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

Student Self-Assessment of Mathematical Skills: A Pilot Study of Accounting Student

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

Student Self-Assessment of Mathematical Skills: A Pilot Study of Accounting Student

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

When new students arrive at university to commence their undergraduate training they bring with them a host of prior experiences, expectations and beliefs. For students whose course of study includes mathematics these experiences, expectations and beliefs can be very strongly held and somewhat negative towards mathematics. In such cases they can become a barrier to further learning in mathematics. This paper reports on a small pilot study exploring the mathematical experiences, expectations and beliefs of accounting students with a view to improving their engagement with mathematics. The results of a student survey allow the identification of students whose self-assessments and expectations are not congruent with their observed performance with a consequent risk of disengagement from mathematics.

Keywords: student engagement; quantitative skills; Accounting; student expectations.

Introduction

How well do we know our students? How well do our students know themselves? Both are important questions in the context of students new to higher education (HE) as the former impacts on curriculum design and teaching strategies at first year level while the latter can influence student engagement and retention particularly if student academic self-perceptions turn out to be overly optimistic. Unfortunately it is often the case that in recruiting new students for HE it is entry qualifications that take precedence over a more informed assessment of the student's previous educational experience or their perception of their own strengths and weaknesses.

In this paper we focus specifically on the mathematical skills of students undertaking an accounting course in the UK HE sector. This focus is brought about by worries over the preparedness of students to study quantitative subjects in HE which has been of concern to educators and the UK Government for some time. In fact these concerns prompted the UK Government to commission a report into mathematics education (the Smith Report) which found that the perception of many young people was that mathematics is boring and irrelevant and that there is a perception among non-specialist students that mathematics is difficult (Smith, 2004). Although things have subsequently improved through educational reforms at secondary level there are still concerns within HE that students are not engaging with the elements of mathematics appropriate to their course. Norris (2012) makes the point that "English universities are side-lining quantitative and mathematical content because students and staff lack the requisite confidence and ability" (p.11) reporting also that "40% of employers have found that employees and prospective employees lack even basic numeracy skills" (p.11).

Furthermore it is recognised that having to study mathematics may invoke quite strong negative feelings within students due to perhaps not having studied the subject for some time, having had poor prior experiences of learning mathematics, of not seeing its relevance, or of just 'not getting it'. This has led to a large and growing research literature responding to perceived problems with mathematical anxiety (Furner & Berman, 2004), mathematical self-efficacy (Bandura, 1997) and the need to provide students with additional mathematical support to cover weaknesses in subject knowledge (Symonds, Lawson & Robinson, 2008).

This paper builds on previous work in the teaching of mathematical skills (Warwick, 2012; Warwick & Howard, 2014) and focuses on the self-perceptions of accounting students towards mathematics as they begin their university education. We report on a pilot study designed to help better understand these students and their perceptions and explore how they may impact on student engagement with, and performance in, mathematics.

Mathematics in the Accounting Curriculum

The UK Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) publishes subject benchmark statements which define what can be expected of a graduate in that subject. …

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