Schools using iNaturalist... What do you think?

I do adore iNaturalist -- those that know me know that I'm totally bonkers about iNat. I learn so much personally, I use it a lot professionally, and it's great fun. :)

Venting alert!

I know this is a magnificent tool, but it drains me when a school uses it without LOADS of guidance from the teachers/professors. iNat has a wonderful teacher's guide, and I wish wish wish that more teachers would use it.

This is not to say that some students don't totally run with the tool and provide some magnificent records. However, for that to happen, lots of stewardship of the data has to come from the teachers.

I'm putting all of this in a journal entry to let you know how I typically deal with student observations. It's fairly easy to see a student observation -- it's around a school, and it's usually a cultivated plant or classroom pet. :) I usually spam lots and lots of the observations with something along these lines:


If you would, please tell your teacher/professor to give some extra guidance on how to use iNaturalist properly. Some of these observations could use some extra help.

He/she should look at all of these observations, give some pointers on the difference between cultivated/captive and wild organisms, and assist with how to properly take pictures for identification.'s+guide
Also, if there is a great getting started page that you should check out too:


In some cases, I'll even create a place all around the campus of the school and link to that so that the teacher could use it to watch all of the observations coming in...

By all means, feel free to copy and paste this message (or modify it as you'd like to) and post it as much as you'd like on student observations! :)

Posted on 06 November, 2018 20:35 by sambiology sambiology


Thanks for the pointers. We have quite a few uploads in our area coming from what I suspect are class-related. At times, I've wondered if people are using iNat to "cheat," for lack of a better word. If the goal is to learn about taxonomy and how to ID organisms, and a student uploads a pinned insect or an uprooted plant and we ID it for them, then they lose out on going through the ID process. It's a tough judgment be helpful or not. I definitely think it's worth following your advice and reaching out to the local educators with your iNat suggestions. On a positive note, I love the uptick in iNat usage! Hopefully more folks will catch on and stick around. :)

Posted by amzapp over 5 years ago

Thanks Sam for your thoughtful journal post.

I have copied your note, and I will use it myself. I do hope the teachers see it, read it, and take it to heart! As it currently stands, student observations can often cause a lot of work and a lot of grief for human identifiers.

I used to encounter the same thing on Wikipedia, where teachers or professors would assign groups of students to create or fix up a Wikipedia article, and sometimes complete chaos resulted.

Posted by susanhewitt over 5 years ago

When I first encountered the student observations and comments I was annoyed that kids (some as young as 1st grade!) were being encouraged to utilize iNat with no supervision. I still feel the same way, but I also think it's a situation that isn't going to go away. I haven't seen any teachers making comments or even IDs on those observations either. (But I'll admit to not having seen any lately since I haven't been ID'ing as much.) I think your comment is the best solution for us at this point. Perhaps if you can identify the teacher of that location you can send them a private message. Also, you didn't specifically mention this, but I know you do it: Marking those observations as captive/cultivated.

Posted by kimberlietx over 5 years ago

Thanks Sam for your journal post. We have several projects around pocket prairies in Houston where the local TXMN are trying to assist by populating the project prior to the teachers and students visiting the sites. I will be sure to share your note and the teacher guideance prior to letting the students loose on the site at the prairie - I think it is a great tool to engage students in making observations and using a tool (phone) which they are familiar! :)

Posted by japearce over 5 years ago

I really like your note. I might have to start doing that. Thanks!

Posted by vermfly over 5 years ago

There's a large environmental education program in Western NC that is an extremely prolific contributor to inat. I don't exactly like the way that they do everything, but I also don't know all the details of how they use inat in programs.

What I do know is that observations are always shared via the same account - one that appears to be managed by naturalists there. In the description, there is always a comment regarding the handle/nickname of the observer. Sometimes observations are posted months after the actual observation, so it seems pretty apparent that they're doing some filtering. That said, a good number of the images are fairly low quality. Sometimes it's not clear which organism in the picture is the one being submitted, and in some it's difficult to see any organisms. Seems like their filtering should be able to get more of those. I'm pretty sure a whole lot of the kids participating are gradeschool age.

What bugs me the most is an odd thing. Many of them will have a preliminary ID - but it appears as a "placeholder" and the official inat ID will be "unknown". I've noticed through my own observations that I'm FAR less likely to get any id confirmations if I don't submit something, even at the kingdom level. If it was just one here or there, I wouldn't have much of an issue with it, but this account is super prolific for a "place" that I follow, so I see a lot of "unknown" organisms, and when something intrigues me enough to click on it, I'll oftentimes see some kind of suggested ID in the description. Whoever runs the account never appears to come back and put those preliminary ID's in as "identifications" or participate at any level beyond the initial photo upload.

I guess along the same lines, they never hit the captive/cultivated checkbox, either, even for plants that are obviously in planters.

It seems to me that the "Seek by iNaturalist" app would be a more appropriate tool.

Posted by naturalist_nate over 5 years ago

My high school is not an exception from using iNaturalist in the biology courses. We have found out about it from our teachers. They use a method of teaching that consists of the most of explaining different materials and biology processes via tools and presentations on the Internet. So, pupils and students like using such sources as iNaturalist or since once we analyzed the effects of junk food on the perennial plants, and the free papers service together with iNaturalist were the two springs which showed us most explicitly the whole lesson. Therefore, teachers and teenagers gladly approve of their use.

Posted by charlesbattle about 2 years ago

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