Many of you may continue having some form of online or remote learning this coming Fall 2020 and maybe even for the next few semesters. Even if you get back to face-to-face instruction, you may still need to communicate with your instructor electronically. So this advice that I'm going to give you will be applicable especially if you require remote assistance from your instructor.
In STEM subjects, specially math, physics, engineering, etc., face-to-face instruction has the imminent advantage over remote learning because of the simple ability to write and sketch. In physics especially, when we approach or discuss a concept or a problem, a sketch is often required to set up the situation. This is then usually followed by the writing down of mathematical equations, and then the grinding out of the math to solve the problem. In a typical class situation, these are done on paper, and it is the simplest and quickest form to do such a task.
Doing this during remote learning can be challenging. Most of you may be require to show your work, or to show what you have attempted if you need help from your instructor on a homework problem, or even during quizzes and exams. What most students end up doing is to pull out their smartphones, snap a photo of the page with their work, and then e-mailing the image file to their instructors.
I have been on the receiving end of such submission, and in at least half of the cases, it was very difficult to read and decipher the image that I received. Most students do not inspect the images for legibility. I often receive images that are dark, with poor contrast, and often having shadows that made some parts easier to read than others. In addition, the angle that the images were captured may also be rather odd, because most of these were not captured straight on.
Here, I'd like to make a suggestion on how you, as a student, can help your instructor by submitted a clearer and more legible image, using the same equipment that you already have. This is also to your advantage because in the case of a quiz or an exam, if your instructor does not understand or can't read what you wrote, you probably will not be given credit for such work if it is required.
OK, so here is what you should do. Install a scanner app on your smartphone or mobile devices that you frequently use. There are many scanner apps available on iOS and Android platform. Many of these are free or with minimal cost. Next time you need to send a snapshot of your work, use the scanner app instead or using the standard camera app. It makes a tremendous difference, and I'll prove it to you here.
I have an iPhone, and the scanner app that I have is called ClearScanner. The free version of this app has limited capability (no OCR), but it is still sufficient for what you will need it for (I have the full, paid version).
In the first image, it is a page filled with handwritten work. I took this using the iPhone standard camera app. I did not make any edits on the image quality, didn't do any cropping, etc, other than change the image file size. This is what I get.
Now, I hate to say this, but I will. Most of the submission that I received from my students were not even half as good as this. But let's go with this in any case. Now, already you can see that, as someone who has to figure out what has been written, this may not be impossible to do, but you are asking that person to do quite a bit more work here. The low lighting and the crazy angle that the image was taken present a challenge to read this accurately.
Compare this to the image of the same page but taken by the scanner app. I took it from the same angle, and under the same lighting condition. The only difference being that the scanner app asked me to confirm that correct boundary of my document in the image. In this case, the boundary is the edge of the paper. Once I confirmed that, the app took over and produced this image:
The difference is night and day. Not only is the writing clearer here, but the crazy angle is also gone. The app corrects for the angle and presents it as if you scanned it on a flat-bed scanner. And all this with hardly any more effort than taking a regular photo.
I will show another example. In the photo below, another common "feature" of images that I receive can be seen, i.e. shadowing.
Once again, it doesn't look bad in this image, but the ones that I have received were a lot worse than this. I had to do my own image editing to be able to see clearly the writing that was in the shadow.
So how does it look using the scanner app? Again, I didn't do anything to the image other than confirm the boundary of the document. This is what I get:
It looks almost identical to the previously scanned page, with the shadow removed. I assure you that this is a different image than the first scanned image above.
This is such a simple thing to do, with hardly no additional steps and effort, and yet, it produces such a remarkable difference in clarity. Which one, do you think, will your instructor prefer to receive?
Students in my class during the previous semester were told to install such apps if they have the capability. It made a tremendous difference in the quality of the document that they submitted. Many of them also told me that the app was useful to capture even written notes on whiteboard in class. So you may find that it is one of those handy and useful app that you didn't realize you need till you have it.