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Conceptualisation of Misunderstanding and Understanding – a phenomenographic study of students’ conceptions of allocative efficiency in Economics


  • Tommy Tang
  • Jeremy B Williams


It is not uncommon for lecturer to assume student understanding key concepts in her/his organisation and presentation of a topic, when these concepts, in fact, can be quite problematic for the students. This creates barriers to knowledge development in students. To overcome this barrier, it is important that we obtain students’ knowledge prior to and following instructions to inform teaching. A number of studies (Voss et al, 1986, Pong, 1999, Marton, 1988) have found that the student might have learnt a concept and utilised it in one context, but were not capable of transferring it for use in another, most notably in the context of everyday life. This raises two related questions: (1) When a student is taught an economic concept but chooses not to use it to make sense of an economic phenomenon, what is it about the economic concept that they have learnt (or mis-learnt)? (2) If the student possesses misunderstanding, how is it acquired? The paper reports on the preliminary findings of a study conducted at an Australian university, exploring the various ways commencing economics students understand the concept of allocative efficiency. In this study, written responses taken from 90 exam scripts to a structured final exam question are subject to rigorous phenomenographic analysis (Marton, 1981). Six conceptions of allocative efficiency are identified, and insights into these qualitatively different, commonly shared perceptions of this fundamental economic concept, which emerge from students’ written responses, allow us to better understand how they develop various misconceptions. The paper also discusses the implications of these findings and argues for a relational perspective of effective teaching.

Suggested Citation

  • Tommy Tang & Jeremy B Williams, 2000. "Conceptualisation of Misunderstanding and Understanding – a phenomenographic study of students’ conceptions of allocative efficiency in Economics," School of Economics and Finance Discussion Papers and Working Papers Series 080, School of Economics and Finance, Queensland University of Technology.
  • Handle: RePEc:qut:dpaper:080

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Mulder, N., 1994. "Transport and Communication in Mexico and the United States: Value Added , Purchasing Power Parities and Productivity," Papers 579, Groningen State, Institute of Economic Research-.
    2. Bart van Ark & Erik Monnikhof & Nanno Mulder, 1999. "Productivity in services: an international comparative perspective," Canadian Journal of Economics, Canadian Economics Association, vol. 32(2), pages 471-499, April.
    3. Hill, T P, 1977. "On Goods and Services," Review of Income and Wealth, International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, vol. 23(4), pages 315-338, December.
    4. van Ark, Bart & Maddison, Angus, 1988. "Comparisons of real output in manufacturing," Policy Research Working Paper Series 5, The World Bank.
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    Cited by:

    1. Kathleen Goffey & Andrew Worthington, 2002. "Motor Vehicle Usage Patterns in Australia: A Comparative Analysis of Driver, Vehicle & Purpose Characteristics for Household & Freight Travel," School of Economics and Finance Discussion Papers and Working Papers Series 117, School of Economics and Finance, Queensland University of Technology.

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