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J. of Acc. Ed. 20 (2002) 139–161
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
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
Keywords: Accounting education; Journal-based learning; Student learning; Public sector accounting;
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
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;
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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 &
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
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
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
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:
The real name of the student is not used to preserve anonymity.
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:
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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
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:
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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
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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
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.
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At least then you can see the theoretical side and then you can see it put into
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
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
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
4.2.4. Perceived problems with professional articles
The following extracts describe students’ perceived problems with professional
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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)
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
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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.
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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
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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. How do you see the ideas of ‘‘getting the grade’’ and ‘‘really learning something’?
Students’ approaches to reading a journal article and their perceived usefulness of
journal articles
1. What is your view about the inclusion of journal articles in a subject curriculum?
2. What is your view about the inclusion of both the academic and practitionertype articles in the same subject?
3. Do you see any difference between an academic-type article and a practitioner-type article?
4. Could you describe how do you go about reading an academic-type article?
5. Could you describe how do you go about reading a practitioner-type article?
6. What are you looking out for in an individual article? What will you be getting from it?
7. Do you find an academic-type article interesting? Why?
8. Do you find a practitioner-type article interesting? Why?
9. What do you do if there is anything that struck you as particularly important
while reading?
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