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Operationalising a Threshold Concept in Economics: A Pilot Study Using Multiple Choice Questions on Opportunity Cost


  • Martin P. Shanahan

    () (University of South Australia)

  • Gigi Foster

    () (University of South Australia)

  • Jan H. F. Meyer

    () (University of Durham)


This paper addresses the emerging educational framework that envisions threshold concepts as mediators of learning outcomes. While the threshold concepts framework is highly appealing on a theoretical level, few researchers have attempted to measure threshold concept acquisition empirically. Achieving this would open a new arena for exploration and debate in the threshold concepts field, and provide potential results to inform teaching practice. We begin the process of operationalising threshold concepts in economics by attempting to measure students' grasp of the threshold concept of opportunity cost in an introductory economics class. We suggest two potential measures and correlate them with an array of ex ante and ex post variables, including students' expectations of success, prior misconceptions about economics and the work of economists, and actual success in the course. Results cast new light onto the factors that influence the acquisition of threshold concepts, the relationship between threshold concept acquisition and final learning outcomes, and the empirical viability of threshold concepts generally.

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  • Martin P. Shanahan & Gigi Foster & Jan H. F. Meyer, 2006. "Operationalising a Threshold Concept in Economics: A Pilot Study Using Multiple Choice Questions on Opportunity Cost," International Review of Economic Education, Economics Network, University of Bristol, vol. 5(2), pages 29-57.
  • Handle: RePEc:che:ireepp:v:5:y:2006:i:2:p:29-57

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. William E. Becker & Michael Watts, 2001. "Teaching Methods in U.S. Undergraduate Economics Courses," The Journal of Economic Education, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 32(3), pages 269-279, January.
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