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Transcript: Interview With Kelly Richmond Pope, Ph.D., CPA

June 2, 2020

In our latest episode, Maureen talks with Kelly Richmond Pope, Ph.D., CPA, an award-winning film director and associate professor of accounting at Depaul University, about using story-based learning in lieu of the traditional case-based approach. Kelly shares a digital platform and techniques to help increase student engagement in the classroom. Listen to the full podcast here.


Maureen: Hey everyone. Welcome to Leading Forward the Virginia Society of CPAs podcast, where we focus on innovation and technology. I'm your host, Maureen Dingus. And I invite thought leaders to talk about all things important to the CPA profession on these episodes. We'll turn our eyes to higher education and learning. Enjoy welcome everyone. Today, we are talking with Dr. Kelly Richmond Pope. She is going to be visiting us at our Accounting Educator Symposium newly renamed, the Accounting Educator Exchange due to thanks to a lot of the world changes today. This is an in-person event, but it will be online. As most of most folks out there in the world, we are, we are pivoting and making things happen in the way that they need to happen. But we know that our educators are still powering on and need to deliver a lot of important information in new and intriguing ways probably now more than ever. So, Kelly welcome. I appreciate you taking a little bit of time with us today.

Kelly: Thank you for having me.

Maureen: So yeah, yeah. So before we really dive into kind of the meat of what we want to talk about, could you just give us a little bit of background on your leadership journey and how you got to where you are a little bit about what you do, just kind of give our listeners a kind of a snapshot of who you are.

Kelly: Sure. Well, I am a film making accounting professor, and that might be a pretty unique conversation, a combination, but I'll tell you about it as we continue our conversation, but I am getting my Ph.D. at Virginia Tech and accounting and have been teaching at the university level since 2000 2001 as a, as a professor, but started teaching in the master's program at Virginia Tech in 1997. And I always desired to have a very engaged class and I find that teaching accounting is probably one of the most interesting classes that you can teach. And my, my job and duty is to make students feel connected and engaged to the content that we're sharing. And so I found that becoming a filmmaker is what really enhanced my ability to communicate accounting information and to really make the class very engaged.

So my claim to fame is I am an award-winning film director, my documentary, All The Queen's Horses, I'm streamed on Netflix from 2018 to 2019. Still live on Amazon Prime, Google play, DirecTV, YouTube and it's about the largest municipal fraud in U S history committed by a former city controller by the name of Rita Cranwell. And so I use that as a basis for teaching all of my accounting classes because what I found is story-based teaching is very effective in an accounting class, whether you're teaching, auditing immediate intro managerial in accounting, ethics story-based teaching is the way to go. So that's a little bit about my journey. I'm originally from Durham, North Carolina. I currently live in the Chicago land area and I'm an associate professor of accounting at DePaul University in Chicago.

Maureen: Oh, there there's a lot in there for us to dive into. I didn't realize that you had been at Virginia Tech. So many of our listeners may have already gotten to know you in a different way. So that's pretty neat.

Kelly: Yeah. I have my master's and my Ph.D. from Virginia Tech. Yeah. And my husband is a Virginia Tech alumni. So we are part of we're. I hope you have too. So yeah,

Maureen: The hokey house, I really love what you said about the storytelling. What sparked that in you? How did you get to feed that feeling about storytelling, especially as it relates to how you teach?

Kelly: Well, I think that story storytelling or story-based learning is really an evolution from the traditional case-based approach. And I think when we think about case method teaching, we, we probably think of Harvard business school and, you know a Socratic method and, and just calling on students without them knowing, hoping that they're, that they are prepared. And so it really stems out of a more engaging way to present a case. And so one of the problems that I've always found with a case is when you have a paper-based case, it's hard to infuse empathy and emotions into a paperback paper-based case. You're reading it and you're just sort of detached from it. And so filmmaking, in my opinion, allows a viewer or a learner to become completely immersed into the situation. It's really going back to how our brain works when we see story, or when we hear a story, we automatically place ourselves in that situation and view the main character as us and we start processing and internalizing differently.

So wouldn't, we want our students to do that in the classroom with accounting information or business concepts. Absolutely. So I found that you talking about story is a very different approach than saying, okay, let's do this case about this arbitrary company, or especially, it's more powerful than just topic-based training. And I think one of the problems that we find as accounting educators is we focus on topics. If you look at any given syllabus on any given day it's chapter and topic, but it's not story and issue-driven. And I think if we seemed each of our chat, each of our, our weeks are our days with us with a theme, like, like how, how a TV steer series has a title and a theme, an issue. I think we would have more students even walking in the door more engaged than they are when we just teach them topics.

Maureen: Right. Right. And part of what I hear you saying too, is the things that we hear employers looking for that critical, those critical thinking skills and even the successful professional right now, and even of the future is that the empathy, the asking questions that really a lot of those what people might call soft skills, but really are, are critical to success. So that, that's really interesting that you would bring those up.

Kelly: Yeah. And I think what we often underestimate as a county educators is how difficult it is to teach soft skills because we are so focused on making sure our students are prepared for the CPA exam. So we're making sure they have these various topics in their mind, but when they really go on the job that day one, they need to be able to incompetent enough to formulate and ask and articulate a question and then receive feedback and receive criticism and pivot. And those are really tough things to teach. And I've found that using story is a way to do that better.

Maureen: So for our educators out there how do they start incorporating this? What did, what did they need to think about to utilize some of this?

Kelly: Well one of the things that I've spent the past 19 months doing is creating a digital platform called Red Flag Mania, which is an immersive investigative experience that's fully online and available for educators to use. I know a lot of educators are looking for digital content, their upcoming classes, whether it's their current class or their summer class or their fall classes. And so this platform is perfect for intro classes. It's perfect for an auditing class. It's perfect for an accounting ethics class or a leadership class. And what it is, is a combination of a lot of different learning tools. So you watch a short film that drops you into a scenario and your job is to solve a case. And so you're given all this case evidence, and depending on what episode you're doing in your class, you're either tasked with finding out who is stealing money from this organization, or you're trying to assess the role of the external auditors, or you're trying to find fraud schemes used by the perpetrator. So there's, there are three different episodes. And then there's a capstone that incorporates all three of the ones I just mentioned. And so it's pretty comprehensive. It's like a cross between an escape room and the game clue, but yet it's for us in our profession and sort of deals with the needs of our accounting students.

Maureen: It's funny that you mentioned escape room. I think nothing makes me more anxious and thinking about the escape room concept we were in folks are like, let's do this for team building. I'm like, no, but clue I can get on board with that.

Kelly: Yeah. You know, it's interesting because I think what, what we're looking for is I think one of the popularity of the escape room concept is just the intrigued of trying to find something out, trying to solve something. And if you think about a traditional paper-based case, they tell you the story to tell you the answer and they tell you what they tell the answer, and you're just reading it, what this escape room concept allows you to be immersed into it. And so that's a red flag. Manny it does, is it, it's an edutainment curriculum that gives you something to do. And if you think about a lot of times, our learning is very passive, you know, we're just sort of watching from the side, what happened somewhere else and how they solved it. And then we're providing an opinion about how they solve it versus you solve it. And so that's what Red Flag Mania creates is this immersive experience where someone is you're though you're solving the case and you feel very invigorated at the end to see if you got it right or not.

Maureen: Yeah. Yeah. I can imagine that maybe it instructors or professors that are new to this concept, this would be a great way to have them kind of follow along and learn and maybe in the future start to incorporate some of that type of learning or immersive experience into their other classes. Have you seen to be able to do that?

Kelly: Can you ask me that question over again?

Maureen: Oh, I was just wondering if you've noticed that some of your colleagues have been able to take this type of, we maybe use red flag mania and then be able to incorporate some more of their own immersive type of learning into their other courses.

Kelly: So so my platform is just coming out. So I've been, I have been the only one that's used it and pilot testing it now. So I'm looking for those that want to test it and use it now. So let me know. But the, the interesting thing I think about accounting educators are, you know, my colleagues is this are, we have the best jobs. We have the best job, because it is either a great, a great place for you. If you are creative and innovative, or it's a great place for you because you don't have to change. And so restorative on the extreme, because there's nothing about what we do that if I were to use the same textbook for the next 10 years, with just new edits, just walking in the classroom and lecturing and going home and giving homework problems, I could do that.

Or I could be very creative and try a lot of new methods. So we have this interesting role where we can either evolve or we can stay the same. And I think what we've seen in this independent mic that we're in right now is we're being forced to evolve whether you want it to or not. And so I think that there will be a whole new breed of educators we'll have new skills will be stronger and better and more efficient in the way we deliver our courses because of this. And so I think that I will, we'll begin to see a lot more innovative ways to approach our accounting classes after this. So I expect to see more people doing user read like mania or using more engaging techniques, whether it's documentaries, whether it's movies, whether it's TV series web, you know, just newer methods other than the textbook, because I think what we've been able to do for too long is rely on the innovation coming from the textbook publishers. And I don't, I mean, I think they've done a good job, but I think we haven't taken the we haven't taken our role in pushed our creativity. More, we just relied on getting it from someone else. And so I think that this is going to force us to be,

Maureen: Yeah. Yeah. I think that I've been hearing that from so many so many facets of just the economy or different businesses as maybe we had some of these ideas in the back of our head that we, we knew we probably needed to innovate or push, and it's just, it's got to happen now. So kind of the silver lining, maybe someday that we'll be able to talk about is that Hey, look at what we look at, what we did when we, when push came to shove, we really had to be creative and innovative.

Kelly: Yeah

Maureen: Yeah. Really

Kelly: One that's not that's, that's not how you want innovation to come. You don't want a push come to shove kind of approach. You really want to be fully committed and excited about it, you know, because this, this isn't how we should have been prepared for this. I mean, because online education, isn't new, you know, if you think about it, the way that we should have been prepared is almost every face to face class should have had an online version of it. You know? And so I think the university is going to have to evolve as a whole because we should not have been as blindsided by this, as it feels as though we are, we are the source of innovation and creativity where a university, we're just, we're just a village of thinkers. So this should not have been a big, a big shift for us.

And so if it is, it just goes to show you how I'm resting on our laurels. We were able to do, and we're not, we're not gonna be able to do that anymore. So I think there will be good that comes from this, that we weren't expecting. But I think the push come to shove will let us know, Hey, you know what? I actually can learn something new. I bet if we survey our educators in a month and asked how many of you walked out of this pandemic with a new skill set that you didn't have four months ago? And I would guess at 99% will say I learned something new. I learned how to use zoom. Or I learned more about my learning management system that I didn't know I could do, or I learned about Slack or I learned how to use a smart pin things that we never thought we would be doing. We're going to be doing now as a result of this. So I think it'll make us better.

Maureen: Yeah, yeah. Yeah. I love that idea that you know, this, the push came to show, this is not how we want things to be, but maybe that, that innovative spark will, will be great and people will more kind of lean into it and just keep going with it and not wait until the next emergency happens. So that, that'll be exciting to see.

So Kelly, I, I before we wrap up, you've given us a great kind of a preview of what our educators can expect in June. It'll be interesting to see when you ask them those questions maybe of what did you learn, what they'll be able to tell us, and maybe what maybe they'll even think, start to think about what they want to learn as, as they move forward. So I really appreciate you taking some time to talk to us about your program and about your thinking and your red flag, mania product. So before we wrap up, I do have one question that I'm, that I'm asking folks, just given the, the stress that everyone's under and the disruption I'd like to know what are you doing to manage either your stress or the disruption lately?

Kelly: Well I, you know, it's interesting, my life hasn't changed that much because it's sort of the way I had my class set up going into this. If anything, I have gained probably about an hour and a half back each day. So I used that time to make my six-mile run. So I do that, but I mean, I exercise every day anyway, so now I'm just, you know, running a little bit more than going to orange theory is a place that I would go all the time. But you know, one of the biggest, the biggest stress reliever is knowing that I'm there for my students. One of the things that I did is I set up one-on-ones with each of my students who I sent a Google doc and put, had them put times, and I set up these 15-minute calls and just to get to know them and to let them know that I was there for them, if they had any questions, you know, just reach out.

And so knowing that they know that I am a resource and I'm right there with them almost like their private tutor to me re relieved a level of stress because I know they had stress and now I know they don't. So my stress level has really been maintained, you know trying to look at the, the silver lining if there is one. And, and that is that I've let my students know that there are some advantages of us being online. We've had, we have some amazing speakers that have been able to zoom into our, our class. And, and they're located outside of the Chicago land area of course, but because of them, they're with us. So they are meaning and experiencing some very cool people. And so I've tried help them see the advantages of our digital environment right now. And that to me has reduced stress, you know? So my, I feel I feel like I'm taking it in stride. I don't, I don't feel stressed, but if I do have the exercise and really help. Yeah,

Maureen: Yeah, yeah. Well, I, I have to say as a mother of a college freshman right now, I think that what you're, you're saying you're able to do with your students would that outreach is, has to be so much appreciated and really, really making a difference because with their uncertainty and their, their lives being turned upside down, it's, it's, it's been hard. So from one college mother to a professor, I personally will. Thank you. Cause that's, that's

Kelly: Do you know, it's funny, there've been so many webinars that I've seen pop up, how to teach online, how to, how, you know, here's some tips and the biggest tip is to let your students know you're there for them and that you are responsive and available. That's about it once they know that from you, everything else is pretty easy. You know, like you can't think that a student is work, you get an email and you respond eight hours later. Like those kinds of things you can't do in a digital environment, because your whole goal is to create as much or as similar to a lot of conversation as you can, if you're not gonna pick up the phone and talk to them, so you need to be able to communicate with them almost quicker than you normally would. And I think that relieves the stress. So that's been my little secret, I guess, of dealing with everything. Yeah,

Maureen: Yeah. That personal touch, it sounds like. Yeah, Kelly, I, as I said before, I thank you for your time today. Thank you for speaking to our educators. And good luck for the rest of the semester. And I look forward to someday to meeting you in person.

Kelly: Oh, you too. Have a good day. Okay.