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In the ever-evolving landscape of accounting education, the integration of artificial intelligence (AI) is not just a futuristic concept but a present reality. Recently, I had the opportunity to discuss this exciting development in an IFAC EdExchange webinar, focusing on how we've harnessed AI at the University of Pretoria to enhance the learning experience for accounting students. Below are insights from that discussion, highlighting the potential of AI in education, particularly through our homegrown solution, AE-Bot.

The Evolution of AE-Bot: Transforming Accounting Education

The journey to developing the AE-Bot has been a progressive one, beginning with our initial forays into the realm of AI with Facebook's Messenger Bots in 2018. This early experience laid the groundwork for our understanding and application of AI in an educational context. The advent of large language models like ChatGPT marked a pivotal moment in this journey, opening new avenues for innovation and application in the field of accounting education. The AE-Bot is the culmination of these developments, representing not just a step but a significant leap forward in educational technology. It embodies our commitment to harnessing the latest advancements in AI to create a more dynamic, responsive, and effective learning environment for accounting students.

Rethinking AI Interaction: AE-Bot's Innovative Approach

A key insight from our experience with AE-Bot is the recognition that students often struggle with formulating effective queries, or prompts, for AI tools. Unlike traditional search engines where users input simple queries and expect comprehensive answers somewhere in the long list of results, AI operates differently. We observed that students typically do not craft detailed prompts, which can lead to less effective AI responses.

To address this, AE-Bot incorporates a novel strategy: it doesn't just rely solely on the student's input but enhances it with sophisticated, theory-based educational prompts in the background. This method significantly improves the quality of the feedback provided to students. By integrating educational theory into the AI's response mechanism, AE-Bot ensures that even if a student's query is basic or lacks specificity, the resulting AI-generated advice is still detailed, contextually relevant, and educationally sound.

Bridging the Gap: How AE-Bot Enhances Learning

This innovative approach bridges the gap between the student's initial query and the rich, nuanced information that can aid their learning. It's a shift from expecting students to master prompt engineering to AE-Bot subtly enhancing their queries. This system ensures that students receive responses that are not only accurate but also tailored to their educational needs and learning context.

For instance, when a student inputs a general query about a change in accounting policy, AE-Bot, equipped with its background prompts, enriches this query. It provides a response that delves into relevant examples, contextualizes it within the framework of IFRS as applicable to South African students, and even references specific standards like International Accounting Standard 8 on accounting policies and changes in accounting estimates and errors. This enriched response offers a more personalized and effective learning experience than what a straightforward AI tool could deliver.

The Role of Educators in AI-Assisted Learning: Bridging Theory and Practice

Another common concern is whether AI will replace teachers. From our experience, the answer is a resounding no. Instead, AI, like AE-Bot, can enhance educators' jobs, especially in large classes. In Pretoria, where we have 500 second-year students in the CA program, AI tools have proven invaluable in providing personalized, engaging learning experiences.

While AI tools like the AE-Bot are powerful, they cannot replace the nuanced understanding and expertise of educators, particularly in the context of specialized fields like accounting. Our role as educators extends beyond guiding students in effectively using these tools; it involves integrating our knowledge of educational theories into the AI interaction process. This is crucial because, while accounting students are adept at grasping complex financial concepts, they are not necessarily trained in the theories of teaching and learning. This gap means that while it is important to teach them to prompt AI models effectively, especially in accounting contexts, they may lack the background to craft prompts that are educationally optimized.

Interactive Learning Features

AE-Bot also includes features that encourage active learning. Icons for supplementary resources like AI curated videos, suggested follow-up questions, and practical scenarios are integrated into the responses. This approach not only provides theoretical knowledge but also enhances understanding through practical application.

Teacher Involvement and Oversight

A unique feature of AE-Bot is the ability for teachers to monitor student interactions with the AI. Educators can create courses, access student chats, and generate diagnostic reports, ensuring that the AI's responses align with course objectives and correcting misunderstandings as they arise.

Expanding AE-Bot's Capabilities: Customized Learning through Document Uploads

A particularly innovative aspect of AE-Bot is its ability to learn and adapt through document uploads. This feature allows both teachers and students to upload relevant educational materials, such as textbook chapters (with the necessary permissions), handouts, questions, and solutions. This capability is not just about increasing the data pool from which AE-Bot draws its responses; it's about customizing and aligning the bot's assistance with the specific curriculum and resources used in a course.

When these documents are uploaded, AE-Bot 'trains' itself to understand and integrate the content, style, and context of these materials into its responses. This means that when students interact with the bot, the feedback they receive is not only based on general knowledge but is also specifically tailored to the materials they are studying. This level of customization ensures that the AI's assistance is directly relevant and deeply connected to the students' actual learning materials, thereby enhancing the overall educational experience.

This feature represents a significant leap in educational technology, offering a more personalized and context-aware learning assistant. It exemplifies how AI can be tailored to specific educational needs and preferences, making AE-Bot an even more powerful tool in the hands of educators and students.

Democratizing Education: AE-Bot's Inclusive Pricing Model

A cornerstone of AE-Bot's philosophy is democratizing access to advanced educational tools. To achieve this, we offer a dual-tiered pricing model that caters to diverse needs and resources. The free version of AE-Bot is supported by our innovative educational prompts, providing high-quality, AI-enhanced learning assistance at no cost. This ensures that all students, regardless of their financial situation, have access to a sophisticated educational tool that can significantly enhance their learning experience.

For those who seek even more advanced capabilities, AE-Bot offers a paid model. This premium version grants access to GPT-4, the latest and most powerful iteration of the large language model developed by OpenAI. What's remarkable is that this access is available for a fraction of the cost of a standard ChatGPT subscription. This not for profit, cost-recovery pricing strategy is designed to make cutting-edge AI technology accessible to a broader range of users, including individual learners and smaller educational institutions that might otherwise be unable to afford such advanced tools. By offering these tiered options, AE-Bot is not just an educational tool; it's a platform for equitable education, ensuring that the benefits of AI in learning are available to everyone.

Conclusion: Embracing AI for a Brighter Educational Future

Our journey with AE-Bot at the University of Pretoria is just one example of how AI can be harnessed to enhance education. By embracing AI, educators can provide personalized, engaging, and effective learning experiences. As we continue to explore this exciting frontier, the possibilities for both students and educators seem limitless.

Question for Readers: How do you envision integrating AI tools like AE-Bot into your educational practices, and what potential benefits or challenges do you foresee in this integration?


This article is based on a webinar transcript and supplemented with additional insights. For more information on AE-Bot, visit or

This article was based on a presentation at a recent event organized by IFAC and the International Association for Accounting and Education Research (IAAER). The University of Pretoria is an university member of IAAER. 

Learn more in Dr. Coetzee's EdExchange video presentation below.

Stephen Coetzee

Stephen Coetzee, PhD (CA) SA, is a professor of accounting at the University of Pretoria, South Africa. Stephen has taught financial accounting at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels. He supervises postgraduate research students, and his research interests include assessment and the use of technology in accounting education.