Student engagement in a fully online accounting module: An action research study


Student engagement is crucial for learning, and especially so in online learning. For a student to be a successful online learner, they need to engage with the online content, with their peers and with the educator. This article presents an accounting module of a fully online degree where engagement was purposefully integrated using an online engagement framework. Within this framework, the educator regularly interacted with the students to ensure that they were engaging with the online material and a group task was assigned where students had to collaboratively construct knowledge and display it in a video. An action research design was followed to determine the degree of engagement within the module and to improve on it for future modules. Results indicate that regular interaction did result in more students being active and ultimately successfully completing the module. Student reflections on the group task indicated that there are definite benefits in creating knowledge collaboratively although the format in which it should be presented needs to be reconsidered.

Author Biography

M. Malan, University of Johannesburg

College of Business and Economics, School of Accounting


Africacheck. 2018. Funding and the changing face of South Africa’s public universities. (Accessed 16 January 2019).

Artino Jr., A. R. and J. M. Stephens. 2009. Academic motivation and self-regulation: A comparative analysis of undergraduate and graduate students learning online. Internet and Higher Education 12: 146‒151. doi: 10.1016/j.iheduc.2009.02.001.

Astin, A. W. 1984. Student involvement: A developmental theory for higher education. Journal of College Student Development 25: 297‒308.

Bali, S. and M. C. Liu. 2018. Students’ perceptions toward online learning and face-to-face learning course. Journal of Physics: Conference Series 1108. doi: 10.1088/1742-6596/1108/1/012094.

Barnard, L., W. Y. Lan, Y. M. To, V. O. Paton and S. Lai. 2009. Measuring self-regulation in online and blended learning environments. Internet and Higher Education 12: 1‒6. doi: 10.1016/j.iheduc.2008.10.005.

Burch, G. F., N. A. Heller, J. J. Burch, R. Freed and S. A. Steed. 2015. Student engagement: Developing a conceptual framework and survey instrument. Journal of Education for Business 90: 224‒229.

BusinessTech. 2017. The most popular fields of study in South Africa. news/business/155537/the-most-popular-fields-of-study-in-south-africa/ (Accessed 16 January 2019).

Canal, L., P. Ghislandi and R. Micciolo. 2015. Pattern of accesses over time in an online asynchronous forum and academic achievements. British Journal of Educational Technology 46(3): 619‒628. doi: 10.111/bjet.12158.

Carr-Chellman, A. and P. Duchastel. 2000. The ideal online course. British Journal of Educational Technology 31(3): 229‒241.

Carver, L. B., K. Mukherjee and R. Lucio. 2017. Relationship between grades earned and time in online courses. Online Learning Journal 21(4): 303‒313.

Cho, M. and B. J. Kim. 2013. Students’ self-regulation for interaction with others in online learning environment. Internet and Higher Education 17: 69‒75. j.iheduc.2012.11.001

Cho, M., Y. Kim and D. Choi. 2017. The effect of self-regulated learning on college students’ perceptions of community of inquiry and affective outcomes in online learning. Internet and Higher Education 34: 10‒17.

Cousin, G. 2009. Researching learning in higher education. New York and London: Routledge Taylor and Francis Group.

Cunningham, B. M. 2008. Using action research to improve learning and the classroom learning environment. Issues in Accounting Education 23(1): 1‒30.

Curtis, S. M. 2017. Pathway to reform: Developing action research capacity in accounting education. Issues in Accounting Education 32(3): 51‒79. doi: 10.2308/iace-51586.

Dani, S., M. Singhai and A. M. Hyde. 2018. Factors affecting students’ perception of online learning: An empirical analysis. The Indian Journal of Industrial Relations 5(2): 334‒346.

Davies, J. and M. Graff. 2005. Performance in e-learning: Online participation and student grades. British Journal of Educational Technology 36(4): 657‒663.

Delen, E. and J. Liew. 2016. The use of interactive environments to promote self-regulation in online learning: A literature review. European Journal of Contemporary Education 15(1): 24‒33.

Duncan, K., A. Kenworthy and R. McNamara. 2012. The effect of synchronous and asynchronous participation on students’ performance in online accounting courses. Accounting Education 21(4): 431‒449. doi: 10.1080/09639284.2012.673387.

Fajardo, C. 2014. Best practices for teaching accounting courses online. Journal of Business and Educational Leadership 5(1): 28‒38.

Gibbs, P., P. Cartney, K. Wilkinson, J. Parkinson, S. Cunningham, C. James-Reynolds, T. Zoubir, V. Brown, P. Barter, P. Sumner, A. MacDonald, A. Dayananda and A. Pitt. 2017. Literature review on the use of action research in higher education. Educational Action Research 25(1): 3‒22. doi: 10.1080/09650792.2015.1124046.

Hazelton, J. and M. Haigh. 2010. Incorporating sustainability into accounting curricula: Lessons learnt from an action research study. Accounting Education: An International Journal 19(1‒2): 159‒178. doi: 10.1080/09639280802044451.

Helfaya, A. 2019. Assessing the use of computer-based assessment-feedback in teaching digital accountants. Accounting Education 28(1): 69‒99. doi: 10.1080/09639284.2018.1501716.

Henning, E., W. van Rensburg and B. Smit. 2004. Finding your way in qualitative research. Pretoria: Van Schaik Publishers.

Hrastinski, S. 2009. A theory of online learning as online participation. Computers & Education 52: 78‒82. doi: 10.1016/j.compedu.2008.06.009.

Holzweiss, P. C., S. A. Joyner, M. B. Fuller, S. Henderson and B. Young. 2014. Online graduate students’ perceptions of best learning experiences. Distance Education 35(3): 311‒323. doi: 10.1080/01587919.2015.955262.

Ingersoll Abbott, J. and B. R. Palatnik. 2018. Students’ perceptions of their first accounting class: Implications for instructors. Accounting Education 27(1): 72‒93. doi: 10.1080/ 09639284.2017.1381032.

Kahn, W. A. 1990. Psychological conditions of personal engagement and disengagement at work. Academy of Management Journal 33: 692‒724.

Kahu, E. R. 2013. Framing student engagement in higher education. Studies in Higher Education 38(5): 758‒773.

Karodia, Y. 2019. Biztrends 2019: Top 11 trends in South African education. https://www. (Accessed 9 September 2019).

Kember, D. and L. Gow. 1992. Action research as a form of staff development in higher education. Higher Education 23: 297‒310.

Malan, M. and N. Stegmann. 2018. Accounting students’ experiences of peer assessment: A tool to develop lifelong learning. South African Journal of Accounting Research 32(2‒3): 205‒224.

Martin, F. and D. U. Bolliger. 2018. Engagement matters: Student perceptions on the importance of engagement strategies in the online learning environment. Online Learning Journal 22(1): 205‒222. doi: 10.24059/olj.v22il.1092.

Mashile, E. O. and F. J. Pretorius. 2003. Challenges of online education in a developing country. South African Journal of Higher Education 17(1): 132‒139.

McGowan, S. 2012. Going beyond the numbers in teaching financial accounting: The newsletter as an assignment option. Issues in Accounting Education 27(4): 1095‒1117. doi: 10.2308/iace-50207.

Moore, M. J. 1993. Three types of interaction. In Distance education theory, ed. K. Harry, M. John and D. Keegan, 19‒24. New York: Routledge.

Paisey, C. and N. J. Paisey. 2005. Improving accounting education through the use of action research. Journal of Accounting Education 23(1): 1‒19.

Potter, B. N. and C. G. Johnston. 2006. The effect of interactive on-line learning systems on student learning outcomes in accounting. Journal of Accounting Education 24: 16‒34.

Redmond, P., A. Heffernan, L. Abawi, A. Brown and R. Henderson. 2018. An online engagement framework for higher education. Online Learning 22(1): 183‒204. doi: 10.24059/olj.v22i1.1175.

Schroeder, S., M. Baker, K. Terras, P. Mahar and K. Chiasson. 2016. Students’ desired and experienced levels of connectivity to an asynchronous, online, distance degree program. Online Learning Journal 20(3): 244‒263.

Stanley, D. and Y. Zhang. 2018. Student-produced videos can enhance engagement and learning in the online learning. Online Learning Journal 22(2): 5‒26. doi: 10.24059/olj.v22i2.1367.

Stark, E. 2019. Examining the role of motivation and learning strategies in student success in online versus face-to-face courses. Online Learning 23(3): 234‒251. doi:10.24059/olj.v23i3.1556.

Tayebinik, M. and M. Puteh. 2013. Does greater participation in online courses lead to passing grade? An EFL learning context. British Journal of Educational Technology 44(6): 199‒202. doi: 10.1111/bjet.12095.

UJ see University of Johannesburg.

University of Johannesburg. 2019. Online programmes offered by UJ. (Accessed 22 January 2019).

Van Oordt, T. and I. Mulder. 2016. Implementing basic e-learning tools into an undergraduate taxation curriculum. Meditari Accountancy Research 24(3): 341‒361.

Wandler, J. and W. Imbriale. 2017. Promoting undergraduate student self-regulation in online learning environments. Online Learning Journal 21(2). doi: 10.24059/olj.v2li2.881.

Wells, P., P. de Lange and P. Fieger. 2008. Integrating a virtual learning environment into a second-year accounting course: Determinants of overall student perception. Accounting & Finance 48: 503‒518. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-629x.2007.00249.x.

Williams, B., C. Horner, and S. Allen. 2019. Flipped vs traditional teaching perspectives in a first year accounting unit: An action research study. Accounting Education 28(4): 333‒352. doi: 10.1080/09639284.2019.1609536.

Zeng, B. and M. Warschauer. 2015. Participation, interaction, and academic achievement in an online discussion environment. Computers & Education 84: 78‒89. compedu.2015.01.008

Zimmerman, B. J. and D. H. Schunk. 2001. Self-regulated learning and academic achievement: Theoretical perspectives. 2nd Edition. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

How to Cite
Malan, M. 2020. “Student Engagement in a Fully Online Accounting Module: An Action Research Study”. South African Journal of Higher Education 34 (4), 112-29.
General Articles