The Economics Network

Improving economics teaching and learning for over 20 years

Using Threshold Concepts to plan teaching and assessment in Economics


Thursday 15 May 2008, 1pm - 4pm


Room WM206, 2nd floor, William Morris Building, Gosford Street, Coventry University.


An introduction to threshold concepts in economics and the way in which they can be used to understand the problems that students encounter in trying to learn economics.

This workshop should prove very valuable to first-year course leaders and those involved in programme design. Evidence from a recent survey of employers ( suggests that the skills and knowledge identified in the Economics Benchmark statement are wholly appropriate for the employers interviewed and that the main weakness of many graduates is the ability to apply fundamental economic concepts to a range of different issues. Representatives of the four universities involved in the HEFCE-funded FDTL5 project, Embedding Threshold Concepts in Economics (, have identified how such concepts can be integrated into the curriculum and have devised a range of classroom exercises for this purpose.


A three year project on threshold concepts in economics has developed a range of teaching resources for use in undergraduate economics together with strategies for more effective assessment of progress in students' understanding of economics. Details can be found at the project web site.

Threshold concepts are the powerful integrating ideas that shape thinking in any discipline. Whilst they are inaccessible to new students of economics they determine the form and structure of all the ideas they are introduced to and it is only as students start to become aware of the big ideas that lurk behind the smaller ideas that they start to really think like economists. This presents some big problems for teaching and learning and many students respond to the problem by trying to remember ways of presenting economic ideas without really understanding what they are about.

The project has developed some approaches to teaching economics which try to address this problem. All of these resources have been tried out with groups of students and they have been reworked in response to evidence what actually happens when you try to use them with students.

The universities involved in the project were Coventry University, Durham University, the University of the West of England and the project lead Staffordshire University.

The Workshop

The workshop will provide:

  • An introduction to the threshold concept materials developed for first year economics undergraduates
  • Exemplars and discussion of the design of assessment items and mark schemes that can identify progression in students' economic thinking as suggested by threshold concepts
  • An introduction to threshold concepts in economics and the way in which they can be used to understand the problems that students encounter in trying learn economics.

The workshop will use evidence from students' work (from teaching sessions and assessments) and interviews to exemplify threshold concepts in practice.

The workshop will be run by Professor Peter Davies of Staffordshire University.