Calculated risk: How this accounting professor infused a linear discipline with creative thinking

The education of a Certified Public Accountant is typically linear, with every class prescribed. While that approach can be effective, it has a downside: Accounting students don’t often get the opportunity to fundamentally question who they are and why they’re pursuing accounting in the first place. I think this absence of self-exploration explains why the vast majority of prospective CPAs actually leave accounting once they’ve completed their professional requirements. 

I wanted to fill that gap. So I developed a new graduate level elective at the University of Alabama called Beyond the CPA. And since this was new terrain for the Accounting program, I decided to incorporate innovative, non-traditional teaching methods into the course.

Creating a channel for introspection

I designed Beyond the CPA to disrupt the traditional accounting mindset. The curriculum included guest speakers who were reinventing the accounting profession in interesting ways, non-traditional readings like Parker Palmer’s Let Your Life Speak, and regular group discussions.

Quoc Hoang lecturing

I also assigned a daily journal, which I found particularly exciting. I hoped deeper introspection would lead students to increased self-knowledge, an important factor in everyone’s success as they embark on a new career. 

But by the end of the first course offering, it became evident that written journaling wasn’t yielding meaningful revelations. Students treated journaling almost like a calculation. Each entry had an opening, closing, and supportive points to fill in the blanks. What should have been a mindful process was, for them, formulaic. 

I didn’t want to give up on journaling, but I also needed to snap students out of their rote habits by sparking spontaneous, creative expression. That meant using a different medium. I landed on the idea of video journaling, and when I began exploring different platforms, a friend introduced me to Marco Polo.

A new approach helps break old habits

The second year I offered the course, I included Marco Polo in the curriculum. Rather than requiring written journals, I instructed students to exchange Polos with me to share their reflections on classroom discussions, reading material, and anything else that triggered an insight. Their Polos didn’t even have to relate directly to accounting.

Beyond the CPA student delivering final video essay

By using an app that encouraged natural conversational give-and-take, I hoped to build students’ confidence and nudge them toward personal growth.  

Initially most students were uncomfortable. Some whispered into their phones because they didn’t want anyone around them to hear. Others ducked below the camera to hide their faces.

All of this was perfect! Accounting students can be very “type A” in the sense that they know exactly what they want and how to get it. Their discomfort indicated that we were tapping into something rich and new. Putting students a little off balance helped to shift the landscape, providing access to deeper wisdom that would set them on more fulfilling path.

As the class progressed, students became more comfortable offering their thoughts and feelings over Marco Polo. Some of them took it really seriously, regularly reviewing and reflecting on our conversations and even integrating Polos into their final video essay projects. For those students, the class experience was profound.

Shaping a fulfilling career requires more than a degree

Incorporating Marco Polo into my curriculum led to transformative growth in my students. 

  • As they created and reflected on their video journals, students gained self-knowledge. Understanding your strengths, limitations, hopes, and dreams is so important when you’re assessing your future. 
  • Students became more comfortable sharing their observations and receiving feedback, which taught them to trust themselves. It also helped them practice honest, forthright, and respectful information exchange. That type of communication is key to professional success. 
  • Using a creative process and a non-traditional medium, students broke through their linear mindset and learned to approach information analysis and problem-solving from a different angle. Thinking creatively is valuable, even in accounting!  

These journeys of self-discovery truly helped prepare my students to pursue meaningful, fulfilling work after graduation.

The top three ways Marco Polo enriched my curriculum

#1: Broke the essay mindset. My students knew how to write, but not expressively. I wanted them to practice introspection. Sharing perceptions in a Polo, rather than a written journal entry, successfully broke up their habitual mindset.

Beyond the CPA class portrait

#2: Got students in the habit of sharing. Marco Polo stood out among other video communication platforms because of its simplicity. The start-and-stop process was a no-brainer. Nothing could get in the way of my students jumping into video journaling and then sticking with it. 

#3: Promoted self-knowledge. Students struggled to get comfortable with Marco Polo at first. That struggle helped them tap into something new. Once they got used to the format, they realized that connecting with me as a sounding board could provide reassurance and greater insight.

Whether or not my students ultimately choose to stay in accounting long-term, I know they’re leaving my classroom better prepared to meet the world.

2 thoughts on “Calculated risk: How this accounting professor infused a linear discipline with creative thinking

  1. Way to bring in new technology into the classroom like Marco Polo to ultimately have a bigger impact on student’s lives. Thank you Quoc for caring about students and going the extra mile!

    1. Johnny, we loved learning about Quoc’s course – such an innovative way to bring Marco Polo into a learning environment. Thanks for reading!

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