Design a Course

Importance of course design

Introducing a new course or having to adopt and adjust an already existing one requires you to clearly define the aims – or learning outcomes – for the course.  It also requires you to understand your students, their background knowledge and their goals.  Putting these two together, you can then design and organize your course reflecting your particular students and your goals.

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 possible point of departure is to write down a list of the content areas that your course will cover and try to match this to your students’ prior knowledge (you can get an idea of their prior knowledge from their study plan or from talking to other teachers in the section).  Secondly, you can list what you want them to be able to do at the end of your course. Thirdly, you can list the teaching methods that you think will best help your students to meet these goals.

When you have completed this task, explain your course design to a colleague or to a Teaching Advisor. Their feedback may help you to identify elements that need clarification, or to adjust your ambitions for the course.

Course types and timetables

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 study plan, based on discussion between the lecturer and the section’s Teaching Commission. They are then approved by the Conference of Section Directors (CDS).

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

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 lecturers a high degree of flexibility in setting assessments.

Teaching Language

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.  Master courses are typically in English, but can be taught in French also. Some first-year courses are offered in German, French and English. The regulations governing teaching language can be accessed here.

The course description functions as something of a contract with students – 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.

Remember that students who may appear to have a high level of skill in a second language, may still find it quite challenging to follow an academic course in that language.

Course prerequisites

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 master’s level – come from other universities, where the course titles may not be the same, this heading describes the pre-requisite knowledge and concepts for the course).

Weight/workload of a course within the student’s study plan

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.

  • One ECTS credit is taken, in EPFL, to represent, on average, 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).
  • If the semester is thought of as being about 15-weeks long (14 teaching weeks, plus exam time), this means 1 ECTS credit translates as, on average, about 2 hours of student work, per week.  This translates as a total student workload for all courses of about 60-hours work per week (data from students shows that this is broadly accurate: the 2011 Campus Survey found students work on average between 50 and 60 hours per week, though this varies a great deal depending on the section and the year of study).
  • This workload includes both timetabled time in class and non-timetabled student work outside class.  For example, a course with a weighting of 3 ECTS credits may have 2 lecture hours, 1 exercise hour, and 3 further 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, projects etc.) and fewer timetabled lecture, lab or exercise 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.