Structured Study Groups: a “studio” for learning organic chemistry

When you learn how to succeed in sports, music, art, writing, theater, dance, etc., the idea of “a confident performance” is implicit: at some point, you need to show off what you have learned. The common strategy used by these disciplines is to have “studio” or “practice” time, where new skills can be rehearsed and evaluated in front of a peer group and under the supervision of a more experienced individual.

In these areas, you recognize that the pathway to excellence is making and correcting errors, doing this work in a supportive and penalty-free environment filled with diverse ideas and open discussion. Quite simply, SSG encourages you to identify and correct your errors before the main event, whether it is the big game, the recital, opening night at the gallery, or the high stakes examination.

This feature is true for all learning, including academic subjects. You build expertise by debating the understanding you have developed, and correcting it as necessary, in collaboration with others, before the main event. SSG is your studio component.

In 1994, we created these 2-hour per week elective sessions for CHEM 210 and 215. Each week, a set of tasks is coordinated and led by an upper level undergraduate student. These student leaders are, in turn, under the supervision of faculty members in chemistry who have responsibility for the program. The results have been uniformly positive for students who buy in to the idea that educating yourself broadly creates deeper understanding by seeing the concepts applied in more diverse settings than you might see in the regular class… and that this is worth the time.