Using the Mississippi River Watershed Module in Accounting Research and Analysis

Lindsay Meermans, Wittenberg University

Course Description

About the Course

Accounting Research and Analysis

Level: The capstone course for accounting majors, senior students only.
Size: 7 students
Format: In-person

Course specific exercise »

The role of accounting research and analysis and its purpose in advancing accounting theory. Topics are at the discretion of the professor and can include technical writing and research using the FASB Codification, career development, fraud detection, and current topics in the accounting discipline.

I definitely think they loved the whole module. ... with accounting usually we're just working out of a textbook ... this was really outside of the box for them, and I think they really enjoyed that.

Explore the Mississippi River Watershed Module »

Relationship of the Mississippi Watershed Module to Your Course

This course is a full 12-week semester long course. The module was implemented after students returned from spring break. The first half of the semester, students learned how to use the FASB Codification to research treatment and disclosure requirements of certain business transactions. The second half of the semester had a focus on Environmental, Social, and Governmental (ESG) reporting and the role accountants play in this. The Common Exercise fit right into the ESG module and kicked off this module. Students had to complete an ESG reporting research paper after the Common Exercise, which included a review of businesses various stakeholders and their differing needs for ESG data.

Integrating the Module into Your Course

I did it in my accounting capstone course, which was actually really nice because the focus is on research, but I can really pick any topic. We integrated it right after spring break. So there was a hard stop in what we were doing previously, and then we could start this new module, which was really nice. We had just completed the first half of the semester, where we really focused on using the FASB Codification, which is the technical side of accounting research and how we actually account for specific transactions. One of the focuses in there is also around disclosure requirements, so what type of disclosures are required for accounting data. I was trying to figure out how to actually integrate this exercise into the class so it still felt like it kind of went with the previous module. And so, I ended up using ESG reporting as the focus, so that's "Environmental, Social, and Governance." So this is a very hot topic right now in finance and investing, and all the data that would be used for potential investors comes from accounting. So it was actually a really neat way to help the students see that, outside of just investors, there's tons of stakeholders that could use that ESG data in helping them make decisions. It helped that common exercise is trying to show the students that there are a lot of different stakeholders out there for various things, especially around this ESG reporting. The way I set it up was, we got back to school after spring break, and they had several current ESG reporting articles that they had to read. So they did that, and we did a day in class where we introduced the idea of ESG reporting. And then, we spent the next four class meetings doing the common exercise. We used the nitrogen and water version (of the common exercise). I think they had a lot of fun because it was something totally different than what we normally would do in accounting. I think they had a lot of fun actually researching the science side of it and then also seeing how if there was available data, would that impact the ways some of those certain stakeholders make decisions, or how they felt about things? So the individual assignment, outside of the common exercise, they each had to do a research paper. The capstone course is what we consider a writing intensive course, so they already did one research paper in the first half of the semester, and then this was their second one. And so, this is where they were able to really pick a topic in ESG reporting of their choice to research further. A lot of students ended up choosing one specific company and then researched how they're handling some of those ESG reporting out to the different stakeholders and then other companies within that industry.

What Worked Well

One was the timing. It was really nice that it was when we got back from spring break, so it had a hard stop and start. That was very helpful. The student size was small. There were only seven students. So at first I was like, oh gosh, there's five stakeholder roles. I wanted them to be in groups, so I ended up having them be partners, but then they were each in two groups. So they actually got to do the roleplaying from two different stakeholders' perspectives and that actually worked out really well. The first time I did it, my class was 40 people. So there was a big difference (this time). I was a little nervous about having just seven students, but it ended up working out really well, and I think it actually helped them to see it from two different stakeholders' perspectives because sometimes it was the complete (opposite role), they were the farmer and then they were the citizens, let's say. But I think they ended up liking that a lot. Let's see. I kind of mentioned this before, but the class itself, because I had a lot of freedom in choosing the topics that we were going to cover. With accounting, it's usually very prescriptive. You have to cover (specific) topics in financial accounting or managerial accounting, (and) you really don't have time to stray from that. So, being able to have it in this class, where like I could really design it the way that I wanted to, I think really made a difference, as well.

Challenges and How They Were Addressed

I would say our biggest challenge was the roleplaying, mainly because I think the students were a little bit shy. I mean, they knew each other very well. Some of them were roommates. They've all been going to the same accounting classes the whole four years, but some of them were still kind of shy. So you could see that they really enjoyed researching and actually creating the PowerPoints to do their little spiel before arguing their points and so they all did fabulous with that part of the roleplaying. But then when it came to ... the interacting between the different roles, that part was harder for them. I tried to encourage them and ask leading questions and pair up certain groups. So if you're the citizens, what would you have to say to XYZ? So I would say that was my biggest challenge.

Student Response to the Module and Activities

I definitely think they loved the whole module. And I think, again, with accounting usually we're just working out of a textbook a lot of times, this was really outside of the box for them, and I think they really enjoyed that. And I do think also the ESG reporting. I was fortunate enough that one of the PIs who teaches investments, we actually had four alumni come back, and we did an ESG panel. And so, we had maybe 50 students show up at this panel, and it was one of the requirements for my students to actually do that. I think it definitely sparked a lot of interest in the students around this topic, and seeing how businesses are not just focused on profit anymore. There are so many additional factors that different stakeholders are demanding these businesses to look at and focus on. And so, while they probably knew that before coming into the module, I think it really opened their eyes to seeing the accountant's role in that, where it's the accountant's role to provide that data so that the stakeholders can make different decisions around how they might be impacting the environment, or how they treat their employees, how that actually impacts the triple bottom line. So I do think, from my perspective, setting out for them to just understand that, I think that goal was met. And I think using the common exercise to really introduce the idea of the different stakeholders, from seeing their research that went into the roleplaying, I think I would say that that was met. Whether or not they approach problems going forward with the mentality of thinking sometimes problems are so large, they're hard to (solve) with one solution. I think they realized it, but I'm not sure how to what degree they did.