Today’s engineering laboratory education often lacks opportunities for students to practice critical thinking through real-world problems. This particular objective is even harder to achieve through online laboratory experiments. In this article, we summarize our innovation in using a real-world challenge, analyze big data, to empower student data analysis skills in remote teaching platform. This approach allows students to collect data, analyze, and evaluate possible solutions continuously through hands-on experimentation with accessible resources around them. Compared to the video recorded lab, our method achieves a higher level of learning in Bloom’s taxonomy. To further improve our approach, we summarize our lesson learned from transferring six different engineering laboratory courses online, in response to the COVID-19. A thriving 21st-century learning environment has to embrace agility, create flexibility, adapt to technology, and support virtual team collaborations.