William Ogilvie is the lead author behind the first and only organic chemistry textbook to focus on a mechanistic approach. Ogilvie is currently an Associate Professor in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Ottawa, where he’s been teaching for the last 20 years. Early in his career, he realized that there were no organic chemistry textbooks in the market that took a mechanistic approach—one that emphasizes reaction patterns and allows for deeper learning. His solution? Creating his own tome, Organic Chemistry: Mechanistic Patterns.

We caught up with Ogilvie to understand why a mechanistic approach is the most effective way to teach chemistry. We also discussed how the shift from print to digital benefits both professors and students—and how Ogilvie has seen that come to fruition with his organic chemistry text. Here are the key takeaways.

A more interactive, effective and dynamic way of teaching organic chemistry awaits you. Learn more today.

1. Connecting the dots for students is essential with dense subject matter

When he was a student, Ogilvie found organic chemistry courses complex because it was challenging to visualize why certain reactions occurred. This was something he wanted to solve for in his book. A large part of his text teases out chemical patterns that will help students better understand reactions and processes—through plenty of interactive simulations and animations to put difficult topics into practice.

A mechanistic-first approach to teaching organic chemistry may in fact be the way of the future. In a 2012 study,1 it was found that reasoning—one of the tenets of the mechanistic approach—over rote memorization in organic chemistry led to greater success in answering problems that involved a transfer of knowledge. “I’m hoping that our book sets the stage for how people will think about organizing their course and that we changed the thinking in organic chemical education,” Ogilvie says. Indeed, Top Hat has pioneered a new way of teaching organic chemistry, with the support of professors like Ogilvie. Interactive, digital textbooks, housed in the Catalog, are built to reflect real-time developments and are fully customizable.

2. Helping students see relevance by reinforcing that learning is more than just memorization

Re-reading information, highlighting every other line and making flashcards are all commonly used studying techniques. But a mechanistic chemical approach aims to convey the process—or formula—required to arrive at a solution, which in turn, helps students visualize reactions. In this vein, Ogilvie and his five co-authors have worked to dispel myths about studying chemistry. “My students think that it’s the worst course ever because there’s so much to memorize. But when they actually understand how to apply that logic, it really isn’t that hard. And students who do well eventually do realize that,” says Felix Lee, co-author and teaching professor of Chemistry at the University of Western Ontario.

Also essential in ensuring students really grasp the material: frequent testing. Organic Chemistry: Mechanistic Patterns comes with checkpoints at the end of various sections and subsections within each chapter, allowing students to gauge their knowledge. Effie Sauer, co-author and Associate Professor of Chemistry at the University of Toronto, Scarborough, reflects on drafting engaging checkpoints for students to use as a study aid. “I put myself in my students’ positions and came up with problems that integrated ideas from elsewhere in the chapter to try and avoid having siloed, compartmentalized information,” she shares.

3. Incorporating animations, annotations and assessments can save you time in your course prep

Traditional textbooks don’t cut it when it comes to showing reactions, structures and mechanical interactions. Static PDF textbooks aren’t user friendly, either. To meet the needs of a dynamic, three-dimensional field like organic chemistry, an interactive, digital textbook reaps benefits for both students and professors. Digital, all encompassing textbooks like Ogilvie’s offer an immersive way of learning chemistry, which allow students to play with structures and visualize why reactions work in a certain way. Mechanistic Patterns is filled with over 185 interactive simulations, pre-built question banks and formative assessment questions—many of which are auto-graded. Plus, educators and students can enjoy lifetime access to this interactive text.

The future of mechanistic organic chemistry is undoubtedly digital. Since online learning isn’t going away anytime soon, the need to shift from print to digital is essential—especially to bring a dynamic subject like chemistry to life.

Top Hat textbooks let educators create learning materials around the needs of their course and students. Learn why Organic Chemistry: Mechanistic Patterns is the perfect fit for any introductory-level class.


  1. Grove, Nathaniel & Cooper, Melanie & Cox, Elizabeth. (2012). Does Mechanistic Thinking Improve Student Success in Organic Chemistry? Journal of Chemical Education. 89. 850-853. 10.1021/ed200394d.

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