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Transcript: Saundra McGuire, Ph.D., and Vivian Paige, CPA

May 1, 2019

CHIP KNIGHTON: Welcome to Leading Forward, the VSCPA podcast on innovation, leadership and the CPA profession. We invite thought leaders for short casual, conversations on topics and trends important to CPAs and the profession. I'm your host for the day, Chip Knighton, pinch hitting for Maureen Dingus. She's out today, so all you Mo Maniacs out there will have to put up with me. On top of that, today's podcast is a little different from our usual podcast for another reason, because we have two guests today, speaking with us in conjunction with the VSCPA Accounting Educators' Exchange, which is a free event for college and university accounting educators that we're holding here at the CPA center in Glen Allen on June 6. 

Our first guest is the opening speaker at that event, Saundra McGuire, Ph.D., author of "Teach Students How to Learn" and "Teach Yourself How to Learn," and the director emerita for the Center for Academic Success at LSU. Also joining us today is the VSCPA member who connected us with Saundra, Vivian Paige, CPA, an accounting professor at Old Dominion University in Norfolk. They're going to talk to us today about how educators can teach students how to learn, how educators affect the CPA pipeline and how the principles Saundra teaches can be connected to continuing education for adults. And we are thrilled to have both of them here today. Welcome, ladies. 


SAUNDRA MCGUIRE: Happy to be here. 

CHIP: Without further ado, I'll get going on the interview. So my first question is for Vivian, because you were the driver to get Saundra to come to our Accounting Educators' Exchange in the first place. And if I'm not mistaken, you had seen her at another conference, is that right? 

VIVIAN: That's right. I saw her. She was the keynote speaker at AAA last year, wherever we were in D.C., and just kind of got me hooked on the idea of something that I had been rolling around in my head, and that is: How do you how do you get students to actually embrace the higher-level thinking, these critical thinking skills? And it came down to teaching students how to learn. So I kind of followed her around and she went from one room to the next and kind of just kind of listened, and as I was sitting there, ordered her books on my phone, so they'd be waiting for me when I got back home. But I think it's just very important information that educators don't — sometimes we get frustrated, the students don't learn the material. But I don't know that we've given the tools to know how to do that. And so this is this works very well.

CHIP: Thank you, Vivian. Like I said, we're thrilled that you reached out to us and told us about her because you know, it's going to be a really great session at the county educators exchange, and Saundra, I really only touched on your academic background and the introduction because there's just so much there. But I do want to mention that you do have extensive classroom experience — you were a chemistry professor at LSU. You come back to this kind of naturally through experience and what were you seeing in your students that really kind of sparked this topic for you? 
But I had been frustrated, as I think Vivian had, with the fact that so many students seem not to be willing or able to go past just memorization regurgitation. And in order to be a good scientist, to be a good accountant, to be a good CPA, you have to have critical thinking skills. And so when I learned that, that you could teach students about metacognition, we could make them very much aware that they were in control of their ability to think critically, and provide them the strategies and tools to do so. And then when I saw the immediate and dramatic increase in student performance, then I really got energized.

SAUNDRA: Great question. Well, first, let me just say thanks so much to Vivian for embracing this at the conference. Because very often when faculty hear about this information, they'll think, "Oh, well, I can't do that," or "I don't really need to do that." And Vivian, I was thrilled to see you in room after room. And I'm so glad that you embrace the concepts. But even though I've been teaching chemistry for a long time, before I retired, I actually didn't know about these principles until I got to LSU, so I'd actually been teaching 30 years before I realized that you could actually give students the skills that taught them how to learn, that would significatnly increase their performance. And so I really have to credit my colleagues at the Center for Academic Success at LSU for putting that idea in my head, because I was a fairly traditional chemistry professor thinking that the good students were going to do well and the students who didn't do well were not that bright. And now I know that nothing is further from the truth. 

CHIP: So you say that word "metacognition," and that kind of jumped out at me when I was looking at some of your materials when I was preparing for this. Can you go into a little detail on that concept, just kind of what it entails and how it's, how it can help students?

SAUNDRA: Yes, it was a term that was coined in 1979 by a cognitive psychologist, Flavell. And very simply put, it means thinking about your own thinking, recognizing that you are a problem solver. So when problems come up, you can take steps to answer those questions yourself instead of being in what I call victim mode, where you think you're dependent on everybody else to answer questions and solve problems for you. Your ability to understand, to know, if you are really understanding concepts or if you just memorize them. Your ability to plan specific steps to make sure that you have a deep understanding of concept, as opposed to just looking at it very cursorily and memorizing information.

CHIP: So one concept, Saundra, that I saw when I was preparing for this is the study cycle that I think kind of pertains to this. Can you go into a little detail on that and just how it can can help students really master material? 

SAUNDRA: I can, and it actually goes back to my use of the term "metacognition," is very specifically to get students' attention. And so I'm glad it got your attention, Chip, because a lot of this is really study strategies, study skills, but when we call it study skills, students eyes' typically glaze over because they don't want to hear anything about study skills. But when they see this word, metacognition, then that's intriguing to them, and they're much more likely to pay attention. And so one of the things that we talked about that Vivian uses, I love the materials that she's developed that she's using with her class. 

Bloom's Taxonomy is just a hierarchy of learning levels that let students know that there's a difference between memorizing information versus understanding versus being able to apply, being able to analyze, evaluate, and even create new ideas, new theories, and so once students understand that and they recognize that they've been operating at the lower levels of memorization and regurgitation, but they need to get themselves higher, then we give them the study cycle as a way to do that. And it's really just a five-step process that involves previewing information before you get to class, going to class and being fully engaged, and then reviewing what happened in class immediately after class. 
So you can start information going from short-term memory to long-term memory, and then doing what we call intense study sessions, because the preview and review only take about 10 minutes if they do that efficiently. So they've got to do more than that.

And so we show them how to do what we call intense study sessions that are about 45 minutes to an hour, but they'll take a minute or two to decide on a goal that they want to accomplish for that session, and then spend about 30–40 minutes in really delving into the concepts, then taking a short break and then coming back and reviewing what they just studied. And we suggest that they do about two or three of those during daylight hours and if they can do another one or two at night, they've put in some significant study time. And our students tell us that it's they find it pretty easy to do, because it's in short segments, they've broken it up. And it's very, very effective in helping them to develop those critical thinking skills because they're spending more time on task with the material.

CHIP: So you mentioned Vivian kind of taking this and running with it a little bit. And that leads me to my next question, which is Vivian, how, how have you incorporated this into your own classes? How long you've been doing it and you know, what, what do you think, what results have you seen? 

VIVIAN: Well, I started it last fall after having been through and listened to what what Saundra was saying at at AAA, which was — AAA actually occurred right before the start of the semester. So I was kind of hyped to try, to give this a try. Take into consideration that I teach primarily seniors and graduate students, so I had to take the information and kind of adapt it to accounting at from a process standpoint. I didn't change very much other than other than to apply it in our particular environment. 

Interestingly enough, Chip, I use something that came up last year at the Educators' Symposium as a part of this, and that is the move in accounting from the pyramid model to the diamond model. It was something that one of the speakers mentioned at the Educators' Symposium last June. And so it kind of crystallizes that, and that's why it was so much of — I was so able to connect by listening to what Saundra was talking about because I knew that we had to somehow or another convince our students to think critically, and then not only did I was able to do that to say, you know, this is where are our profession is going, but also wanted them to be aware that this is exactly how the CPA Exam has gone away from the memorization and regurgitation of the days when I took the CPA Exam, more to higher-order thinking, and that's been driven by the profession itself. 

So it kind of ties all together very easily to if you can get buy in from the students to understand this is the career that you want. This is where you want to get, where you want to be. How do you get there? Well, you don't get there through memorization and regurgitation. You get there from actually learning what you need to do. And Chip, if I could say one more thing. This crystallizes something that I always embraced in my classrooms but could not quite verbalize, because I kind of knew it innately without being able to put it in a way that the students could actually understand. So this was kind — of all of this stuff, the study cycle things, are things I had been telling my students all along, but they weren't — but until I could actually put it in a little 25 minute presentation, it just didn't make sense.

CHIP: And what's the response that you've gotten from the students about this? 

VIVIAN: Well, one of the one of the biggest responses that I have is that they resist the change in the way that they need to think. Again, I'm talking to seniors and graduate students who've been doing things the same way since they were knee-high to a grasshopper all the way through high school, all the way through college. They hit me on their way out the door — "Well, hold up. She wants me to think about things completely differently. She wants me to digest things. She actually wants me to remember things that I had last semester and use it in this class." And so there's been a lot more resistance, but the folks that don't resist are amazing. They absolutely have done much better than they thought they ever would. 

CHIP: You're you're focused on tax. You teach tax classes. And one of the things that we've previously talked about has been sort of the differences between teaching the "How" of taxation and the "Why" of taxation. Does this play into that? 

VIVIAN: Absolutely. Because the the how of taxation they have, where do you put this number on the form, is is part of the memorization regurgitation problem. But if you understand the why, then, literally you can figure out where it goes. You can use those higher-level thinking skills to be able to do it. I certainly, teaching taxation as people are going out the door — like I said, it's a totally different ballgame. But next semester, starting in the fall, I'm going down to teach introductory accounting so that I can actually get the students on the right path to start with 

CHIP: Saundra, going back to you, these same concepts, do they apply to adult learners just as well as they do to students? Does it kind of extend through a lifetime of learning? 

SAUNDRA: Yeah, I would say even more so. But let me first say that Vivian is much too modest, because I've seen some of the materials that she's created. And she's actually done a masterful job of, of translating the information to the information that's that's directly relatable to accounting students in a way that I had not seen before. So I think that the way she's presenting it gives it the highest probability that students will not resist. But looking at the resistance, I actually find exactly the same thing because being in the area of chemistry, I work with a lot of pre-health profession students, and when they've gotten to senior year, they don't want to change the way they're studying, either. But the proof is in the pudding. 
I think once we can get them to see that this is directly applicable to whether or not they're going to be a good physician, or in the case of CPAs, get clients and keep clients, if they're able to use these skills, then it makes a big difference. And I wanted to say a little bit more about the memorization versus the how and the why. 

One of the questions that we asked students to help them to understand the difference between what they've been doing up to this point, and what they need to do is to say, what's the difference between studying and learning? And students will say they haven't been asked this before, so they haven't really thought about it. But the number one answer I get is they'll say are studying is just memorizing information for a test or quiz. But learning is when I understand that information, I can use it, I can apply it, I can relate it to what I already know. And I was reminded that one student in dental school said that for him the difference was that studying was focusing on the whats, but learning was focusing on the whys, the hows and the what ifs. And he found that if he focused on the whats and forgot the whats, he couldn't recreate them. But if he focused on the whys, the hows and the what ifs, even if he forgot the whats he could recreate them, because now he understood what the connections were. And I find that in terms of adult learners, then the information really is applicable. 

I've talked with kindergarten teachers, actually pre-K teachers, who talk to their students about using your brain and thinking about what your brain is doing. And I think for adult learners, it's particularly useful because they can relate the difference to what they did when they were in school, really focusing on memorizing and what they need to do now for their jobs or their profession where it's a lot more than just looking at what are the facts here, but how do I use those facts in a way that's creative and be able to address individual situations that will come up all the time. That's the difference between someone who's a successful professional and someone who isn't.

CHIP: So Vivian, you know, Saundra mentioned that you have really successfully adapted this to the CPA profession. So what are some of the connections? How do these concepts apply to the CPA profession, you know, especially in the sense of, on-the-job training being such a big deal. I mean, how, just how does it relate? How did you kind of bridge that gap? 

VIVIAN: Well, you know, the profession being changing from this from this model that had a whole bunch of entry-level jobs — and understand that accounting is not the only ones who are losing these entry-level jobs, between artificial intelligence and robotics and all of these other things — then the need to think critically becomes — is something that in the middle of our careers we were already doing anyway, so there was always this weeding-out process. Now, because those entry-level jobs are going away or they're being taken over by people who are not CPAs, it's because that's one of the things that what the firms are looking at is doing a lot of outsourcing of the types of jobs that used to be the entry-level firm jobs. There's no reason for that. 

So now, though, for us, if you're going to actually be successful in accounting, you have literally got to employ critical thinking. And if you're, if that's what you want your career to be, if you want to be a CPA, you want to be in accounting, then you're going to have to be using all these skills. And so that means that you have to not only adapt to critical thinking, but also recognize that learning is not something that stops when you graduate from college, that learning is a lifelong thing. And if you actually learn how to learn now, that as you are approaching additional things that you need to know, and our profession is always changing, then you will actually have the skills to pick it up quickly.

CHIP: So before we wrap up, I've got a few more questions for the two of you and their questions that we sort of ask of all our guests, and I'm going to tweak it very slightly for you, Saundra. What do you think that educators should be thinking about in this this next year? Just professionally, what's on your mind? What's the next thing? 

SAUNDRA: It's I think, within the next year, because there are so many digital resources out there now, a lot of the textbooks have gone to digital formats, although I do have to say that I think that students get a lot more from the hard copy text. In fact, there's research that says that the brain prefers paper, but many students, I think, if they have the textbook and the electronic resources, that's very helpful because there's so many ways now that students can come up with developing their own quizzes online, they can look at the review sections. And I think that's really important for us to help students understand how to use those resources in a way that will develop their critical thinking skills as opposed to just using them as memorization tools. 

And I think the other thing which was big for me when I first got into this was really for us as educators to embrace the idea enthusiastically and embrace the idea that we have a huge role to play in the success of our students. It's not about just giving information, but we can and we have a responsibility for teaching students those strategies that will allow them to do much better. And again, I'm going to use one of the things that Vivian I told me in a conversation that we had, one of the things that we suggest to students, is that they take notes by hand, as opposed to taking them on a laptop, because often the retention is a lot better. And I'm going to throw it over to Vivian and asked her to tell you about that student experience that she told me about.

VIVIAN: Well, I had students who, once they — I had one graduate student last fall who came to me after the midterm and said, "Okay, obviously I didn't do very well on the midterm. What can I do that to make it out of this class,  to pass this class? And my number one thing was, I said, "Which one of the learning strategies, the 10 learning strategies, which ones have you embraced?" And he said, "Well, none of them." I said, "Okay, fine. Just do one." I said, "Here's the one I want you to do." I said, "I want you to stop taking notes on your laptop." I said, "I want you to simply," I said, "Studies have shown when you write on a laptop, then it goes in your head and right back out your fingers and nothing sticks." And so I said, "I want you to do that one thing." He did that one thing, he passed the class. 

I also have the one of my graduate students who was a very good student to start with but was one of the memorization/regurgitation people, and she said to me, "Believe it or not, all these years I've been doing things these these other ways, and and just simply doing the little bit of studying, doing a little bit of studying every day" — she said it really really made a difference. And so, for me, I'm always — we're really challenged with students spending time outside of class studying. 

I saw a study the other day that came out that talked about how much less time students are spending outside of class than they used to. And primarily that's because students, more students are working now when they're going to college. More of them have families when they're going to college, they have all of these outside responsibilities. And so preparing for class is like the last thing that hits their agenda. So it's challenging to get them to put in the time I try to tell them, "You know, this is a three-hour class. You should be spending at least three hours a week outside of class, and that's if you get it the first time."  Sometimes you need to be spending, you know, two to three times as much as that. And that's difficult for them because they've never done that before. 

So if I can get them to embrace the study cycle, and to take on one of those one of those challenges, one of those 10 learning strategies that I think we've made, I certainly make progress. 

SAUNDRA: That's the beauty of the study cycle, because so many students say, "I just don't know how to study" because they say they've never had to, and that study cycle gives them a very specific thing that they can do, and they find it easy to implement. Many of them do start spending more time outside of class because now they have something very specific that they can implement. And it really is paradigm shifting for students to learn this information. And because once they see the impact, as Vivian's students did, that really motivates them to continue to do it. 

And so again, getting back to what Vivian talked about earlier, the resistance that students have, and I understand that. And sometimes students find it difficult to continue once they've started, but I would say yeah, that's equivalent to those of us who take out those gym memberships on January 1 every year, and how many of us are still doing that by February, March? And so it does take some discipline, but it can be very paradigm shifting, and the study cycle makes it easier for students to see exactly how they should spend that time outside of class. 

CHIP: So we like to end these podcasts on a little bit of a lighter note. Get to know our guests a little bit. So Saundra, I'll start with you. What have you been reading, watching, listening to, doing for fun? What are you doing for fun these days that you'd like to share with our listeners? 

SAUNDRA: That's an interesting question. I do. And it's going to sound very strange, but I do a lot of visits to institutions. I have 10 in May. And I have a lot of fun when I present this information to faculty who never really heard it this way, and they see, as Vivian did, how everything they've been trying to tell students all these years, but students haven't been responding to, that there is kind of a way to encapsulate this and present it to students. And seeing the faculty reaction to getting that information and implementing it is big fun for me. 

Most of the things that I've been reading are things like brain-based learning or dynamic lecturing so that I can be much better at helping faculty understand exactly how we can change our behavior that's going to impact students. But I do love to travel. I'm going to be going to Key West. I spoke and I'll be speaking in Qatar in the fall, I was in Singapore last fall, and love spending time with family. And so yeah, I just have a lot of fun.

CHIP: That sounds great. Vivian, what about you? What are you doing for fun these days? 

VIVIAN: Well, I opened my swimming pool yesterday and I'm having a shelter put around it on the ninth of May, so that I can use the pool year-round, as it is heated, and I'm looking forward to basically spending time lounging around the pool. I'm afraid that it's nothing as highbrow as studying. Sometimes I need to get away and and do nothing. The only other thing that we'd love to be able to do is somehow or another figure out how to get my keyboard outside so that I could actually play music outside while I'm at the pool. So I have to be inside to play and otherwise, I'm gonna be out around the pool.

CHIP: Well, Saundra, Vivian, thank you so much for joining us today. This was just a really great conversation and I really appreciate you guys joining us. And as a reminder, you can hear Saundra live at the Accounting Educators' Exchange that is June 6 here in the CPA center for the very reasonable price, we think, of zero dollars, and no pressure, but I'm going to be in the room myself. I'm really excited to see it. So thank you. Thank you all for coming out. 

SAUNDRA: Well, thank you and I'm really excited to be attending the meeting. 

VIVIAN: Thanks. 

SAUNDRA: And thanks to Vivian for recommending me.

CHIP: She does so much for us, always helps us with everything. And I also want to thank you, listeners, for listening to Leading Forward, and if you're new to the podcast, or even if you're not, then be sure to subscribe on whatever service you use. I promise Maureen will be back soon and you won't have to put up with me any longer, but we will catch you soon.