Threshold Concepts in Economics

Implications for teaching, learning and assessment

Peter Davies and Jean Mangan
Institute for Education Policy Research
The Business School
Staffordshire University
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‘Thinking and practising’ like an economist requires using the big ideas in the discipline (which we have identified as the threshold discipline concepts) to frame and organise the way we see problems and possible solutions, and the adoption of a modelling approach that operationalises the way we set about analysing the situation. When a student initially meets ideas in the subject like ‘efficiency’ and ‘market equilibrium’ they cannot understand them in the way that an expert would. An expert in the subject sees these ideas in terms of a framework of thought that has generated the ideas. To progress towards an expert understanding a student must initially learn to work with a simplistic version of these concepts whilst being aware of, and comfortable with, being in this position.

In Section 2 of this chapter the ideas of the approach are introduced in more detail. Section 3 explores the implications for teaching and learning, and discusses the four principles proposed by the approach. In Section 4 we explain the three types of learning activities developed within the project using an example of each, which is reproduced at the end of this chapter. The fifth section gives a case study involving the use of a particular exercise. The project was directed at first-year undergraduate study and the examples and evidence referred to in this chapter are drawn from that level. However, the general approach applies to all levels of study. Section 6 discusses the implications of the approach for assessment. The chapter ends with considering ‘where next?’