Q&A: Coronavirus, classes and exams

This Q&A explains the special measures in light of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. They apply to professors, Bachelor’s students, Master’s students, students in the Special Mathematics Course (CMS) and students taking the MàN review course.

The information may change to account for futake ture decisions taken by the School as the situation evolves.

Coming to Campus

No, students are not allowed to remain on campus once the activity has ended, and they cannot use any other EPFL rooms or equipment.

As a reminder, masks must be worn in all EPFL buildings and be kept on at all times, including when you move around and are seated.

Yes, study places will once again be made available starting on Monday, 22 February. For organizational reasons, this will be done gradually. You will benefit from the 1000 places promised by March 8.

Like last semester, you will have to reserve your place and time slot(s) in advance, either on the EPFL Campus app or online at https://campus.epfl.ch/.

Students can also come to campus without reservation for the following services:

  • Appointments at the EPFL Health Point
  • Appointment at the COVID-19 testing center
  • Services provided by the Student Services Desk (such as to answer course-related questions or to obtain an official document or statement)
  • IT helpdesk services (for hardware or software problems)
    Student association-related activities that must be performed on site (you must get approval ahead of time)

The above rules also apply to Saturdays and Sundays.

Yes, as they are considered to be working for a teacher. They can come to campus to do their work.

Yes, they can go to the designated site for their project. But they must sign up with the project coordinator or the professor in charge of the laboratory where they’re working. This person is responsible for keeping a record of students’ presence on campus and at the various facilities they use.

Students can come to campus to work on their project independently of their Modulo group. They must comply with the same health and safety rules and tracing protocol applied by the laboratory.

These students may come to campus only if they are on site to perform tasks related to the management of their association and in case of important, urgent and one-time access needs related to associative activities. They must request approval ahead of time by sending an email to [email protected]. Please note that all events are banned through the end of the semester

Visiting students coming to carry out a project in an EPFL laboratory will be allowed on campus as long as they meet the following standard conditions set out by the Registrar’s Office:

  • the professor must have granted approval
  • the visit must last more than two months
  • the project must be worth credits.

If you have any questions on this topic, please contact the Registrar’s Office.

A dedicated Pick-up a Book desk provided by the librarians allows you to withdraw books ordered through swisscovery. In this case, it is necessary to reserve your documents from the BEAST catalogue. Loan and access to the collections is made easier for you: withdrawal of printed standards on request, sending by email of articles and chapters of digitized books.

Detailed information on Coronavirus (COVID-19) information at the Library page.

Teaching during the 2020–2021 school year

General information

EPFL has decided that, starting on Tuesday, 1 September, everyone must wear a mask in all buildings on all EPFL sites. You must have a mask on when you enter a building and then keep it on at all times, including when you move around within the building (e.g., in classrooms, offices, restaurants, computer rooms, hallways, elevators and bathrooms). Students and staff members are required to keep their mask on even after they sit down to attend class, study or work.

Please take a moment to read the FOPH guidelines on how to wear a mask properly. Everyone who enters an EPFL building must comply with these guidelines. 

This mask-wearing requirement comes in addition to the existing health and safety rules, which remain the most effective way of protecting ourselves and others.

No. Under the new measures announced by the Federal Council on Wednesday, 28 October, Swiss universities can no longer hold classes in person. As a result, starting on Monday, 2 November, and through the end of the spring 2021 semester, all EPFL classes and exercise sessions will be held online.

Class activities that require an on-site presence may continue, in accordance with the Modulo rotating-group system (if applicable) and under the responsibility of the unit head or the person in charge of the activity in question

Students are divided into groups based on their SCIPER number modulo 3 as follows:

0 = Group A
1 = Group B
2 = Group C

Students can see which group they belong to in the EPFL Campus application and in IS-Academia.

Yes, a system for switching groups has been set up.

You can submit a single request to change your group, either in the EPFL Campus app or online at campus.epfl.ch. The deadline for making your request is 5 March.

The system will fulfill your request only if it finds a matching request from another student who is in the same section and a similar degree program. A confirmation email will be sent to you if your request is fulfilled.

Yes. The mentoring program for first-year students will start again in the second week of the semester, and will also be open to students in the MAN review course.

Course attendance

Bachelor’s, Master’s and PhD students can already register for spring-semester classes in IS-Academia (ISA). First-year students will receive an email from the Registrar’s Office indicating when they can register. In all cases, registration for the spring semester will be open until 5 March.

If you would like to view the content of a class in Moodle before you sign up for it in ISA, click on the name of the class, then on “Self-enrollment (ETE 2020-2021)>Enroll me”. However, you must officially register for the class in ISA to be able to take it.

We have asked for all classes to be recorded. If this is not the case, you should contact your class delegate or speak to the class teacher. You can also report the matter to your section.

Students can continue using Moodle and other standard online platforms. If you want to arrange a virtual meeting, you can now log into Zoom using your GASPAR account.

A mirror device is available that lets you display your handwritten notes on Zoom. If you would like to order a mirror device, please complete this form by 25 February and we’ll send you one by mail (including if you’re outside Switzerland). CEDE and CAPE have created a video showing how to use the device. If you prefer, you can use another method such as your smartphone? This video shows you how.

Please fill in this form. The School has arranged a technical solution for students living in Switzerland only. We cannot make separate arrangements for students in other countries.

You can send requests to print and bind documents to the EPFL Repro-Print Center. Your order will be sent to you via second-class (B) mail, and the standard printing cost will be charged to your myPrint account.

The minimum postage cost is CHF 1.80, but the Vice Presidency for Academic Affairs has decided to subsidize part of this cost, so you’ll only pay CHF 0.80 per mailing. Again, this cost will be charged to your myPrint account. To place your order, simply fill out this form and attach the document you want to have printed.

Teaching

There are two ways teachers can do this:

1. Stream classes live and provide a recording afterwards

  • using tablets and PCs
  • using Zoom for the live class with the “Record” feature on
  • with exercise sessions pushed back one week if needed

2. Record classes ahead of time

  • classes are recorded on tablets, PCs or at a blackboard in a lecture hall
  • some student activities can be carried out live remote (25–50% of the regular class time).

Teachers can decide which method to use based on their teaching style and course content. However, they must inform their sections of the method they choose.

All classes must be recorded and made available to students, preferably on our SWITCHtube channel, either before the class if you record your lecture ahead of time or afterwards if you give your lecture live. This will make it easier for students to study, since they can search the lessons using graphsearch.epfl.ch (click here for an example). A QuickStart Guide is available with useful tips on making high-quality recordings of lectures.

The classrooms that have been assigned to teachers may not always be available during the semester. If you would like to record your lecture in a room, or give your class live from the room assigned to you in ISA (and at the scheduled time), please confirm this by sending an email to [email protected] by 1 March 2021 at the latest.

Our Flexible Teaching unit – comprising staff from the Teaching Support Center (CAPE) and the Center for Digital Education (CEDE) – has developed a Flexible Teaching web page with guidelines and a variety of helpful materials. The CAPE and CEDE also hold regular workshops on flexible teaching methods. Furthermore, the Flexible Teaching helpdesk is open from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. If you would like assistance, please send an email to [email protected].

The use of PhD assistants and other student assistants should be discussed with the section. Sections that employ guest lecturers who don’t have personal assistants should plan to provide some type of assistance. For classes that are streamed live and recorded at the same time, we suggest an assistant in the room to help with the streaming, recording, Q&A, etc.

Many students had trouble connecting to the various systems last spring and experienced “videoconference fatigue.” We therefore believe it’s important to record lectures whenever possible; we also suggest holding exercise sessions one week after any streamed classes.

Students also said that being on campus regularly and seeing teachers face to face is important to them, but there was no clear preference for streamed versus prerecorded classes. However, students did say that with online classes, they would like to have more opportunities for interacting with teachers and asked that we prioritize interactive teaching methods.

Students have told us that they felt overwhelmed by the many different software programs they have to use for their online classes. To make things easier for them, we ask that teachers use Moodle (or some other website if you don’t use Moodle) as the only way of communicating with their students, i.e., when providing administrative information, posting links to Zoom meetings and class recordings, giving continuous-assessment exams, having them turn in assignments, or referring them to other software programs.

The VPSI has obtained a license for Piazza – an online forum that can be accessed from Moodle – for the spring semester. Piazza proved highly popular among students last semester; they can use it to post questions anonymously, work together on assignments, write mathematical formulas using LaTeX, and send chat messages during exercise sessions. We have developed a QuickStart Guide to help you use Piazza.

A mirror device is available that lets users display their handwritten notes on Zoom. If you would like to order a mirror device, please complete this form by 25 February and we’ll send you one by mail (including if you’re outside Switzerland). CEDE and CAPE have created a video showing how to use the device. If you prefer, you can use another method such as your smartphone. This video shows you how.

One consequence of the pandemic is that students suffer from a lack of engagement in their courses. To help address this problem, teachers are invited to consider including some continuous assessment components in their course (rather than assessing it all in the exam session).

For the summer 2021 exam session, we don’t know what the situation will be, we have to “hope for the best and prepare for the worst”. We therefore invite teachers to use, where possible, remote assessments such as projects or mini projects, reports, remote oral exams, or take-home work. This applies both to courses which are assessed during the semester and those assessed in the exam session. Teachers can continue to propose on-site supervised assessment if that is most appropriate for their course, but they must also specify what their remote alternative assessment will be in case it is not possible to access campus during the exam period.

The sections must be notified of proposed changes to the assessment by 26 February. These proposals will be reviewed by the Associate Vice Presidency for Education. If they are approved, teachers should inform their students by 5 March (i.e., the end of the second week of classes).

Ideally, each class should have no more than three continuous assessments during the semester to avoid creating too much work for students. If you plan to give such assessments, please inform your section of the dates so that they can coordinate with those given by other teachers.

For any classes assessed during the final exam session, you can also include continuous assessments as part of the final class grade, but you must still give a final exam during the exam session.

You don’t necessarily have to come up with new questions for continuous assessments; you can use existing exercises, and correct and grade them accordingly.

Continuous assessments can include questions that are corrected automatically (such as Moodle quizzes) or questions where the identity of the student answering is not necessarily checked (such as graded exercises), but these can account for no more than around 15% of a student’s grade.

Student assistants who are Master’s students can correct assignments for Bachelor’s classes, provided that the assistant is overseen by a PhD student or the class teacher.

Please note that continuous assessments can have deadlines of up to 21 June 2021 (so that students have two weeks after the end of classes to write up the assignment). In this case, the deadline for submitting semester grades to the Registrar’s Office will be extended to 5 July.

The dates of the exam session will not be changed. The rules on unsupervised exams will still apply (see Lex 2.6.0.1 and Lex 2.6.1). For instance, you cannot give bonus test questions or points for attendance.

Teachers can use this guide for online oral exams. In these exams, students can use reference materials – such as textbooks, class notes and the internet – but they must work alone. These exams should be monitored by an observer (or, if necessary, an additional assistant), who should host the Zoom session. Due to data protection laws, the exams may not be recorded; observers should therefore take written exam minutes as per the standard procedure.

Teachers can use this guide for take-home exams. In these exams, students can use reference materials – such as textbooks, class notes and the internet – but they must work alone. The questions should focus on comprehension, synthesis, and applying the concepts learned in class, rather than on simply memorizing raw facts. Teachers should also avoid problems where the answers can easily be found online or in a textbook.

During live streaming, remote students might experience connectivity problems.

We need to allow for enough time for the recording to be posted online and for students to view it before the exercise session is held. Teachers have some flexibility in scheduling their exercise sessions, taking into account the time that students need to prepare for them.

If teachers record their lectures and make them available in advance, they can have more flexibility in using the scheduled time.

We recommend uploading the videos to SWITCHtube since it offers better conditions in terms of handling IP and data, for example, than YouTube and other private platforms. Instructions on how to upload videos to SWITCHtube are available at https://go.epfl.ch/QUICKSTART_SwitchTube.

The image resolution while streaming isn’t good enough to see information written on a blackboard. We therefore recommend teachers use tablets instead. If they want to use a blackboard, we suggest they have their lecture recorded ahead of time. They can contact the EPFL audiovisual service (SAVE) to book a slot for recording their lecture.

Students are able to download videos to their computers once the videos are made available online. Teachers could prevent such downloads by deactivating this option and allowing the videos to be seen only through streaming, but that would put students without a reliable internet connection at a disadvantage.

By recording their lessons themselves and making the videos available to students, teachers de facto give their approval to be filmed.

Guest lecturers should use EPFL’s Zoom account.

The equipment teachers need (webcam, microphone, etc.) depends on whether they are streaming their class or recording it beforehand. If they are streaming, we suggest they use a wireless microphone; if they are recording their lecture, they can use a wired microphone. Recommendations for all these options are available at https://go.epfl.ch/QUICKSTART_Hardware

Microphones are available only in some of the large lecture halls (installed by the EPFL audiovisual service). To use Zoom in one of these lecture halls, teachers can either use the microphone available in the hall or use a wireless adapter to attach to their own microphone (see https://go.epfl.ch/QUICKSTART_Hardware). In the other lecture halls, they need to use their own wireless microphone. NB: Microphones in some lecture halls will be made compatible by the end of September only.

Teachers’ units are responsible for making sure their staff have the necessary equipment. Guest lecturers should contact their sections.

This equipment is designed for recording lectures but not for streaming. We are installing recording equipment in more lecture halls and hope that soon all suitable halls will have effective, reliable systems.

Exercises, lab sessions and projects

Exercise sessions will be held exclusively online starting on Monday, 2 November, and through the end of the spring 2021 semester.

Optional exercise sessions will continue to be held on Saturdays. Teachers will provide more information about this directly to their students.

Practical work and lab sessions that must be held in person will be carried out with one student group a week and should focus only on the most essential experiments. Health and safety guidelines must be followed during on-campus lab sessions, and students must disinfect their workbenches before and after each session.

Architecture workshops follow the same rules as above for practical work and lab sessions. More information is provided directly by the architecture section.

These projects are usually carried out in the research institutes and the professors’ labs, where students are considered part of the staff and are therefore subject to the same health and safety rules.

Mobility

Yes, but under certain conditions. Students cannot travel to a country with a travel warning issued by the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) for safety or sanitary reasons. But they can travel in countries not recommended du to COVID. EPFL discourages students from traveling to countries outside the EU, the Schengen Area and the UK. That’s because the epidemiological situation can change very quickly, few commercial flights are taking place, and might be cancelled. The School will not be able to provide assistance in case of problems and repatriation could be complicated and expensive. And so you could have trouble returning to Switzerland.

Students go on an exchange program on their own responsibility, they must have insurance that covers any medical and accident-related expenses they may incur abroad and includes repatriation assistance.

Students may not leave on exchange if the classes they intend to take at their host university will be given entirely online; some of the classes must be held in person. They must also make sure that arriving at their host university after the winter’s exams will not cause any problems with their classes abroad, since we will not allow exchange students to change the time or format of their fall-semester exams.

Before departing, students should read up on all the health and safety requirements in the country and the institution they will be traveling to, and be sure to follow them. Before they return, they should check whether the country is on the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health’s list of countries and areas with a high risk of infection, and if it is, follow the quarantine rules when they arrive in Switzerland. Please be aware that students will be responsible for making your their travel reservations, taking charge of their expenses and handling any problems they may encounter in terms of getting medical care or returning to Switzerland (such as if their flight is cancelled or the border is closed).

For more information, see point 16 of the Directive setting out the conditions underpinning EPFL’s COVID-19 protection plan

The above requirements also apply to internships and Master’s projects abroad. The activities related to an internship or a Master’s project must also be carried out partly or entirely in person, unless the employer imposes online work for all employees.

Yes. Please be aware that students will be responsible for handling any problems they may encounter in terms of getting medical care or returning to Switzerland (such as if their flight is cancelled or the border is closed).

Yes with the approval of their section.

Winter 2021 exam session

Withdraw from exams, failing exam grades

Bachelor’s and Master’s students who fail an exam (i.e., who receive a grade below 4) can retake the exam during the next winter exam session without that counting as another attempt. You can still choose to keep your failing grade from the winter 2021 exam session if you wish.

If you choose to retake the exam and your grade causes you to fail a block or group of classes, the Registrar’s Office will, on an exceptional basis, record the higher of the two grades on your transcript.

If you missed an exam without prior notification or if you handed in a blank answer sheet, you will be graded “NA” (for “not acquired”) and this will be considered a failing grade. In this case, the failure will be counted as an attempt.

Yes, they will be included in the calculation of your GPA and recorded on your transcript. If a failing grade causes you to fail a block or group of classes, you can retake the exam during the next winter exam session without that counting as another attempt to pass the year.

However, a failing grade will be considered permanent if you pass the block or group to which the class belongs.

If you take more exams than necessary to pass a block and a failing grade on one of those exams prevents you from passing that block, the Registrar’s Office may agree to remove that grade from your transcript. The request should be made through your section.

First-year students who end the first semester with a GPA below 3.5 will not be given an official failing grade, but must take the MAN course in the spring semester. At the end of the MAN, these students will undergo an assessment of the skills they have acquired, in order to determine whether they are equipped to retake the first year of their Bachelor’s programs. This assessment is mandatory for students to be able to retake their first year with two attempts.

MAN is optional for students who have already taken it last year.

No, the preparatory year will take place as usual. Students who end the first semester with a GPA below 3.5 will not be admitted into the second semester; they will be advised to take the EPFL entrance exam.