of adding AIS

content is to enhance the skill set of graduates to better match the needs of the

institution’s graduates.

                                 Insert Figure 1 About Here.


       Experience is the best teacher. This institution jumped headfirst into offering an

AIS concentration based on informal anecdotal evidence, and created a curriculum

limited heavily by another department’s course prerequisite structure. Recognizing the

approach as being sub-optimal (its success notwithstanding), the faculty attempted to

follow are more theoretically-sound procedure in their review and modification of the

curriculum six years later.

       While the procedure followed (Figure 1) is a major improvement in process over

the first curriculum effort, the implementation of the procedure suffered from some major

flaws, the summary of which can be used to assist other institutions in avoiding the same


       First, much of the evidence gathered from recruiters, alumni, advisory board

members, and practitioners in the review was not structured enough to be considered

“good” data for statistical analysis. It must be admitted that a true statistical analysis was

not performed on the responses obtained, primarily because the data was not in a form

which readily lent itself to tabulation. Different faculty took notes differently, no

uniform instrument was used to solicit responses, no numerical scale or weighting was

applied to gauge relative importance. Looking back, it would have been a simple matter

to design a formal instrument to obtain specific ratings of importance of the topics in

Table 1. As it was, respondents were simply asked (in many different forms as various

faculty members differed in their approach) whether the content was sufficient,

desirable, “met their needs”, or was complete.

       As a result of the inconsistency in data, the conclusions drawn (about necessary

skills and knowledge) can be legitimately questioned. For instance, a rigorous examiner

might ask whether the data conclusively determined that network technology is actually

required of AIS majors? A forceful argument can be made that without well-documented

responses elicited by a common and uniform instrument allowing statistical analysis,

conclusions are suspect.

       The faculty readily admit this is a drawback to their implementation of the course

development technique. Plans are already being made to conduct a more formal, well-

structured assessment process as part of the institution’s periodic Academic Program

Review. If that well-structured inquiry does not confirm the results obtained by the

informal data collection technique, the faculty will quickly “return to the drawing

board.” In the meantime, the faculty are strongly convinced that the uniformity,

consistency, and highly repetitive nature of the ideas conveyed by the informal comments

are sufficient to make useful conclusions about the desired content of the AIS program.

       More importantly, it is felt that the unstructured methodology for data collection

is responsible for the unique insights derived. Had respondents simply filled out a survey

instrument or applied numerical ratings, the discovery of the useful insights and

perceptions of the alumni might never have been revealed.

       Another, more important limitation of our paper is the individuality of each

institution’s AIS program. Today’s AACSB accreditation guidelines recognize that each

institution has a mission, constituency, and environment which makes it unique among its

peers. The mission of the specific institution described in this paper is to develop skills

in students allowing them to engage in successful careers in the AIS field. Hence, this

institution places great weight on the input from recruiters and alumni and employers of

AIS graduates. Other institutions might have entirely different missions and goals for

their programs. An institution which sees its mission as more research oriented, or one

that places more emphasis on serving a local community’s needs, might find the

procedure recommended herein woefully inadequate in developing a new course or


       Another limitation of the procedure is its assumption that faculty resources exist

(or can be developed) to meet the needs of the constituency. While the model provides

for consideration of faculty resources and other institutional constraints, such constraints

might be sufficient to prohibit the practical meeting of the constituencies needs. Some

institutions may have to add a step addressing the need for a compromise between what

the constituencies ask for, and what the institution can deliver.

       And finally, it must be noted that this institution’s faculty deliberately decided to

place more weight on the data gathered from alumni (informal as it was) than on the

recommendations of various literatures recommending AIS skills and core competencies.

The reason for this course of action is two-fold:

       1. The institution’s faculty place great weight on meeting the current and future

           needs of its current and future employers regardless of whether those needs

           match or deviate from prescribed norms recommended in the literature, and

       2. The institution recognizes a wide variation inherent in the AIS educational

           environment across the nation, and feels that a deviation from any single

           national norm may actually enhance the quality of a program if that program

           can better meet the needs of its constituency by making such a deviation.

       The drawback to this course of action is that the faculty may well be discarding an

opportunity for even greater improvement in the program. There may be many reasons

why the information collected from the constituency did not include factors included in

the literature. One of these reasons might well be, “we never thought of that.” The

institution described in this paper failed to adequately investigate and pursue the

discrepancies between its list of essential skills and knowledge, and the various and

myriad recommended AIS topics in the literature.


       Learning from the experience of others is a major source of improvement

facilitated by a society. It is hoped that by sharing the process we followed in revising

our AIS curriculum, both the strengths as well as the weaknesses and limitations, other

institutions can avoid our mistakes and develop a much curriculum than they might in the

absence of our example. It is also felt that by sharing the insights and perceptions of our

alumni, other institutions might be alert for possible expanded roles of their programs in

the careers and lives of their students and graduates.

       The procedure recommended in Figure 1 can be used not only for an AIS course,

but for generalized curriculum reviews and improvements.

                                               TABLE 1


Skills and Knowledge Imparted by Standard AIS Course

     Working knowledge of spreadsheet software 1
     Working knowledge of spreadsheet template design 1
     Ability to design ergonomic, efficient and effective user templates for common
        accounting applications 1
     Working knowledge of database management software 1
     Fundamental database design concepts
     Familiarity and understanding of transaction processing systems
     Working knowledge of flowcharting (sufficient to document common transaction
        processing systems)
     Familiarity of data flows through the primary accounting cycles (purchasing-
        payables, sales-receivables, payroll, etc.)
     Fundamental concepts of auditing information systems
     Fundamental knowledge of systems analysis
     Thorough knowledge of internal control principles
     Thorough familiarity with common internal control procedures and applications
     Appreciation of how accounting information systems differ from other management
        information systems.

Skills and Knowledge Necessary but Not Imparted by Standard AIS Course

     Familiarity and comfort-level understanding of the differences between mainframe
        computing environments, personal computing, and networked computing
     Familiarity and comfort-level understanding of the differences between procedural
        languages used in mainframes and legacy systems, and object-oriented
        programming used in modern PC & networked systems.2
     Thorough understanding of the client-server computing paradigm
     Thorough understanding of advanced Relational Database Design 3
     Working Knowledge of database query design and Systems Query Language 3
     Thorough familiarity with all steps and tasks in the Systems Development Life Cycle
     Fundamental knowledge of telecommunications services (telephones, fax, DSL,
        ISDN, T1, T3, etc.)

  This topic was later moved to a separate course required of all accounting majors, covering advanced
Excel spreadsheet techniques and elementary Access.
  This topic is covered by the programming course in the AIS concentration, taught in the MIS department
  This topic is covered by the database design course in the AIS concentration, taught in the MIS

Fundamental knowledge of physical network design and operation (token-ring vs,
    Ethernet, LAN vs. WAN, etc.)
Fundamental knowledge of network architectures (peer-to-peer vs. hierarchical vs.
    client-server, etc. and the advantages and disadvantages of each)
Fundamental knowledge of personal computer hardware (sufficient to facilitate
    simple diagnostics and troubleshooting hardware vs. software problems,
    peripheral installation and configuration, etc.)
Fundamental knowledge of wireless communications and networks (WAP, 802.11,
    Bluetooth, and other wireless protocols) including risks, benefits, good design
    principles, security issues, etc.
Fundamental knowledge of the 7-layer OSI model and how it impacts network design
    and operation, especially the transfer of accounting and E-Commerce data
Working knowledge of the concepts differentiating various network components
    (clients, servers, hubs, packet switches, bridges, routers, gateways, firewalls, Cat
    3 and Cat 5 cabling, etc.) and their potential impact on accounting data
    collection/transfer systems
Familiarity with concepts and operation of some common accounting data collection
    and transmission devices (POS terminals, scanners, card readers, etc. including
    advantages and disadvantages)
Fundamental knowledge of how encryption facilitates public-key/private-key
    systems, and how such systems are employed to lend security to E-Commerce
Fundamental knowledge of concepts behind the “Web of Trust” principles, including
    how authentication and verification systems are constructed and used in E-
    Commerce applications
Familiarity with basic Information Assurance and Risk Analysis concepts
Understanding of the differences between Information Assurance and Information
Working knowledge of Information Security concepts, procedures, and controls
Introductory knowledge of IS Auditing principles
Ability to use the above knowledge to easily and readily understanding new
    technological tools as they are developed and introduced into accounting
    information systems.

                                       TABLE 2


Goal 1: Historical Perspective on Computing and Communications

1.   Students will undergo a review of the history of computing, with particular
     emphasis on the evolution of computer design and construction, the advent of
     electronic data communication, the revolution in telecommunications, and the effect
     of these developments on business and accounting information systems.

Goal 2: Legacy Computing

2.   The student will recognize the differences between microcomputers and mini and
     mainframe computer sysmtes in terms of design, construction, program
     developmeng, operations management, operating system characteristics, security
     considerations, and application.

Goal 3: Modern PC-Based Computing

3.   The student will recognize the components in modern personal computer systems,
     and gain a deeper understanding of the configuration parameters of each, and how
     mis-configuration affects operation of hardware and software.

4.   The student will recognize the various connections and interfaces used for
     peripheral device connections to modern personal computers, and understand how
     these interfaces affect specification, selection, installation, configuration, and
     operation of the peripheral devices, software, and the system in general.

Goal 4: Datacommunications and Telecommunications Infrastructure

5.   The student will become familiar with the terminology, definitions, purpose, and
     functions of the various components used in modern data collection systems and
     data communication systems.

6.   The student will become familiar with the history, design, and operation of analog
     telephone networks, including the public switched telephone network, as well as
     analog broadcast media, and understand how they differ from digital
     datacommunication networks.

7.    The student will be able to describe the various services offered by modern
      telecommunication companies (such as POTS, DSL, ISDN, T1 lines, fiber
      connections, ATM, etc.), and understand the characteristics which make each
      suitable or unsuitable for various applications.

8.    The student will become familiar with the various methods and techniques for
      converting analog communications into digital form, and vice versa, and understand
      why these conversions are necessary and desirable in certain instances, as well as
      how such conversions facilitate modern communications networks.

Goal 5: Modern Networking

9.    The student will understand the differences and similarities between analog and
      digital networks, and be able to compare and contrast circuit switching, packet
      switching, and cellular switching techniques.

10.   The student will understand the seven-layer Open Systems Interconnect (OSI)
      model for network protocol design, and understand how it forms the basis of packet
      switching networks.

11. The student will understand how the OSI model is applied in the design,
    construction, and operation of local area, wide area, and virtual networks, and the

12. The student will understand the differences between mere networked computers and
    true client-server technology. The student will appreciate how these differences
    contribute to network operation and efficiency.

13. The student will be able to explain the differences between token-ring and Ethernet
    network architectures, and be able to identify the characteristics of a network which
    make each architecture appropriate or inappropriate. Students will understand the
    difference between hierarchical and peer-to-peer networking, and understand the
    conditions under which each is the preferred choice.

Goal 6: Mobile Computing and Wireless Technologies

14. Students will become familiar with the major classes of mobile computing and
    communications devices available on today’s market, and will recognize the
    differences in capability, limitations, features, application, and utility between them.
    Students will recognize the niche each occupies in the current business and e-
    commerce environment. Students will recognize the differences in operations,
    capabilities, and purposes of WAP, 802.11, and Bluetooth protocols and be able to
    describe the applications appropriate for each.

Goal 7: Information Security

15. Students will become familiar with the theoretical framework for analyzing and
    providing information security. Students will recognize some of the various
    components, policies, procedures, and techniques which can be used to provide or
    enhance information security in today’s business environments.

16. Students will recognize the role of encryption, and the use of public-key/private-key
    cryptography, to facilitate modern E-Commerce systems, authentication systems,
    and the contruction of Virtual Private Networks.

Goal 8: Integration and Synthesis

17. The student will become familiar with how the various technological components
    described above are combined and applied to yield today’s modern, complex,
    integrated business information systems, and the global e-commerce infrastructure.

18. Students will recognize some of the real-world risks associated with modern
    accounting and financial information systems, networks, and the e-commerce
    infrastructure, and understand how the design, construction, and operation
    parameters can contribute to, or mitigate, the various risks.

19. The student will develop a deeper appreciation for the similarities, differences, and
    nuances between the terms: computing, telecommunications, datacommunications,
    networked computing, distributed computing, e-business, e-commerce, and web
    commerce. Student will come to understand the place each has in today’s global
    business environment.

20. The student will understand the concepts behind XBRL, how XML differs from
    HTML, and gain an appreciation for the advantages of using XBRL to facilitate
    financial reporting and data transfer.

Goal 9: Research, Group, and Presentation Skills (coursewide)

21.   Students will learn, and will gain practice in using, effective research techniques for
      learning about emerging developments in computing, telecommunications, and
      datacommunications. Students will become familiar with various sources for
      keeping their knowledge current as technology progresses at an ever-increasing

22.   Students will exercise their communications, presentation, and group dynamics
      skills by presenting their research findings to the class and/or other audiences.

                                                     FIGURE 1


Institutional Mission

                                                            Exec Advisory Board

      Develop Draft List of Essential                            Recruiters
         Concepts, Skills, and
                                                             Potential Recruiters


                                                            Alumni & Graduates

        Compare List of Essential
          Concepts, Skills, and                      Literature Recommendations
         Knowledge to literature                         and Other Institutions’

            Curriculum Design                           Faculty Resources,
                                                      Institutional Constraints

       Pedagogical Development &
                Delivery                                  Students                    Graduates

          Assessment Design,
       Implementation, & Analysis

                                                                        Feedback on Curriculum’s Success

Note: Implicit in the model is the assumption that meeting the career and lifelong needs of students is paramount.

Note: The data gathering (from constituencies) and feedback steps should involve more formal collection and analysis
methodology than was used in this case. Also, detailed documentation of each step will prove helpful to future curriculum
revision and development efforts.


AAA, Report of the AAA Committee on Contemporary Approaches to Teaching
Accounting Information Systems, American Accounting Association, (Sarasota, FL) 1987

AICPA/NASBA, Computerizing the Uniform CPA Exam: Issues, Strategies and
Policies, Joint AICPA/NASBA Computerization Implementation Committee (CIC),
American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (Jersey City, NJ), 2001.

Bain, Craig E., Alan I. Blankley, and L. Murphy Smith, “An Examination of Topical
Coverage for the First Accounting Information Systems Course”, Journal of Information
Systems, Volume 16, No. 2, 2002.

Bryant, Stephanie M., Judy K. Weishar, and David R. Fordham, “A Survey of
Accounting Information Systems Programs in U.S. Colleges and Universities”, The
Review of Accounting Information Systems, Volume 3, No. 2, pp. 1-11, 1999.

Freedman, Alan, The Computer Desktop Encyclopedia, Compact Disk, The Computer
Language Company, (Point Pleasant, PA), 2003.

Ingram, Robert W., (ed), Computer Integration into the Accounting Curriculum: Case
Studies, Coopers & Lybrand Foundation and the American Accounting Association,
Sarasota, 1988

Moscove, Stephen A., Mark G. Simkin, and Nancy A. Bagranoff, Core Concepts of
Accounting Information Systems, Wiley and Sons (New York), 1999

Seigel, Gary, and James E. Sorensen, Counting More, Counting Less: Transformations
in the Management Accounting Profession, The Institute of Management Accountants
(Montvale, NJ), 1999.

Stone, Dan N., “Researching the Revolution: Prospects and Possibilities for the Journal
of Information Systems”, Journal of Information Systems, Volume 16, No. 1, pp. 1-6,

Summers, Edward L, (ed.), Technological Change: Its Impact on Accounting, 1982
Proceedings of the Arthur Young Roundtable, Council of Arthur Young Professors,
Reston, Virginia, 1983.


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