This article was originally published on UTS Newsroom. Byline: Claire Thompson

Accounting Standards and Regulation may not sound like a subject students would regale as the “best” of their degree. But that’s the experience of Senior Lecturer Robert Czernkowski, Lecturer David Bond and Professor Peter Wells. The trio say it’s not so much about comparing apples and oranges, rather ‘revenue recognition’ and ‘chicken’.

If you’ve ever wondered what accounting has in common with KFC, the Accounting Standards and Regulation (ASR) subject in the UTS Business School is the place to find out.

Taught by lecturers Robert Czernkowski, David Bond and Peter Wells, ASR was previously known for its complex and jargon-heavy subject matter and had garnered a reputation for being the hardest accounting unit on offer. In the last few years, however, it has experienced something of a turnaround, becoming a subject where theory and numbers collide with fun.

The lecturers, who won a 2011 UTS Learning and Teaching Award for their work, say they have invested heavily in making the course content entertaining both inside and outside the classroom.

“One of the big things we do is to make sure the ideas themselves are accessible,” says Bond.

David Bond
David Bond. Photo by Anna Burrows.

“You tend to see a lot of jargon in accounting and finance, and really, it doesn’t have to be that way. There’s no point in going hard with that sort of language when three-quarters of the room may have no idea of what you’re talking about.”

The teaching team uses a series of techniques, employing memes (like the Double Down burger – but we’ll get to that later) and ‘Trojan horses’ that use pop culture references to introduce difficult or abstract concepts.

They have harnessed the power of social media, including a Facebook page that students can visit for supplementary information on difficult course concepts, and they prepare screencasts and ‘weekly wrap’ videos and emails that summarise key topics, give students guidance as to where they should be at with their learning, and help them walk through complex content at their own speed. This varied approach to teaching and learning acknowledges that not all students learn in the same way.

The KFC Double Down burger meme is a prime example of their approach. The burger, a culinary insult comprised of bacon, sauce and melted cheese wedged between two pieces of fried chicken, has become the enduring metaphor for accounting regulation around the halls of the UTS Business School.

“We used it in relation to revenue recognition – so, when do you actually recognise a profit from a product?” Czernkowski says.

“Is it when you produce it, is it when you come up with the idea, is it when the sale actually gets made? So we used it as an example to illustrate these points.

“The cool thing about it was that it was just so tacky and gross that students simply couldn’t forget it.”

Both Czernkowski and Bond are quick to point out, however, that for students in the class, fun doesn’t come at the expense of learning. Rather, it’s about encouraging them to connect to topics that could otherwise be dry and uninspiring.

“If you get someone interested in what you’re talking about – and to be honest, not many students walk into a subject titled ‘Accounting Standards and Regulation’ and are interested in it – it makes it a lot easier for you to work through difficult concepts with them,” Bond says.

The team also spend time following up with individual students – those who are struggling in the class, and those who are exceeding expectations. For those experiencing difficulties, the personal follow-ups reinforce they still have a chance of passing the class if they’re able to get their performance on track, that the teaching team is available to discuss the reasons behind their poor results and to help them work through the issues they’re experiencing with the subject matter.

“I try to be proactive by email and say, ‘Is anything going wrong? Is there anything I can help you with?’ I don’t want students to fall between the cracks,” Czernkowski says.

For students who are succeeding, an email congratulating them on their good results both acknowledges their success and inspires them to continue working hard. It’s a personalised approach, which both Bond and Czernkowski believe is crucial to their success.

“You have to give a bit of yourself to the class,” Bond says.

“Students like to know they’re being taught by a real person. There’s obviously a limit – you don’t want to give too much of yourself – but every good lecturer I’ve seen has always embedded a sense of who they are in their work.”

And the students are certainly responding. Student feedback results are at an all-time high, and former students regularly pop in or make contact via email with fond memories of their time in the class.

Czernkowski says, “I actually think it’s one of the nice things about the job – students will come back a few semesters later and say, ‘You guys taught the best subject of my degree!’”

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