Academic journal article Journal of Economics and Economic Education Research

On-Line Mathematics Reviews and Performance in Introductory Microeconomics

Academic journal article Journal of Economics and Economic Education Research

On-Line Mathematics Reviews and Performance in Introductory Microeconomics

Article excerpt


We examine whether on-line remedial mathematics reviews can improve student performance in introductory microeconomics. In treatment sections, graded pre- and post- math tests were used to assess student understanding of graphing, systems of linear equations, area, slope, ratios and percentages. Students had online reviews and tutorials available between completing the tests. Pre- and post-test scores are positively and significantly related to course grade, more so than variables designating which mathematics courses have been taken by students. Students exposed to the math reviews in the treatment sections scored on average 0.20 of a grade point higher than comparable students in the control sections.


Even at the introductory level, the abilities to think mathematically and reason abstractly have been shown to be important contributors to student success in economics, and many studies in economics education have attempted to control for students' mathematical backgrounds in their analysis. Durden and Ellis (1995) and Williams, Waldauer, and Duggal (1992) use Math SAT score as a measure of student mathematics ability and find that Math SAT score is positively and significantly correlated with student performance in economics courses. Anderson, Benjamin, and Fuss (1994), Brasfield, Harrison, and McCoy (1993), Brown and Leidholm (2002), Ely and Hittle (1990) and Lumsden and Scott (1987) include in their regressions of student performance the types of mathematics courses taken by students. These studies argue that the mathematics classes a student has taken are a reasonable proxy for student mathematics ability. Ballard and Johnson (2004) find that the mastery of very basic mathematics concepts is one of the most significant contributors to student success in introductory microeconomics; they argue that studies that emphasize whether a student has taken calculus does not measure the influence of calculus per se, but rather measures the fact that students taking calculus are more likely to have mastered the basic mathematics concepts important for introductory economics.

The results of these studies suggest potential gains in student mastery of economics concepts if greater emphasis is placed on students' mathematics skills. In this study, we verify the link between basic mathematics skills and performance in introductory microeconomics and examine the use of on-line mathematics reviews as a method to improve student performance. As economics courses are increasingly being offered wholly or partly via internet, the effectiveness of this alternative format for student learning is important to assess. Brown and Leidholm (2002) and Katz and Becker (1999) examine whether internet courses can effectively substitute for classroom learning in economics. In this study, we examine whether an internet mathematics component to a standard lecture-based classroom course can improve student performance. We identify the advantages of conducting the mathematics reviews on-line as: (a) it does not require students to take additional mathematics classes or satisfy more prerequisites, (b) it can be done simultaneously with the economics course, and (c) it does not use valuable class time.

While introductory microeconomics is not, in general, a heavily mathematical course, the recognition of economics as a mathematics-based discipline at the introductory level is important. Instructors who de-emphasize the quantitative aspects of economics still must present concepts such as elasticity and consumer surplus, which can prove difficult if students cannot mathematically conceptualize the ideas. Additionally, students who enter intermediate-level economics classes with little idea that economics is a mathematics based discipline are functionally unprepared to be economics majors.

We collected information on the background, motivation, and mathematics preparation of 445 students enrolled in nine sections of introductory microeconomics at a regional Midwestern university. …

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