Education During a Pandemic:
Insights from a
Hands-On Labs Insider

As we’ve mentioned throughout the pandemic, this is an unprecedented time in the world of online education. The spread of COVID-19 has forced higher-ed institutions to shift completely to a remote-learning model, and while many schools have set about expanding their existing online offerings, others are wading into this territory for the first time. It’s undoubtedly an unsettling time for students and educators alike, but many are already rising to the occasion and adapting to their new environment.

To learn more about this rapid transition, we wanted to share some thoughts from someone working directly with those who are shaping the future of education. Joe Schubert has been an Account Executive at Hands-On Labs for a year and a half, helping schools such as Moraine Valley Community College and Loyola University – Chicago develop and implement sophisticated online lab science offerings. Here’s what Joe had to say about the pandemic, student tenacity, and the new global education environment.

I recently read an article from USA Today that discusses how students are weary of online classes. The article, which is one of many recent stories I’ve seen that point in the direction of students avoiding online college courses this fall, said that students have “threatened to revolt if universities put another semester of classes online.” If you ask me, these stories are missing the full picture.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, there isn’t a certain time frame for when it will be safe to reopen college campuses. Over the last two months, I’ve spoken to dozens of professors at universities and community colleges from Boston to Los Angeles, and one common theme has emerged: no one is certain what will happen in the fall. These instructors are scrambling to prepare for the future without sacrificing the quality of their students’ education. 

And while this uncertainty is undoubtedly creating discomfort, I feel that these stories about “revolting” students are misrepresenting the current situation. What is certain is that students are proving their tenacity by adapting to the new circumstances in which they find themselves. 

The instructors that I’ve spoken with who were already running an online section of their courses have seen enrollment increase for their summer offerings. In fact, I’ve seen some sections of courses double in size heading into the summer semester. Students are already preparing for the role online courses will play in their ongoing education.

A laptop used for online learning

To be sure, there is no substitute for an on-campus experience, especially for students just out of high school. This rite of passage gives students the freedom to express themselves and the ability to start making adult decisions on their own. Going to college is one of the first steps in preparing students for the real world. 

But you can also look at online college as a step in that same direction. We send kids to institutions of higher learning to gain the skills and knowledge they will need throughout their careers. Our colleges and universities are there to educate the workforce. Preparing young adults for a career doesn’t always have to be done in a brick and mortar classroom. 

Transitioning college courses online represents an important step in getting these young adults ready for a career in today’s world. Distance-learning students must schedule their time to complete their assignments without having an instructor remind them in person. Rather than taking passive lecture notes, they’re forced to take responsibility for their own learning. This sense of independence will prove indispensable in future occupations, where supervisors will expect projects to be completed on time. 

The pandemic has accelerated this transition, but colleges have been slowly working toward online models for the past 20 years. In addition to a steady increase in online enrollment and course offerings, many Learning Management Systems (LMS), such as Canvas and Blackboard, now keep track of grades, test scores, and assignments online. These web-based LMSes have given instructors the ability to conduct their courses effectively and efficiently. 

Colleges are not the only institutions that have been expanding their online environments. Businesses in general have been working toward this model as well. With innovations such as VPNs and Zoom meetings, the future workplace may end up being completely remote. The online learning environment is a useful tool to help students prepare for the future workforce. 

As an early student of online learning, I can attest that there can be some challenges when it comes to distance education. Yes, it will be an adjustment for students to shift to online courses, but with the COVID-19 pandemic, life itself is an adjustment. Maybe this type of learning will make students adapt more quickly to their changing environment. 

For more online education resources during the pandemic, visit our COVID-19 Preparedness page.

Hands-On Labs Wins
Education Innovation of the Year
at 2019-2020 Cloud Awards

Hands-On Labs has been declared the winner of the Education Innovation of the Year award this week in the international Cloud Computing Awards program, the Cloud Awards.

HOL won for its innovative and intuitive HOL Cloudan advanced e-learning platform specially designed to provide a tactile lab experience for distance learners. With powerful gradebook analytics and modern higher-ed pedagogy, the HOL Cloud is designed to help instructors easily facilitate their online lab science course. It offers a comprehensive library of pre-existing lessons, as well as a  custom-lesson authoring tool that allows educators to build their own course content. The HOL Cloud is an unparalleled e-learning platform that is redefining the laboratory learning landscape.

Cloud Award Logo for the Winner of the 2019-2020 Cloud Awards

Established in 2011, the Cloud Awards is an international program which recognizes and honors industry leaders, innovators, and organizational transformation in cloud computing. The awards are open to large, small, established, and start-up organizations from across the entire globe, with an aim to find and celebrate the pioneers who will shape the future of the Cloud as we move into 2020 and beyond.

Categories for the 2019-20 awards include “Security Innovation of the Year,” “Best Software as a Service,” and “Most Promising Start-Up.”

“Hands-On Labs is a deserving winner in this year’s Cloud Awards program, not merely showing a dedication and commitment to excellence, but one fueled by an unmatched passion for innovation,” said James Williams, Head of Operations for the awards. “Making the shortlist alone was a significant achievement, because remarkably, the standard still gets higher year-on-year. Judging is incredibly difficult, and with the addition of extra materials showcasing client successes and testimonials, it’s never been clearer to see how intelligent use of cloud technologies has made so much more possible in business.”

Hundreds of organizations entered the awards program, with entries coming from across the globe, covering the Americas, Australia, Europe and the Middle East. You can view the full shortlist here.

Science Interactive Group Partners With Odigia to Transform Distance Science Learning Through Open Educational Resources (OER)

Science Interactive Group (SIG), the parent company of Hands-On Labs, recently announced a partnership with Odigia, the leading learner engagement platform for higher education institutions. Odigia improves student engagement and empowers educators with an easy-to-use learning platform that includes a deep repository of customizable open educational resources (OER) content. This OER library offers instructors the tools, data, and flexibility needed to ensure students learn from the most relevant and engaging materials possible. Odigia provides a dynamic and personalized learning experience supported by both learner and content analytics, allowing deep insight into what is working best and how to help students succeed.

The new partnership will cover 10 disciplines and more than 1,100 ADA-compliant lab activities. By combining its lab kits and digital content with Odigia’s platform and comprehensive open educational resources library, HOL will continue to empower higher education institutions with highly engaging online science curricula and lab-grade materials. 

The partnership will be fully deployed and available to more than 900 SIG post-secondary institutions by the fall semester of 2020, though many resources will be available beforehand.