News from the Richard C. Adkerson School of Accountancy

Getting By with a Little Help from Their PALS

PALS sessions allowed students to cover classroom material a second time, at a slower pace, with sample problems being worked out so they could follow along.

This past year, the Adkerson School of Accountancy (ASAC) began a program of peer-assisted learning sessions. Known as PALS, it offers students extra help to succeed in two key courses: Principles of Financial Accounting (ACC 2013) and Intermediate Accounting I (ACC 3023). The sessions are led by graduate students who work as graduate assistants (GAs).

The courses are two of the more challenging ones offered by ASAC. Principles is the first of two accounting courses every business major must pass in order to graduate. The subject can be difficult for non-accounting majors, who must earn a C or better (As or Bs are required for accounting majors). The upper-level Intermediate course for accounting majors represents a large jump from Principles, with more expectations, and many need help to bridge the disparity.

“Intermediate is notorious for being one of the more difficult accounting classes not only because of the challenging content, but also because of the lack of time to go through such involved problems,” notes GA Reagan Johnson, who led the weekly Intermediate sessions at midday on Fridays. “These sessions allowed students to see more problems and get more focused help. I concentrated on types of problems that were similar to the tests, so that helped them to be more aware of what they would see. They were able to understand the content at a slower pace since we were looking at a few questions at a time.”

“Attendance was voluntary,” says Dr. Lauren Milbach, one of three professors teaching the Principles course during the spring. “We offered the Principles sessions in the evenings because students were asking for added instruction outside our 8:30 to 4:30 weekday tutoring hours. Evenings tend to be the hours when they sit down to study.”

Milbach and Dr. Nicholas Cicone, who taught Intermediate, were the faculty coordinators, providing material and reviewing it with their courses’ respective GAs each week. While PALS wasn’t a requirement, the Intermediate session’s slot was blocked off on students’ class schedules so they could attend.

In the hour-and-a-half sessions, practice problem sheets with notes were handed out, with material relevant to the next exam or to what students learned in class that week. The instructors worked through the problems using blank practice sheets on a projector so students could follow along. They also highlighted helpful tips in the notes and answered questions.

“Going over information twice and giving more examples of a type of problem seemed to be very beneficial,” shares Logan Johnson, who led the Thursday Principles sessions. “These sessions tended to be longer than a typical class period and focused on a few select questions, allowing the students to gain more practice. There may have been more time to answer questions, too.”

Abby Long, instructor for the Wednesday Principles sessions, adds, “One of the most beneficial aspects was seeing the students speak up more freely about what they needed help with. I think they felt more comfortable reaching out to fellow accounting students.”

Roughly 400 students were enrolled in Principles in the spring, and 10-15 percent attended PALS in non-exam weeks, with those figures increasing to 25-30 percent during exam weeks. Of 72 Intermediate students at the semester’s start, 41 attended at least one session; only seven dropped the demanding course – an improvement over previous semesters.

“Students who attended at least one session before an exam averaged 14 points higher than those who didn’t – that’s one and a half letter grades,” states Cicone, of his Intermediate course.

For Principles, students who attended one of the three sessions prior to the first exam averaged 9.7 points higher than those who didn’t, and those who attended two or three averaged 14.1 points higher than non-attendees. Sharing this result brought an influx of new students to the sessions, and on the second exam, those who attended at least one scored an average of 8-8.6 points higher than those who didn’t.

“The sessions are helping students get through without these courses having to be watered down, and the students definitely feel more supported,” says Milbach.

The GAs have benefited from the experience as well, noting their public speaking skills have improved, as has their knowledge.

“It requires you to not only understand the content you are teaching, but also to understand it one step further, to be prepared for any questions,” comments Reagan Johnson. “It’s extremely beneficial to someone like me who is currently taking the CPA Exam to have been teaching content that is directly related.”

Abby Long and Logan Johnson have found that they may consider futures in academia.

Says Long, “I have thoroughly enjoyed working with students and seeing the impact that instructors can have on their college experiences and careers.”