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.

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  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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https://doi.org/10.1038/524161c

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