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Wikipedia: Spawn of the Devil?

September 25, 2011 1 comment

Let’s be honest … Students will look at Wikipedia.  Hopefully, it isn’t the only place they look but there are plenty of times when I couldn’t swear to that.

I have colleagues who will not accept anything from students that is from Wikipedia.  I respect their view but I don’t share it.  I once knew someone who didn’t own a television set because he did not want his children to be exposed to poor quality television programs.  My view is that children should be exposed to television.  It is ubiquitous in our society.  I see no point in pretending it doesn’t exist by ignoring it.  But our children need to learn to be selective and discriminating in their viewing and they will not learn that unless they are exposed to television and that includes making mistakes in their viewing selection; it is all part of the learning process.

My view of Wikipedia is similar.  There is no point in pretending it does not exist, in telling students not to look at it and then expecting that they will accept that.

In finance, Wikipedia covers some topics very well.  Others are not covered very well.  It can be a useful part of student learning to ask them to look at Wikipedia’s explanation of a topic and comment on it.  Can they discriminate between a good Wikipedia article and a poor one?  Do they consider the quality and range of the references, the description of the topic, the dugout of any definitions, the thoroughness of the explanation?

Early in the semester, I tell my students when a topic is well or badly covered by Wikipedia and I explain why.  Later in the semester, I ask the students to tell me what they think.  I have found that some students use Wikipedia as a textbook substitute, or combine it with the textbook and perhaps some other Internet sites.  It would be unrealistic for me to ignore that.

Learning does not only have to come through an assigned textbook.  I want my students to be able to look at a reference, assess and explain whether it is good, bad or mediocre; what is included or excluded from it; and the extent to which it has supported their learning, or failed them.  That does not only apply to sources such as Wikipedia.  I want them to be equally discriminating when reading their textbook.  Textbooks are not always of consistently high quality.  If students can become astute readers, they have taken an important step towards understanding.  You need to understand something to be able to effectively critique it.

If my students want to look at Wikipedia as part of their learning, if that works for them, then I would encourage it, but only if they read widely enough and gain a sufficient level of understanding to be able to become selective and discriminating.  And like children learning about appropriate television selection, I expect some errors in the process.

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Categories: Research, Textbooks, Wikipedia

Teaching debits and credits – gripe about account names

September 16, 2011 Leave a comment

The texts I am using to teach transaction processing complicate matters by the way they name some accounts.  I’m not going to incite a defamation suit by naming the texts.

My pet hates are:

  1. Using the word “revenue” in a liability account or the word “expense” in an asset account
  2. Not clearly indicating the classification in the account name

First, “unearned sales revenue” is a liability account; “sales revenue” is a revenue account.  How is a first-year student meant to recognise the difference?  Similarly, “prepaid insurance expense” is an asset account while “insurance expense” is an expense account.

This source of confusion can be overcome easily by adopting some simple rules:

  1. Never using the word “revenue” in an account name unless it is a revenue account.
  2. Never using the word “expense” in an account name unless it is an expense account.

“Unearned sales revenue” could be called “deposits received”; “prepaid insurance expense” could be called “prepaid insurance”.

A related gripe which, fortunately, seems to have disappeared from modern texts is using the term “provision” in the name of contra-asset accounts.  The term “provision” now seems to be restricted to liability accounts which is the way it should be.

Second, some account names fail to indicate the classification of the account.  For example, an account named “supplies” could be either an asset or an expense account.  While I can determine which it is from context, a first-year student is likely to struggle to make this determination.  This problem can be overcome by including the classification in the account name when there is any ambiguity; this means the account would be named “supplies asset” or “supplies expense”.

Some may argue that the account names which are used in the texts are the account names commonly used in practice.  This may well be so.  However, when writing texts, pedagogy must always overrule practicality.

I hope some textbook authors, editors and publishers are reading this.