“It’s such a great way to design a class”

Despite their 20-year age difference, Johan Rochel and Baptiste Lecoeur look similar. And given their different backgrounds, their paths were never really meant to cross. Yet they found themselves working together in the fall 2023 semester to design and teach a new Master’s-level class, which was given to students in several sections of EPFL’s School of Computer and Communication Sciences.

Rochel holds a PhD in law and philosophy and is a lecturer at EPFL’s College of Humanities (CDH). He’s also a co-founder of Ethix, a Zurich-based consulting firm in innovation ethics and the law. Meanwhile, Lecoeur is a second-year Master’s student in data science and a co-president of AGEPoly, EPFL’s general student association.

Rochel and Lecoeur form one of around 15 teaching tandems set up at EPFL over the past few months, on subjects ranging from materials science and physics to energy & the climate – another new class at EPFL. The idea with these tandems is to support teachers who want to introduce more sustainability-oriented material into their classes and to give students an opportunity to make a tangible contribution to EPFL’s shift in teaching approach while earning a little money. “This approach to education could also be useful for topics other than sustainability,” says Jacopo Grazioli, a project officer at EPFL’s Sustainability Unit, which initiated the tandems.

How does sustainability fit in with Rochel and Lecoeur’s new Master’s class on ethics in artificial intelligence? Rochel explains: “Ethics touches on all three aspects of sustainability: the economy, our society and the environment. In fact, only one of our lectures was devoted entirely to how AI affects power consumption and resource depletion. But as soon as you talk about the kinds of data used to train AI algorithms, or about design, data processing and the technology transition more broadly, you’re also talking about sustainability.”

We’d like AI to help us address certain aspects of the economy, for example, but that has an environmental and societal cost. So how do we strike the right balance?

Johan Rochel, lecturer at the CDH

“Of course, there’s also an environmental aspect to all the issues associated with justice, labor conditions, social interaction, the digital divide, and the inequality resulting from that divide” he adds. “What’s interesting from an ethics standpoint is when you have to make trade-offs between different priorities. For instance, we’d like AI to help us address certain aspects of the economy, for example, but that has an environmental and societal cost. So how do we strike the right balance?”

Worried about the future

For Lecoeur, getting involved in sustainability was a no-brainer. “Most of us students are worried about the future, and we generally have an open mind on societal issues,” he says. “That makes sense when you’re a scientist or engineer, since you develop methods and systems that have an impact on society and the environment.”

“That said, our concerns go beyond the environment,” he continues. “For now AI is largely unregulated, and it takes a lot longer for new laws to be passed than for new technology to be developed. Yet despite the lack of regulation, some AI programs are starting to be used on a massive scale.”

Lecoeur believes that one benefit of his Master’s class is that it raises other issues. “I think people at EPFL don’t always seek to understand the world around them beyond just the science. But our class is multi-disciplinary, at the crossroads of science and society.”

Rochel agrees. “I thought students knew more about the political systems in Switzerland and the EU, such as the separation of powers. In 2024 I’ll spend more time describing the government institutions that are at the center of efforts to enact regulations.”

“A good test”

Rochel and Lecoeur are both clearly pleased with being paired up. “We’ve been meeting every week since the class started in September to get our slides ready,” says Rochel. “I used to make a first draft and then Baptiste would comment on it and suggest improvements on both the content and the layout, looking for new ideas and materials. Showing the slides to Baptiste was a good test, since he would tell me if they were too heavy on theory or needed more examples.”

For his part, Lecoeur liked the class format, which differs from the one typically used in data science. “What’s great is that students work on the case studies in small groups. They get into animated discussions – it’s the first time I’ve seen that in my four years at EPFL. It’s crazy that we never sit down in groups to talk about things other than purely technical subjects. This is one way our class adds a lot of value, since it’s not something students get to do elsewhere.”

Students work on the case studies in small groups. They get into animated discussions – it’s the first time I’ve seen that in my four years at EPFL.

Baptiste Lecoeur, Master’s student in data science

“People say EPFL is great for teaching problem-solving, but not so much for the soft skills – management, relating with colleagues, and so on,” says Lecoeur. “The students themselves have to fill in the gaps, and it’s great we can help them do that in our class.”

Word of mouth

Rochel and Lecoeur’s partnership ended at the end of the semester, but it’ll leave a lasting mark: their joint efforts have made the class more impactful and helped to hone the teaching materials – a real advantage for future years. They believe that by working together they have been able to get better feedback from students, who are more likely to open up to their peers.

“It’s such a great way to design a class,” says Lecoeur. “The thing is, students can be pretty unforgiving. When a new class doesn’t run smoothly from the outset, they spread the word quickly and few people take it. But if you’re able to get student input and come up with a format that works, then they’ll tell people how awesome it is – and more people will sign up as a result. Nothing’s more effective in drumming up interest than word of mouth!”

Author(s): Emmanuelle Marendaz Colle
Importé depuis EPFL Actu

AI for senior citizens: Center LEARN launches new workshop

While the necessity of understanding AI’s inner workings and grasping the full scope of what is at stake with these technologies seems to have primarily concerned the so-called « active » population, retirement does not necessarily imply complete disconnection from such topics.

In Switzerland, senior citizens are far from lagging behind and are, on the contrary, quite tech-savvy as it turns out. A recent study conducted by Pro Senectute suggests just that, indicating a 95 percent internet usage among 65 to 69-year-olds.

Additionally, as with most technologies, AI applications extend well beyond the professional realm, inevitably weaving their way into our private lives. Therefore, the growing prevalence of AI indicates that it should be a topic of interest for society as a whole. However, to join the conversation one must first understand its codes. To bridge this generational gap, an initiative emerged through collaboration between the senior club « Toujours Plus » of Migros Vaud and our team of experts at the Center LEARN. As a result, two three-hour workshops on AI were organized for its members this autumn.

© Frédérique Chessel Lazzarotto / 2023 EPFL

Tailored training

To address this new challenge, the training team comprised of Sonia Agrebi, Project Manager, Felipe Martinez, Project Manager, and Frédérique Chessel Lazzarotto, Coordinator of external missions at the Center LEARN, opted for an original and tailored approach. « We were not familiar with the skill levels or expectations of this audience that is new to us, so we chose accessible themes and an engaging approach to ease them into discovering the basic concepts of artificial intelligence, » explained Frédérique Chessel Lazzarotto.

The trainers thus guided the 44 participants, dispelling misconceptions and demystifying common AI tools one by one before delving into the history of machine learning, going as far back as the 1950s. Then, using an imaginative mushroom-picking scenario, the training team skillfully shed light on the main paradigms of ML. The workshop concluded with practical exercises where everyone had the opportunity to experiment with tools such as ChatGPT or Dall-E to generate recipes and greeting cards.

A gratifying outcome

The Center LEARN analyzed this training to evaluate its effectiveness. The post-training feedback was extremely positive: 89% of participants expressed great satisfaction with the content covered, while 78% praised the interactive teaching methods adapted to their pace.

© Frédérique Chessel Lazzarotto / 2023 EPFL

The most striking aspect was the observed change in attitude towards AI among the participants. Before the training, they harbored some mistrust towards these tools, but after the sessions, wonder largely outweighed fear. « Their desire to understand a sometimes complex topic was manifested through pertinent questions, rooted in thoughtful personal reflections. The attentive listening and remarkable commitment of each participant contributed to enriching this training experience, » said Felipe Martinez.

These workshops also altered their intentions regarding the use of AI. While 84% of participants declared that they were not using this technology at the start of the day, now 57% are considering it, reflecting the positive impact of the workshops on their perspectives and willingness to explore new horizons.

© Frédérique Chessel Lazzarotto / 2023 EPFL

Before the workshop, 80% admitted not knowing about AI, a percentage that dropped to 2% after the course. Concurrently, the percentage of participants claiming to understand AI soared from 20% to 98%, demonstrating the effectiveness of the training in deepening their knowledge of the subject. « Defining artificial intelligence and exploring its diverse application domains not only demystified what AI is but also revealed that it was already very much present in their daily lives, often in completely unsuspected ways, » explained Sonia Agrebi.

These results highlight the effectiveness and relevance of the pedagogical approach tailored to seniors proposed by our team and pave the way for the implementation of other similar interventions in the future.

Author(s): Julie Clerget
Importé depuis EPFL Actu

Vaud teaching force welcomes 23 new computer science teachers

On this occasion, twenty-three teachers from eleven schools in the Canton of Vaud were presented with their certificates by EPFL President Martin Vetterli, in the presence of Frédéric Borloz, Head of the Département de l’enseignement et de la formation professionnelle (DEF), Professor Francesco Mondada, Academic Director of the Center LEARN, and Yann Secq, Executive Manager of the CAS ESIS.

Martin Vetterli opened the ceremony with a reminder that, with the rapid development of artificial intelligence, it was crucial to acquire a thorough understanding of these technologies to prevent them from taking on a magical aspect. « Magic isn’t quite what we ought to be teaching at school. What we need to teach in schools is to understand things, and in order to understand ChatGPT, it helps enormously to have been exposed to computational thinking, to know what an algorithm is, or to know what a probability is, » he said.

A tailored program

This program, developed in response to strong demand for training for secondary school teachers as part of a trial phase for a new period of Computer Science in the Cycle 3 curriculum in the canton of Vaud, took place over 20 days. Delivered at EPFL by the Center LEARN team, it was accompanied by weekly hands-on practice for two years in the participants’ respective classrooms.

An important feature of this continuing education program was that the pedagogical activities for students were developed entirely in collaboration with the participants. Teachers from a variety of educational backgrounds, including mathematics, arts and crafts, history, French and physical education, were thus able to appropriate the fundamental concepts of computer science and actively contribute to the development of relevant and engaging teaching sequences for their classes.

« The exceptional quality of the work produced by our participants is a testament to the extraordinary commitment and dedication they have shown over the past two years, » said Yann Secq, Executive Manager of CAS ESIS.

Active teaching and concrete projects

Another special feature of these activities is their « learning by doing » approach, which progressively takes the form of unplugged (computer-free) sequences, such as a board game called « Les Cordées du Cervin », plugged-in activities involving the programming of small video games and interactive scenarios, before culminating in projects based on tangible objects, notably with the Thymio robot and the micro:bit minicomputer.

Commending the commitment of all the participants, Mr. Borloz emphasized: « The best gift we can give our children is to have knowledge of the digital world, rather than being subjected to it. This graduation is not a trivial event. For the students who leave school tomorrow, this knowledge opens the way to professional and academic training, while arousing their curiosity about MINT-related professions ».

This pioneering cohort is now giving way to a second group, which began in June 2022 and this time composed of eighteen teachers who will complete their course next July.

Author(s): Julie Clerget
Importé depuis EPFL Actu

“I’m fascinated by the way humans learn”

When Tanja Käser landed the role of tenure track assistant professor at EPFL, she never imagined she’d spend her first day in the job alone, working from a makeshift desk in the corner of her bedroom. That was in May 2020, at the height of the pandemic. « It was strange in this situation to tell myself that I was now a professor at EPFL, » she smiles. “I didn’t meet my new colleagues face-to-face for several months.” That fall, she taught her first classes online. And as spring rolled in, her daily routine remained unchanged: giving lectures to a screen teeming with faces and black rectangles bearing still-unfamiliar names.

For the head of the EPFL’s Machine Learning for Education Laboratory (ML4ED), it was an unconventional start to life as an educator. But it helped her develop a solid teaching ethos from the outset – one based on active learning, repetition, and linking theory to practice. “In my view, to be a good teacher, you have to be able to ‘read’ a class and adapt your approach to each student’s strengths and learning style,” she says. This guiding philosophy earned her the Credit Suisse Award.

A purpose-driven approach

“I’m fascinated by the way humans learn,” says Tanja Käser, whose research involves developing machine-learning models to understand and improve human learning. “For me, it’s really important to do something meaningful. I also like the ethical side of things, which is especially important when you’re applying algorithms to education.”

In my view, to be a good teacher, you have to be able to ‘read’ a class and adapt your approach to each student’s strengths and learning style.

Tanja Käser, recipient of the Credit Suisse Award for Best Teaching

Despite her interest in human learning, she never saw herself pursuing a career in teaching. “Quite the opposite in fact!” she says with a smile. “I come from a family of teachers, so I was dead set against the idea.” However, she always knew she wanted to do something purposeful and make a difference through her work. So it was only natural that she took her interest in computer science – something she came to by way of civil engineering – and applied it to the field of education. “During a week-long taster program for girls at ETH Zurich, I saw these amazing virtual demonstrations of civil engineering projects,” says Käser. “They really piqued my curiosity.” After completing her studies, she spent a year working as a consultant at McKinsey before returning to research.

Holding the attention of 600 students

As a researcher passionate by education, Tanja Käser is also intensely committed to her courses. Especially the weekly discrete mathematics class she’s teaching for the second time this fall, which covers some of the key concepts behind algorithms. She acknowledges that lecturing to 600 first-year students packed into a Rolex Forum auditorium isn’t ideal, and that coordinating a team of 30 student assistants and 10 PhD assistants is an energy-sapping task. So how does Käser hold the attention of hundreds of people when it’s impossible to catch everyone’s eye? “I try to speak for no more than 10 or 15 minutes at a time,” she says. “Then I ask questions using the SpeakUp app. Students discuss the questions among themselves, which tells me whether they’ve understood the material. Each semester, I also give four quizzes to make sure my students are on track. It seems to work well. I’m very happy because setting up this class took a lot of effort.”

She admits that work consumes a lot of her time, including at weekends. But that’s because she finds endless fascination in exploring algorithms and delving into the nuts and bolts of human learning. For her Master’s class – Machine Learning for Behavioral Data – Tanja Käser uses a project-based approach implemented in association with the Swiss EdTech Collider, a community of educational technology startups.

“For each Master’s class, we select two or three startups that are willing to share their data with us,” she explains. “Then we divide the students into groups of three, and they choose the dataset they want to work with. The startups benefit from having the students analyze their data, while the students get a chance to apply what they’ve learned by tackling concrete problems and doing something useful.” At the end of the semester, each group give a poster presentation to the startups and the teaching team. A stimulating moment of exchange. Fortunately, in stark contrast to her early days alone in front of her screen.

Traduit du français

Author(s): Laureline Duvillard
Importé depuis EPFL Actu

ChatGPT is shaking up the world of education: What do teachers say?

A team consisting of researchers and experts in digital education, including Dr. Sunny Avry, Prof. Francesco Mondada, Grégory Liégois, Elliot Vaucher, Felipe Martinez, and Dr. Jessica Dehler Zufferey, delved into the use of ChatGPT by teachers in public high schools and private institutions in the canton of Vaud. Conducted between February 22nd and March 22nd, 2023, in collaboration with the Direction Générale de l’Enseignement Postobligatoire and the Association Vaudoise des écoles privées, this pioneering survey in the region gathered insights from 931 teachers in public high schools and private schools in the canton.

Survey reports
Two reports outline the results of the survey.

The results reveal that 98% of the surveyed teachers are familiar with ChatGPT, and 52% of them have already used it. Among those who have used ChatGPT, 24% have done so as part of their teaching, primarily for lesson preparation. On the other hand, among the teachers who have not used it, reasons cited include a lack of time, interest, or need, as well as concerns about personal data sharing with OpenAI, the profit-oriented company behind ChatGPT.

« Teaching is primarily a profession based on relationships, and ChatGPT cannot replace the human relationship between teacher and student. »

Surveyed teacher

Faced with the introduction of this tool, teachers experience primarily an increased sense of responsibility (56%), followed by fear (43%) and awe (34%). While ChatGPT impresses with its ability to perform certain tasks, it is important for teachers to consider ways to mitigate its potential negative impacts on education.

For example, most teachers believe that ChatGPT can facilitate cheating (87%), which calls for a review of evaluation methods (78%). They also believe that ChatGPT will not assist them in their work (74%) and does not promote student learning (55%). In the comments section of the survey, one teacher stated, « Teaching is primarily a profession based on relationships, and ChatGPT cannot replace the human relationship between teacher and student. »

Usage of ChatGPT by teachers in March 2022.
Usage of ChatGPT by teachers in March 2022.

Seeking Information Rather Than Prohibition

However, the idea of banning the tool in schools is rejected by 76% of the surveyed teachers. Another teacher expressed, « It is neither possible nor desirable to completely ban ChatGPT in schools. Such a prohibition could deepen social inequalities and encourage students to circumvent the rules. » Moreover, over half of the teachers believe that students should be taught how to use ChatGPT in schools.

In parallel, 76% of the teachers expressed a desire to receive information and training on ChatGPT, particularly regarding its pedagogical use. As for the preferred formats for these training sessions, teachers mostly opt for PDF documentation, video tutorials, and in-person training.

The findings of this study have the potential to serve as a basis for guiding future decisions and initiatives regarding the training and support of teachers in the use of AI, enabling them to navigate an ever-evolving digital environment and make the most of these new tools.

The Center LEARN at EPFL has already collaborated with various institutions in this regard and is available for the development of research projects and training programs aimed at supporting teachers in this digital transition.

Author(s): Sunny Avry
Importé depuis EPFL Actu

Promising Start for the First Laidlaw Scholars’ Cohort

On May 11th 2023, a kick-off event gathered the program’s key stakeholders, as well as all EPFL scholars for the launch of this enhanced learning program that is based on four main dimensions: research, leadership development, social engagement and networking. Selected for their motivation, leadership potential and research curiosity, these scholars also have demonstrated strong convictions that change must happen to make the world a better place. “During the recruitment interviews, I was impressed by the values and degree of maturity some of the students already exhibit” says Dr. Sabrina Rami-Shojaei, Director of EPFL’s Education Outreach Department and Member of the Laidlaw Admission Committee.

I hope that this program will successfully support them in their efforts and push them to make decisions guided by ethics, integrity and empathy.

Dr. Sabrina Rami-Shojaei, Director of EPFL’s Education Outreach Department and Member of the Laidlaw Admission Committee

PFL has joined forces with the Laidlaw Foundation to offer its Bachelor’s students a unique opportunity to complement their academic journey with a comprehensive curriculum that includes personal development training focusing on transversal skills such as leadership, communication, and critical thinking. Two internships, one focusing on scientific research and the other one on leadership-in-action, will allow scholars to apply their knowledge and leadership skills to concrete situations, and for the benefit of society. Prof. Kathryn Hess Bellwald, EPFL’s Associate Vice President for Student Affairs and Outreach who attended the event confirms that “the Laidlaw Program resonates with the School’s objective to form engineers and scientists who are not only technically excellent but also well-rounded citizens, conscious of their responsibility to contribute to society and well equipped to do so and aware of the necessity of being role models of respectful, ethical behavior.”

The program will provide them with a solid base for outstanding achievements while acting responsibly for the society and keeping community-centered values in mind.

Prof. Kathryn Hess Bellwald, EPFL’s Associate Vice President for Student Affairs and Outreach

The event also provided an occasion for a casual get together, where scholars got to know each other in a relaxed and festive mood. Whilst they all have their own views on what to expect of the Laidlaw program, they agree that they look forward the new discoveries and to this joint journey, focused on human connection. Within the next months, the scholars will dig into the first leadership workshop dedicated to self-awareness, teamwork and mindfulness, followed by a supervised summer internship in an EPFL laboratory to discover the world of research.

Author(s): Education Outreach Department
Importé depuis EPFL Actu

A thematic day uniting sustainability, science and technology

The discovery journey through the world of science and technology

To sensitize high school students for these issues and approaches, EPFL’s Education Outreach Department (SPE) mobilized nearly 50 EPFL scientists and students to offer a thematic day in collaboration with and for the high school Kantonsschule Solothurn (KSSO) within the high school’s premises, allowing approximately 600 pupils from a variety of study orientations to explore these links.

This thematic day inserts itself in the long-standing partnership SPE has with KSSO, aiming at strengthening ties for STEM promotion and outreach, in this case with a focus on highlighting links between STEM and sustainability.

Barriers to accessing STEM fields is certainly higher for none-technical oriented students. For this reason, SPE puts particular emphasis on a holistic approach with diversified and tailored activities for awareness raising, covering areas such as computer, life or basic sciences, engineering or architecture, through workshops, expert presentations, experiments as well as booths with interdisciplinary project presentations. Participants also had the opportunity to talk with students and scientists, and learn more about the research areas as well as how studies at EPFL look like.

Understand to make a better impact

Nathalie Morandini, Head of the Sustainable Development Division at the EPFL EssentialTech Center introduced the program with a keynote on how to harness science and technology to drive sustainable development, peace promotion and humanitarian action. Using the example of a fragile context such as unreliable power grids, lack of infrastructure or limited financial resources, she took the audience on a journey on how the EPFL EssentialTech Center collaborates with the many professors, researchers and labs across the School, showing how EPFL transfers knowledge. She encouraged the students to be curious, to look beyond the visible, to question how conventional technologies also can be applied to extraordinary contexts and create high value and quality solutions.

It is interesting to talk to young people and show them that whatever career they choose, they will be able to have a better impact on society if they understand early on the importance of being curious and open to other realities, cultures and ways of thinking.

Nathalie Morandini Siegrist

Connecting the dots – or where the journey took us to

It is cool to recognize certain terms we learn at school in these research projects, and we can make a connection between school and research.

Franziska, 3rd year KSSO-student

Clean drinking water, extraction and reutilization of C02 to fight climate change, adapting the construction industry to climatic challenges by using sustainable materials and constructing seismic-resistant buildings or even re-thinking energy, its storage and use… these are all topics that are directly of concern to the youth. Getting a taste of how science and technology can contribute to solving these problems has impressed the students and made them see the application of these concepts to real-world problems in a different light, as Fynn a third year scholar mentioned.

I find the program very interesting and it gives an insight into areas and applications we don’t even know yet. ​​​​​​

Fynn, 3rd year KSSO-student, Spanish orientation with bilingual English Matura

Two sides of the same coin: Jannik, a life sciences engineering student presented his biomedical student project which is more lab oriented and illustrated how introducing a given DNA sequence into bacteria in order to multiply it, is used to develop novel therapeutics, for instance for diabetes and prostate cancer research, thereby reducing to a certain degree animal experimentation. Julia on the other hand highlighted the engineering angle to biomedical research with her presentation of her project where she constructed an MRI-compatible ergometer to measure muscular flections, which is currently not possible in an MRI.

“With a scientific background I understand the science behind it. It was very well presented.

Gustav, 3rd year KSSO-student, biology and chemistry orientation

Impressed by what the EPFL-students have made

Two former KSSO-students, one studying Environmental Sciences and Engineering, the other Microengineering at EPFL were happy to return to their alma mater and reconnect as well as share their passion for science with their home crowd.

I find it impressive what the students have made out of their lives and what opportunities EPFL offers.

Anushuka, 3rd year KSSO-student

The day has not only raised the interest for these domains amongst potential future scientists and engineers, but also amongst the teachers who co-organized the event. A physics teacher was excited to see how EPFL brings these issues through connecting his students to people close to the actual projects, such as researchers or students, so as his pupils have a direct, hands-on immersion and are able to have peer-to-peer conversations. Equally important for him is the fact that it is a young generation reaching out to his scholars, which makes the connection more accessible.

“Young students, mixed genders, people who are close to the projects – that is what we need to spark the interest among our students.

Physics teacher, KSSO
Author(s): Education Outreach Department
Importé depuis EPFL Actu

Workshop helps eliminate unconscious biases

Picture a doctor operating on a patient, and a nurse administering care. What gender did you attribute to each role? Even if you believe strongly in gender equality, chances are you pictured the doctor as a man and the nurse as a woman. That’s because we’re all subject to unconscious biases, or the implicit stereotypes and prejudices that influence how we view individuals and groups of people, including the characteristics we expect them to have. “We bathe in the society we live in, like dumplings in soup, and this gives rise to unconscious biases,” says Siara Isaac, a lecturer and scientist at EPFL’s Center for Learning Sciences (LEARN).

To make people more aware of their unconscious biases – and how these biases affect their social interactions – Isaac introduced a Micro-Ethics for Project Teams workshop three years ago. “The idea for the workshop came from a personal goal I had to better understand my own biases,” says Isaac, who also works as a teaching advisor at the Teaching support center (CAPE). “After speaking about the issue with Roland Tormey” – the head of CAPE– “we thought this kind of training would be useful at EPFL. The School supported our initiative. Our workshop is intended mainly for students in MAKE projects, but anyone can participate.”

First, spot the problem

The workshop is given every spring and fall semester and – based on a recent study appearing in Science and Engineering Ethics – has proven to be effective. Participants were surveyed a few months after completing the workshop, and 71% of them said they had become more aware of their unconscious biases, 84% felt they were better equipped to recognize prejudiced things they see and hear around them, 69% said they had changed some aspects of their thinking or behavior, and 62% reported using proactive strategies to make team discussions and decision-making fairer.

We bathe in the society we live in, like dumplings in soup, and this gives rise to unconscious biases.

Siara Isaac, a lecturer and scientist at EPFL’s Center for Learning Sciences

“It was incredible to see the extent to which we react unconsciously in ways that don’t match our thoughts and beliefs,” says Anita Manzolini, an EPFL student who took part in the workshop. “These reactions stem from information and behaviors that have been forged by our culture and society. In the workshop, I learned that our initial reaction to something isn’t always consistent with what we believe in.”

An insidious issue

Unconscious biases are linked to the emotions that influence our decision-making and group dynamics. The biases are known to be one of the main reasons why there’s so little diversity in engineering programs at universities. Studies have shown these biases foster a discriminatory environment in which women and minorities have higher failure and dropout rates. “Our goal is to give students the tools to drive cultural change,” says Isaac.

It was incredible to see the extent to which we react unconsciously in ways that don’t match our thoughts and beliefs.

Anita Manzolini, an EPFL student

An EPFL survey on harassment, violence and discrimination conducted in 2021 found that 44% of female respondents had experienced inappropriate or derogatory comments, and nearly 25% had experienced unwanted physical contact (this figure rises to one-third for female students). “The problem with unconscious biases is you can’t see them,” says Isaac. “They’re very subtle and often run counter to what people say they believe in. They’re instilled in us, and they tend to show up when we’re stressed or have to make decisions quickly.”

The field of engineering isn’t immune to societal and ethical influences, even though it’s a science that tries to be as objective as possible.

Andréa Montant, an EPFL student

So the first step is to draw people’s attention to their own biases. In Isaac’s workshop, participants are asked to complete an implicit association test that identifies their hidden stereotypes and prejudices. Then participants are taught strategies for working in teams in a more inclusive manner, and divided into groups where they can practice applying the strategies. An observer watches how the members interact and make decisions, along with any implicit stereotypes that emerge. The exercise ends with a group debriefing.

“The field of engineering isn’t immune to societal and ethical influences, even though it’s a science that tries to be as objective as possible,” says Andréa Montant, another EPFL student who took part in the workshop. “I learned that we should take the broader context into account when developing new technology, and that we should think about all the different kinds of people who may one day use it. Another factor to consider is project teamwork – how teams are managed and ways to address misunderstandings that arise between people from different backgrounds.”

Watch this video for an example of why it’s important to consider user diversity when developing new technology.

Make it awkward

At the end of the workshop, participants engage in play a role-playing game where they learn methods for responding to discriminatory comments and behavior. Isaac explains: “The game is based on things people told me they’ve experienced personally. I think everyone has either been the target of or witnessed inappropriate conduct but didn’t know how to respond on the spot. It’s not easy and takes practice. To help participants, I give them a set of cards describing many different ways to react.”

Siara Isaac © Alain Herzog 2023 EPFL

One way of reacting is to “make it awkward,” or to turn the tables by making an inappropriate comment embarrassing for the person who said it. This can be done by explaining your point of view, stating your values, affirming your boundaries or asking the person to think carefully about what he or she just said. “I’ve always been someone who doesn’t let such comments and behavior slide, whether they’re addressed to me or to someone else,” says Manzolini. “But what changed with the workshop is that I learned new methods. For example, I recently tried out one method – stating how a discriminatory comment made me feel – and it worked really well. I’d never done that before.”

Given that we’re all subject to unconscious biases, it’s also important to know what to do if you yourself say or do something unsuitable: you should recognize your mistake, take responsibility for it and state your intention to change. Sound easy? It is – but it may take some practice.

Author(s): Laureline Duvillard
Importé depuis EPFL Actu

Video support

Like many of the teaching staff at the EPFL, Jean-Cedéric Chapelier had a number of long lecture recordings. These were recorded in the CE amphitheaters on campus and lasted for the duration of the lecture, around 1hr45.

At CEDE we were able to easily split up these lengthy recordings into a number of shorter more digestible videos for his students. All Jean-Cedric had to do was provide us with some suggested times for splitting the recordings.

The result of this collaboration was a list of more than 100 concise videos that switched between a clear view of the slides and Jean-Cedric presenting to the class. These videos can be used in a range of different ways for years to come. Revision resources, teaching videos or even the base for creating an online course.

So if you have a long list of lecture recordings, extract all of their untapped potential by getting in contact with the video team at CEDE.

Importé depuis EPFL Actu

La diversité au service de l’excellence

Que signifie pour vous l’excellence dans l’enseignement ?

Kathryn Hess Bellwald: Pour moi, l’excellence signifie dépasser les attentes, atteindre un haut niveau de qualité. En matière de promotion de l’éducation, l’excellence signifie comprendre le parcours antérieur d’une future étudiante ou d’un futur étudiant et identifier les groupes cibles qui profiteraient le plus des formations offertes par l’EPFL, y compris ceux auxquels on pourrait ne pas penser au premier abord. Nous devons les atteindre là où ils se trouvent, leur fournir les informations dont ils ont besoin et, surtout, rendre ces informations pertinentes de leur point de vue. Nous pouvons y parvenir en les écoutant et en travaillant avec l’ensemble de leur écosystème : les écoles, les autorités, les familles, etc.

Les équipes de Pierre et mes équipes travaillent main dans la main avec de nombreuses autres unités de l’EPFL pour atteindre l’excellence dans l’enseignement et favoriser les compétences et les connaissances dont les diplômées et diplômés auront besoin dans le monde du travail. Pour les accompagner, nous nous efforçons de leur offrir des opportunités d’apprentissage qui dépassent le cadre de la salle de classe, en tenant compte de leurs aspirations et de leurs besoins.

Il est clair qu’une institution d’enseignement supérieur comme l’EPFL est concernée par de multiples aspects de l’excellence dans l’enseignement.

Pour atteindre l’excellence dans l’enseignement, il est essentiel d’être à l’écoute des étudiantes et étudiants et de ne pas supposer que nous savons déjà ce qui est le mieux pour chacune et chacun.​​​​​

Kathryn Hess Bellwald, vice-présidente associée pour les affaires estudiantines et l’outreach
Que devons-nous faire pour nous assurer d’offrir une culture de l’excellence ?

Kathryn: Nous devons être humbles et à l’écoute des besoins et aspirations des jeunes, les accompagner avant et pendant leurs études et, enfin, les aider dans leur transition vers le monde du travail. Nous devons leur offrir l’occasion de découvrir les sciences et la technologie, les soutenir pendant leurs études et dans leurs activités parascolaires, les aider à devenir des diplômées et diplômés accomplis, et faciliter leur transition vers l’environnement de travail en leur apportant un mélange d’expériences d’apprentissage pratiques et théoriques à l’EPFL.

Pierre: Nous devons veiller à ce que l’EPFL, dans son ensemble, incarne une culture de l’excellence, de l’administration jusqu’au corps enseignant. Nous jouons toutes et tous un rôle pour permettre aux étudiantes et étudiants d’atteindre leur plein potentiel et l’excellence afin que chacune et chacun porte cette excellence au-delà des marches de notre École.

Qu’est-ce que cela implique pour les étudiantes et étudiants actuels et futurs de l’EPFL ?

Kathryn: Faire partie d’une association ou du programme de coaching, travailler sur un projet interdisciplinaire ou un projet MAKE contribue au développement de compétences autres que celles acquises en classe. Offrir ces opportunités aux étudiantes et étudiants contribue à la diversification de leur accompagnement. Avec 10’000 étudiantes et étudiants, nous avons une population extrêmement diversifiée, qui présente un large éventail d’intérêts et d’aptitudes. Si nous leur offrons la possibilité de se développer davantage, à l’intérieur comme à l’extérieur des salles de classe, nous aurons atteint l’excellence dans l’enseignement, contribuant ainsi au développement d’une société hautement fonctionnelle.

Pierre: Étendre la diversité de l’excellence est essentiel si nous voulons, comme l’a dit Kathryn, des diplômées et diplômés accomplis. Nous travaillons avec le corps enseignant en vue d’améliorer les méthodologies d’enseignement, en offrant une combinaison d’opportunités d’apprentissage en classe et par projet, ou nous proposons des cours préparatoires.

L’excellence est diverse. Je pense aux étudiantes et étudiants de mon laboratoire, qui peuvent exceller à bien des égards : cela peut être par leur raisonnement rigoureux, par leur créativité, par leur capacité à coder, ou encore par leurs compétences en analyse de données. Une culture de l’excellence permet à l’ensemble des étudiantes et étudiants d’atteindre leur potentiel au-delà des performances académiques.

Pierre Dillenbourg, vice-président associé pour l’éducation
Une transition en douceur de l’enseignement secondaire à l’enseignement supérieur, ainsi qu’une bonne expérience en première année, sont importantes si nous voulons offrir une excellence académique durable à l’avenir. Que faisons-nous en ce sens ?

Kathryn: L’Interface Gymnases-EPFL nous donne l’opportunité d’être en contact direct avec les enseignantes et enseignants du secondaire, d’échanger sur les problématiques liées à la transition de leurs élèves et de les traiter d’un côté comme de l’autre : au gymnase et à l’EPFL. Cela nous permettra d’améliorer la transition et l’expérience de la première année. Il s’agit d’une plateforme d’échange essentielle, que nous devons maintenir et développer.

Une autre forme de contact direct, plus pratique, est le stage pour enseignantes et enseignants, qui leur permet de s’immerger dans l’environnement de l’EPFL, en travaillant et en enseignant aux côtés d’une professeure ou d’un professeur de l’EPFL. Cette expérience permet à chaque partenaire d’apprendre quelque chose de l’autre et d’intégrer cet apprentissage dans ses activités d’enseignement.

Pierre: Nous devons continuer à prendre en compte l’entier de l’écosystème lorsque nous considérons l’excellence. Il doit être pris en compte pour chaque étape du parcours d’une étudiante ou d’un étudiant. Cela implique de travailler avec les autorités locales et le corps enseignant du secondaire et, par exemple, d’élargir notre offre de formation complémentaire. Le centre LEARN de l’EPFL a notamment formé près de 1’000 enseignantes et enseignants du primaire dans le canton de Vaud pour amener des activités liées à la pensée computationnelle dans leurs salles de classe. Cette collaboration a non seulement renforcé le dialogue entre l’EPFL, les écoles et les autorités, mais a également permis à des populations plus jeunes – qui autrement n’auraient peut-être pas développé d’intérêt pour les sciences et la technologie – de découvrir un nouvel univers.

Atteindre l’excellence n’est toutefois pas un travail qui débute aux portes de l’EPFL. La marche vers l’excellence doit commencer tôt.

Pierre Dillenbourg, vice-président associé pour l’éducation

S’il existe de nombreuses initiatives à l’EPFL qui renforcent cette culture de l’excellence parmi et pour nos étudiantes et étudiants, la marche vers l’excellence ne débute pas aux portes de l’EPFL. Elle doit en effet commencer tôt, alors que nous accompagnons nos futures étudiantes et futurs étudiants dans leur orientation et leur transition. L’EPFL propose une vaste gamme d’initiatives pour encourager les élèves à découvrir les sciences et la technologie, allant des Summer schools ciblées aux cours préparatoires ou au programme de mentorat de première année. Ces initiatives ont fait leurs preuves pour ce qui est de faciliter considérablement le passage du gymnase à l’EPFL et nous devons absolument continuer à les développer.

Author(s): Education Outreach Department
Importé depuis EPFL Actu