COVID-19 Impact: Lab Classes

Labs Carry on amid Campus Closure

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University shut down in person classes on both of its residential campuses. With the semester still in progress, lab classes have been especially impacted by the transition to online learning. Professors and students alike are adjusting to this change in format.

According to an instructor for Instrumentation & Data Acquisition (ME314), Professor Jacob Zwick said one major change has been that “Labs… are now performed by the instructor via video. We have also decided to remove two of the four remaining labs as they were not well suited for the new format.”

Professors and students alike find this method of instruction wanting. Experimental Aerodynamics (AE315) instructor Dr. Lance Traub said “The biggest issue is that the hands on element is removed. This is a major drawback, but is entirely understandable with the current situation.” Chris Parker (ME ’20), a student in Engineering Materials Science (ES321), felt similarly. “I believe that an online lab format will never be an adequate replacement for in person lab work due to not having the hands-on experience.”

Elaborating on this new format, Professor Zwick stated “creating [a] video that looks relaxed and not staged has been difficult.” Though this hasn’t been an entirely negative experience. “…The time savings is significant.” Zwick also mentioned “…I am now more comfortable using and plan to continue using [it] as a complementary method of teaching.” Dr. Traub has had a similar experience. “

The shift to online classes has also affected semester long design projects, such as those in AE315. According to Dr. Traub, “the design/research project had to be altered significantly as wind tunnel testing models was not an option. Consequently, the research projects were altered such that available experimental data would be used in conjunction with numerical prediction tools.”

Students are encountering other difficulties. Seth Partika (AE ’20), a student in ME314, expressed “…not having an in-person lecture to take notes and ask questions [is] crippling my desired active learning style.” Partika also remarked “many of us are relegated to using inferior student versions of software such as ANSYS or AutoCad or cloud-based tools like CATIA, making a difficult task even more daunting.”

Additionally, professors are finding communication more difficult. Dr. Traub said “…the lack of face to face communication can make explanations a little more challenging.” Professor Zwick felt likewise. “Even though I have offered Skype office hours, I find that students don’t participate. Also, during class lectures, not being able to see the students prevents me from interpreting looks of confusion and offering to clarify. This is a critical loss in communication.”

 Students are having their own communication issues. Partika explained “instead of being able to have the heartfelt person to person sometimes required for coursework, electronic communications are necessary.” Parker commented there is “…a disconnect when having meetings online, one way or another information is lost due to people talking over each other or not having enough time to fully convey what is being discussed.”

Despite the setbacks caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s also a sense of optimism. Professor Zwick said “as a perpetual student myself, I have found the opportunity to learn new interaction methods rewarding.  I always welcome a challenge…” According to Parker, “I believe that both the professors and students are struggling and trying to do the best they can.” 

Partika had his own source of hope. “I think, considering the whole situation, the catharsis of working with my fellow students to solve problems is the light in the darkness… Given the circumstances what we have now [is] the best solution to a terrible problem.”

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