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Assessing progression in students economic understanding: the role of threshold concepts Peter Davies and Jean Mangan, IEPR, Staffordshire University.

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Presentation on theme: "Assessing progression in students economic understanding: the role of threshold concepts Peter Davies and Jean Mangan, IEPR, Staffordshire University."— Presentation transcript:

1 Assessing progression in students economic understanding: the role of threshold concepts Peter Davies and Jean Mangan, IEPR, Staffordshire University

2 Students intellectual journey in HE general terms- several strands have been suggested e.g. epistemological beliefs expressed through critical reasoning highly specific - variation theory, revealing different ways of understanding particular phenomena between the generalist and the highly specific approach, are characteristics of progression in understanding that are typical of one domain, but not of others?

3 Threshold Concepts : A domain specific model of progression in student understanding in Higher Education Threshold Concepts integrate, transform, set boundaries to domain and probably are irreversible and troublesome for the learner. But what do they transform? what do they integrate?

4 Type of conceptual change Type of transformation and integration Examples in economics 1. BasicNewly met concepts some of which transform understanding of everyday experience through integration of personal experience with ideas from discipline. Distinctions between income/wealth (stocks/flows); nominal/real values; investment/saving. Withdrawals, injections. 2.Discipline Threshold concepts Understanding of other subject discipline ideas (including other threshold concepts) integrated and transformed through acquisition of theoretical perspective Partial equilibrium, welfare economics, marginality, opportunity cost, cumulative causation. 3. Modelling Concepts Ability to construct discipline specific narratives and arguments transformed through acquisition of ways of practising. Comparative statics (equilibrium, ceteris paribus), time (short- term, long-term, expectations), elasticity

5 The Web of Concepts

6 What is to be expected of first year students given the TC approach? If students have gone through the threshold then there is a major problem in assessment – the problem is in the preliminal and liminal space and we expect them to be in this space at level 1 Students take different pathways to the threshold - TCs do NOT suggest a linear progression Students vacillate between levels of understanding/not understanding

7 First year students: criteria for assessment 1. the understanding of a range of basic concepts. 2. the ability to use the procedures of economics (particularly comparative statics at level 1). 3. an emerging understanding of threshold concepts.

8 Approach of Study Threshold Concepts - takes account of the distinctive features of a discipline - need an understanding of the ways that concepts are integrated and understanding develops within the discipline. - using the distinction between the different types of concepts and their interaction in interpreting variation in student responses. Draws on a development of variation theory (phenomenography) - the learning study approach of Marton : approach of getting students to reveal their understanding of particular phenomena, categorising different conceptions revealed, devising tasks to progress understanding - learning studies have generally used in depth interviews but in this study use was made of written examination answers to reveal students conceptions.

9 This Study: data Written examination sat by First Year Business students Understanding of changes in the level of national income (using Circular Flow of Income) assessed through 4 optional questions. Section A, short questions: explain and give example of use of withdrawals, discretionary fiscal policy

10 1.The following is a short extract from the minutes of the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) meeting of the 8th and 9th November … Most measures of investment intentions had strengthened……... Most surveys of export orders had also picked up. That was probably in large part due to the euro-area recovery, which appeared to have been sustained during the second half of Explain the effect of these changes on the economy (you may want to use an appropriate diagram). The MPC recommended raising interest rates given these changes in the economy. What would be the expected effect of this increase? What factors affect consumer expenditure? What would be the influence on the whole economy of a fall in consumer confidence? Section B, longer applied questions

11 Adjustment of the variation theory approach: Sub-sample of scripts examined to establish characteristics and categorise Sample of MSc/lecturers answers considered to see if these revealed additional categories that might be expected. Scripts of all those who answered the questions were classified. Checked between two researchers. Method of Analysis

12 This Study: qualitative differences Two stages of analysis of qualitative differences between students answers. This is when income is withdrawn from the economy it can be by either savings or taxation etc. For example the government may want to withdraw money from the economy so they may put up taxes, this leaves consumers with less disposable incomes. (Student 1). If on the circular flow of income withdrawals outweigh injections then the economy shrinks and aggregate demand falls. If we then look at the multiplier effect we can see if this downward spiral continues as demand for GDP products would decrease, causing job losses and unemployment to rise. (Student 2)

13 This Study: qualitative differences (cont) Two stages of analysis of qualitative differences between students answers. This is when income is withdrawn from the economy it can be by either savings or taxation etc. For example the government may want to withdraw money from the economy so they may put up taxes, this leaves consumers with less disposable incomes. (Student 1). If on the circular flow of income withdrawals outweigh injections then the economy shrinks and aggregate demand falls. If we then look at the multiplier effect we can see if this downward spiral continues as demand for GDP products would decrease, causing job losses and unemployment to rise. (Student 2)

14 This Study: qualitative differences (cont) Two stages of analysis of qualitative differences between students answers. This is when income is withdrawn from the economy it can be by either savings or taxation etc. For example the government may want to withdraw money from the economy so they may put up taxes, this leaves consumers with less disposable incomes. (Student 1). If on the circular flow of income withdrawals outweigh injections then the economy shrinks and aggregate demand falls. If we then look at the multiplier effect we can see if this downward spiral continues as demand for GDP products would decrease, causing job losses and unemployment to rise. (Student 2)

15 Hierarchy of ways of understanding No clear understanding Identification of elements of system Understands directionality Beginnings of understanding of process of cumulative causation. Understanding of limit to process.

16 So what is the transformation and integration occurring from one level of understanding to the next? In a recession the government can cut taxes to try and reflate the economy. This happens as consumers have more disposable income and more money to spend. Or it can inject money into the economy by extra government expenditure. For example, if they build a new school they will have to hire a firm to build it. This firm will employ workers who will earn a wage and would be able to spend their disposable income on goods and services, benefiting other firms and reflating the economy as a whole. One note of caution when using discretionary fiscal policy is that it is based on the state of the economy now and in the future. The wrong timing of implementing the policy could be disastrous.

17 So what is the transformation and integration occurring from one level of understanding to the next? In a recession the government can cut taxes to try and reflate the economy. This happens as consumers have more disposable income and more money to spend. Or it can inject money into the economy by extra government expenditure. For example, if they build a new school they will have to hire a firm to build it. This firm will employ workers who will earn a wage and would be able to spend their disposable income on goods and services, benefiting other firms and reflating the economy as a whole. One note of caution when using discretionary fiscal policy is that it is based on the state of the economy now and in the future. The wrong timing of implementing the policy could be disastrous.

18 What is there and what is missing from this analysis? Using various basic concepts in a way that suggests understanding, understands directionality, with ingredients for developing a systematic understanding. Some critical appraisal. But does not indicates that he fully understands the system – lack of a key modelling concept. Lack of understanding of comparative static analysis and in particular the role equilibrium and how elements in the framework will automatically adjust to achieve this.

19 Numbers of students replying by category of response Category of response Section 1Section 2 WithdrawalsFiscal Policy Monetary Policy Consumer Confidence a b c d e

20 Conclusions Students start to use the language of a discipline conception such as the multiplier before they have developed an understanding which an expert might infer from such terms. Although the majority of students referred to a step in the process and some to knock-on effects, none described the process leading to equilibrium. Tentative suggestion greater emphasis in teaching to contrasting knock-on effects to an equilibrating system may improve understanding. Do we spend enough time discussing the processes we use?

21 etc project


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