Developing my Teaching
In the course of a teaching career, the needs of the teachers change. At the start, they mostly consist of gaining pedagogical expertise, whilst for those with more experience will need to change or adapt their practices in order to teach new courses to students with different profiles.
Teaching practice and its development require the regular analysis and evaluation of the teaching elements used and the results obtained. Here is a list of some of the sources of information that can be used for this purpose:
- Test and exams, which show what the students have learned in the course up to a given point in time.
- Teaching observations, the viewing of the teaching practice by others (teachers; subject or pedagogical experts); this can include the course support materials and assessments, and will include a discussion about possible modifications to the teaching approach and/or the assessments.
- Teachers of other courses within the curriculum who may be able to comment on the integration of the course within the overall degree programme.
- The students following the course, who can give their own opinion about aspects of the course that work well and elements that could be improved.
EPFL has systems in place to provide feedback to its teachers:
- The Academic Commission in each section gives teachers feedback from their colleagues.
- The indicative course feedback provided by the students taking the course, as well as the complementary in-depth evaluations completed by the students.
- The pedagogical advisors of the Teaching Support Center (Centre d’Appui à l’Enseignement, CAPE) who can provide teaching feedback based on confidential observations, video analysis, and so on.
The data collected through these various approaches can also be used to document your teaching for use in the promotion process (dossier).
Other tools available to help develop teaching practice include a range of courses, workshops, blogs and web sites.
Academic commissions in each section provide a mechanism for teachers to get feedback from experienced colleagues.
While the organisation and specific functions of each academic commission are developed to reflect the specific needs of each section, in general the role of the academic commission is:
- to ensure that the courses in the programme’s study plan do contribute to the overall learning goals for the programme.
- to study the documents and assessments for a course, reviewing such things as the overall quality of course documents the learning goals which are assessed, the exam protocols used, the evaluation criteria used in the assessment and the procedures for grading.
- to give feedback to teachers and to report to the Associate Vice-President for Education.
- to make recommendations on the section’s teaching methods and curriculum.
Voluntary peer observation
In addition to the feedback offered by the Academic Commission, some teachers like to invite a colleague to sit in on a class and to discuss their teaching approach. This has the benefit of allowing the lecturer to choose who they get feedback from and what they get feedback on.
There are a few good practices that are worth remembering when planning a peer feedback:
- The person doing the observation should be clear that the observation is confidential – the observer should not discuss it with anyone else, as it is up to the teacher to decide with whom they would like to discuss it.
- The lecturer and the observer should meet in advance to discuss (a) what is the goal and structure of the class to be observed, (b) what the lecturer particularly wants feedback on and (c) anything distinctive about the class or the context.
- The observer should arrive in time, stay for the whole class and should normally not participate. For small classes they can be briefly introduced as a colleague who is sitting in on the class (in larger classes that may not be necessary).
- The observer should take notes, focussing on factual descriptions (for example, “the class starts with abstract formulae without context and there is no lead-in explaining how this links to previous lectures” is a better description than “weak intro”).
- The lecturer and observer should meet within a week to discuss the class. This feedback session should focus on what is good as well as areas of challenge. The observer should avoid trying to impose their own approach on the lecturer (i.e., avoid “What I would do is…”, where possible). Remember that the lecturer has to find solutions that they will be comfortable with.
For further advice on peer observations, or for more detailed guidelines and report templates, please contact a teaching advisor from the Teaching Support Centre.
As part of the focus on continuous improvement of teaching and of academic programs, lecturers and sections get feedback from students on courses. This comes in a number of forms:
- Quick feedback (~ smoke detector) through an indicative feedback: students can give brief feedback for each of their courses during week 9/10 of the semester.
- More detailed feedback through:
- a compulsory in-depth evaluation, carried out by the section.
- an elective complementary evaluation, requested by a teacher and carried out by the Teaching Support Centre with personalized feedback and support.
Quick Feedback: Indicative feedback
An indicative feedback process for all Bachelor and Masters courses is launched automatically during week 9/10 of each semester (doctoral courses are also automatically evaluated, but, due to the differences in their format, another mechanism is used). In order to maximize the response rate in the indicative feedback process, students express their level of agreement with a single statement: “Overall, I think this course is good”. Students are also provided with an opportunity to leave comments. The response rate for the indicative feedback process is typically between 50% and 60%. About half of all student respondents also leave comments. According to the 2011 ATMOS II survey, 73% of teachers find the feedback from students useful.
Where more than 30% of respondents ‘disagree’ or ‘strongly disagree’ that a course is good, a compulsory in-depth student feedback process is undertaken (see below). It is important to note that an indicative feedback is simply an ‘indication’ – it is not a good overall assessment of a professor’s performance or of a course. When more than 30% of students disagree that the course is good does not mean that there is a problem with a course per se, rather it means that there may be issues which may merit further investigation and discussion.
Detailed Feedback: Compulsory In-depth Student Evaluation
While the indicative feedback provides regular feedback from a reasonably large proportion of students, more detailed feedback from students is also valuable. This is provided through in-depth evaluations involving a multi-dimensional student evaluation questionnaire, administered by the section. In-depth evaluations of the teaching are provided under three circumstances:
- an in-depth student evaluation of teaching is required for all courses at least once every five years.
- an in-depth student evaluation of teaching is required for all new lecturers of an existing course and/or all new courses.
- where a course has an “insufficient” indicative student feedback score, the section director is responsible for ensuring that an in-depth student evaluation of teaching is carried out. The results of these in-depth evaluations are discussed between the lecturer and the section director, with a view to identify whether an issue exists and, if so, how it can be addressed.
For courses which fall into the three categories above, there is a standard procedure in place to ensure that the data are collected in a timely fashion. This standard procedure normally involves providing paper questionnaires to students at the final exam. The printing, distributing and collection of the questionnaires is managed by the section administration. All reports produced for courses in these categories are made available to the teacher(s) and to the director of the section responsible for the course who, in turn, reports to the Associate Vice-President for Education.
Examples of standard questionnaires
The links below present examples of standard questionnaires. As many sections also have specific questions added, please contact the pedagogical advisor for your section to see the specific standard questionnaire which will normally be used for your course.
All courses which require in-depth student feedback will be identified by Week 11 of each semester through communication between Teaching Support Centre and the sections. Relevant teachers will receive an email with the specific deadline for contacting Teaching Support Centre if they wish to modify the standard procedure.
This process has been put in place to simplify the reporting process and does not necessarily require any intervention from the teacher. However, if the teacher wishes to discuss or modify the process the appropriate pedagogical advisor from Teaching Support Centre should be contacted by the specified deadline.
Detailed Feedback: Elective Complementary Student Evaluation
A third format for student feedback is the complementary evaluation. Any lecturer can request a complementary student evaluation of teaching, administered by the Teaching Support Centre.
Complementary evaluations enable the teacher to develop a questionnaire that addresses their needs and to get feedback on issues that are of particular interest or at times which suit their needs, for example for a promotion dossier.
The questionnaire is often administered during the exam, thereby ensuring an effective 100% response rate (but can be administered at other times if the teacher prefers). A teaching advisor prepares a written report, integrating both quantitative and qualitative data, and meets with the lecturer to discuss feedback and analysis. If the course does not fall into any of the three categories of compulsory in-depth student feedback, this report is confidential to the lecturer in question. In other cases, the report is also provided to the section director.
For more information, you can check the Teaching Support Centre Evaluations of Teaching.
For further details on the student teacher evaluation, you can have a look at the Directive concerning the evaluation and recognition of teaching at the EPFL.
It is important to remember that student feedback is not the only form of evidence which you can use to evaluate your own courses. Other evidence includes:
- A review of what students have learned (as evidenced in exam performances, for example)
- Your own experiences in teaching the course
- Discussion with colleagues or a Teaching Advisor
- Feedback from past students of the course.
Student feedback on teaching should ideally be considered alongside other forms of evidence and should not be taken as the only way to determine the ‘quality’ of a course.
Responding to student feedback
When you get student feedback in an indicative evaluation you should:
- Take enough time: set aside enough time to review the evaluation results – don’t try to do it in a few ‘stolen’ moments.
- Look at the response rate and the number of comments: if the response rate or the rate of comments is low, then you are more likely to get extreme (untypically negative or untypically positive) results. Higher response rates give a better representation of the overall picture.
- Look for patterns: for example, you can read through the comments once to see what the major themes are and then go through them a second time to find out how often each theme is mentioned. Remember that hurtful comments can attract your attention, but they may not be very representative.
- Discuss the feedback with students: the regulation on teaching evaluation does require that the teacher discusses the evaluation results with the students before the end of the semester. This can be done through presenting the major themes to students at the first class after the evaluation period. You can highlight points you are taking on board, points you disagree with, and points you don’t understand. You can also ask students to vote on whether or not they agree with a point or whether they think it is important.
- Discuss the feedback with a colleague or a teaching advisor: talk through the comments and your views on them with a colleague. Teachers who discuss feedback are more likely to improve their teaching, when compared to teachers who review their feedback alone.
- Don’t take it personally: when students criticise teaching it can feel as if they are criticising you personally. Try to focus on what the feedback says about what you do (not about who you are).
Dealing with harsh or hurtful comments
Students are reminded on the indicative evaluation questionnaire that they should not make comments which are hurtful or impolite. While the vast majority of students respect this, a minority do not. In the case of harsh or hurtful student feedback, remember:
- Almost all teachers – no matter how well they teach – have got hurtful feedback at one time or another. You are not alone!
- Your students are like any group of people – some may be rude, many are not. Remember that harsh or hurtful comments are not the views of your class as a whole, only the views of that individual.
- Some students may be hurtful in order to get a response from you (on internet message boards this is called “being a troll”). Giving those students prominence (e.g. by showing the comment to the whole class) may simply encourage them. On the other hand, it can be helpful to remind students in class that balanced feedback is more likely to have a positive effect than harsh or hurtful comments.
Guidelines on the award of academic titles to scientific staff
Various academic titles are used in EPFL and there are procedures in place with respect to the awarding of these titles.
Information on the academic titles of scientific staff can be found here.
Information on the academic titles of professors (e.g. tenure track assistant prof, associate prof, full prof, funded prof, visiting prof. etc.) can be found here.
A teaching portfolio is required for all academic promotion proceedings as well as for renewals of academic positions. A portfolio allows a lecturer to show their teaching experience and skills, to describe their approach to teaching and learning and to note the various teaching-related projects and activities to which they have contributed. Article 10 of the Directive concerning the evaluation and recognition of teaching at the EPFL gives you further details on the teaching portfolio content.
For Tenure Track Assistant Professors (PATT) and scientific staff the criteria of evaluation of tenure and promotion applications are very similar:
- quality and extent of teaching activities, evaluation by the students and in-depth evaluation (such as those by CAPE);
- quality of teaching content, quality of teaching material;
- creativity as far as pedagogical skills and methods are concerned;
- supervision of practicals or semester projects, Master projects and doctoral theses;
- participation in activities of general interest specific to the curriculum.
Each year we work with hundreds of teachers and teaching teams on an individual basis to help them to address pedagogical issues. We work with teachers who are experiencing problems, who are preparing promotion dossiers and with those who are teaching successfully but would still like to innovate or improve. The core principles of our approach are described here. One typical starting point is to help teachers get a broad-based understanding of their context. We can do this through:
- facilitating feedback from students (often using detailed student feedback questionnaires,
- collecting data on aspects of students’ learning experiences,
- through classroom observations,
- reviewing course documents.
In each case, we can design data collection instruments, gather, enter and analyse the data. The pedagogical advisor and teacher we can meet to review this evidence with the teacher and discuss multiple possibilities appropriate to their context, allowing the teacher the freedom to identify what will best suit their content, their own teaching and their constraints. The report prepared by the pedagogical advisor, in cases when it is not compulsory, remains confidential between the pedagogical advisor and the teacher.
For further information, teachers can contact the pedagogical advisor linked to their section at any moment during the academic year. Please see the list on the right hand sidebar.
Keeping up with the evolution of debates and emerging subjects in education constitutes an important part of your continuing education regarding your teaching.
You can subscribe to an Educational Newsletter. These are some suggested links:
- The Tomorrow’s Professor Mailing List of Stanford University: written by teachers for teachers, often interesting.
- EducPros: a website and a newsletter dedicated to higher education in France, which often presents interesting news on pedagogical innovation worldwide.
- “Café pédagogique”: in French and not focused on higher education, but interesting stuff and good articles.
If you have the time and interest for teaching training workshops, you can refer to the workshops offered by the Teaching Support Centre. Workshops offered by the CFE Network (Reseau Romand de Conseil, Formation et Evaluation) can also be attended by EPFL teachers.
In the same direction, your participation in conferences or congresses for the development of higher education would be a great opportunity to get informed on recent trends of higher educational research and practice. You can also join an international educational community such as: