Academic journal article e-Journal of Business Education and Scholarship Teaching

An Activity-Based Costing Assessment Task: Using an Excel Spreadsheet

Academic journal article e-Journal of Business Education and Scholarship Teaching

An Activity-Based Costing Assessment Task: Using an Excel Spreadsheet

Article excerpt


Activity-Based Costing (ABC) is a relatively well known alternative method, to the traditional standard cost approach, for calculating the cost of products or services (Miller 1996; Gunasekaran et al 1999). Johnson (1988) stated that the major assumption underpinning ABC is that resource consuming activities cause costs. As a result organisations need to be aware of the possibility that they could be "miss-costing" their products or services (Turney 1989). Miss-costing is effectively a "cross subsidy" which occurs because volume related cost drivers fail to correctly identify and trace volume unrelated activities.

One of the benefits of the spreadsheet is that all the elements should be 'visible' right from the outset. Data and structural relationships between data elements are represented on the screen and, as their values change, they (and that includes any dependent data) change immediately. The examples provided during the course computer lab sessions support a gradual transition from merely using a spreadsheet for the purpose of calculating a large volume of figures to a more sophisticated spreadsheet involving greater use of various tools available in Excel. This includes the use of macros with the first Visual Basic (VBA) macro introduced at a fairly early stage of the course. Every command is explained to the students and demonstrated, thus by replicating the manual operations student's can observe the links being made. This is the first step towards automation and the use of macros. Student-designed macros generally require only one line of code.

This approach to teaching Excel tools is intended to balance technique with method. Design of the ABC spreadsheet model is a creative and iterative process involving matching the problem formulation to known computational techniques (Sommerville 1992). The teaching in the computer lab sessions contributes to the learning by directing and demonstrating a path through the vast array of objects, properties and methods used by VBA for the development of the specific application. A good foundation in the techniques is critical since any "apparently trivial difference in functionality" can be "crucial to producing a satisfactory system." (Edwards & Kidd 1994). Understanding macros is essential if student's are to take full advantage of the power that the spreadsheet has for problem solving, and VBA for Excel is certainly a valuable tool for advanced applications. Conceptually, incorporating macros in spreadsheets provides a good learning experience for students.

Having achieved an advanced level of designing Excel spreadsheets and using macros, the student will have the capability to apply their learning to make and implement some explicit and interesting design decisions.

Overview of Learning Objectives Case Learning Objectives

The learning objectives of this task are aimed at addressing a number of key graduate attributes generally aligned to the learning outcomes of management accounting courses. These graduate attributes are identified as:

* Analytical skills; each student is required to analyse the data provided in the case scenarion and design a MSExcel spreadsheet that meets the needs of the Activity Based Costing model (instructions provided in the overview of the case).

* Application of Accounting Knowledge; each student is required to demonstrate their knowledge of the various management accounting issues inherent in the case study, which in this circumstance is related to the application of Activity Based Costing.

* Computing skills; each student is required to demonstrate their competent use of technology, which in this circumstance is related to MSExcel (the spreadsheet must communicate results and provide the information for management).

* Communication skills; each student has to demonstrate their ability to write competently and professionally, which in this circumstance is related to both the instruction documentation and the analysis required in a report. …

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