Teaching in the Time of COVID-19

Pre-COVID-19: Dr. James Prather with SITC students

COVID-19 has brought changes and challenges all across the country, including the ACU campus. From the middle of the spring semester to the current fall semester, our faculty have continuously adjusted how they deliver their class material and how to interact with their students. We interviewed Dr. Laura Phillips (’88), associate professor of management, Clint Buck, assistant dean and instructor of accounting, and Dr. Don Pope, associate professor of management to hear about their experiences teaching during the pandemic and how they are working to overcome the challenges that it has presented. 

What challenges has COVID-19 brought to the classroom? 

Phillips: “My challenges were in the spring and Maymester terms. In the spring I was teaching two semesters of stats that were supposed to start the week after spring break. When we took that extra week off to regroup, I lost 14% of my semester. Also, since we’d never met in person, I didn’t know any of the students and we had not been able to create a class culture before shifting to online. My other class was supposed to be a one-week Maymester in Dallas with about 20 guest speakers and several field trips. That class went virtual as well, which was a huge shift.”

Buck: “FACE MASKS! While I understand the need for face masks, they pose a great challenge in the classroom. It’s hard to ‘read’ the classroom and see if concepts are making sense, if jokes are landing, etc., and it is also hard to teach while wearing a mask. Seeing people’s faces, sending and receiving smiles, and shaking hands are all actions relied upon in the past to establish and nurture connection and community – hallmarks of the COBA and ACU experience. The current realities are forcing us to rethink how we establish and nurture our community, which is very challenging.”

Pope: “The inability to talk with and help students face to face, along with reduced interaction with faculty and staff colleagues.”

Dr. Laura Philips

What did you do to overcome those challenges?

Phillips: “Lots of trial and error! We’d try some things for a week in stats, and if it wasn’t working, we’d make adjustments for the next week. My coworkers were all very supportive but since we were working remotely and everyone was scrambling, there wasn’t a lot of time to sit around and think philosophically about how we should approach our classes. My schedule didn’t always allow me to attend but the weekly COBA Zoom prayer times have been great! And throughout the summer, the staff in the Adams Center and the crew they assembled to provide resources and training for the faculty have been outstanding.”

Buck: “My teaching colleagues have been invaluable in navigating these issues, and they have also been helpful in the tactical aspects of the job (great suggestions for teaching online and in a distanced classroom, things to look for, things to avoid, etc.). My administrative colleagues have been very good to normalize the challenges we face. It is not easy to be a good employee, a good spouse, and a good parent while navigating a global pandemic, and I am grateful for their faithful demonstration of grace throughout this season.”

Pope: “Through the use of technology tools – online teaching in Canvas and Zoom, we carry on and push through. I would like to compliment the IT people in the background here who work tirelessly ‘below the radar’ and receive little thanks. I would also like to thank the educational technology support staff in the Adams Center and the Library. They are amazing.”

Clint Buck

What’s different about the current fall semester?

Phillips: “I can’t really address this question because I’m teaching online this semester. I am taking German, so I’ve experienced the classroom as a student, but not as a professor.”

Buck: “Can’t shake hands or see smiles; can’t see if a concept or idea is resonating or not. Things I took for granted – like handing out printed material in class! – are very noticeable in their absence. Also, I used to enjoy having a very special teaching assistant in class at least once each semester, but my eight-year-old daughter (Lillian) is unable to do so this semester.  :(  EVERYONE is very sad about this.”

Pope: “My classes ended up all being online this semester, so obviously that is really different. But when I/we return to in-person classes again, I plan to utilize many of the recorded lectures and clarified teaching materials that have been developed during the pandemic. In the past, I relied too much on being able to verbally explain something, and now I see that some of my notes are not very clearly written. So, the current situation is an opportunity to see things differently and learn and grow.”

COBA’s vision is to inspire, equip, and connect Christian business and technology professionals to honor God and bless the world. How are you integrating the vision with your students when you can’t always be with them? 

Phillips: “I don’t start teaching until October this semester so most of my interaction with students is coming through a community group I’m leading for some COBA freshmen and meeting with students about study abroad next fall. I’m trying to stay connected to students even though I’m not in the classroom. I guess right now I’m spending a lot of time trying to inspire them to spend a semester abroad. It is such a transformational experience but sometimes it’s hard for students to visualize themselves doing something so vastly different from their normal life. I’m also trying to help some of our freshmen connect in our small group. They have such a great attitude but I think it’s harder to get to know people with the masks and social distancing in the classrooms. I’m hoping that our community group helps them get to know a handful of their COBA peers and that they will have a few classmates with whom they have connected at a deeper level.”

Buck: “I’m working hard to use Canvas better so information is accessible and organized for students.”

Pope: “In terms of connection, I am trying to encourage more emailed thoughts about prayer needs, scripture, and other personal concerns. My wife has, for 20 years, invited students into our home for meals and we typically have had large groups. This fall, she is going to considerable effort to plan, prepare, and host multiple smaller groups in a safe manner.”

Dr. Don Pope

What are you excited about for this semester?

Phillips: “Getting to know some of our new freshmen, seeing students get excited about spending a semester abroad, ‘meeting’ my students – even though we will not be gathering in person.”

Buck: “Seeing how we expand our vision of community. We’ve relied on very traditional definitions and expressions of community (e.g. shaking hands, sharing a meal, attending a sporting event or attending the performing arts) for a long time, and the current moment forces us to rethink them. When things return to something resembling what we used to call ‘normal’, we will hold these definitions/expressions even more sacred and special than before.”

Pope: “‘Excited’ is probably not a word that we would use about this situation.  But, I do think that we are all learning some valuable lessons about the human need to be with other people, to accept each other’s different perspectives on things, and live together in community.  It will be interesting to see how family, education, business, and church are changed long term by this experience.”

While the ACU campus looks and works differently in 2020, COVID-19 hasn’t stopped faculty members from looking for ways to put students first. Echoed in the comments of each of our faculty members is the theme that is so central to ACU – community. We value our students and our relationships with them as faculty and staff. We will continue to strive to connect in the best ways possible this semester and we look forward to the day that we can see those smiles in the classroom.

Dennis Marquardt: Leader Goal Orientation and Ethical Leadership

COBA professors have been in a researching groove lately (as Don Pope would say, “They must be butter; they’re on a roll.”). We have seen professors such as Dr. Monty Lynn, Dr. Ryan Jessup, and now Dr. Dennis Marquardt, continue to conduct important research and have their work published in industry journals. Dennis Marquardt recently wrote a paper entitled: “Leader Goal Orientation and Ethical Leadership: A Socio-Cognitive Approach of the Impact of Leader Goal-Oriented Behavior on Employee Unethical Behavior.” The paper was written with co-authors Dr. Wendy Casper at UT-Arlington and Dr. Maribeth Kuenzi at SMU.  

We asked Dr. Marquardt where his motivation and inspiration to work on this research came from. “For the past decade, I’ve been fascinated by the idea of ‘unintended consequences,’ specifically as this applies to leader/follower dyads. In other words, are there attitudes or behaviors that managers engage in that don’t necessarily seem unethical, but may have the consequence of unknowingly encouraging unethical behavior among employees.”

Photo by Jeremy Enlow

Dr. Marquardt summarized the concepts in the research and what type of consequences can come from such situations saying, “In this paper, we propose that leaders with high levels of a performance-avoid goal orientation are perceived to be less ethical and in turn, encourage employees to engage in unethical behaviors. Performance-avoid goal orientation refers to the extent to which a person approaches tasks or goals with a desire to not look incompetent compared to their peers. When a leader has such an orientation they are likely to send cues and signals to employees that making mistakes is to be avoided at all costs, that having the appearance of incompetence is unacceptable, or that making the leader look bad is a cardinal sin.”

He continued, “These cues and signals don’t seem unethical on their own, but imagine what they might do to employees over time. If I’m constantly hearing about avoiding mistakes and failures and trying to not look incompetent, what do I do when I actually do make a mistake? We propose that you might have a higher propensity to consider covering things up, blaming others, or lying about your performance. Our study analyzing several hundred leader/follower dyads found that leaders with high levels of avoid-goal orientation have significantly lower levels of ethical leadership (as perceived by their followers) and have employees who are more likely to engage in unethical behavior. Only when leaders also had a high learning goal orientation did the effects of avoid goal orientation become non-significant.”

Photo by Jeremy Enlow

Having this paper published is definitely a feeling of joy and accomplishment for Marquardt. “This paper has been in the works since 2014 and out of all my published papers, it’s the one I’m most proud of. God is good! There are many times I was going to give up on it because it took so many hours of work over these past six years. I’m thankful for great co-authors who are people I respect and people who have modeled a learning goal orientation for me.”

Dr. Marquardt’s paper “Leader Goal Orientation and Ethical Leadership: A Socio-Cognitive Approach of the Impact of Leader Goal-Oriented Behavior on Employee Unethical Behavior.” was published in the Journal of Business Ethics this May and is available for reading by clicking here.

COBA Professors and ACU Alum Team Up For Research

Have you ever struggled to make a decision when given too many options? Choice overload, or overchoice, is a cognitive process where people have difficulty making a decision due to a variety of options. Why does this happen?

As part of the lifelong relationship vision of the College of Business Administration, Associate Professor of Marketing, Dr. Ryan Jessup,  and SITC Director and Professor of Computer Science, Dr. John Homer, partnered with ACU alum, Levi Ritchie (’15), to research the choice overload effect. Their paper,  “Hurry up and decide: Empirical tests of the choice overload effect using cognitive process models”, was featured in the American Psychology Association’s April issue on decision. According to Scimago Journal & Country Rank, this journal is in the top 10% in psychology, neuropsychology and physical psychology subfield.

Dr. Ryan Jessup

While in graduate school at Indiana University, Dr. Ryan Jessup collected data to study a theory of decision making that prompted him to conduct this research as a follow-up from that work. As the lead author, Dr. Jessup generated the research idea and designed the experiment which was programmed by Dr. Homer. Levi Ritchie helped program part of the experiment in Python, recruited participants, and collected data before analyzing the data along with Dr. Jessup. The team combined their expertise in their respective fields to compile and edit the paper that was then published in the APA Journal. Dr. Jessup described the goal of their research as, “We wanted to test between multiple competing hypotheses that I had proposed in an earlier paper for the choice overload aka too much choice effect. The effect is that people purchase more when they have fewer options to choose from, violating basic economic principles.” 

Levi Ritchie (’15)

The science of cognitive psychology is broad and contains a variety of potential research studies; however, Levi Ritchie described the importance of studying the choice overload effect as essential to the business field, “From a business perspective, understanding the elements that moderate the effect is crucial to marketing. Even when your selection of alternatives is plentiful, it may be beneficial to only present the strongest subset.” Similarly, Dr. Jessup commented on how important the understanding of this effect is when selling or promoting a product, as well as for personal decision making. 

“An interesting thing about conducting quality research is that it makes us better at teaching. In my case, it is particularly true because I tend to teach courses on how to conduct or analyze research. But, even if I were teaching a different type of course it would still improve my teaching for several reasons. First, when teaching on a relevant topic, I would be far more aware of the pioneering research – in some cases because I would have been the one to do it; in other cases, it would be because I had to examine all possible theories and explanations when conducting my research, simultaneously giving far more breadth and depth than I would have gotten had I just read about it in the textbook or merely just read a few things about it. In essence, researchers know more about these findings because they are the ones making them – we are not merely reading about them. It is the ultimate in experiential learning”, Jessup said. 

The conclusion of this research was explained in-depth in their publication, but Jessup summarized by saying, “We found that one of our proposed explanations well predicted the data whereas another one – the one that is commonly espoused as causing the effect – did not appear to play a role. A specific conclusion was time pressure appears to really drive the effect; so, if you are trying to sell things to people who are often hurried – think drive-thru’s or situations where people often have little children with them – you are better off giving them a very small set of options.”

Levi Ritchie is currently pursuing a career in Data Science, while Dr. Jessup continues to work on research on an improved theory of decision making that combines choice with learning. He is currently working on another project that involves the choices of married individuals and economic games with professors Katie Wick, John Homer and, recently graduated marketing major, Luke Stevens (’20).

Monty Lynn: The Impacts of COVID-19 On Global Food Security

Do you ever wonder what COBA professors do when they aren’t teaching class? You may not know it, but many of our professors commit their time to conducting research of all different types. Dr. Monty Lynn recently co-authored a research article titled, “Better Together: Improving Food Security and Nutrition by Linking Market and Food Systems”. The article is a literature review of market and food systems informing on the latest impacts of COVID-19 towards global food security.

Dr. Lynn says, “The article is the fruit of a collaborative effort with technical advisors at World Vision and CARE, supplemented by faculty members at ACU and the Catholic University of America. To share the findings, the article authors will host a webinar in June to describe our work, mostly with a global CARE and World Vision audience. In the article, we combine two popular approaches in global food security which attempt to strengthen markets and nutrition, and we describe CARE and World Vision food security programming that illustrates the model. In the webinar, we will describe the latest information from CARE and World Vision on how the coronavirus pandemic and COVID-19 are impacting global food security.” Dr. Lynn notes that “It is a welcome and special opportunity to join a research team with two of the largest development organizations in the United States and to collaborate with my colleague, Dan Norell, a Senior Technical Advisor in Economic Development at World Vision in Washington, D.C.”

The article and webinar will explore the following:

  • The Inclusive Market and Food Systems Model
  • The importance of bringing the market to vulnerable households
  • How empowering women multiplies nutritional outcomes
  • How access does not necessarily equal consumption
  • The impact of COVID-19 on programming and adaptive management for livelihood programs

Photo by Jeremy Enlow

International development is a topic that Dr. Lynn stays current with for his research and an International Development class that he occasionally teaches at ACU. His recent research shows that “Major gains have been made in global food security, reducing global hunger. Gains began eroding in 2015, however, and global food insecurity began rising again. Nearly one billion people are food insecure today and 140 million of those became food insecure because of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and mitigation efforts that have disrupted food production and supply chains.”

This blog post is just a glimpse of the information that is covered in the research article. We encourage you to read the full article HERE and join the webinar on May 19th at 12:30 pm EST, Washington, D.C. time zone HERE.

 

STAR Hits Another Milestone and Makes First Distribution of Earnings

Since its inception in 1999 with an initial amount of approximately $100,000, STAR has had several goals in mind. One of those goals was reached when the group hit a huge milestone with $1.5 million in their portfolio this past spring although the portfolio has dipped slightly with the recent economic crisis due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Another one of those goals was reached today when the group was able to make their first distribution from earnings.

Photo by Jeremy Enlow

Assistant Professor of Finance Dr. Jody Jones, said that the distribution will be “$63,000, roughly 4.5% of the December 31, 2019 balance.  Students ‘final’ this Thursday is to make sure they have the cash to distribute back to the endowment. The cash for this disbursement came primarily from gains made this semester on Ford (F), Gold (GLD), and decreasing the holdings in Healthcare Inc (HCA). As of this writing, the fund is $1.3 million (almost to the penny) and STAR is beating the S&P 500 by almost 5% YTD.”

STAR is a student-managed equity fund that is part of the university’s endowment. This semester the students must have $63,000 (4.5% of the 12/31 value) in cash. That money will be used to support the operation of the university as a whole. Jones says that students gain experience that will career over into their professional careers in the future. “Managing over $1 million dollars is something they can put on their resume and shows they have experience – especially this semester when many students lost jobs and internship opportunities.”

Senior Finance major Hunter Jennings said that he learned many things from his time in STAR. “I learned that in order to learn and be successful, you have to be willing to take risks. This experience will translate into my professional career because it pushed me to make decisions and effectively communicate my thoughts and ideas with my peers.”

Photo by Jeremy Enlow

As for learning during a time when the stock market was particularly volatile, Jennings said, “The stock market can be rewarding and it can hurt you. It is all about how you react to those changes. There was a point where we had the fund to its highest value, just to have the market crash and the value go back to where we started.”

Hunter encourages students to consider being a part of the group. “I think that if anyone is interested in getting to work with a team and see real-world results, then they should join STAR. You don’t have to have any experience trading stocks or even be a finance major. Overall, it was one of my favorite classes to take at ACU.”

New Audit Analytics Course Gives MAcc Students an Edge

Dr. Curtis Clements

Efficiency is the key to accounting and the current key to efficiency is analytics. As the field of accounting advances and changes, so does the software, and therefore, the subjects taught in the accounting major. Dr. Curtis Clements saw the need for a course in accounting analytics and began teaching Audit Analytics, a graduate level class, last fall.

He explained that, historically, accounting has determined accuracy of financial statements by utilizing sampling. However, with programs like Tableau, Alteryx, Excel, etc., it has become possible to obtain, clean, and analyze data much more accurately and precisely. With the business world transitioning quickly into the world of analytics, Dr. Clements found it important to provide an opportunity for students to gain experience in one of the emerging disciplines and most crucial parts of accounting.

That goal was certainly met. The class was given access to Dillard’s department store sales data (housed at the University of Arkansas). This gave the students a real world feel to analyzing and working with large data sets. Dr. Clements wanted the class structure to give information and tools that would be practical in the future for each student’s career. The positive feedback give by students for the class led to an upgrade to the course textbook, which will lead to more information learned to put into action in the workplace.

Anthony Rodriguez, Master of Accountancy major from Argyle, Texas, participated in the inaugural class and gave his seal of approval. “I really enjoyed the class. This past summer, during my internship at EY, I was selected as 1 of 60 interns nationwide to go to Hoboken, New Jersey to attend a training in auditing analytics. The software packages we were taught in training were Tableau and Alteryx. One of the things I took from the training was how much technology can impact an audit for the better. Also, as 1 of only 60 interns, I would have an advantage over some of my peers. The Audit Analytics course at ACU touched on some of those same topics- specifically Tableau. As the course went along, I realized that we were learning much of the same material Ernst & Young (EY) had deemed a worthy investment. From my short experience in New Jersey, I saw how technology will begin impacting how audits work. Clearly, if EY invested as much money as they did to develop their Digital Ambassador Intern Program, it seems as though the Big 4 accounting firms want to get a head start on this trend. It is really awesome that COBA and Dr. Clements have begun offering this course to ACU students. Our careers will only get more and more digital, so it’s great that ACU is offering this course to help set its students apart from the competition.”

Audit Analytics was a resounding success and Dr. Clements is working to make sure the class will continue improving and adjusting to meet the demands of the field in the future as the tools for accounting analytics advance. The Master of Accountancy program prepares accounting students to meet the demands of the field, in whatever type of firm or accounting career they seek to work in. Click here to learn more about ACU’s Master of Accountancy program.