Does a graph-intensive economics curriculum promote epistemological access to economic theory?

J. Marire


The paper evaluates whether graph-intensive pedagogic and assessment practices in introductory economics promote student learning. It evaluates the role of instructor-supplied graphs in the correct application and interpretation of graphs. Using simple linear and panel regressions on student assessment data for graph-based multiple choice questions and descriptive analysis based on written student answers, the paper finds that graph-intensive pedagogic and assessment practices hinder student learning and that there are gender and epistemological biases associated with them. While instructor-supplied graphic illustrations offer a solution, findings suggest a contrary adverse effect. Such supplementary materials are necessary but not sufficient in promoting deep learning. Combined with negative marking, graph dominated assessment practices encourage students to avoid answering graph-based questions, which undermines their performance.


graph-based MCQs; epistemological access; introductory economics

Full Text:



Becker, W.E and Watts, M. 1996. Chalk and Talk: A National Survey on Teaching Undergraduate Economics. The American Economic Review 86(2): 448-453.

Becker, W.E. 2001. How to make economics the sexy social science. Chronicle of Higher Education 48(15).

Becker, W.E. 2003. How to Make Economics the Sexy Social Science (From Chronicle of Higher Education). Southern Economic Journal 70(1): 195-198.

Biggs, J. 1999. What the student does: Teaching for enhanced learning. Higher Education Research & Development 18(1): 57-75.

Cohn, E and Cohn, S. 1994. Graphs and Learning in Principles of Economics. The American Economic Review 84(2): 197-200.

Cohn, E., Cohn, S., Balch, D.C and Bradley, J, Jr. 2001. Do Graphs Promote Learning in Principles of Economics? Journal of Economic Education Fall: 299-310.

Cohn, E., Cohn, S., Balch, D.C and Bradley, J, Jr. c.2002. Student attitudes about graphs and their relation to performance in principles of economics. Joint Statistical Meetings - Business & Economic Statistics Section: 604-609.

Cohn, E., Cohn, S., Balch, D.C and Bradley, J, Jr. 2004. The Relation between Student Attitudes toward Graphs and Performance in Economics. The American Economist 48(2): 41-52.

Coyle, D. 2012. Economics education after the crisis: Are graduate economists fit for purpose? Available: [accessed 29 May 2016].

Coyle, D. 2014. The mainstream economics curriculum needs an overhaul. Available:¬economics¬curriculum¬needs¬overhaul [Accessed 29 May 2016].

Croker, K., Andersson, H., Lush, D., Prince, R and Gomez, S. 2010. Enhancing the student experience of laboratory practicals through digital video guides. Bioscience Education 16(1): 1-13.

Hall, J and Lawson, R. 2008. Using music to teach microeconomics. Perspectives in Economic Education Research 4(1): 23-36.

Harter, C.L., Becker, W.E and Watts, M. 1999. Who Teaches with More than Chalk and Talk? Eastern Economic Journal 25(3): 343-356.

Inman, P. 2013a. Economics students aim to tear up free-market syllabus. The Guardian. Available:¬post¬crash¬economics [accessed 29 May 2016].

Inman, P. 2013b. University economics teaching to be overhauled. The Guardian. Available:¬economics¬teaching-overhaul [Accessed 29 May 2016].

Kourilsky, M and Wittrock, M.C. 1987. Verbal and graphical strategies in the teaching of economics. Teaching & Teacher Education 3(1): 1-12

Lawson, R., Hall, J and Mateer, G.D. 2008. From Abba to Zeppelin, Led: using music to teach economics. The Journal of Economic Education 39(1): 107.

Luckett, K. 2001. A proposal for an epistemically diverse curriculum for South African Higher Education in the 21st Century. South African Journal of Higher Education 15(2): 49-61.

Mann, S.J. 2001. Alternative Perspectives on the Student Experience: alienation and

engagement. Studies in Higher Education 26(1): 7-19.

Medcalfe, S. 2010. The relationship between music and student enjoyment of economics class: how to compete with Grand Theft Auto, Crack And Chlamydia! Journal of Economics and Economic Education Research 11(3):39-46.

Ojo, E and Jeannin, L. 2016. The way economics is taught needs an overhaul: a South

African case study. The Conversation.

Parker, J. 2003. Reconceptualising the curriculum: from commodification to transformation. Teaching in Higher Education 8(4): 529–543.

Snowball, J.D. 2014. Using interactive content and online activities to accommodate diversity in a large first year class. Higher Education 67: 823-838.

The Economist. 2013. Post-¬crisis economics: Keynes’s new heirs: Britain leads a global push to rethink the way economics is taught.

The NASB-Amplified parallel Bible. 2009. Peabody: Hendrickson Bibles.

University of Manchester Post-Crash Economics Society. 2014. Economics, Education and Unlearning: Economics Education at the University of Manchester.

Watts, M and Becker, W.E. 2008. A Little More than Chalk and Talk: Results from a Third National Survey of Teaching Methods in Undergraduate Economics Courses. The Journal of Economic Education 39(3): 273-286.

Wooldridge, J. 2002. Econometric analysis of cross section and panel data. MIT Press.

Zetland, D., Russo, C and Yavapolkul, N. 2010. Teaching economic principles: algebra, graph or both? The American Economist 55(1): 123-131.



  • There are currently no refbacks.

eISSN: 1753-5913

Copyright © 2016 South African Journal of Higher Education

Hosted by Stellenbosch University Library and Information Service since 2016.

Creative Commons License -CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

This journal is hosted by the SU LIS on request of the journal owner/editor. The SU LIS takes no responsibility for the content published within this journal, and disclaim all liability arising out of the use of or inability to use the information contained herein. We assume no responsibility, and shall not be liable for any breaches of agreement with other publishers/hosts.