Correspondence | Published:

STEM teaching: avoid Swiss-cheese effect

Nature volume 524, page 161 (13 August 2015) | Download Citation

You propose a shift from traditional university lectures to a system that teaches the methods of scientific enquiry to students of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM; see Nature 523, 272–274 and 282–284; 2015). This move has clear merits, but systematic transfer of the requisite knowledge should not be abandoned entirely.

A pioneer in active-learning practices, Roskilde University in Denmark has been using problem-based teaching and successfully involving students in research since 1972. Our experience shows, however, that there are potential pitfalls.

Unless critical thinking is allied with a strong fundamental knowledge base, there is a risk that students will develop a 'Swiss cheese' understanding of science — with a good grasp of their chosen subject areas but major gaps in others. This can produce niche researchers who lack a proper understanding of their wider field.

We therefore advise retaining aspects of traditional education in an appropriate balance, which is then adjusted on the basis of student and course evaluations.

Author information


  1. Roskilde University, Denmark.

    • Farhan R. Khan
    •  & Gary T. Banta
  2. University of Oslo, Norway.

    • Christina Sørensen


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Correspondence to Farhan R. Khan.

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