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).

As part of the focus on continuous improvement of teaching and of academic programs, teachers and sections get feedback from students on courses. This comes in a number of forms:

  • Indicative feedback (~ smoke detector) via quick online feedback: students can give brief feedback for each of their courses. This will be available to the teacher on the Monday of Week 6 
  • More detailed feedback through:
    • a compulsory in-depth evaluation, carried out by the section.
    • an elective evaluation, requested by a teacher and carried out by the Teaching Support Centre (CAPE) with personalised feedback and support.

An indicative feedback process for all Bachelor and Masters courses is launched automatically during week 5 of each semester. In order to maximise the response rate in the indicative feedback process, students express their level of agreement with a single statement: “The running of the course enables my learning and an appropriate class climate”, and have the opportunity to leave comments. The response rate for the indicative feedback process is typically between 40% and 50%. 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.

It is important to note that the indicative feedback is simply an ‘indication’ – it is not a good overall assessment of the quality of teaching. When students express a negative opinion of a course that does not necessarily mean that there is a problem with a course, rather it means that there may be issues which may merit further investigation and discussion.

While the indicative feedback provides timely in-semester feedback, more detailed feedback from students is also valuable. This is provided through in-depth evaluations involving a multi-dimensional student evaluation questionnaire, administered centrally on behalf of the sections. 

Administering the evaluations – standard and personalised

Every course at EPFL will have a standard in-depth evaluation towards the end of the semester. This standard evaluation will be:

  • Online
  • Conducted during weeks 13-16 (autumn semester), or weeks 13-15 (spring semester)
  • Using a section standard questionnaire (see below).
  • An automatically generated quantitative report, plus student comments. 

Additionally, teachers or sections can request for a personalised evaluation in which any or all of the above criteria can be changed to best suit the needs of the teacher/section. For example, a teacher can request that their evaluation be conducted on paper, during the exams, using a modified questionnaire, and contain an analysis from a pedagogical advisor. 

  • If a teacher wants a personalised process (change in any or all of the 4 variables) they have to fill out this form by the Friday of week 8.

Link to form: Request for personalised evaluation

  • If a section wants a personalised process for any of the courses they have to inform the respective pedagogical advisor by the Friday of week 7. 

For paper-based evaluations, the printing, distributing and collection of the questionnaires is managed by the section administration. 

The EPFL student evaluation of teaching standard questionnaire

The links below are 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.

Course evaluation reports:

All reports produced for courses as part of the compulsory in-depth student evaluation (standard and personalised) 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.

These evaluations will be made available to the teachers and the sections immediately after the grade submission date for that particular semester. 

Teachers can check the response rates during the evaluation period, and obtain the reports after the evaluation period by logging in to their Moodle account (see figures below)

Evasys home page for teachers


Course evaluation follow-up:

The teacher (and the section) can request for a detailed analysis from a pedagogical advisor after receiving the automated report. Such a request is advised if the negative response to the global question (Overall, I think this course is good) is above 30%, and can be made even if an analysis was not previously requested. 

The Section will follow up with the teacher to address potential issues, and will report to the AVP-E and the Dean on actions taken.

A third format for student feedback is the elective evaluation. Any teacher can request an elective evaluation of teaching, managed by the Teaching Support Centre.

Elective evaluations enable the teacher to use a strategy that will complement that used in the in-depth evaluations, e.g. class observation, focus group etc. and to get feedback on issues that are of particular interest or at times which suit their needs, for example for a promotion dossier.

It is advisable that this evaluation is conducted at a time that is different from the compulsory in-depth evaluation. For example, it can be conducted during the semester or during the examination. A teaching advisor will then prepare a written report, integrating both quantitative and qualitative data, and meet with the teacher to discuss feedback and analysis. This report is confidential to the course teacher(s) and CAPE, but the teacher can choose to share it.  

For more information, you can check Individual Consultations.

Go here to read the official guidelines on the evaluation of teaching: 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!