Teaching Philosophy, Interests, and Accomplishments of William F. Polik



Teaching Philosophy


While a teacher can distribute a syllabus, deliver lectures, grade exams, and assign grades, all actual learning is done by the student.  Thus I view my role in the teaching/learning process not only as a “communicator,” but also as a “facilitator” and “motivator” whereby I empower and encourage students to learn.  At the outset of every class, I describe where we are heading and what we can expect to learn.  I welcome learners of all styles into the classroom through the use of different teaching styles and techniques in my classes (e.g., lecture, real-life applications, demonstrations, discussion, worksheets, group exercises, student presentations).  I attempt to interject some of my personality into the course through enthusiasm, humor, and personal experiences.  I encourage student questions during and outside of classes, and I incorporate independent projects into my courses as a means for pursuing individual student interests.  My lectures are designed not only to explain and summarize concepts, but also to provide context and links to topics beyond what we are immediately learning in the class.  My assignments include exercises at many levels, from opportunities for students to master basic skills and ideas to applications of these ideas to new situations.  I believe it imperative to offer constructive feedback on all assigned student work so that students may assess their progress and improve their learning.  It's imperative to me that all students have access and support to learning opportunities, and all students are met at their level of understanding and need.  I strive to be available as a resource for questions about course content or concerns on any other issues that may otherwise affect a student’s learning.


In addition to helping students learn course content, I think it is a teacher’s role to help students develop broader skills that are important in all fields and future careers.  These skills include oral and written communication, critical thinking, and consideration of issues from multiple viewpoints.  I use discussion sections for student presentations of homework problems in order to build student confidence, improve oral communication skills, and instill a “class spirit” toward learning the course material.  The laboratory curriculum I have developed includes a strong emphasis on writing skills and substantive discussion, along with several opportunities for oral presentations.


I am a strong proponent of a “hands-on” approach in the laboratory, making it an active learning experience.  Laboratory courses should be instrument-rich, and all instruments in the Department should be available for appropriately trained students.  I also feel that computer technology should be used where it can enhance student understanding beyond traditional teaching methods, for example in numerical and symbolic evaluation, visualization, interactive exploration, and quantum chemistry calculations.


Courses Taught


I enjoy teaching both introductory and advanced classes.  Introductory courses allow one to teach to a broad student body with widely ranging interests and skills.  Introductory courses provide important opportunities for encouraging this diverse group of students to pursue further study in science.  And it is refreshing to teach topics that are not part of one’s research specialty!  Upper-level courses tend to involve students who are already engaged in the subject matter, wish to increase their expertise in the field, and appreciate the subtle nuances of the material that experts in the field find so captivating.


I have taught the following courses at Hope College:


I would also enjoy the opportunity to teach advanced courses in my areas of specialty:  spectroscopy, quantum mechanics, and computational chemistry.


Curriculum Development


Just as chemistry is a dynamic and evolving field, the teaching of chemistry must evolve to maintain relevance and stay abreast of new developments.  I have been active in many areas of curriculum development at Hope College.







Computational Resources for Teaching


The World Wide Web (WWW) is transforming the ability of students to access and use information by computer.  I have established two major software projects that use the WWW to enhance student learning.  My collaborators are Hope College undergraduate science majors, who continue to maintain the code.




National Involvement


In addition to my local curriculum reform efforts, I have been involved in several efforts to influence chemical education at the national level.






Scholarship of Teaching


Teaching is both an art and a science.  Just as laboratory research projects begin with a clear goal, use established methodologies, uncover new and important knowledge, and report the results in a peer-reviewed publications, teaching can be subjected to a similar level of scholarly rigor.  I feel that it is important to publish useful and important teaching innovations.  Not only does this serve the chemistry community by disseminating curricular innovations, but it also adds clarity, rigor, and peer-review to curriculum development efforts.  Some of my teaching scholarship that has been published includes:


My goal in teaching is to transmit the excitement I feel about science to our next generation.  I pursue this goal by directly interacting with students in the classroom and laboratory, by making and disseminating innovations in the chemistry curriculum, and by influencing other teachers from the national level.