An easy way to help your instructor with distance / online learning

Dear students,

Many of you may pursue some form of online or distance learning this fall of 2020 and possibly even for the next few semesters. Even if you go back to face-to-face instruction, you may still need to communicate with the instructor electronically. So this advice we give you will work, especially if you need the remote help of your instructor.

In STEM subjects, especially mathematics, physics, engineering, etc., face-to-face teaching has the closest advantage to distance learning because of its simple writing and sketching skills. Especially in physics, when we go or discuss a concept or problem, it is often necessary to make a sketch to determine the situation. This is usually done by writing down mathematical equations and then removing the mathematics to solve the problem. In a typical class situation, this is done on paper, and completing such an assignment is the simplest and quickest form.

Doing this during distance learning can be difficult. Most of you will be asked to show your work, or show what you have tried, if you need an instructor for a homework problem, or even during exams and tests. Most students take out smartphones, take photos next to their work, and then email instructor files.

I was in the last stage of such a submission and in each half of the case, it was very difficult for me to read and decipher the picture I got. Most students do not check pictures for regularity. I often take pictures that are dark, with poor contrast, and often have shadows that make some parts easier to read than others. In addition, the angle at which the images were taken can also be odd because most of them were not taken directly.

Here I would like to offer you a suggestion on how you can, as a student, help your instructor by presenting a clearer and more readable picture, using the same apparatus you already have. This is also to your advantage, because in the case of a quiz or exam, if your instructor does not understand or cannot read what you have written, you will probably not be given credit for such work if required.

Okay, so here’s what you need to do. Install the scanner app on your smartphone or mobile device that you use frequently. Many scanner apps are available for iOS and Android platforms. Many of them are free or at minimal cost. The next time you need to send photos of your artwork, use the Scanner app instead or use the standard camera app. It makes a huge difference and I will prove it to you here.

I have an iPhone, and the scanner app I have is called ClearScanner. The free version of this app has limitations (not OCR), but it is still enough for what you need (I have a full, paid version for this).

In the first picture, this is a page full of handmade artwork. I took this using the iPhone standard camera app. I have not made any changes to the image quality, I have not done any crop, etc., other than resizing the file. That's what I get.

Now, I hate to say that, but I'll do it. Most of the submissions I received from my students were not as good as this. Let's go through this anyway. Now you see that as someone who needs to figure out what is written, it may not be impossible to do that, but you are asking the person to do a lot more work here. The low lights and insane angle at which the picture was taken are a good read on the problem.

Compare this to a picture of the same page, but taken with a scanner program. I took it from the same angle and in the same lighting conditions. The only difference is that the scanner app asked me to confirm this straight border of my document in the picture. In this case, the border is the edge of the sheet. Once confirmed, the app took over and generated this image:

The difference is night and day. Not only sound education but his alertness and dedication too are most required. The app corrects the angle and presents it as if you were scanning a flat bed. And all this with effort rather than taking ordinary photos.

I will give another example. The photo below shows another common "feature" of the images I take, i.e. the shadow.

Again, this does not look bad in this picture, but what I got is much worse than that. I had to edit my own image to see the writing that was in the shadows.

What does it look like using a scanner app? Again, I did nothing for that image other than confirm the border of the document. Here is what I got:

It looks almost identical to a previously scanned page with the shadow removed. I assure you that this is a different image than the first scanned image above.

It’s such a simple thing to do that requires no extra steps and effort, and yet it makes such a wonderful difference in the story. Which instructor do you think will get hired?

During the previous semester, my classmates were told that they could install such programs if they had the opportunity. This made a huge difference in the quality of the document they submitted. Many of them told me that the app was useful for writing letters written on the board in class. So you may notice that this is one of the most convenient and useful app that you may not realize until you need it.