Kelly Richmond Pope, documentary filmmaker and professor of accounting at DePaul University in Chicago, wants to transform the way accounting is taught.
She recently started teaching a Introductory Financial Accounting Online Course to Outlier.org. The college-level credit course uses some of the lessons from his 2017 documentary, All the Queen’s Horses, about a $53 million embezzlement case in Illinois to teach students the fundamentals of accounting in a more engaging way. The course is brought to you by Outlier.org, a company run by Aaron Rasmussen, one of the co-founders of the online learning service, MasterClass, which has seen a boom in popularity in 2020 with so many people stuck at home during the pandemic.
Amid a decline in recent years in the number of students entering the accounting profession and taking the CPA exam, Pope believes part of the solution may lie in making accounting a more subject of study. interesting. She wants to do this by combining the skills of a documentary filmmaker and an educator.
“It’s worrying, that’s for sure,” she said. “Part of the problem is that we’re not showing learners the exciting parts of accounting, and we need to have a more engaging approach to introducing people to this dynamic profession. If we have a shortage of accountants, that’s a problem because the backbone of our economy is business—small, medium, and large—so there’s a need for accountants in all aspects of the operation of our economy. I think what we need to do is show how dynamic the field is and how important the field is, not just rules and regulations to pass the CPA exam. We need to take a different approach.
The course uses some of the gamified approach that Pope employed in a previous course last year for Surgent IQ called Red Flag Mania which taught fraud detection skills through a type of detective story solving (see the story).
“The Introductory Financial Accounting course combines compelling and engaging content with theory and history, and these are the things that have fascinated me for so long,” Pope said. “The idea of storytelling, play and active learning falls under the same umbrella. It’s just more in line with how I think lessons should be developed and delivered.
Students find these courses more engaging than the type of online courses they’re probably used to seeing. “We need to stop having a distinction between how we consume information personally and professionally,” Pope said. “If you think about it, why do we see so many streaming services? Why do we see so many documentary series on Netflix, Amazon or Hulu? It’s because that’s what we really appreciate. We appreciate stories and content like that. If you can find a way to merge that with our way of learning, it’s a win-win situation for everyone. One of the things we need is to really take that mix and infuse it even more into the classroom. There is such a need for innovation in education.
The pandemic has forced many students into a remote learning environment for the first time, but the results have not been encouraging for many students and their parents, prompting calls to return to the classroom .
“If anything, what we’ve learned during the pandemic is that teaching online isn’t just about opening your Zoom or your Teams and just talking,” Pope said. “It’s not e-learning, although that’s how many of us have come through the pandemic. It really takes a significant investment to create a robust course.
The American Institute of CPAs and the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy collaborated on a Evolution of the PCA initiative to bring newer technology skills into the CPA profession and the CPA exam, while the Institute of Management Accountants has also created a Management Accounting Competency Framework encourage further learning of the skills sought by accountants working in business today.
“We as educators and all of these organizations have the same responsibility, and that’s to make students competitive,” Pope said. “I consider the CPA Evolution model attempts to do that. We must evolve. We need to make sure our skills stay up to date. We cannot think that we will grow the profession and attract more people by doing the same thing.
Pope has heard positive comments about the course from users, including one who wrote a message on Instagram saying, “OMG, I’m watching the first video of my Outlier Intro to Financial Accounting course, and I almost cried . It’s amazing to learn a difficult subject from someone like me. I look forward to applying what you are teaching me to my growing business, and we share a love of investigating after accounting fraud and white collar crime. I am in paradise. Thank you, Dr. Kelly Richmond Pope. It’s one of the best birthday gifts I’ve ever given myself.
Pope is delighted to receive comments like these. “You wouldn’t imagine we’d be talking about an accounting course,” she says. “I think it speaks to the integration of accounting theory, storytelling and beautiful cinematography. That’s how we rebuild that interest in the field of accounting.
One downside for some accounting students is the starting salary for young accountants, unlike some other areas of the tech industry, as well as stories about long hours, especially during a busy tax season.
“I think there’s a lot more competition between fields,” Pope said. “There are much more dynamic areas that we might not have competed with five, 10 or 15 years ago. The students have changed. Businesses have changed. The way we work has changed forever. You think about public accounting and the whole concept of high season, that’s not appealing to a lot of people. This may not be a feature that appeals to many Gen Zers, to tell them you have to work seven days a week during this time with no work-life balance integration. Whereas you have all these other areas that consider work-life balance, mental health, family commitments. The way we work and the way students see job opportunities is very different from what it was 10 years ago. It’s not just about the money, I don’t think we can get away with it completely. It is also our way of working.
Students may also find it more exciting to learn about fraud detection and forensic accounting.
“One of the problems I try to avoid is teaching in a very siled approach,” Pope said. “I teach management accounting and financial accounting, but to think that we don’t need to understand the importance of internal controls to prevent fraud, to think that it should only be in an auditing or forensic accounting is a detriment to what we do with our students. It should be integrated into all of our courses. What I’m trying to do with the introductory financial accounting course is really to show that integration as much as possible. Knowing accounting is a life skill. At the end of every day, one of the most important things for you is knowing how much money you have or how much money your business has made or what is the value of your stocks or investments. Being able to read and understand financial reports and ask important questions is a life skill. When we see the numbers go down in our field that can helping people and businesses protect their organizations is a concern. Hopefully we can get ahead of this hiring crisis before it becomes completely difficult to turn around.
She hopes to interest more young people in the accounting profession, including within her family. “One of the things I tell my high school son is that you should consider accounting as a major,” Pope said. “It’s a good base. Who knows what he will do? But one of the things I plan to do this summer is take him through the introductory financial accounting course, the course I created, so he can learn accounting early at the high school level.