Second Life helps MAC students prepare for their careers

Submitted by Anna Rzewnicki on Monday Aug 04, 2014.

Five years ago, students in Poole College’s Jenkins Master of Accounting program began taking short trips to the college’s island in Second Life, first to familiarize them with the virtual environment and later, to conduct audits in inventory for RedPack Beer, a virtual brewery, warehouse and office setting created in Second Life for the Jenkins MAC program.

It was all part of their professors’ goal to help the students gain the confidence needed to performing audits effectively. Post-experience surveys and personal notes from graduates testify that the goal was met. “As a former practitioner, it was the closest to the real life inventory observation experience, without building a warehouse in our parking lot,” said Scott Showalter, professor of practice who teaches the Advanced Auditing course. Also using the Second Life site in their courses are Kathy Krawczyk, Dixon Hughes Professor of Accounting and director of the Jenkins Master of Accounting Program, and Frank Buckless, KPMG professor and head of the Department of Accounting at Poole College.

One graduate wrote, “I want to send a quick of thanks for having us perform the inventory count in Second Life. I have done 11 inventory counts since I started (a professional client) and I must say I have referenced back to our RedPack Brewery project many times.”

This graduate’s first inventory count was for a company whose warehouse “was identical to the one in Second Life, except about 10 times bigger,” she wrote in her email message. “As I performed this first inventory count by myself (most times you go with an older associate for your first one), I was happy I was able to reflect back to our project and feel a little more comfortable in performing my procedures.”

The Poole College accounting professors who incorporated Second Life into their graduate curriculum – Kathy Krawczyk, Frank Buckless and Scott Showalter – report on their five years’ experience with the virtual teaching environment in a forthcoming article in the August 2014 volume of the American Accounting Association’s journal, Issues in Accounting Education.

“It is not uncommon for educators to struggle with providing their students the appropriate balance of theoretical knowledge and real-world application,” they state in the article’s introduction. “This particularly holds true when teaching a subject as application-oriented as auditing. Auditing standards rely heavily on applying professional judgment, making critical thinking a necessary skill to teach.”

They also state that, “practitioners express the need for college accounting students to have more practical experience in day-to-day audit procedures and in applying critical thinking and judgment.” Based on student assessments during courses that included Second Life experiences and post-graduation feedback like the note above, the virtual audit experience met that need.

“Another challenge facing educators is how to provide opportunities for every student to be exposed to a similar hands-on experience when such opportunities are limited through traditional teaching methods. Online virtual worlds and learning environments provide a unique medium in which all students can obtain the necessary hands-on real-world auditing experience and skills,” they write.

Virtual worlds are computer-generated displays that provide a three-dimensional environment where users can engage, in real time, in activities and conversations with others. While historically used for gaming, social networking and commerce, virtual worlds more recently have been used by educators for technology-enhanced classroom learning, the authors state, citing a 2008 paper by David M. Antonacci, director of teaching and learning technologies at the University of Kansas Medical Center and Stephanie Gerald, who at the time was educational technology liaison to the School of Health Professions at the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City.

Poole College’s virtual environment for accounting students was created with support of a grant from The E&Y Foundation, which funded the design and development of the environment by an outside consultant and member of the college’s marketing faculty who had incorporated Second Life in her courses.

The Jenkins MAC program’s Second Life environment now includes an amphitheater, classroom, warehouse and walk-through accounting history display. For a first-hand look at the RedPack Beer Company warehouse, visit the MAC program's Second Life island. To gain access to the island, individuals need to first establish a Second Life account. Once you've created your avatar, you may connect with our account faculty via their SL avatars:

> Frank Buckless: Franco Byron
> Kathy Krawczyk, LadyMac Luminous
> Scott Showalter: Professor Blackheart


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