Nandini Krishna Kumar is a Lecturer and Director of Education in the Department of Accounting and Corporate Governance, Macquarie Business School. Nandini is a recipient of the Macquarie University Vice Chancellor’s Learning and Teaching Student Nominated Award (2020). She is also a winner of Teaching Excellence awards at SIBT Sydney and was a Teaching Excellence award finalist at City University of Hong Kong.

Her teaching philosophy is about making learning fun, effective, and impactful. She excels in taking up projects that promote learning and career outcomes through greater focus on employability, engagement, and curriculum design. In this post, Nandini reveals her strategies for improving the learning experience of her students. A subsequent post (coming soon on Teche) will present some of Nandini’s recent experiments in teaching.

As told to Kylie Coaldrake & Karina Luzia.

The Auditor’s dog showed the way.

As a little girl, I would visit my grandmother, who lived in a little rural town in India, and I experienced firsthand the amount of responsibility that accountants had and the respect that they were given. In that town, the auditor was a role model for the community. The house next door to my grandmother was known by one and all as the Auditor’s House and their dog was known as the Auditor’s Dog. He would strut around the neighborhood, keeping score on all the canine and human activity in the township. The other dogs probably looked up to him too!

The experience underscored for me the fact that accountants are regarded as community leaders and leaders are always sought after.

The skills that you acquire as an accountant also translate across many different industries, and studying professional accounting can lead to a very diverse range of career paths and possibilities. I worked for many years in industry, and while working in Hong Kong I was offered a teaching position at the City University of Hong Kong. It was an opportunity for me to try something different. I loved teaching and haven’t looked back ever since. I moved to Australia in 2004 and joined Macquarie University in 2007.

There’s a plethora of things that I do.

I believe that for students to be engaged, connection is very important. That means, connecting to the lecturer, connecting to the materials, connecting to the assessments, and connecting to the personalised assessment feedback that is provided.

I teach 2 postgraduate units (with about 100 students) and I have a third-year undergraduate unit of about 300 students. I have found the following approaches work in both my undergraduate and postgraduate classes (with some degree of customisation and personalisation).

Make learning fun

My teaching philosophy is student-centric, simple, and outcome-oriented, “Let’s engage and make learning fun, effective and impactful”. Engagement and having fun with the unit are so important to me as it makes a world of difference to student outcomes.

Accounting is an amazing profession, but it does have a bit of a reputation – it’s not exactly known for being fun.

When I was studying, I had very strict teachers, and so a small part of me is always working to ensure the experience is more relaxed and engaging for my students.

Mythbusting with anecdotes

Students often come to my classes thinking it will be a boring subject and that they are probably going to just crunch numbers. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Accounting involves a lot of critical thinking, the ability to spot problems from a mile away, the ability to view the bigger picture of an organisation and its goals, and the ability to think strategically.

I use anecdotes and business trivia to banish these myths for my students. For example, I might ask students to guess who invented the first electric guitar. The Fender Stratocaster electric guitar was invented by an accountant! The results of the Oscars are tabulated by partners of an accounting firm, and they are the first two people to know the results.

How amazing is that?!

Learn student’s names

I strive to know every one of my students by name. When students realise ‘Oh, she knows my name’, I think it makes them feel very special, and they’ve said that time and again in their feedback – things like ‘I’m amazed that she knows my name’. It matters a lot to them.

Allocate seatsbut let students choose

I believe in students supporting each other. In my classes, I seat students in small clusters. I use a variety of collaborative learning techniques like think-pair-share where students help, support and learn from each other.

For the first couple of weeks, they don’t have allocated seats. Instead, they get to move around, talk to everyone, and get to know everyone – sort of like speed dating! After the first couple of weeks, they choose who they want to sit with for the rest of the semester. I find that this fosters a sense of belonging, it bonds the students to each other and to the class.

Students feel a sense of accountability, not just to me, but also to their peers, to attend and participate in class. I’m aware of students messaging each other at the start of class to say, ‘Hey, where are you – class is about to start!’. I think it’s very important for students to feel that link with the class and to feel the need to go to the class and this strategy fosters that. In many cases, this has led to students forming support groups when studying.

It’s very important to me personally that as a profession, as a cohort, as an organisation, and as a nation, we work together.

I say to them, ‘If you want to walk fast, walk alone. But if you want to walk far, walk together’.

Make learning materials appealing

I want students to connect with my learning materials starting from the moment they load the iLearn page. I try to ensure my iLearn page is visually appealing by creating a welcome video and adding colourful pictures or cartoons to illustrate a concept.

Each week I use iLearn Insights to message students with my class plan for that week, so they are not walking into the class not knowing what to expect.

View the iLearn site for ACCG8028 Management Control Systems in Open iLearn.

Cartoon used for ‘Management Control Systems’ topic.

Keep the lines of communication open

I reach out to students with a personalised email if they have missed class. It’s usually a very reassuring message, asking about their health, and saying ‘We missed you in class today’. If they are sick, they feel comforted. If they have been busy, I will usually get a prompt response saying “Oh, thank you so much. You know I had this on, or I was moving house, I’ll be there next week”. And lo and behold, that brings them back to class.

I reply promptly to student queries, questions, and discussion boards so there’s a sense of community among the students in my cohort.

Introduce fun pop quizzes

While, on the one hand, having fun is important, I do have some assessable quizzes that can be tedious. To balance this, I have some non-assessable, fun pop quizzes each week. I might have a question at the end of the quiz that tests some interesting anecdotes that I shared in my weekly pre-recorded lecture. I might mention, for example, my favorite charity, what my dog has been up to, or something that happened in my mentoring group. Just that little fun interaction breaks up the class and the seriousness.

Q6: In the week 4 lecture recording, the lecturer referred to a charity close to her heart. Which one of the following was it?
a) Cancer Council
c) Heart Foundation
d) Streetwork

I found this increased the viewership for the lectures and the students had fun discussing the anecdotes which attracted further discussion.

Use the first few minutes of class to build rapport

Students enjoy being with someone who’s fun and I try to always bring a positive attitude into class. I like to talk about fun things that happened, perhaps on the weekend, or share some interesting events and anecdotes. For example, how I nearly got scammed by someone pretending to be from the bank or what my dog got up to over the weekend. Students enjoy that and they relate to you better.

I always go in a few minutes early to my classes. If the room is vacant, I’ll use those minutes before class to set the scene for the students. I find this valuable as it is an opportunity to build rapport with the students. We might talk about the news for the day, what’s going on in Australia or the world. I might hear something interesting on the radio in the morning when I’m driving to work, and I’ll share that, and we’ll have a discussion. There will be students who know something about it and others who don’t; some of them say, ‘Oh, is that true?’. Students who know will share what they know. It’s an icebreaker that makes everyone feel included. Sometimes students who are very shy to answer accounting or subject-related questions are very proactive when it comes to general knowledge. It creates an atmosphere in the class that encourages others to also want to share something. This works to build rapport so much better than me just coming into the class and saying, ‘Okay, let’s discuss Economic Order Quantity today’. I think we can afford those few minutes at the start of class. I replicate this approach in my online classes as well by zooming in well before the start of class.

We talk about games, sports, culture, news, and the environment on an ongoing basis. We followed the Matildas during the FIFA Women’s World Cup closely. Each time Matildas were to play I was dressed in green and gold (even my hair clip was green) in support. Initially, the international students found it hard to relate to but soon the infectious enthusiasm caught on, and the whole class caught the Matildas fever! We had great fun cheering our team as a group.

The environment is a subject that’s very close to my heart and it often comes up in my small talk. For instance, I might say, ‘okay, next week let’s all come up with two things that we did to save the environment’. In the following week, students would update the class. Somebody would say ‘I switched off the lights or I switched off my computer or I had a whole week of not using air conditioning.’ – little things like that. It builds connections as well as awareness of our environmental footprint.

I have noticed that students appreciate these informal interactions because they foster a sense of belonging. It appears to motivate them to come to class.

The combination of all these approaches leads to increased engagement that results in high attendance, low dropout rates, and an enhanced learning experience for students.

Love what you do, and your passion will come through!

Sometimes in mock excitement, I will say things like “Oh, look, we could balance this account- I’m shaking with excitement. You know, all this is giving me goosebumps!” We have a hearty laugh but somewhere the message gets through, and the mindset and the attitude rub off. Students feed off our energy a lot as educators, so having a positive vibe and fun attitude is very important.

When I was a student, I chose subjects, not because I liked the subject, but because I liked the teacher. Because the teacher presented that subject well, I grew to love that subject. It helps to think about how we come across as educators in class and how passionate we are.

I have a lot of fun, but I’m strict when I need to be – students know the boundaries. They also know that I’m not that hard to impress – turn up to class, do the work, engage in class and I’m the nicest person. I feel it’s important to not be uptight, to have fun, and to make learning engaging for the students because we are the faces they see. What we say and how we say it is what will drive their love for the subject.

Sitting in front of me is the next generation of business leaders. I say to them “You could be the next CEO or management accountant in a company, or you might start your own business.” Some students come to class without even considering ambitious goals so I’m always working to inspire them to aim higher. I remind them “One day you’ll be the one up there, and I might be asking for your autograph. Just remember your teacher then!”

Banner image: Photo by Jesse Taylor Photography
Guitar: Photo by Jacek Dylag on Unsplash
Other images and cartoons supplied by Nandini Krishna Kumar.

Posted by L&T Development

The Learning and Teaching Staff Development team works with staff across the University to ensure they are supported to facilitate quality learning for students. This includes offering professional development, contributing to curriculum and assessment design, recognising and rewarding good practice, supporting peer review of teaching, and leading scholarly reflection. Email with questions or requests.

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