Developing my Teaching

Through the course of your teaching career your needs will change. As you start, you will probably concentrate on developing your pedagogical skills. However, once you have some experience, you will probably want to gain further pedagogical expertise, and enhance your skills to include teaching in different contexts, or to different audiences.

This section will:

  • Help you identify how to get data about your teaching
  • Walk you through getting feedback from your peers, your students, and pedagogical advisors,
  • Give you tips on how to deal with feedback
  • Provide ideas to help you further develop your teaching skills.

Here at EPFL, we encourage an evidence-based approach to pedagogy and skill development. There are a vast range of skills that you could possibly develop, however the teaching and learning process in your class will be best served if you identify the skills that are most relevant to your particular context. This is best done when you regularly analyse and evaluate your teaching and its effect on your students’ learning. Here are some sources of data that you can leverage:

  • Test and exam scores, which show what the students have learned. 
  • Teaching observations, from your peers or from pedagogical experts.
  • The academic commission of your section and teachers of other courses within the curriculum who may be able to comment on the integration of the course within the overall degree programme.
  • Your students, 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.

In addition to giving you ideas of the pedagogical skills you need to develop, the data collected through these various approaches can also be used to document your teaching for use in the promotion process (dossier).

Based on the changes to LEX 2.5.1 (from September 2021), the process by which student feedback is collected will change. This section will soon be updated.

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.

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.

When you get student feedback in an indicative evaluation you should:

  • Take time. Set aside time to review the evaluation results – don’t try to do it in a few ‘stolen’ moments. 
  • Consider the response rate/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 rather than one-off instances. 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 requires the teacher to discuss the evaluation results with the students before the end of the semester. This can be done by presenting the major themes to students during the first class after the evaluation period. You can highlight points you agree with and will act on, points you disagree with, and points you don’t understand. While you can use this opportunity to get further feedback and clarifications from students, it is important that the discussion does not become antagonistic. 
  • Discuss the feedback with a colleague or a pedagogical advisor. Talk through the comments and your views on them with a colleague, or pedagogical advisor who can offer a different perspective. 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 your 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).

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.

Each year, the pedagogical advisors at CAPE work with hundreds of teachers and teaching teams on an individual basis to help them 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.

Depending on the needs of each case, we can design data collection instruments, collect, and analyse the data. We can then meet with the teacher to review this evidence and discuss possibilities appropriate to their context. This allows 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.

Congratulations! You have taken the first steps towards improving your pedagogical skills. Here are some ways in which you can support your continuing education and development:

Keeping up with the evolution of debates and emerging subjects in education constitutes an important part of your continuing education regarding your teaching. There are several other tools available to help you develop your teaching practise including a range of courses, workshops, blogs and websites.

We at CAPE wish you all the best in this journey and remind you that we are always available to help support you along the way!