Using Games to Enhance Student Understanding of Professional and Ethical Responsibilities

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: Given recent corporate scandals, the credibility of the accounting profession has been called into question. In order to restore public trust, accounting educators need to devise ways to convey the importance of ethics in our profession to our students. An alternative approach to using a traditional lecture to teach ethics is to use games. The purpose of this paper is to introduce a game strategy to teach ethics and professionalism to students. Using games makes learning more fun and also helps to maintain student interest and involvement in the learning process. Student feedback has been positive and encouraging on the use of this format to teach ethics and professional responsibilities.

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BACKGROUND

Given the controversy in the financial reporting environment and criticisms directed toward accountants for their roles in reported scandals, there is a need to restore public trust in the profession. For example, former SEC Chairman Arthur Levitt claims that accounting "is a profession that has lost nearly all public credibility" (Solomon and Bryan-Low 2003, Cl). For accounting educators, there are imperatives to convey to students the role of ethics in their future professional lives and to enable them to develop critical perspectives on ethical issues.

According to Smith (2003), the objective of ethics in accounting is to promote adherence to a code of conduct that encourages public confidence in the profession. As such, accounting educators can help to address this challenge by enabling students to become better prepared to deal with ethical dilemmas in the workplace.

On the one hand, this would be an easier challenge if the problem reflects a failure to devote sufficient time to the classroom coverage of ethics. If this is the case at a given university, then "more" ethical coverage would seem to be warranted. However, a more challenging problem arises if attempts to develop classroom coverage of ethical perspectives are failing to truly engage students in the process.

The approach reported here resulted from discussions among the authors regarding the reporting scandals and a comparison of individual responses to classroom coverage of ethics. While the subject areas for these applications included managerial accounting, auditing, and the senior-level accounting capstone course, several commonalities regarding ethics coverage were observable. One was that classroom dialogue on ethics was richest when students seemed to be genuinely interested in the subject matter. Another was that unless the students had previous work or internship experience, their lack of awareness of future professional responsibilities was a major barrier to their understanding of ethical dilemmas in the workplace.

Ongoing collaboration suggested that common learning objectives could be pursued in each of these courses. Drawing upon signals identified from each of these settings, a game mechanism was devised to permit a common approach in a variety of courses. This became known as the "Ethics Bingo Game." The learning objectives for the game are discussed in the following section.

LEARNING OBJECTIVES OF THE ETHICS BINGO GAME

Four learning objectives are identified. They are:

* to help restore trust in the accounting profession by emphasizing ethics and professional responsibilities to students (future accounting professionals)

* to identify similarities and applicability of accounting organizations' ethical and professional codes regardless of students' expected career paths

* to provide opportunities to enhance students' critical-thinking skills

* to engage students in the learning process by making ethics coverage interesting and fun.

These are discussed more fully in the sections that follow.

To Emphasize Ethics and Professional Responsibilities

Coverage of ethics can often be dry and textbook exercises can fail to grab the students' attention (i. …