John Molson CPA program pivots to live end-of-term presentations from home
Eva Lagou is director of the Graduate Diploma in Chartered Professional Accountancy (CPA) program in the John Molson School of Business (JMSB). She and her team started preparing last December for the upcoming round of presentations for the Capstone course, the program’s culminating seminar. But as was true for most people at the university and beyond, everything changed after the COVID-19 lockdown in March.
Lagou and her John Molson CPA program colleagues were charged with quickly developing new and creative ways to deliver the Capstone course, all while keeping students engaged online. When it came time for the final presentations in June, the task of holding them virtually became a significant undertaking.
The presentations are part of the CPA program’s larger Capstone module course, aimed at testing students through a complex comprehensive case analysis study, covering over 60 pages of case material.
“Nothing was conceived or designed for the presentations to take place online; we were adjusting as we were delivering,” reports Lagou, who is also an accountancy lecturer in the program.
She is proud to report that they ultimately pulled it off with great success.
This year’s presentations consisted of the largest-ever cohort — 139 students virtually presenting their projects through Zoom to a panel of judges. Over the course of two days, Lagou and her team of two CPA program staff members, along with four IITS and one Centre for Teaching and Learning support staff, simultaneously managed five live streams of presentations every hour.
“It was actually fantastic. I enjoyed being able to take part of it from the comfort of my own home,” says third-year judge of the CPA Capstone presentations, Carolyn Gass (BComm 02, GrCert 10).
She explains she was hesitant to use Zoom at first but enjoyed the overall experience in the end.
“It was so well organized. The IITS team had created these breakout rooms, where we would go in to discuss each presentation, and then go back to the main room where the students would be waiting for the feedback,” Gass says. “I was extremely satisfied with how it worked out.”
Modifications along the way
“The Capstone presentations demand teamwork. But, besides that, the rest of the program is mostly lecture-based sessions, and multiple case study exams. I had to modify my teaching methods to fit both,” Lagou notes.
“As professors, we must be agile, flexible and open and adjust our rules as we go on. If we see that something is not working, we have to find better ways.”
Guided by the JMSB’s most recent strategic plan, which seeks to offer a continuously relevant curriculum and adapt innovative teaching methods, Lagou revised her lectures to help her students succeed in this difficult situation.
“It’s so important for the professor to continuously go back to check in and try to engage them in a different way than in a normal classroom,” she says.
“I kept the sessions shorter, gave them a break halfway through our three-and-a-half-hour lectures and created weekly FAQs based on the questions asked in the chat section during our Zoom classes and the follow-up questions I received by email.”
Transition to online exams
Lagou explains that the John Molson CPA program has also been trying various methods to deliver online examinations.
“We’ve tested everything from proctoring to COLE,” she says, referring to the Concordia OnLine Exams tool. “They each have their strengths and weaknesses, and our method isn’t bulletproof, but it works best for our purpose.”
With the help of her staff, Lagou decided to monitor her students through Zoom while they all took their timed online exams.
“I created rules around the Zoom exam sessions. I told them they needed to turn on their cameras while facing the screen, in order to keep an eye on them. This would maintain some control of academic integrity, without recording or invading their personal privacy,” she says.
This is all in preparation for the CPA Canada Common Final Examinations that her students will take in September.
“When they get their exams graded, we have them meet their exam marker individually over Zoom to discuss their strengths and weaknesses in order to continue preparing them for the national exam,” Lagou explains.
“The students were so relieved to be able to continue with their academic progression, rather than stopping the program.”
Positive feedback from students
For Lagou, ensuring a good student experience during the live virtual Capstone presentations was a top priority — something she believes they achieved.
“It can create a more laid-back atmosphere than when you’re presenting in person in front of three judges,” she says.
Marie-li Evangeliste, a student in the CPA program, echoes Lagou’s words. “It was more relaxing for me because I didn’t see the judge in person. I didn’t have all the stress of presenting in front of a live panel,” Evangeliste says.
“The interaction was different — the camera on the computer became the eye-contact part of the presentation.”
Aziz Mussayev (BComm 19) is another CPA program student.
“In a way, it prepared us for the future, since more businesses and firms are moving to online work. I got to learn about different platforms like Microsoft Teams and Zoom, which will all be quite useful,” he says.
Evangeliste agrees. “It was different, but in the end, I still learned a lot from it.”
Find out more about Concordia’s Chartered Professional Accountancy program at the John Molson School of Business.