University of Tasmania
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Facilitating collaborative learning in accounting students : a cross-institutional study of perceptions and experiences of group work in university accounting education

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posted on 2023-05-27, 09:59 authored by Bernadette SmithBernadette Smith
Group work has taken on greater significance in accounting education in recent times. There appear to be three main drivers: employer and professional demand, specifically the increasing emphasis on generic skills such as teamwork, interpersonal, and communication skills; the changing face of higher education, with greater diversity and numbers of students, and a renewed emphasis on learning outcomes; and the literature that documents the benefits of collaborative learning for developing skills and improving student outcomes. However, there are different conceptualisations of what group work means and how related skill development can be integrated into the curriculum. Despite the many resources available, barriers continue to exist, preventing the effective development of teamwork skills, particularly within the confines of group work activities in accounting. The overall purpose of this study therefore is to examine the meaning of group work for accounting students and academics and to analyse the underlying epistemological assumptions driving these results. It also aims to address the lack of cross-institutional research in accounting education by interviewing academics from six different Australian universities and selecting a sample of students from three geographically and typologically diverse institutions. Using a theoretical framework based on Social Interdependence Theory (Johnson & Johnson, 1989a; 2009), and a mixed methods research (MMR) approach, which combines exploratory, archival, survey, and phenomenographic case study methodology, this study provides an in-depth investigation of the specific variations in students' understanding of group work, learning processes in group situations, and examines the experiences and perceptions of their accounting teachers at university. For academics the key findings are categorised into four domains, indicating positive and negative aspects of group work identified for both students and staff. For students, the quantitative results uncover an underlying latent structure of five key factors, which are subsequently supported by six qualitatively different ways that students experience group work. The qualitative categories of description are further grouped into two key domains: closed individualistic approaches to group work, and open approaches which embrace an interdependence perspective. Findings suggest however that in all variations there exists an overarching affective concept of connectedness and the need for respect. Above all, values and attitudes are considered key to facilitating collaborative learning in accounting. The implications of these findings are far reaching for all stakeholders and highlight the growing need to embrace psychological health and the emotional aspects of working together.


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