Many higher education institutions across the country now use assessment programs to improve student learning. This is a process whereby performance data on each student is collected, evaluated, and used by faculty and administrators to make modifications to curriculum and teaching methods. Documenting learning success is one component in demonstrating institutional effectiveness to various stakeholders, including accreditation boards and potential employers of graduates.1 Accounting educators should be aware of computer- assisted learning tools, such as online homework and intelligent tutoring systems, which have been shown to both increase student learning and provide valuable evidence for course, departmental, or institutionwide assessment programs. Studies have investigated the variables that contribute to student learning in accounting and found that homework is one of the most significant factors that lead to student learning success.2 Homework is not only important in mastering accounting concepts, but also has the added benefit of producing evidence that instructors can use to assess student learning. The gathering and analysis of assessment data related to student learning is gready enhanced by the computer-assisted learning tools discussed below.
Online Homework System
As I stated in my spring 2011 education column, online homework systems (OHS) continue to increase in prevalence. National textbook publishers - including Wiley, Pearsons, Cengage, and McGraw Hill - provide online homework systems that are integrated with course textbooks and offer numerous benefits to both students and instructors. OHS are efficient and flexible systems that have been shown to contribute to learning and overall student satisfaction; in fact, one study found that a majority of students preferred OHS to paper-and-pencil homework.3 Some of the major benefits of OHS include an opportunity for users to gain immediate feedback, an ability for repeated practice on algorithmically generated problems, and an apparent reduction in required support during office hours for the instructor.4 Finally, OHS produce performance data tied to student learning outcomes that can be used for assessment purposes.
OHS do have limitations, one of which is a low tolerance for immaterial departures on solutions, such as rounding or order of magnitude. In addition, feedback is limited to the accuracy of student answers, as OHS are not capable of analyzing the reasoning used to arrive at solutions.5 Finally, implementing an OHS requires students and faculty to have access to computers and to receive training.
Intelligent Tutoring System
A more sophisticated computer-assisted tool gaining in popularity is Intelligent Tutoring Systems (ITS). ITS use artificial intelligence to determine students' reasoning during problem- solving exercises and to offer relevant feedback and instruction. It coaches students to an increased conceptual understanding - a process similar to that of a human tutor.
One study compared the learning effects of OHS with that of ITS and found that ITS were more successful at increasing student learning related to accounting transaction analysis.6 The study suggested the primary reason for this result lies in the interaction between the student and the ITS during problem-solving. After each instruction, students may ask as many questions as the student feels is necessary. In other words, ITS will help a student understand why an answer is right or wrong during each step of the problem.
ITS are similar to OHS in their efficiency and flexibility, instant feedback, automated grading, and the production of assessment data. Some ITS drawbacks include limited penetration in the marketplace as compared to OHS and none of the national textbook publishers have integrated ITS with accounting textbooks.
Assessment of student learning continues to be a focus at higher education institutions across the country. Computerassisted learning tools such as OHS and ITS appear to be effective and efficient in increasing student learning. Furthermore, the data generated from such systems can be used by faculty and administrators for assessment. The evidence is convincing: use of computerassisted learning tools in accounting education can yield positive outcomes for students, faculty, institutions, and stakeholders.
Copyright Pennsylvania Institute of Certified Public Accountants Fall 2012
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