This research to practice full paper presents the experience and evaluation of engaging students in a theoretical online signals and systems course through a set of application-oriented MATLAB lab exercises. Learning signals and systems concepts often poses challenges to students due to the abstract nature of the concepts and students' lack of prior experience. Many interventions have been proposed in the literature to address this issue with the goal of improving the student learning experience. The challenge is how to select/adapt these activities for use in a compact, accelerated online introductory signals and systems course, in which students have a wide range of prior experience and limited interactions with faculty and peer. Specifically, this paper will discuss how five MATLAB lab exercises were introduced to connect theory to practice. The impact of this addition was evaluated through student survey and grade analysis. Survey results showed that most students, regardless of course performance, enjoyed the labs. They acknowledged that the labs helped them solidify theory through practice and also helped them connect and apply signals and systems concepts to real world applications.