FSGs: Faculty FAQs

FSGs: Faculty FAQs

1. What are FSGs?

FSGs are Facilitated Study Groups, a resource offered by the Robert Gillespie Academic Skills Centre at UTM. FSGs are a form of supplemental instruction that run on a peer-to-peer learning model. These sessions are an opportunity for students to regularly review and practice discipline-related academic skills in a structured and collaborative setting.

FSGs are study sessions run by volunteering senior students who have previously done well in the course. Each FSG leader has been trained in a variety of active and collaborative studying strategies that can assist students in developing problem solving, note taking, and critical thinking skills in the context of the course material. However, FSG leaders do not teach material to students, nor do they give answers to homework or assist students with their assignments. The leaders are there to help students become both active and independent lifelong learners.

2. Are FSGs like tutorials or tutoring sessions?

No, FSGs are different from tutorials and tutoring sessions. FSGs are a free resource to students and focus only on developing studying skills. The skills developed in the sessions assist students in co-constructing a meaningful understanding of the course material; because FSG leaders do not focus on course content, the skills students develop are transferrable to other classes.

3. How can I ensure that the skills learned in these sessions are consistent with the teaching and assessment style of the Course Instructor?

FSGs are offered for a course only if they are specifically requested by the Course Instructor. Prior to the start of the FSGs, the Course Instructor sets their expectations for what they would like to be offered in FSGs (e.g. how often they are run and what material should be discussed). Our Program Assistants for the FSG Program are also in regular contact with the Course Instructors to update them on the progress and attendance of the sessions. Through regular communication, we discuss common misconceptions and what best practices can be used to improve student understanding. Typically and with the permission of the Course Instructor, FSG Leaders and Program Assistants are added to the course shell on Blackboard, as Course Builders or guests, so they are aware of what the students in the course are learning.

4.  Why do we spend so much time in Facilitator training? 

The rationale behind the lengthy Facilitator training period, both at the International Centre for Supplemental Instruction at the University of Missouri Kansas City, and at the Canadian Centre for Supplemental Instruction at the University of Guelph, stems from the need for an “intensive” training process in order to cover all the topics needed to adequately prepare the Facilitators. Deanna Martin, the creator of Supplemental Instruction, gives the following rationale for training intensiveness:

“…the single most common reason for failure of a SI program is lack of consistent training and supervision of the SI leaders.  If SI leaders aren’t supervised, they fall into lecturing and giving the answers.”

(Sandra Burmeister, “Supplemental Instruction: An Interview with Deanna Martin”.  Journal of Developmental Education (Fall 1996) 20:1)

The Leader’s Guide to Supplemental Instruction (2005)  states that the training needs to “cover such topics as how students learn as well as instructional  strategies aimed at strengthening student performance, data collection and management details”. (p. 10)

Sally Lipskey’s article (“A Credit-Bearing Course for Training SI Leaders” in Stone & Jacobs, Supplemental Instruction: New Visions for Empowering Students (Summer 2006) Number 106, 33-41.)  specifies the following required outcomes (p.42) as the rationale for training intensiveness:

  • Role of the SI Leader
  • Concept of Collaborative & Active Learning
  • Communication skills
  • Practice in observing and leading sessions

Amelia McDaniel (“Recruiting and Training Supplemental Instruction Leaders” in Stone and Jacobs, Supplemental Instruction: Improving First-Year Student Success in High-Risk Courses (2008) 38-51.) states that intensive training must include the following (p.33):

  • Philosophical Implications of the position of SI Leader
  • Understanding of the philosophy of learning on which SI is founded
  • Awareness of several generic session strategies
  • Knowledge of how to plan flexible sessions
  • Meeting with the Course Instructor
  • Being prepared to spend a number of hour per week sufficient for: attending lectures, planning, facilitating & debriefing their sessions

With these definitions in mind, the goal of the RGASC training plan is to train Facilitators “intensively”.  The term “intensively” has the following context:

  • the Mode of  delivery – that is, interactive, conversational, the use of a variety of activities (games, boardwork, demonstrations),  and the integration of these activities to produce an immersive level of engagement with the facilitators.
  • the Scale of delivery – that is, training occurs at an ”intimate” level, that facilitates a variety of levels of interaction with the new facilitators (no more than 20 new facilitators being trained at any one time).  It also means the integration of a number of senior facilitators and program assistants in all aspects of the training process.
  • the Length of delivery – training occurs before the beginning of the school year over the course of 2-3 days, for a total of 15  hours.   In-service training is also conducted at several points throughout each term in 1-2 hour blocks.
  • The Range of topics delivered –  
    • covered in initial training: overview of the program; purpose of FSGs; demonstration of FSGs; the facilitator portfolio and professional development; advertising strategies; hands-on practice in designing and delivering FSGs 
    • covered in in-service training: facilitating vs teaching;  methods for checking for understanding; developing course-related resource binders; SI theory and methodology

The rationale behind the RGASC training approach is that mode + scale + length + range will “validate” this definition of intensiveness – that is, this combination of delivery modes within the RGASC Facilitator training program will produce facilitators who are fit for/ adequately prepared to deliver facilitated study groups.

Please see the following page for a detailed breakdown of the RGASC Facilitator training:


5. How do I get FSGs for my course?

FSGs are most effective for courses that historically have at least 30% of the students earning Ds, Fs, or Withdrawals from the course. They also work well for large classes where students do not have many opportunities to actively interact and engage with the material, or for courses that have been perceived as challenging.

If you are interested in having FSGs support your course, please contact the Robert Gillespie Academic Skills Centre at academicskills.utm@utoronto.ca.

6. How will FSGs help the students perform better in my course?

FSGs focus on skills development with the course content as a platform for discussion.  Students work collaboratively in meaningful and directed study sessions to gain a better understanding of the course material. Students can also use Sessions as an opportunity to meet other students in order to learn different methods of studying. Also, the FSG Leader structures the session to ensure that students remain on task and focused.

Research in Supplemental Instruction, the premise of FSGs, has shown that students who regularly attend these weekly sessions earn higher grades in their courses and improve the effectiveness of their studying skills (Burmeister, 2013).

7. If I have FSGs for my course, what will my role be as the Course Instructor?

Our Program Assistants will be in regular contact with Course Instructors to keep you updated on the progress and attendance of the FSGs for your course. The communication with the Course Instructor is also an opportunity to discuss the misconceptions that students have and what best practices can be used to improve student understanding. With the permission of the Course Instructor, all the FSG Leaders and Program Assistants for the course are added to the course’s Blackboard shell as Course Builders so they can post announcements to advertise the sessions and be aware of the content students are currently learning. In addition, FSG Leaders will visit lectures to advertise the FSG session.

The role of the Course Instructor varies from course to course. Some Course Instructors are heavily involved and collaborate with FSG leaders to design each of the sessions, while providing study materials that they think will be beneficial to the students. Other Course Instructors however prefer to just give access to Blackboard and stay in regular communication with the Program Assistants.

8. As a Course Instructor, is it compulsory for me to add the FSG Leaders as Course Builders on Blackboard?

No, it is not compulsory to add the FSG Leaders as Course Builders on Blackboard. The FSG Leaders use Blackboard to stay up-to-date with the content covered in the classes and plan their weekly sessions based on that information. Alternatively, the Course Instructor could provide a course outline to the FSG Leaders at the start of the year or each week.

9. As a Course Instructor, what is my role in ensuring that this program is effective and well used by my students?

We encourage Course Instructors to advertise the FSG sessions to students as a resource to supplement their learning. Course Instructors can keep regular communication with their Program Assistant so they can keep the Academic Skills Centre aware of what they would like to be covered in the sessions. The Program Assistants will also be regularly updating the Course Instructors about progress and attendance of the sessions.

10. How does the RGASC assess the effectiveness and success rate of FSGs?

At each FSG session, student attendance is collected and inputted to ROSI/ACORN. At the end of each course, the grades of students who attended FSG sessions are compared to the grades of students who did not attend. All data is anonymized when we conduct this analysis.  Our research demonstrates that students who attend the FSG sessions earn higher marks compared to students who do not attend.

One of the primary goals of Supplemental Instruction is to reduce the number of Ds, Fs, and withdrawals from a course. When courses have FSGs, the number of Ds, Fs, and withdrawals decreases and the course average increases (Burmeister, 2013). In terms of the students who are regular attendees of FSGs, their averages in all courses increase while the number of Ds, Fs, and withdrawals on their transcripts decreases.  Students who attend FSGs improve their study skills and habits which facilitates their academic success.

For further information on the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA), please click for our privacy policy.

11. How heavily are FSGs affiliated with the Course Instructors and Teaching Assistants for a course?

FSGs are only available for courses for which the Course Instructors have specifically requested that they be a resource. As a result, our Program Assistants are in regular contact with the Course Instructor to keep them updated on the progress and attendance of the sessions. Very little communication takes place between the Program Assistants and the Teaching Assistants for which FSGs are available.

12. How do you determine which students are qualified to be an FSG Leader?

Our FSG Leaders are volunteer senior students who have previously been successful in the course. Each FSG Leader must have earned an A grade mark in the course and be in Good Academic Standing. Alternatively, Course Instructors can recommend students who did not receive an A grade in the course  to be FSG Leaders.

Every FSG Leader receives training in active and collaborative learning strategies. FSG Leaders will use these learning strategies to assist students in developing their critical thinking, note taking, problem solving, organization, and test preparation skills.

13. Am I required to contribute to the FSG program?

If you are teaching a course with FSGs, you will be in regular communication with a Program Assistant for the FSG program who will send you updates on the progress and attendance of the sessions. Typically, Course Instructors will add FSG Leaders and Program Assistants as Course Builders on Blackboard so they are aware of the content that students are learning in class.

14. Who decides what material is covered in an FSG?

FSG Leaders will design their own sessions based on the current course material. Their focus for each session is the development of study skills that are essential to being successful in the course. If Course Instructors have any specific requests, they can pass them along to the Program Assistant or FSG Leaders.

Some Course Instructors choose to be highly involved in the FSGs for their courses. These individuals choose to organize each of the sessions and determine their content. This level of involvement is not required, but it is an option.


Burmeister, S. (2013). Supplemental instruction: An interview with Deanna Martin. Journal of Developmental Education, 20 (1), 22-26.