My students

Research on teaching and learning has highlighted the importance of knowing your students as well as possible: their background knowledge, their level of interest in the subject and their study habits. The planning of a course begins by knowing to whom you are addressing the content and the activities of your teaching.

The “my students” section of this website:

  • introduces the student body at EPFL and highlights how you can find out more about the students in your classes.
  • offers information on how to engage your students.
  • highlights where to go for support, if you identify students in difficulty.
  • links to the regulations for study for Bachelor and Master students as well as for Doctoral Assistants.

Think of your audience when preparing your course

Your students will probably come from a variety of educational and cultural backgrounds and have different reasons to follow your course (e.g., because it is obligatory, because the subject or course activities look interesting, because of the teacher’s reputation, etc.). When planning your teaching, it is useful to have in mind your students’ prior knowledge, their expectations of your course and ways in which they are used to being taught.

This page will first provide an overview of the EPFL student body in general.  It will then introduce the existing resources from which you can gather relevant information about your own students.

In addition to the on-line resources described below, remember that your colleagues will often have already taught the same students. Talking to them can help you understand your students better and may also help you both build links between your courses.

EPFL student overview

EPFL is a Swiss school and Swiss students make up about 50% of the student body. At undergraduate level the population is mostly Swiss (about 70% of new entrants were Swiss in 2013). Most of the remainders are Francophone students (largely from France).

At the same time, EPFL is also a leading European engineering school. Consequently, new entrants at master’s level come from a variety of European countries including France, Romania, Turkey, Italy and others. There are also entrants at master’s level from further afield including China, Iran and India.

At doctoral level, EPFL attracts candidates from around the world. Switzerland accounts for about one-third of doctoral students, with Italy, France, and Germany accounting for another one-quarter. The remainder come from across the globe.

So, while distinctively Swiss and distinctively francophone, EPFL is a very cosmopolitan and multi-lingual engineering school with at least 125 nationalities from all over the world represented in the student body. This provides a unique richness among the student body, as well as some pedagogical challenges for teachers.

Additional information on the EPFL student profile can be found here.

List of registered students in your class

Students can register for a class up to the 3rd week after the beginning of the course.

To get the list of registrations, follow the link for “course timetables and registered students” (on the right of the teaching portal home page) and select “Registrations by lecturer”.  Enter the year, semester and your name to get student registrations in your course.

Registered students are also listed within your IS Academia pages. Log on to isa.epfl.ch, choose “IS-Academia portal (Prof.)”, and then choose a course from the left-hand side of the page.  A list of registered students will be displayed.

Lecturers can get also access to their students’ ID photos, and their course of study, from within IS Academia.  When the list of registered students is displayed, choose the “Trombinoscope” link at the head of the list. (For further information see Rogues Gallery – Trombinoscope).

Students’ e-mail addresses

There are a number of ways for a teacher to access a list of their students’ email addresses:

  • follow the link for “course timetables and registered students” to get a list of registered students as described above. When student registrations are displayed, there is an option on the top right of the screen to “login to access email addresses”.
  • log on to isa.epfl.ch and list the students registered in your courses as described above.  “Mail to all” appears as an option at the head of the list of registered students.
  • get the emails for a whole class though the list of EPFL email lists.

Class representatives

Given the democratic spirit of the institution, every student cohort of EPFL elects one or two class representatives on a yearly basis. They function as the spokesperson for the academic concerns of their section cohort. For teachers, they can provide feedback on how the course is going. Their role is set out in article 4, page 2 of the relevant guidelines.

You can consult the list of class representatives:

You should note, however, that for optional courses there may not always be a class representative taking your course.

UNIL students

Students from the University of Lausanne (UNIL), do attend certain courses taught by EPFL faculty.  For information on these students, please contact the UNIL faculty or head of the relevant educational program.

Auditor (unregistered) students

A person can take EPFL classes as an auditor with the goal of rounding out his or her education. Information on these students can be provided by Educational Affairs.

In EPFL, attendance at lectures and exercises is not obligatory. This may leave teachers fearing being left with an empty room.

Here are some words of advice on how to capture your students’ attention.

Hit the right level

For students to remain engaged in a class, it is valuable for them to have a sense that they are achieving and making progress in the class. There are two elements to this: first they should have the required background knowledge to be able to understand the new ideas presented in a course, and second, the tasks assigned in the course should be challenging enough to stretch them, but should not be insurmountable.

So, as a first step, you may want to check if students have the expected knowledge needed to readily follow your course. This may help them get engaged and feel they are achieving the course goals. If you are teaching on the first year, consider that first year students come to EPFL with a wide diversity of prior educational experiences. At the same time, they are expected to have basic notions of plane geometry as well as the fundamentals of trigonometry and calculus of trigonometric functions. In order to help clarify for students what they should know before starting EPFL, all first year students receive the book ‘Savoir-Faire en maths during the summer months which outlines this content and allows them to revise key mathematical skills. They are also invited to self-assess their level. Responses are automatic, allowing students to verify their level of maths before the opening of the first semester.

As a second step, you could try to ensure that exercises and other tasks push students beyond what they can comfortably already do, but at the same time are achievable for the majority of students.

Consider their study habits

Each educational institution has its own learning and teaching environment and culture.

Although there are wide differences between students and between courses, some features of the culture at EPFL are:

  • students will often expect to get your lecture notes (“polycopié”). They appreciate these, when they are clearly written, do not have typos (particularly in formulas) and cover the material actually dealt with during the course (and only that).
  • some students do not take many notes during lectures (however, since there is research evidence that students who take handwritten notes tend to perform better than those who do not, it may be useful to encourage students to take written notes).
  • many students feel comfortable with solving well-defined pen-and-paper problems, but feel less comfortable with open-ended or ill-defined problems or content.
  • only some students read reference material other than the polycopié, and mostly when the links to lecture content is made explicit by teachers.

To better understand the teaching and learning culture in your own section you might discuss with:

Give them a reason to learn

Don’t forget that students attending your class are managing busy workloads and will often be making decisions as to how to prioritise their time. This means that they will often benefit from having explicit explanations as to how they could benefit from your course.

To achieve this you could:

  • address their intellectual interests by highlighting what makes the material intrinsically interesting. It has been suggested that one of the most effective tools at a teacher’s disposal is their infectious enthusiasm for their subject. Many students will be gripped, if you can display your own enthusiasm for the material.
  • highlight the practical relevance of technical skills and knowledge which are specific to the profession they have chosen. This would help them realize the practical and realistic value of a class that might otherwise seem very theoretical in their eyes.
  • identify if a course is a required part of their professional training and highlight its importance as a complement to the other courses which make up their curriculum.

Make sure that this information is communicated clearly and as early as possible in the course, so that students can find an internal motivation to pursue the course.

Exchanging views with my students

A class is generally much more motivating and engaging for students if they are asked to participate actively in the course. A teacher can deploy many techniques to achieve this interactive atmosphere in the class. Alongside traditional methods, technology can boost students’ engagement by asking and allowing them to exchange instant feedback with the teacher and among them.

Clickers is an audience response system provided by EPFL that encourages students to participate in the class by submitting responses to interactive questions real time. A chart showing the distribution of responses is generated automatically, thus stimulating general or small group discussions. Additionally, this system could contribute to formative assessment, as it can provide students with immediate feedback regarding their understanding and progress.

Another idea would be to discuss the results of the indicative evaluation in one of your lectures, so that you can trigger a discussion with your students about how to make your course as engaging as possible for your specific audience.

Keep in mind that the students’ representatives can also be a source of rich and meaningful information on how your course is evolving and what can be done to enhance learners’ engagement.

Further ideas for generating student engagement and interactivity in class can be found here.

Different services to support students

Faculty members may often identify students that face personal difficulties. Recognizing the signs is the first important step, so that students may be provided with help to address their challenges.

Below you may find some of the most common issues raised by students, as well as the person, office or department to address, when seeking help.

  • If you notice withdrawn students, who find it difficult to fit in, you can suggest some coaching.
  • For students needing vocational advice or advice on the choice of optional courses, alternative solutions may come from a Study Advisor. Each student is assigned to a Study Advisor from their Section, whose role is to monitor academic progress and guide students, when necessary, by offering personalized learning and support. If you need more information, take a look at the list of Study Advisors in the concerned Section. 
  • For students seeking advice on whether to complete part of their curriculum elsewhere, they can be directed to the Student Exchange Office. They could also contact the exchange coordinator for the relevant section.
  • For students facing financial, accommodation, or similar problems,the Student Affairs Department (SAE) can help them find a grant matching their criteria.
  • Students who feel at a disadvantage, in need of psychological support, experience a crisis or need urgent help, can be directed to the HELP” program, where a team of specialists is there to help.