University of Kansas teaching model to be piloted at NMMU and TUT

JULY 14, 2016

University of Kansas Professor of Accounting and Information Systems, Tim Shaftel, had a novel approach to inspire more students to take his classes: He made them fun.

Working with his wife Dr Julia Shaftel, who at the time was a school psychologist and university researcher, he came up with a few simple concepts to keep his students interested and engaged with the teaching content: In just one year, Accounting student numbers grew from 250 to 800.

His unique teaching practice model is now being adapted and considered for South African students – with a slightly different approach, in that it is geared towards those who struggle with Accounting, and ultimately aims to improve pass rates. The adapted model is being piloted this semester, at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University’s Second Avenue Campus and Tshwane University of Technology’s Ga-Rankuwa Campus. If successful, it could be rolled out across the country.

The Shaftels were at NMMU last week (4 to 8 July) to train the NMMU teaching assistants: three senior Accounting students, who will be working with first-year Accounting Diploma students. The couple is now at TUT in Pretoria, running similar training.

Explaining how his model first originated, Shaftel said: “At the time [around 1993], I was concerned that there were not enough students going into business professions, especially Accounting. I wanted to engage students, by showing them the subject was interesting, fun and rewarding for them.”

He introduced a number of simple yet effective classroom management systems: He divided the large lecture class into smaller teaching groups, introduced teaching assistants, and taught students how to put key accounting concepts into practice through the board game Monopoly. He also introduced quizzes and other classroom activities for every class, which would contribute to the students’ marks, and played music at the start of each class.

“While I was doing the research for this model, I wanted to test a theory about how people’s behaviour can be changed … What I discovered was that you could change behaviour by structuring the class right, and by showing students the benefits. If you can teach a first-year that coming to class is a good idea, they will carry on doing this the next year and the next, and ultimately be successful.”

The Shaftels published a paper on their research, which piqued the interest of two South African academics: Prof Houdini Fourie, NMMU’s Head of the Department of Applied Accounting, and Prof Lourens Erasmus, TUT’s Convenor of the Teaching Community of Practice within the Faculty of Economics and Finance.

They were working on developing a similar teaching practice model for struggling South African students, in a national project funded by a R1m grant from the Department of Higher Education and Training.

So impressed with the Shaftels’ model, they flew to Kansas to watch it in practice. The two researchers then conducted their own field work in a South African context, which included running focus group discussions and a survey with students, which ultimately led to an adaptation of the University of Kansas model, for a South African target group.

“We are of the opinion that this model will be usable at universities throughout South Africa, and not just for Accounting, but for any subject,” said Fourie.

He explained that the lecturer would still teach the entire class of about 150 students. However, this would be broken into smaller groups of about 30 students, for which the teaching assistants would then be responsible, running group exercises and assisting with homework, to consolidate what was taught in class.

“It’s a more intensified classroom management practice … The teaching assistants will also help the lecturer, who remains responsible for the module, to identify ‘at risk’ students.

“A lecturer simply can’t connect [on a one-on-one basis] with every student in his or her class. The teaching assistant then fulfils this role.”

Image: Prof Tim Shaftel (standing), from the University of Kansas, United States trains teaching assistants for first-year Accounting Diploma students (in a circle, from left) Lucinda Engelbrecht, Jacques Koopman, Lucy Mulder and lecturer Tracy Beck, how to use the boardgame Monopoly to teach accounting concepts.