Design a Course

‘Teachers with high-achieving students invest time and effort in designing the microstructure of their courses, establish clear learning goals, and employ feedback practices’. This was the conclusion of Schneider & Preckel’s (2017) review of 38 large meta-analyses of empirical studies on the variables associated with achievement in higher education. 

Designing a new course (modifying an existing one) that focuses on student learning, requires two important pieces:

  • Clearly defined aims – or learning outcomes – for the course. What are your students going to be able to do at the end of the course?
  • An understanding of your students, their background knowledge and their goals. Who are your students? 

By answering these two questions, you can then design a course that will best serve the learning needs of your specific group of students.

If you want to set up a new course, get in touch with the Section Director or with the relevant Doctoral Program Director.

Having agreed on a new course, you will then want to think about what you will teach and how. One possibility: start by writing your learning goals and map that onto the content that your course will cover. Next match this map to your students’ prior knowledge (See ‘Hit the right level’). Finally, add to your plan by identifying appropriate teaching methods for the various content areas that you think will best help your students to meet the learning goals.

When you have completed this task, go over your course design with a colleague or to a Teaching Advisor. Their feedback will help you improve the course, or adjust your expectations!

The 4 official teaching categories are: lectures, exercises (also called recitations), practicals (including labs) and projects; these are not mutually exclusive.

They are shown in the course timetable by lecturer and study plans.

These categories are defined during the drawing-up of the course description (fiche de cours), based on discussion between the teacher and the section’s Teaching Commission. They are then approved by the Conference of Section Directors (CDS).

More information about course and exam timetables, and the respective deadlines.

Most courses have a final examination which the teacher may complement by mid-term tests that count towards the final marks.

Some courses have no final examinations and are instead assessed on a continual basis. Continual assessment may include grading of practicals or projects, mid-term exams, or even exams carried out in the last teaching week of the term. As such, continuous assessment allows teachers a high degree of flexibility in setting assessments.

Refer to the section on Grading and marking for further details.

The official languages of EPFL are French and English. Bachelor courses are normally taught in French, though exceptions can be made, if the section agrees. Some first-year courses are offered in German, French and English. Master courses are typically in English, but can be taught in French. The regulations governing teaching language can be accessed here.

The course should be taught in the language outlined on the course description. If you would like to change the language of a course, you should contact your section director well in advance of the course being taught.

The teaching language might be challenging for some of your students, for tips on how to address this refer to our section on teaching challenges.

Many courses have course prerequisites identified on their Course Description. These are listed as:

  • Required courses (courses that a student must have before taking this course). Whether or not a student has the required courses is checked by the teacher or the section, not by the Registrar’s Office.
  • Recommended courses (courses that a student should have before taking this course). Whether or not a student has the recommended courses is not controlled by anyone except the student.
  • Important concepts to start the course. Since many students (especially at the master’s level) come from other universities, where the course titles may not be the same, this heading describes the prerequisite knowledge and concepts for the course.

The weight of your course is defined by the number of ‘ECTS’ credits allocated or by its coefficient (for courses in the first year only) (ECTS stands for ‘European Credit Transfer System’). This is the standard way of describing a course workload in the European university area.

  • At EPFL, one ECTS credit is taken, to represent, 30 hours of total work per student.
  • A full-time student is expected to take 30 ECTS credits in a semester (60 credits in a standard, two-semester, year).
  • Considering a 15-week long semester (14 teaching weeks, plus exam time), 1 ECTS credit translates to approx. 2 hours of student work, per week. This translates as a total student workload for all courses of about 60-hours work per week.
  • Student workload includes both timetabled time in class and non-timetabled student work outside class. E.g. A course with 3 ECTS credits may have 2 lecture hours, 1 exercise hour, and 3 hours of student individual work, which should cover homework, personal study and preparation for the exam – in other words, as much time spent on the course outside class as time spent in class.
  • The ECTS credit system allows considerable flexibility. The balance of lectures, exercise and individual student work can be adjusted depending on the course. Courses could have more hours of student individual work (reading, homework, project work etc.) and fewer timetabled hours.

The credit (or coefficient) weighting of a course is defined in the study plans and in the course description.

If in doubt, the best is to discuss this with the Section Director.