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Integrating Data Analytics into Your Intro Accounting Course

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Kristen Quinn, Associate Professor of Practice, Assumption University

The buzzword in Accounting right now is data analytics. Anyone teaching in an Accounting program is aware of the significant changes for the CPA exam ahead, and knows that Accounting courses of all levels will need to adapt.

Recently, there has been a new demand for data analytics within the professional industry, and therefore it will become part of the new CPA exam. For me, the break between semesters has been a chance to revamp my courses, evaluate what worked and what didn’t, determine which projects seemed to excite the students and which ones fell flat, and to review all the new changes in the industry. If you’re like me, you’ve been determining the potential impact of data analytics and the rest of the CPA Exam evolution on your courses.

The New Challenge in the Accounting Classroom

When thinking about the term “data analytics,” it can seem a little overwhelming. I teach a few sections of Principles of Accounting and my first thought was “I don’t have the time to spend teaching students the fundamentals of data analytics in my course.”

For those of you who teach a Principles or Introductory Accounting Course like me, you know what a daunting task it is to get students with no previous accounting exposure, and most who have no desire to be accountants, to understand complex concepts like debits and credits, financial statements and cost flow assumptions. Therefore, the thought of adding anything else to this already overflowing plate seemed out of the question.

My second thought was “I’m not an expert on data analytics — how do I begin with creating appropriate data analytics assignments?” As I have explored this topic more over the past few months, I realized my students are already doing data analytics in my courses, and that there are several resources available to help me effortlessly integrate data analytic software into my existing course.

Resources for Introducing Students to Data Analytics

Resource 1: The Right Textbook

The first step to introducing students to data analytics and critical thinking is finding the right textbook to match your course objectives. For example, an Introductory Accounting course that blends analytics and business decision-making across the whole semester needs a textbook that weaves data analytics topics early, often and throughout the curriculum.

Financial & Managerial Accounting, 16th Edition (Warren/Jones/Taylor) uses a combination of business examples, end-of-chapter questions and unique Take It Further exercises to build data analytics coverage throughout the narrative.

Resource 2: Microsoft Excel

Excel is an important program that most students have some knowledge of and is easily accessible to the majority. To me, this was a perfect beginning step on the students’ journey of learning about data analytics. Although most students know what Excel is, many have not built a skill set around creating formulas, pivot tables, etc. and are unaware how Excel can quickly analyze data to aid in decision-making.

Resource 3: CNOWv2

Since I do not have the class time necessary to devote to teaching all the ins and outs of Excel, I looked for resources to assist my students in learning these key skills which would allow them to approach the concepts in my course in a new, analytics-focused way.

I use CNOWv2 and love that they have Excel Online assignments built into the system. The Show Me How videos are the best part, as they show the students how to complete an assignment using Excel. They include instructions on topics such as how to do cell references, required formulas and more.

This removed the burden of teaching Excel from my shoulders while still allowing my students to have exposure to the fundamentals of data analytics. I was able to spend my class time teaching the basics of a concept. Now, I can concentrate on the components that are involved in a calculation, and why it matters. Then, I can show students how a software like Excel can quickly and easily perform those calculations.

Resource 4: Case Studies

I am also using a few data analytics-focused case studies in my course which I found on the website Accounting in the Headlines. These case studies range in completion time, and provide students with detailed instructions and videos to help them learn how to put Excel into practice. Some of the case studies also have the option for students to complete them in Power BI and/or Tableau.

Next Steps

The new school year is in full swing, and I am confident that data analytics will only grow as a component of my courses over the next few semesters. The earlier these concepts are integrated into introductory courses, the less scary the term becomes for both students and faculty.

Want to learn more about incorporating Data Analytics topics, Microsoft Excel and the CPA Exam Evolution in your Principles of Accounting courses? I’m hosting a Continuing Professional Education Webinar Series for Accounting and Tax Instructors on October 5, 2022. Don’t miss out!