Academic journal article Issues in Accounting Education

"Quality of Earnings" as a Framing Device and Unifying Theme in Intermediate Financial Accounting

Academic journal article Issues in Accounting Education

"Quality of Earnings" as a Framing Device and Unifying Theme in Intermediate Financial Accounting

Article excerpt


The concept of framing is used to describe how a "Quality of Earnings" theme was constructed and implemented in Intermediate-level Financial Accounting. Specific curriculum tactics, including student-generated definitions of quality of earnings and a variety of cases are described as part of a framing strategy at the start of the course and subsequent reinforcement of such a strategy throughout. The complexity and central importance in accounting and accounting education of quality of earnings make this construct especially valuable in conceptualizing, designing, and implementing accounting curriculum.


In this paper, we argue that quality of earnings can serve as a productive framing device and a unifying theme in curriculum design and learning in Intermediate Financial Accounting, and that such a construct has several desirable pedagogical features. Intermediate Financial Accounting, with its traditional emphasis on standards and the preparation of (usually) GAAP-basis accounting information, has often been perceived as a problematic course with an overemphasis on technical rules (Albrecht and Sack 2000; Catanach et al. 2000; Jennings 1998)--thus our motivation for experimenting with and introducing a curriculum based upon a strong integrative conceptual theme, "Quality of Earnings" (QOE). In 1998, we changed our undergraduate Intermediate Financial Accounting course toward a QOE orientation, and adopted (as one part of the change strategy) a text with a focus on the use of accounting information in practice. (1) We made a similar change to a second-year Financial Accounting elective for Finance majors in our M.B.A. program in Fall 2000. We would argue that QOE, as a foundational curriculum frame and theme, has value well beyond just Intermediate Financial Accounting and similar financial accounting courses, and should be considered in other accounting courses as well.

It has been our experience that students have not reacted favorably to Intermediate Financial Accounting as traditionally taught. It is regarded as largely mechanical, a lengthy series of technical procedures to be committed to memory, and even if cases are incorporated into the curriculum, a strong, emotive, socially desirable theme is still lacking. We submit that a QOE theme, framed and reinforced in a manner similar to that described in this article, has good potential to overcome such adverse student reaction. We accomplish this by illustrating the potential strategic and political roles played by financial accounting within an organization. The feedback we have received from our students in the form of questionnaire responses and open-ended course evaluation comments has been overwhelmingly positive. We believe that our approach enriches the educational experience for our students, and by extension, enriches our experience as teachers in the classroom.

The remainder of this paper is organized as follows: the next section describes the concepts underlying our approach to using quality of earnings as a framing device for Intermediate Financial Accounting. The benefits of implementing a quality of earnings theme in Intermediate Financial Accounting are discussed in the third section. The fourth and fifth sections show how the Quality of Earnings theme is established and reinforced in our courses through framing definitions and examples. Summary and conclusions are in the final section.


"Quality of earnings" is potentially a rich rhetorical (2) expression, with considerable promise for evoking broad integrative thinking on the part of accounting students. In order to pique such potential, we take advantage of regarding QOE as a rhetorical device, and employ an approach to curriculum design and implementation based upon the concept of framing (Benoit 2001; Entman 1993), in order to establish the QOE thematic culture of the course. …

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