COVID-19 and the HCC Engineering Lab

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HCC PR & Marketing

Outside view of the new SET building

Joel E. Wood II

Whether it be from lack of social opportunities, lack of in-person class conversations, or lack of motivation to even do the work assigned, students across the HCC campus have found the transition to online learning a challenge. One place on campus where this is evident is the HCC Engineering Lab.

Before Covid-19, the Engineering Lab was a place where students came and went freely. But now time is regimented. Lab workers, whose job is to help students with their projects, have time scheduled in the lab at different from the students’ time. This causes students time in the lab to be significantly shortened, also taking away from their social experience in the lab.

One student who has felt this significantly is Zane Robinson, a Mechanical Engineer student and Engineering Lab employee. As an employee, his job is to help the engineering students with their projects and to answer questions about the equipment. But since the Covid-19 pandemic began, his job changed. He now can only be in the lab in between classes to sanitize and prepare the space for the next class. This also means that he is not available to do his favorite part of the job– helping the students.

When being asked about his online experience Robinson said, “Since going remote I have had to transition from hands-on learning to reading and video lectures. This has affected me less than some students because I have some in hybrid classes, but overall it is a less enjoyable learning experience because I am a social learner and enjoy interaction.”

Robinson went on to say that since he has had to change his learning style it is not the most efficient. This has taken away from his social time, which Robinson believes is a very important time for students. But instead of going to class, going to work, and then being able to hang with his friends, Robinson’s time is spent working two jobs and trying to learn in a new environment. This has led to many late nights which is affecting his sleep schedule.

It is not only students who have had to try and master this online platform. Murray Craig, Associate Professor of Engineering, had to adapt how he transitions from classes involving “a lot of direct interaction. Professor Craig further comments on how this transition has hurt that previous style and  that “interaction is lost when I create video content.”

In talking to students about what they do not like about online school, they talk about the amount of work given to them by their professors. In talking about how he tries to engage his students through the online platform, he also gave a reason as to why he provides more information; “I provide more information now than I usually would when face-to-face. The reason for this is that I know students might not have time to schedule a regular Zoom meeting during these unique and uncertain times. Therefore, I want to create one half of that dialogue that I would expect to be generated when I’m visited in my office. Having taught these courses a number of times, I know what the FAQs are and I’m addressing them proactively.”

Professor Craig’s goal during this time is to make students feel like they are not alone. He keeps in constant contact; sending out regular Canvas announcements “even if it is not critical information.” He also encourages his students to message him anytime, even over the weekend.

Professor Craig also notes that the requirement of social distancing hinders work and productivity in the lab. He points out that before COVID-19 students working side by side was normal and needed, but now students must be six feet apart while working on the same project.

No words can sum up the state of the Engineering labs better than Professor Craigs “The situation itself is a big con that I’m sure we’re all anxious to see behind us.”