What do Casper the Friendly Ghost, Ben Affleck, and Miranda Priestly (the fashion guru portrayed brilliantly by Meryl Streep in the Devil Wears Prada) all have in common? Not much until you step into my financial accounting class during a discussion on internal controls. I’ll admit financial accounting can be a bit dry. It is a highly technical course and most students take it because it is required for their degree. I always look for ways to spark interest in the topic. For our discussion on internal controls, I always diagram a scenario on the whiteboard which involves a boss, an employee, and an accountant. Then I ask for volunteers to assume each role. The student who selects the boss role is assigned the Miranda Priestly avatar. The student who selects the accountant role is assigned the Ben Affleck avatar. For those you who don’t know, Ben Affleck played the badass accountant in the movie of the same name. The student who selects the employee role is assigned the Casper the Ghost avatar. Then I explain the roles of each in a scenario in which the employee is hired by the boss and paid by the accountant. Then I pause and ask each student to think like a crook. Be deceitful. Do what they can to circumvent the controls and steal from the company. Critical-thinking skills? I say yes. The goal for the students is to determine a way to steal from the company so that we can identify the controls that are missing that would prevent this kind of theft. In the end, the problem with the scenario is that the employee was hired by the boss, had time approved by the boss, and had a paycheck delivered by the boss. There was no evidence that the employee really existed. Employees who are on the payroll but not working for the company are called… Anybody want to guess? You got it! … ghost employees.
When I ask the students the term for non-working employees who are on the payroll, they usually make the connection between the Casper avatar and the ghost employee terminology. “I see what you did there” is a typical response. The use of pop culture avatars is a simple addition to a class that captures the students’ attention and appeals to visual learners. Visual learners prefer pictures and other forms of visual presentations (charts, graphs, diagrams) versus words. Visual stories help them understand material that is not easy to comprehend. By adding a few avatars and a diagrammed scenario I was able to add interest to a topic that could be dry and appeal to those learners who prefer visual learning.
Casper the Friendly Ghost image retrieved from