J. of Acc. Ed. 20 (2002) 139–161 www.elsevier.com/locate/jaccedu Main articles Using journal articles to teach public sector accounting in higher education Zahirul Hoque* School of Accounting and Finance, Griﬃth University, PMB 50, Gold Coast Mail Centre, Queensland 9726, Australia Received 1 March 2000; received in revised form 1 January 2001; accepted 1 October 2001 Abstract This article reports the ﬁndings of an exploratory study into students’ perceptions of the extent that journal articles are helpful for learning public sector accounting. Data used in the study were mainly derived from face-to-face interviews with six students. Abstracting the meaning of articles was a dominant concept of learning for the majority of students who participated in this study. The students found journal articles to be a valuable aid to learning. Whilst they perceived academic articles as helpful in facilitating learning, they ranked the usefulness of professional articles higher than academic articles. The study also found that the majority of students who participated used a deep approach in reading a journal article; i.e. they tried to gain a full understanding of the article. # 2002 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved. Keywords: Accounting education; Journal-based learning; Student learning; Public sector accounting; Australia 1. Introduction Adaptation and change of the accounting curriculum is necessary to properly prepare students to communicate eﬀectively, apply appropriate factual analyses, and make sound judgments about the challenges facing them in this new century. In addition, scholars suggest that the accounting curriculum must be updated to be responsive to the needs of prospective employers (Rebele & Tiller, 1986; Rebele, * Tel.: +61-7-5552-8703; fax: +61-7-5552-8068. E-mail address: [email protected] (Z. Hoque). 0748-5751/02/$ - see front matter # 2002 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved. PII: S0748-5751(02)00006-4 140 Z. Hoque / J. of Acc. Ed. 20 (2002) 139–161 Stout, & Hassell, 1991; Rebele, Apostolou, Buckless, Hassell, Paquette, & Stout, 1998a, 1998b). Accounting teaching is predominantly based on textbooks; consequently undergraduate students often receive little exposure to journal articles. However, some academics claim that the conventional wisdom of accounting textbooks (especially management accounting) has little relevance to practice (Ryan, Scapens, & Theobold, 1992). Thus textbooks need to be supplemented by articles from academic and professional (or practitioner) journals. Academic articles can help reduce the perceived gap between theory and practice, and enable students to understand the roles of accounting in organizations and society. Professional articles can help students integrate theoretical and practical concepts, and increase the practical relevance of accounting course material. Faculty are the primary audience for academic journals. In contrast, professional articles are published in journals whose readers include practitioners as well as academicians. Articles published in academic journals are generally long and are based on theoretical frameworks and/or reasonable assumptions and logic. Professional articles are short, concise, and relate to problems facing practitioners and the business community as a whole. Despite calls for greater use of articles in accounting teaching, there is little research on whether student learning styles diﬀer when academic and professional journal articles are used in undergraduate courses (Caldwell, Weishar, & Glezen, 1996; Williams, Tiller, Herring, & Schiener, 1988). This article seeks to shed light on this topic. Johnstone and Biggs (1998), Bonner and Lewis (1990) and Libby and Luft (1993) suggest that integrating technical information with practical experience and promoting lifelong learning skills are necessary for developing the knowledge and performance of accountants. Further, the Accounting Education Change Commission (AECC) proposes that accounting curricula should be conﬁgured to convey attitudes of life-long learning as well as essential information and technical skills (AECC, 1990). The author believes that the use of academic and professional articles may serve this purpose, as these articles deal with both theoretical and practical issues. Little is known about the beneﬁts of journal articles in an accounting course (see Saudagaran, 1996). The motivating factor for this study derives from a desire to examine this apparent gap in prior research. In so doing, the study sets out three primary objectives: 1. To assess students’ conceptions of learning; 2. To determine the usefulness of journal articles in facilitating student learning; and 3. To determine how a student approaches reading a journal article. The ﬁndings reported here should be helpful for accounting educators who would want to incorporate journal articles in their classes. Furthermore, the ﬁndings may generate issues for future research in accounting education. The context for this study is the Contemporary Issues in Public Sector Financial Management course at the third-year undergraduate level within the School of Accounting and Finance at the Gold Coast Campus of Griﬃth University in Australia. Z. Hoque / J. of Acc. Ed. 20 (2002) 139–161 141 This course critically examines fundamental issues underlying recent developments in public sector ﬁnancial management, accountability, and control. It attempts to synthesize a variety of theoretical perspectives to help future managers grapple with issues of ﬁnancial management, internal reporting and control. No existing textbook appears to capture the breadth of these issues; consequently the course is based completely on articles from both academic and professional (or practitioner) journals. Appendix A provides a list of the readings used. The author attempts to achieve the following primary objectives with students enrolled in the course: 1. Provide students with theoretical knowledge to critically evaluate ﬁnancial management and accountability issues within public sector organizations; 2. Provide an understanding of the values and assumptions underlying accounting and accountability systems in the public sector and the way we think about the nature and roles of accounting in public sector organizations; 3. Provide students with theoretical knowledge to analyze standard accountability reports of various public sector entities and express their views in a coherent manner; 4. Provide students with opportunities to develop their awareness of the latest developments so that they can enter a job knowing what public sector accounting is like today; 5. Develop the ability to initiate and conduct research; and 6. Develop skills to think creatively and act ethically. The professional accounting bodies in Australia expect that accounting curricula will be designed to enable students to acquire the above cognitive and behavioral skills.1 Scholars claim that these skills are required to allow knowledge and understanding to be used appropriately and eﬀectively at work, and in collaboration with others (e.g. Marton & Saljo, 1997; Tate, 1993). Accounting professionals outside Australia also encourage more student involvement in the learning process (for details, see AECC, 1990; AICPA, 1998; Arthur Andersen & Co. et al., 1989). The next section of the paper deﬁnes concepts relevant to the study. The third section describes the research method employed. Subsequent sections present the results and a discussion of the implications of the ﬁndings. 2. Literature review This study draws from literature on students’ conceptions of subject matter and aspects of learning styles. Surprisingly, a review of the accounting education 1 For further details on these skills, refer to Competency Standards and Assessment Structures for Professional Accountants in Australia and New Zealand (1996) prepared by Professor W.P. Birkett and published by Australian Society of Certiﬁed Practising Accountants (ASCPAs), Institute of Chartered Accountants in Australia (ICAA) and Institute of Chartered Accountants of New Zealand, May, 1996. 142 Z. Hoque / J. of Acc. Ed. 20 (2002) 139–161 literature revealed little or no work on these issues. Consequently, the literature review presented below is largely drawn from work in other disciplines such as arts, sciences and education. 2.1. Concept of learning Generally, the term ‘conception’ refers to acquiring a general understanding of the discipline or subject area (Entwistle, 1997, p. 17). Dahlgren and Marton (1978) suggest that conceptions of learning form a very important component of what we call the ‘‘cultural basis of a society.’’ The education literature suggests that students come into higher education with diﬀering conceptions of learning (Marton & Saljo, 1997), which may vary from individual to individual (see Perry, 1970; Whitehead, 1957).2 Marton, Beaty, and Dall’Alba (1993) and Marton et al. (1997) delineate stages of learning as: A quantitative increase in knowledge. Memorizing. The acquisition, for subsequent utilization, of facts, methods, etc. The abstraction of meaning. An interpretive process aimed at understanding reality. Developing as a person. Not all students will see learning as including all the above steps. Some may see learning as mainly transforming information in the process of reaching personal understanding; others may see learning as a matter of acquiring information and reproducing it accurately as required by the teacher (Entwistle, 1997). 2.2. Student learning approach Student approaches to learning are well documented in the literature (see Laurillard, 1978; Marton, 1970; Marton et al., 1997; Svensson, 1976). The education literature describes two approaches to learning: deep (or holistic) and surface (or atomistic). In the deep or holistic approach, students tend to show indications of understanding the text as a whole. This includes a search for the author’s intention, relating the content to a larger context and delimiting the main parts of the text. Alternatively, in the surface or atomistic approach, students tend to focus on speciﬁc comparisons in the text, or the sequence of the text, but not the main parts, memorizing details without orienting towards the message as a whole. Laurillard (1978) carried out a study on a group of 31 university students studying various sciences and engineering courses to determine the extent to which existing descriptions of the learning process, such as the deep/surface approach, could be applied to students taking these courses. Laurillard found that the adopted approach derived from students’ reasons for undertaking the course—why they were 2 For a detailed review of conceptions of learning see Perry (1970) and Marton et al. (1997). Z. Hoque / J. of Acc. Ed. 20 (2002) 139–161 143 doing it and what they expected to get out of it. According to Laurillard (1978), this aﬀected whether students had a desire to understand the meaning (deep or holistic approach), or merely to memorize or to reproduce information (surface or atomistic approach). Furthermore, she found 19 out of the 31 students used both approaches. To sum up, within the deep approach students look for patterns and underlying principles with the intention of understanding issues critically and cautiously. Such students tend to become actively interested in the course content. Alternatively, within the surface approach students tend to cope with course requirements, try to memorize facts and procedures routinely, experience feelings of undue pressure, and worry more about their work (for details, see Entwistle, 1997, p. 19). 3. Research method 3.1. Case study strategy Morgan and Smircich (1980, p. 491) state: The case for any research method, whether qualitative or quantitative (in any case, a somewhat crude and oversimpliﬁed dichotomisation) cannot be considered or presented in the abstract, because the choice and adequacy of a method embodies a variety of assumptions regarding the nature of the knowledge and the methods through which that knowledge can be obtained, as well as a set of root assumptions about the nature of the phenomena to be investigated. Thus the rationale for a particular research strategy is grounded in the core assumptions regarding ontology, human nature, and epistemology (Burrell & Morgan, 1979; Morgan, 1980). The study described the social world from the perspective of relevant actors (in this study the students). The primary focus is on understanding the students’ experience of learning and perceptions concerning the use of journal articles in curriculum design. In this sense, organizations and society (in this study university, faculties, schools, classrooms) are assumed to be socially constructed systems of reality (Burrell & Morgan, 1979; Chua, 1986, 1988; Morgan, 1983; Morgan & Smircich, 1980). Morgan and Smircich (1980, p. 494) remark, ‘‘The social world is a continuous process, created afresh in each encounter of everyday life as individuals impose themselves on their world to establish a realm of meaningful deﬁnition.’’ This suggests that actors develop or create their realities, not only through their own intellect, but also through common experience and interaction with others (Garﬁnkel, 1967; Hopper & Powell, 1985; Tomkins & Grove, 1983; Van Maanen, 1979). By focusing attention on the students’ interpretations and subjectivity, this study seeks to show how the students involved in learning public sector accounting make sense of situations and their everyday experiences. The style of research required for this purpose was an open-ended, intensive case study in the interpretive tradition (Garﬁnkel, 1967; Silverman, 1985; Hopper & 144 Z. Hoque / J. of Acc. Ed. 20 (2002) 139–161 Powell, 1985). Yin (1993) suggests that a case-study approach should be the preferred strategy when what, how, or why questions are posed and when the researcher wishes to understand an organizational phenomenon in its real-life context. The case study approach, however, has weaknesses. The interpretations of the social reality raise the problem of researcher bias, because the researcher in this context cannot be regarded as an independent observer. A case study is time-consuming and may result in massive, unreadable documents. The inability to generalize ﬁndings from a case study is also an issue. However, the aim of this study is not prediction, but understanding. Despite its weaknesses, the case study approach adopted here contributed signiﬁcantly to the author gaining a deep understanding of the students’ experience of learning in a particular context. As Scapens (1990, p. 278) remarks: Researchers should avoid the temptation of thinking of case studies only in terms of statistical generalisation. . . researchers who see generalisations only in this sense will either reject case study methods or not fully exploit their potential. 3.2. Data sources Data were gathered over a 6-month period using a series of semi-structured interviews. The purpose in this study was to understand beliefs, perceptions, and experiences of learning in students’ own terms. This demanded that the researcher let students speak as freely as possible about their own ways of perceiving themselves and their world. Perry (1970) and others consider this technique to be useful in research where the primary concern is to reveal how respondents give meaning to their experiences (Silverman, 1985; Van Mannen, 1979). Perry (1970, p. 18) states: We feel that our way of addressing the issues at stake in these moments, beyond being crucial to the data of this study, may have general relevance for the conduct of any inquiry in which the primary purpose is to allow the respondent freedom to speak from his own ways of ﬁnding meaning in his life. Six accounting students, aged between 21 and 31, were interviewed. The interviews varied in length between 40 min and 1 h and took place in the researcher’s oﬃce. During each interview, which was taped, the researcher ﬁrst welcomed the interviewees, restated his interest in hearing from them about their experience, and asked permission (with assurance of anonymity) to record. An interview protocol (see Appendix B) was devised to conduct the interviews. This protocol served several purposes: introducing the purpose and methods of the research, emphasizing the importance placed on respondents’ views, and providing a basic checklist during the interview to make sure that all relevant topics were covered. Thus, the interview protocol helped the researcher conduct the interviews in a systematic and comprehensive fashion. In order to have complete records of student interviews available for subsequent analysis, the researcher transcribed each tape recording. Z. Hoque / J. of Acc. Ed. 20 (2002) 139–161 145 In addition to tape recording, the researcher also took notes during each interview. Taking notes served two purposes: ﬁrst, the notes helped formulate new questions as the interview progressed, particularly where it might be appropriate to check out something that was said before; second, the notes helped form a database about what was being said during the interview. Careful notes of reactions of the interviewees were made immediately after each interview. Thus the researcher in this study observed the processes and engaged personally in the processes under scrutiny as a ‘‘participant observer’’. Information gathered from interviews was used as a primary data source to explain the research issue explored. Within the interview transcriptions, important direct quotes were used to substantiate the ﬁndings. Students participating in this study were split into two groups: deep learners (those who saw learning as mainly transforming information in the process of reaching personal understanding) and surface learners (those who saw learning as a matter of acquiring information and reproducing it accurately as required by the teacher). This technique helped the researcher capture individual diﬀerences or variations in perceptions about real-world practice. Thus this study was concerned with how participant actors viewed the social world and why they did so. 4. Research ﬁndings 4.1. Accounting students’ conceptions of learning The researcher sought to answer the question of what learning means to students. Analyses of the transcripts produced a variety of conceptions of learning. These are reproduced below in turn. Student A (Samantha): Samantha3 is a ﬁnal year student studying an accounting degree as well as public sector accounting. She has recently accepted an appointment with Queensland Audit Oﬃce. According to Samantha, learning is personal understanding. She elaborated it thus: I believe that learning is personal understanding because unless you are able to put it in your own thought, in your own words, in your own mind, you don’t understand it and you might be able to rote learn it for a test but as soon as you walk out of the exam you can’t remember it and it doesn’t actually mean anything unless you understand it and apply it to situations that you have seen or things that you have heard of and actually take a personal understanding. In addition to achieving a deeper understanding of the topic, Samantha also likes to get good marks. As she reﬂected: 3 The real name of the student is not used to preserve anonymity. 146 Z. Hoque / J. of Acc. Ed. 20 (2002) 139–161 For me I also like to get high grades. I am a bit of a perfectionist and I like to strive for the high marks. Student B (Rob): Rob graduated in Semester 2 2000 and has taken a position at the Australian Taxation Oﬃce. He described his concept of knowledge, as follows: I do not really think of learning as just being able to regurgitate exactly what the teacher said. I think what you need to do is that you need to collect the information from the teacher and you need to sit down yourself and try and understand it yourself. Student C (Shamma): Shamma is a second year student studying accounting and public sector accounting. To Shamma, learning is more of a personal understanding. She described her concept of learning thus: Reproducing is all well and good but if you don’t understand it then you won’t remember it. Like you study for an exam and if you just reproduce what a lecturer or what the textbook says you get out of the exam and you can’t remember what you have learnt but if you understand the concepts it is probably easier for you to remember more things. Student D (Sharmi): Sharmi is a ﬁnal year student studying for both accounting and public sector accounting. She saw learning from a broader context. According to her, learning is multi-dimensional. She elaborated it thus: I think learning is not just about reproducing information because then you might not understand it but if you have an exam and you know that is going to be on there and you want to get the mark then maybe that is what you will do. If you don’t really learn it well you might get the grade but then when you are working you won’t know it so you are going to have to learn it eventually but it depends what your priority is. Student E (Shehab): Shehab is a second year student studying for a double degree in accounting and public sector accounting. He saw learning as developing selfconﬁdence. According to Shehab: Learning is more about achieving a wider understanding of the topic. So if somebody asks about something you can have a conversation. If you understand the topic deeply you should be able to speak about it or you should be able to understand it. Student F (Adnan): Adnan will graduate in Semester 1, 2001. He is working full time in a commercial bank. He is also studying for a double degree in accounting and public sector accounting. To Adnan, learning is something that one can use to create knowledge. He elaborated it thus: Z. Hoque / J. of Acc. Ed. 20 (2002) 139–161 147 You can study out of a book, you can take notes, you can reproduce it in exams but you might not actually learn anything. Reproducing it is not actually learning what it is all about. It is like you see enough stop signs you know that you have to stop. You might not know what for, for what reasons you are to stop, for something that you visualize, you identify with it. You just do it. Further, Adnan commented: Learning from my mind is having a good understanding and being interested in it enough that you want to develop that a little bit further. If you don’t want to develop it a little bit further then you are not really interested in learning it in the ﬁrst place. It is just a means to an end. It is just a task that you are performing. These quotes suggest that each student shares a common concept of learning, viewed as the process of reaching personal understanding. Equally, the students said that without personal understanding they could not get a good grade. Moreover, there is a widespread feeling that although some employers look for high grades it is a good understanding of a topic that really matters. Getting high grades seems to appear as a sort of external pressure to Shehab (Student E). This is reﬂected on his following views: I think personally getting the grade seems to be where a lot of pressure is because that is what is getting your foot in the door and gets you the job but once you are actually in there and doing something if you don’t have the understanding then I think you are going to be found out pretty quick or you are going to fall over or not cope. 4.2. Use of journal articles to teach public sector accounting Each class involved a 3-h seminar-type session that was the equivalent of the standard 2-h lecture plus 1 h tutorial or workshop allocation per subject. The seminar involved the presentation of material followed by a workshop component. For eﬀective discussion on the topic in the seminars, students were advised to read and gain an understanding of all the set reading materials beforehand. It was not the aim of the seminars to go routinely through initiatives in each of the major public sector organizations. Rather, seminars highlighted and critically analyzed the main assumptions, outcomes, and implications of such initiatives. Students were expected to draw on this material and the appropriate readings to build a sufﬁciently comprehensive understanding of accountability and control systems in the public sector. Each student was also required to lead class discussion by presenting a review and analysis of two journal articles set within the reading materials for two alternative seminar weeks. Presentations commenced in the third week. Students were advised to follow the following steps in the review process: 148 Z. Hoque / J. of Acc. Ed. 20 (2002) 139–161 To identify key issues addressed in the article; To outline the paper’s theoretical or methodological issues; To summarize the ﬁndings discussed in the article; To ascertain what remains to be studied (unresolved issues) in the area; and To conclude. Article presenters were encouraged to generate discussion by asking questions and organizing debates or activities. All students were expected to prepare for each session by reading and writing a brief summary of all articles for that session. A substantial component of the overall presentation mark was awarded for creating an active class discussion around the topics. Students were also encouraged to create a small case study, or series of questions or debate issues to inspire discussion. 4.2.1. Usefulness of journal articles in facilitating learning The researcher sought an answer to the question of ‘‘how helpful journal articles were’’ in facilitating student learning. The following quotes reveal variations in students’ responses: Samantha: I think journal articles give us an idea of the sort of research that is going on out there that we wouldn’t otherwise come into contact with. They focus on one speciﬁc topic, they tend to go into a lot of detail on the one topic so even if you can’t understand everything the writer is saying, at least if you grasp some of it you have a bit of an idea of that topic then. Rob: I think journal articles are vital for the subject. It gives you more of a real life interpretation of what is actually going on. There are so many courses that you just get the textbook and that is it. It doesn’t tell you that it exists in this organization, whereas the journal articles they give you an insight into the topic. Shamma: I think journal articles give you more contact with the world whereas if you are reading from a textbook it is just theoretical and a lot more technical. Like at least you can put that into practice. Like you read about something and you say ‘‘Oh yes I can understand where that comes from’’ but when you read textbooks it doesn’t always come across like that. Sharmi: Journal articles are good. They seem to be more up to date than the textbook. Shehab: I think the journal articles are one of the things that when you have an understanding and you have had them for a while and you have worked in that sort of industry or studied that sort of industry for a while then those things will become more relevant and clearer to you. You cannot get these sorts of understanding from a textbook. Adnan: I think articles-based learning is important because you know you have people study at university for a number of years. They may go through their Z. Hoque / J. of Acc. Ed. 20 (2002) 139–161 149 university life and never actually see a journal article, in particular an academic paper and not actually know what it is that an academic actually does and how they are responsible for further development of the subject and the topics and those sorts of things. That is not just something that comes from the workforce and what happens out there in the real world. The academics are the ones that bring out the theories and start the ball rolling. Three of the six students who participated in this study, however, expressed reservations about journal articles. As one student remarked: The only weakness of journal articles that I would say is that unless you have an understanding of the topic before you start reading you can get lost. Because they go so deep and quite often they assume that you already have some understanding. If you don’t have that understanding you get lost because they have meanings for particular words and you may not actually know what they are getting at through those terms. Another student stated: If you are not used to studying that sort of thing, it can be hard to understand them. What are they proposing and what are they about? That would be the weakness of journal articles. Another student went on further to express her negative sentiment about journal articles, thus: Journal articles are sometimes diﬃcult to understand. Because I think it might just be the wording or larger words or complex sentences. The above ﬁndings indicate that the majority of students interviewed found journal articles to be a valuable aid to learning. 4.2.2. Perceived beneﬁts of academic-type and professional-type articles The researcher was interested in appraising students’ perceived usefulness of both academic-type and professional-type articles. The quotes below illustrate students’ views on this matter: Samantha: The strengths of academic articles are that they go into a lot of depth. Rob: Probably the academics have more of a theoretical side obviously because it is academic and then they put it into practice whereas the practical ones are straight what happened here, what happened here, and what happened here. That is the way that I understand it anyway. The academics they do have more theoretical stuﬀ in them; I think that that is a major advantage. 150 Z. Hoque / J. of Acc. Ed. 20 (2002) 139–161 At least then you can see the theoretical side and then you can see it put into practice. Sharmi: The academic one I think their strengths are the fact that they can ask more questions about an issue where I think if you look the practical ones explain how things work and if they give a good example of how things work well it is sort of a ‘If it ain’t broke don’t ﬁx it’ sort of thing. Shehab: The strengths of an academic article are looking deeper and seeing, asking the questions not always giving the answers but that is fair enough for more research. And practical are better for how things work. I ﬁnd that the academic articles have trouble explaining to non-academics how things work like with a diﬃcult diagram. Professional articles are a lot easier to read. Just to walk in oﬀ the street and read it and not know anything about the topic. Adnan: Personally I think that the majority of the academic articles that I have had to read they sort of talk around themselves a lot perhaps go over the one issue more than once or twice and in the end virtually complicate that particular issue. The above ﬁndings indicate that professional articles are quite good because they give a slightly diﬀerent view to what an academic does. Such articles use a diﬀerent approach and tend to have a knowledgeable background on theory as well as practical aspects of it. 4.2.3. Perceived problems with academic articles The following quotes illustrate students’ perceived problems with academic articles: The academic articles are a bit heavier than the practitioner articles just in the way that they are structured. I do ﬁnd academic a lot harder to read through than professional. I read the academics a couple of times whereas I may read the professional ones once because I understand them more than the academic ones. Well, I have found that a lot of academic articles are diﬃcult to read. It is just the message the academic articles are trying to convey to the reader, a lot of the articles even just the heading is even sometimes hard to understand because they use big words but they might say one thing and you might think it has something to do with along the lines of this but it might be totally diﬀerent to what they are trying to get at. These ﬁndings indicate that undergraduate students may ﬁnd academic articles diﬃcult to understand for their complex theoretical orientations. Z. Hoque / J. of Acc. Ed. 20 (2002) 139–161 151 4.2.4. Perceived problems with professional articles The following extracts describe students’ perceived problems with professional articles: Professional articles seem to be written a bit more from an average person’s perspective but they don’t go as deeply into a topic and quite often they raise an issue but they don’t ﬁnd an answer to it, they just say well we will leave that to the academics. The practitioner ones are also focused at a pretty high level or high standard of studying or learning, but personally I think the practitioner ones are easier to understand. More of a real life focus. I ﬁnd I don’t have to go back and read a professional article a second time and try and work out what they were getting at because quite often it is quite clear. What I ﬁnd with the practitioner ones is that they are a lot shorter whereas the academic articles describes something and it kind of backs it every way possible. So there might have been six ways that it could have been done so I think in a lot of academic articles it is kind of repeating some of the stuﬀ kind of the way that it is said. These ﬁndings suggest that professional articles are easy to understand. They tend to be shorter and condensed. Students who participated in this study found professional articles very helpful in their learning processes. 4.3. Styles and approaches to reading a journal article The quotes below record variations in students’ approaches to reading a journal article: Samantha: When I try reading an academic article I try and read it right through and I get out my highlighter and I highlight what I think are the main points as I am reading it. But then quite often the ﬁrst time that you read it seems like a jumble of information and it is hard to take it all in so perhaps after a little bit of a break going back and trying to work out what were the main points they were getting at. Rob: When I have the time what I like to do is set the article out in front of me and maybe with a notebook and I usually have a highlighter as well and I just simply read through the article and where I think they are making a point like the aim of the article and may be some important points which I think are relevant I just jot them down on the notebook and highlight them. Shamma: I read an academic article a couple of times and highlight them. I try and read through them and get a basic understanding of what they are trying to 152 Z. Hoque / J. of Acc. Ed. 20 (2002) 139–161 say. Some of them they just go straight over the top of my head, some of them not. I probably would be better if I made notes and things like that but I don’t, due to time and things, but I think if I read them a couple of times it is probably the best way of understanding them and the second time pick out the main points of what the authors are trying to say. Interestingly, in contrast to Rob and Shamma, Sharmi tends to adopt a diﬀerent approach to reading an article. She elaborated her approach to learning thus: Well, I try to read the abstract and the conclusion ﬁrst and then I try to read the whole thing. I read it once through leave it and then read it again a second time it is clearer. I usually try to highlight but I have a problem that if I am starting to get tired that I just start to highlight everything because I think everything is important. On the other hand, Shehab’s approach seems to be a deeper approach as reﬂected in his comments: First, front to back straight through and then the second time I sort of go a bit slower and try and pick out the relevant things, read it and then sort of sit back a bit and get a handle on that and then that is one peg and then the next sort of peg and then try and piece it together. If it is in a logical sort of move you know the article progression so then you can sit back and if you can make your own conclusion at the end of the article on top of what the conclusion is to the owner if you can sit back and say basically the article talks about this but here was the problem or here was the issue and then move towards it. Similar to Sharmi, Adnan ﬁrst reads the article and then looks for conclusion. He described his approach thus: I will do that ﬁrst to get a feeling of and then I get a sense of where the article is starting at, where it has ﬁnished at and what basically should be covered in between. Then I will go back through and go through the whole entire article possibly just making pencil notes or highlighted notes throughout and then I might walk away and leave it for a couple of days and actually come back and take proper notes on the article and then I can relate that back at times of doing reviews or studying for exams or whatever I have got a few sets of notes. The above evidence suggests variations in students’ approaches to reading an academic-type article and a professional article. One student, however, expressed his experience in the process of learning from professional articles, accordingly: I ﬁnd I don’t have to go back and read a professional article a second time and try and work out what they were getting at because quite often it is quite clear. They have one message to get across and they will write to that. Z. Hoque / J. of Acc. Ed. 20 (2002) 139–161 153 The researcher was also interested in knowing what the students were really looking out for in the article when they started reading it. The intention was to assess whether the students focused on the text itself or on what the text was about; the authors’ intention, the main point, the conclusion to be drawn. Some quotes below illustrate their learning experience in this matter: Samantha: The message. . .why the writer has written it and what they want to tell you the reader from the information they provide. Rob: I think trying to understand the issues they are putting forward. That is number one, trying to understand what they are talking about because sometimes it is hard to ﬁnd out what the aim is of the article. Next is to read through the article to try to understand the points for and against. Trying to understand exactly what is being said and trying to remember it too. Sharmi: Well I try to get something from the article so you may sit down for an hour and watch some TV and then say well I remember that article and it was based on this and that. Even if you only remember a few points that means you have remembered something. Shamma: Well their main points I guess. What they are trying to get across. What they are talking about and what they are trying to tell us. Adnan: It depends on the article. I know some articles I ﬁnd the topic is more interesting than others and so that one of course I am going to be more ‘‘I know that this is going to be good’’. I try to ﬁnd something really interesting and understand the meaning. Shehab: An understanding of an issue. Not just hearing an issue. These quotes suggest these students have been engaged in ‘‘deep’’ learning as discussed in the literature review section of the paper (Marton et al., 1993; Marton et al., 1997) in order to understand the meaning of the topic. 5. Discussion and implications of the ﬁndings This study is about students experiences of learning in a public sector accounting course at a university. The following sections discuss the contributions and implications of the ﬁndings with reference to the original research objectives. 5.1. Accounting students’ conceptions of learning For most students, learning was abstraction of meaning, understanding reality, and growing self-conﬁdence. Interestingly, the majority of students who participated 154 Z. Hoque / J. of Acc. Ed. 20 (2002) 139–161 in this study perceived ‘‘memorizing and reproducing information’’ as a less important activity in their learning process. Thus the students’ view of learning was rich and seemed to be more closely related to their goals for higher education, i.e. to better understand the meaning of issues. This evidence supports previous claims that the types of learning students expect depends on what learning means to them (Marton et al., 1993; Marton et al., 1997; Tate, 1993). The ﬁndings have practical implications for accounting instructors. As discussed earlier, from a lecturer’s point of view, educating students about public sector accounting practices is challenging because the context of public sector organizations is very diﬀerent from the private sector context. Viewed from such a context, diﬀerent things have to be taken into consideration, for example, not just applying techniques as they come out of the textbook but actually adapting them to the relevant political and social environment. 5.2. Usefulness of journal articles The ﬁndings suggest that the majority of students who participated in this study liked the use of journal articles in their study of public sector accounting. They believed that journal articles worked well for them, with professional articles perceived as being more useful than academic articles. Almost all of the students who participated believed that academic articles were too long, too wordy, too heavy, too theoretical, etc. 5.3. Approaches to learning The study found variations in students’ approaches to learning from journal articles. Some students read the introduction ﬁrst, followed by the conclusion, then the body to grasp the key points, while others were more concerned with reading the article in a holistic manner to understand in depth the meaning of the article. Some students, however, used both of these approaches. The evidence was that some students looked for understanding of the issue as a whole, while others looked to summarize the main points for examination purposes. These ﬁndings are consistent with studies by Marton and Saljo (1976a, 1976b) and Marton and Svensson (1979). A further implication of this study is that students’ experience of learning should be examined within its natural setting because the quality of learning depends crucially on both teaching assessment and students’ conceptions of learning. 6. Concluding remarks Abstraction of meaning was a dominant concept of learning to the majority of students who participated in this study. Journal articles were seen as valuable aid to students’ learning. The majority of students who participated in the study used a Z. Hoque / J. of Acc. Ed. 20 (2002) 139–161 155 deep approach to reading a journal article, although the deep approach is not always best and its usefulness may vary from subject to subject. The way students learn has an important implication for their learning outcomes. As Marton and Saljo (1997) remarked: The way students learn which we believe to be of fundamental importance, and since this diﬀerence goes between two approaches to learning, of which one is clearly preferable to the other, should we not try to make the students who tend to adopt the less appealing approach, change to the more highly valued one? The study has limitations. It is based on a small sample size and one course. The data collected may have been inﬂuenced by the learning materials selected and the particular style of the instructor. Also, the researcher being the instructor may bias the results, though this has beneﬁts of getting close to the interviewees. This study provides no insights into how valuable journal articles may be in a class where textbooks are required. Further, there was no treatment versus control groups and, consequently, there was a lack of experimental rigor in the study. A follow-up study may investigate these issues using a larger sample and a more rigorous experimental design. Notwithstanding, this study is naturalistic in nature in that it uses an in-depth case study method. Small sample sizes are inherently the nature of naturalistic research. This does not mean we cannot learn from this sort of study. This paper brings attention to the issue of using journal articles in class and provides insight into what kind of journal articles (i.e. professional vs. academic) students seem to learn the most from. Additionally, insight into how students approach reading a journal article is interesting and would be helpful to know for instructional purposes. Acknowledgements This study draws on the author’s dissertation submitted to Griﬃth University Institute for Higher Education as partial requirement for the degree of Graduate Certiﬁcate in Higher Education. The author wishes to thank Griﬃth University for the ﬁnancial support provided for this project in the form of Vice Chancellor’s Teaching Bursary. He is indebted to Margaret Buckridge, Roger Landbeck, Chris Guilding, Trevor Hopper, Ross Guest, Jodie Moll, the Editor, the Associate Editor and the two anonymous reviewers for their useful comments on earlier versions of the paper. The paper further beneﬁted from the comments by seminar participants at Griﬃth University School of Accounting and Finance, Gold Coast, Australia and James Cook University School of Business, Cairns and Townsville, Australia. 156 Z. Hoque / J. of Acc. Ed. 20 (2002) 139–161 Appendix A ACF3203 Contemporary Issues in Public Sector Financial Management List of Weekly Readings (Semester 2 1999) Lecture Week Topic/Readings Week 1: Introduction and administration Week 2: Reforming the Public Sector and Accounting: An Overview Common, R. K. (1998). Convergence and transfer: a review of the globalization of new public management. International Journal of Public Sector Management, 11(6): 440–450. Dixon, J., Kouzmin, A. and Korac-Kakabadse, N. (1996). The commercialisation of the Australian public service and the accountability of government: a question of boundaries. International Journal of Public Sector Management, 9(5/6): 23–36. Ernst, J. (1999). The cost-beneﬁt of privatisation and competition: towards a broader frame of reference, in Clark, C. and Corbett, D. (Eds) Reforming the Public Sector: Problems and Solutions, Allen & Unwin, 79–99. Week 3: Researching Changes in the Public Sector Reform: Methodological Issues Broadbent, J. & Guthrie, J. (1992). Changes in the public sector: a review of recent ‘‘alternative’’ accounting research, Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, 5(2): 3–31. Broadbent, J. (1999). The state of public sector accounting research: The APIRA conference and some personal reﬂections. Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, 12(1): 52–57. Lapsley, I. Pettigrew, A. (1994). Meeting the challenge: accounting for change, Financial Accountability & Management, 10(2): 79–92. Week 4: New Public Sector Management, Benchmarking and Management Accounting Systems: UK, USA and Australian Experiences Glyn, J. J. and Murphy, M. P. (1996). Public management: failing accountabilities and failing performance review. International Journal of Public Sector Management, 9(5/6): 125–137. Dorsch, J. J. (1998). A framework for the benchmarking in the public sector: literature review and directions for future research. International Journal of Public Sector Management, 11(2/3): 91–115. Evans, P. and Bellamy, S. (1995). Performance evaluation in the Z. Hoque / J. of Acc. Ed. 20 (2002) 139–161 157 Australian public sector: the role of management and cost accounting control systems. International Journal of Public Sector Management, 8(6): 30–38. Week 5: Public Sector Reform in Australia and Commonwealth Finance Legislation Prothero, S. (1996). The Role of Law and Its Relationships to Management Reform in the Public Sector. Readings in Accounting Developments in the Public Sector 1994–1995, Public Sector Accounting Centre of Excellence, Australian Society of CPAs, pp. 1–11. Miller, G. (1998). Commonwealth Finance Legislation, 3rd Public Sector Symposium, Brisbane, 16 June. Butler, B. (1999). Corporate Governance, 4th Public Sector Symposium, Brisbane, 11 June. Week 6: Accrual Accounting and Reporting Policy Ryan, C. (1998). The introduction of accrual accounting reporting policy in the Australian public sector: an agenda setting explanation. International Journal of Public Sector Management, 11(5): 518–539. Stanton, P and Stanton, J. (1998). The questionable economics of governmental accounting. International Journal of Public Sector Management, 11(2): 191–203. Pallot, J. (1994). The development of accrual based accounts for the government of New Zealand, Advances in International Accounting, Vol. 7, pp. 289–310. Week 7: Case Studies in Accrual Accounting Baker, K. (1997). Accrual accounting at the Australian Federal Police 1995/96: valuing police resources. Public Sector—Best Practice Case Studies 1997. Public Sector Accounting Centre of Excellence, Australian Society of CPAs, pp. 6–12. Rose, G. and Vaughan, P. (1997). The establishment of a cost modeling system in a NSW public hospital. Public Sector—Best Practice Case Studies 1997, Public Sector Accounting Centre of Excellence, Australian Society of CPAs, pp. 95–108. Anderson, D. (1997). Issues in implementation of value-based management systems in research organisations: The case of Csiro Exploration and Mining. Public Sector—Best Practice Case Studies 1997, Public Sector Accounting Centre of Excellence, Australian Society of CPAs, pp. 25–52. Week 8: Local Government Reform and Accounting Jones, R. (1999). Implementing decentralised reform in local government: lessons from the Australian experience. International Journal of Public Sector Management, 12(1): 63–76. 158 Z. Hoque / J. of Acc. Ed. 20 (2002) 139–161 Worrall, L., Collinge, C. and Bill, T. (1998). Managing strategy in local government. International Journal of Public Sector Management, 11(6): 472–473. Sadler, R. (1998). The Australian experience: managing a non-metropolitan urban water utility - paradigm shifting towards a new mindset. International Journal of Public Sector Management, 11(7): 596–610. Week 9: Cost Accounting in the Health Sector Alam, M. and Lawrence, S. (1994). A new era in costing and budgeting: implications of health sector reform in New Zealand. International Journal of Public Sector Management, 7(6): 41–51. Salauroo, M. and Burnes, B. (1998). The impact of a market system on the public sector: a study of organisational change in the NHS. International Journal of Public Sector Management, 11(6): 451–467. Lapsley, I, (1994). Responsibility accounting revived? Market reforms and budgetary control in health care. Management Accounting Research, 337–351. Week 10: Performance Measurement and Auditing in the Public Sector Lapsley, I. (1996). Reﬂections on performance measurement in the public sector, in Lapsley, I. & Mitchell, F. (Eds.) Accounting & Performance Measurement, Paul Chapman Publishing Ltd, London. Guthrie, J and English, L. (1997). Performance information and programme evaluation in the Australian public sector. International Journal of Public Sector Management, 10(3): 154–164. Hepworth, N. (1995). The role of performance audit, Public Money and Management, pp. 39–42. Week 11: Auditor Independence and Accountability De Martinis, M. (1997). Best Practice Case Studies in Public Sector Auditing: Audit Mandates, Auditor Independence and Public Accountability. Public Sector—Best Practice Case Studies 1997, Public Sector Accounting Centre of Excellence, Australian Society of CPAs, pp. 66–83. Student Project Presentation Week 12: Lessons from Public Sector Accounting in a Developing Countr Context Hoque, Z. and Hopper (1994). Rationality, accounting and politics: A case study of management control in a Bangladeshi jute mill. Management Accounting Research, 5, pp. 5–30. Student Project Presentation Week 13: Public Sector Executive Development Morely, K. and Vilkinas, T. (1997). Public sector executive Z. Hoque / J. of Acc. Ed. 20 (2002) 139–161 159 development in Australia: 2000 and beyond. International Journal of Public Sector Management, 10(6): 401–416. Student Project Presentation Week 14: Revision Appendix B Interview protocol Students’ conceptions of learning 1. What do you mean by learning? In other words, how do you describe your general understanding of your discipline or subject area? 2. 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