Are Accounting Students Ready for the Internet Age? Students' Perceptions of and Implications for the Accounting Curriculum

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INTRODUCTION

During the last five years there have been several studies emphasizing the demand for changes in the accounting curriculum. Beaver (1992) stimulated the demand by discussing the challenges in accounting education. Prime among these challenges is to understand the incentives and environmental factors that influence accounting education and use this understanding to implement improvements in accounting education.

Apparently the Accounting Education Change Commission (AECC) attempted to meet this challenge by offering its position on the objective of the first course in accounting (AECC, 1992). The AECC (1992) stated that the primary objective of this course was to assist students in developing information retrieval and communication skills that would support and enhance their decision-making abilities. To that end, educators must emphasize interaction with students and among students. Such interaction can be promoted by the use of case method, simulation exercises, database research, group projects, and most recently information technology, always keeping in mind that the primary motivation is to teach students to learn on their own.

In light of these challenges and objectives, Ainsworth & Plumlee (1993) described the restructuring of the accounting curriculum at Kansas State University. The restructuring had two curriculum objectives: to provide students with (1) technical and professional knowledge and (2) the necessary skills to implement this knowledge in the professional accounting environment. These objectives required that professors implement new tools of instruction to develop the following skills: communication, analysis, listening, understanding, team building, and negotiation. The ultimate expectation was to teach students how to learn and continually utilize new ideas and information throughout their careers. This development is especially crucial in the age of information technology.

Subsequently, Brigham Young University (BYU) restructured its accounting curriculum to incorporate the new challenges of this century as well as the next. Albrecht et al. (1994) summarized the changes in the curriculum as well as teaching innovations that are transferable to other schools. BYU had three goals: (1) to identify the competencies needed by professional accountants in the next decade, (2) to design a curriculum to develop these competencies in students, and (3) to assess the effectiveness of the new curriculum in achieving these student competencies (Albrecht et al., 1994). One of the many teaching innovations was the integration of expanded competency instruction with technical accounting instruction. The expanded competency instruction included the following areas: written and oral communication, listening skills, group dynamics, conflict resolution, organization and delegation skills, critical thinking, and working under pressure (Albrecht et al., 1994). Within these emerging competencies, understanding the role of information technology in solving business and accounting problems was crucial. Specifically, in the research phase, students were introduced to NAARS, NEXIS and LEXIS databases and given assignments requiring them to use these sources. However, with the expanded information technology base in today's environment, the professors and students face even newer challenges and opportunities in accounting education.

The increasing use of the Internet and related information technologies prompted the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC) to provide a guideline on the use of information technology in the accounting curriculum. The IFAC International Education Guideline No. 11 (Guideline) acknowledges that information technology (IT) is one of the core competencies of professional accountants and thus requires special attention due to its rapid growth and rate of change. This growth and change has created the following challenges which the accounting profession must address: (1) IT affects the way in which organizations operate, especially the business planning and design processes; and (2) IT changes the nature and economics of accounting activity as well as the competitive environment in which professional accountants participate. …