Imagining an authentic workplace using simulation: exploring simulation pedagogy in auditing education.
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Over the last forty years, there have been frequent calls for a change in the way that accounting programmes are presented at higher education institutions. Central to this argument is the gap that exists between what accountants and auditors do in practice and what accounting education teaches. This gap may be attributed in part to students’ inability to apply their theoretical knowledge in a practical real‐like setting. Furthermore, most accounting students have had limited exposure to the business world, leaving them with little context in which to apply their theoretical knowledge. Coupled with a schooling background that encouraged rote learning rather than the development of a deeper understanding of concepts and principles, students often adopt a surface, rote‐learning approach that does not promote deeper understanding either. In response to calls for a more practical approach to teaching and learning in accounting, the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants recently introduced a competency framework that is built on the principles of experiential learning, calling for students to be able to apply their theoretical knowledge in a practical real‐world‐like setting. Given the gap that exists between students’ theoretical knowledge and graduates who are able to apply this knowledge immediately upon entering the workplace (Rudman and Terblanche, 2012), there appears to be the need for a teaching model that moves away from the typical lecturing model. Such a model should allow students to be more actively involved in the learning process, and encourage students to develop skills that will allow them to apply theoretical knowledge and develop pervasive skills for use in such settings. Some educators have turned to simulation to assist with this. To address this gap, and against the backdrop of attempts to reform accounting education, an in‐depth qualitative case study was conducted, exploring students’ experiences of simulation pedagogy in a final year undergraduate Auditing module at the University of KwaZulu‐Natal. The study’s use of multiple data sources, including focus group interviews, individual interviews, written questionnaires, and reflective journals yielded rich insights into the phenomenon. Purposive sampling was used to select twenty participants from the Westville campus student cohort. The data was analysed using a content and thematic analysis approach. Confirming the literature, students experienced the active nature of the simulation favourably. In addition, they reported that the simulation afforded them the opportunity to grapple with its contents and learn from mistakes made during the process; this quality of simulation provided the key to unlocking a deeper understanding of the auditing concepts and principles and the practical application thereof. The visual aspect of the simulation allowed students to create mental images and motion pictures of the procedures performed, which could subsequently be retrieved for later referral in a similar situation, and in the development of abstract concepts. Although the simulation had been received favourably by the study’s student participants, there were aspects of the pedagogy that met with resistance. Many of the students did not respond favourably to the call for group work. Although the students agreed that simulation pedagogy could be valuable to their development for their future careers, they did not believe that it would assist them to pass their examinations. They cited the manner in which assessments are structured, and argued that a more lectureintensive, rote‐learning approach was required for the current examination structure. A unique contribution of the study to accounting education literature was its highlighting of the underlying factors that impact students’ ability to learn and develop their understanding of auditing concepts and principles through audit simulation. A further unique contribution of the study to accounting education literature was the researcher’s use of self‐study, as well as an introspective reflection of her role as facilitator. This approach provided an opportunity to reflect on the effectiveness of the simulation, as well as consider possible ways to strengthen teaching practice in simulation‐led learning.