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Discovering Economic Preconceptions using Clickers

This page is authored by William L. Goffe, SUNY Oswego
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This material is replicated on a number of sites as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service Project


In the typical principles of economics classroom, instructors generally present information without regard to their students' preconceptions of the material at hand. However, student preconceptions can influence their learning as these preconceptions may directly conflict with the lesson. For example, I have found that a significant number of student feel that the government controls a majority of prices they face, that real per capita has barely budged for the last half century, and that few know how federal spending and taxes are set. With a clicker, the instructor can quickly sample student preconceptions and adjust the lesson as appropriate. The challenge here is determining exactly what to ask.

Learning Goals

The goal with this activity isn't specific to a given topic; rather, it can be used for a variety of topics to make sure that student preconceptions are addressed in the hope that this will lead to improved learning.

Context for Use

This activity is best used in the principles classroom at every type of education level, class size, and institution type.

Description and Teaching Materials

This activity is appropriate before the start of new section of material, such as supply and demand, fiscal policy, long-run economic growth, and the like. It consists of a short question or two that students answer with clickers. The challenge is determining the appropriate question for the topic. Possibilities include:

Teaching Notes and Tips


To assess if these measures aid learning, exams and other assessments could include having the students use facts or approaches described above in part of questions. Just asking the same questions as the clickers is not likely to be very effective as students may repeat what they think the instructor wishes to hear rather than internalizing the facts or approaches.

References and Resources

None at this time; this is an area of active research by this activities' author. However, it is striking that in physics education research more than 100 papers carefully investigate student preconceptions.

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