Watch Out For The “Swiss Cheese Effect”
Steve Kolowich has a very interesting (and very long) piece on InsideHigherEd about using data to personalize learning. The whole thing is worth reading, but one passage in particular caught my eye. It’s about how even if a students seem to be doing OK, the concepts they don’t understand will come back to haunt them later on:
“’It’s the Swiss cheese effect,’ says Philip Regier, executive vice provost of Arizona State University Online. ‘You can’t have a big hole in your knowledge. If you get a C, you know 70 percent’ of the material for one course. ‘But the missing 30 is likely to be important to passing the next course.’” (Read more here.)
This is an important point to keep in mind. Mathematics, for example, is “ruthlessly cumulative” (Steven Pinker’s phrase), and so missing a chunk of it early on can cause big problems down the line. Many other disciplines also build complex knowledge on top of more basic knowledge—another reason to pay attention, not just to the grade a student gets, but to the depth and completeness of understanding he or she has achieved.
Have you ever had an encounter with the “Swiss cheese effect”—realizing that there was a gap in your knowledge that you needed to fill before you could learn more?