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. 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.

5. 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).

6. 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.

7. 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.

8. 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.

9. 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.

10. 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.

11. 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.

12. 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.

13. 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.