At Columbus State University, the Principles of Chemistry tutoring sessions offered each semester are a collaborative effort between students
currently enrolled in the course and peer tutors— students who have previously taken and passed the course. Both groups solve problems and
study together while using all available resources to make sure their answers are correct. The role of the tutors is to lead their groups by offering
educated conclusions and inferences.
that tutors find their own replacements if they cannot make it to a
session. This takes the burden of finding replacements off of chap-
ter officers and advisors.”
Sarah Anciaux, chapter president at Coe College, offers another
suggestion. “Pick a time and place for tutoring and stick with it—
changing times leads to confusion. Two times would be better, as
some students will always have conflicts, but one time is probably a
good place to start.”
Also, why not consider “virtual” tutoring? It may be a good idea
to have some tutors available for online chat or to answer ques-
tions via e-mail. This is especially convenient for students who live
For most campuses, the “where” question can only be answered
after the “when.” If a physical room is needed for tutoring then it
needs to be in a quiet area and capable of being partitioned. Check
with the campus library and see if rooms are available during the
hours needed. Also check to see if those rooms can be reserved in
advance or are “first-come, first-served.” If a classroom is to be used
for tutoring, it needs to be big enough that multiple students can
be assisted without interference from other groups. Be sure that
there is a chalkboard or dry-erase board available in each room.
Don’t forget to check on campus for conference rooms or other
facilities that may not be frequently used. These rooms are typically free for campus groups but must still be reserved in advance.
For reasons of safety and professionalism, ACS student member
sponsored tutoring should not be
provided in off-campus housing or
in personal dorm rooms.
Question #6: How can we do this right?
Staffing a room for a few hours a week with upper-level chemistry
students is the easy part. It takes much more time and effort to
ensure that each tutor is trained in the proper methods of helping a chemistry student. Ideally, tutors would help students with
concepts from lecture (or lab) by explaining concepts in their own
words or working through carefully chosen problems. Most paid
tutors will do just this. In fact, good tutors will stay ahead of each
of their students and prepare advance material in order to maximize the benefit of each session. However, for most chapters that
inChemistry • www.acs.org/undergrad
decide to offer tutoring, their tutors cannot really plan ahead in
this way, since they are not sure who will walk through the door at
any given time.
Plan a time when faculty members can meet with the tutors
to discuss the best ways to answer both big and small questions
that students might bring with them to a session. Have them suggest strategies for helping different types of students— ranging
from the student who is completely lost to the top students who
only need help with one or two problems. Invite a variety of faculty
members to train tutors in the preferred ways to teach and find
sample problems for their subdiscipline. Faculty can illustrate ways
to lead each student so that they arrive at their own answer and
can begin to understand chemistry independently. Ask faculty to
alert tutors to especially busy times of the week or semester, when
major exams are coming up or lab reports are due. These are often
times when a tutoring program might get “slammed” with students looking for quick help. Faculty members may also have strict
rules for what level of help can be given. For instance, they might
have given a take-home test or lab report where no outside help is
to be sought. In such cases, tutors need to be aware of the possibility of students attempting to commit academic integrity violations.
Keep track of any training sessions offered to tutors and
the number of hours spent in training. Document how many
hours each tutor works, how many students they see, and the
student:tutor ratio for all sessions. Consider working with faculty
members to properly collect objective data on the performance of
tutored students and compare this with non-tutored students.
Consider starting a tutoring program with your campus student
chapter, but insist on a high-quality program with measurable
goals, and seek to improve the tutoring program from year to year.
Find answers to the important questions before starting the program, including “Who, what, and where?” At the end of the day,
tutoring is about students helping other students to maximize their
knowledge and develop a love of chemistry.
Carl “Burt” Hollandsworth is an assistant professor
of chemistry at Harding University in Searcy, AR.