Starting Point: Teaching and Learning Economics > Teaching Methods > Classroom Response Systems > Examples > Discovering Economic Preconceptions using Clickers

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:
  • the percent of prices the public faces that the government controls (before supply and demand and before a discussion of how prices allocate resources)
  • the unemployment rate (will likely have to carefully define) (before unemployment)
  • the percent of workers who earn the minimum wage (before a section on prices allocating resources)
  • employment growth over the last half-century (before long-run growth)
  • the largest components of the federal budget (before fiscal policy)
  • is the federal income tax system progressive (before fiscal policy)
  • is the U.S. dollar backed by gold (before the definition of money)
  • inflation over the last year (before the CPI)
  • the duration of unemployment (before unemployment)
  • overall, does trade with other countries aid or harm the U.S. (before trade)

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.