VIEWS: 0 PAGES: 38 POSTED ON: 10/8/2012
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 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Draft Paper -- For Review Purposes Only For consideration for presentation at the 2003 Annual Meeting of the AIS Educator’s Association Copper Mountain, Colorado AND 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 ABSTRACT 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. 1 Lessons Learned: One University’s Experience in Developing and Revising An AIS Curriculum INTRODUCTION 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 2 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. 3 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. 4 INITIATION OF THE ORIGINAL AIS CONCENTRATION 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 major. 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 5 accounting department, the program relied upon the MIS department for the additional content. 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 & 6 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. 7 A STARTING POINT: THE EXECUTIVE ADVISORY BOARD 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 8 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 majors. 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 9 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. THE LIST OF AIS SKILLS AND KNOWLEDGE 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 10 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. CONFIRMATION OF FINDINGS AND DISCOVERY OF A DISCREPANCY The importance of the skills and knowledge shown in Table 1 was confirmed via a number of avenues. 11 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. 12 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. POSSIBLE EXPLANATION FOR THE DISCREPANCY 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 13 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. 14 A NEW ROLE FOR THE PROGRAMMING AND DATABASE COURSES 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, 15 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 16 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). 17 DEPTH NECESSARY ON A MULTITUDE OF TECHNICAL SUBJECTS 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. 18 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.” 19 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 20 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 21 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 highly. 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 22 the course also took on the responsibility of developing the course resources, pulling from approximately six different textbooks. Insert Table 2 About Here. COURSE CONSTRUCTION AND PEDAGOGY 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 23 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; 24 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. 25 SUMMARY OF CURRICULUM DEVELOPMENT PROCEDURE 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. LIMITATIONS, CAVEATS, AND HINDSIGHT 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 mistakes. 26 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, 27 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 curriculum. 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. 28 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. CONCLUSIONS 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 29 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. 30 TABLE 1 LIST OF KNOWLEDGE/SKILLS IDENTIFIED AS ESSENTIAL FOR AIS GRADUATES 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 environments 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.) 1 This topic was later moved to a separate course required of all accounting majors, covering advanced Excel spreadsheet techniques and elementary Access. 2 This topic is covered by the programming course in the AIS concentration, taught in the MIS department 3 This topic is covered by the database design course in the AIS concentration, taught in the MIS department. 31 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 transactions 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 Security 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. 32 TABLE 2 LEARNING OBJECTIVES FOR SECOND AIS COURSE 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. 33 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 Internet. 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. 34 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 rate. 22. Students will exercise their communications, presentation, and group dynamics skills by presenting their research findings to the class and/or other audiences. 35 FIGURE 1 PROCEDURE FOR DEVELOPMENT OF A SECOND AIS COURSE Institutional Mission Exec Advisory Board CONSTITUENCIES Develop Draft List of Essential Recruiters Concepts, Skills, and Knowledge Potential Recruiters Practitioners Alumni & Graduates Compare List of Essential Concepts, Skills, and Literature Recommendations Knowledge to literature and Other Institutions’ Experience 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. 36 BIBLIOGRAPHY 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, 2002. 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. 37
"An Approach for Designing"