I’m trying to work out if iNat is the right tool for an annual bioblitz that a Year 5 class carries out at a local school each year. I’ve done a fair bit of searching/reading on here and it’s been really helpful (thanks!). I’m hoping that some of you helpful folks might be able to advise on my few remaining questions.
From what I can tell, for this year’s bioblitz we’d be best setting up a Collection Project titled ‘(School name) Year 5 Bioblitz 2024’, using the teacher’s iNat account with 50+ pre-existing observations so that he could create a location (a quarter acre patch on the school grounds). We would select ‘Project Members Only’', as we are only interested in student-gathered data. The data would be added by the teacher, or students using his log-in, or he could also allow others like parent helpers and Ed Assistants to become project members with the their own iNat accounts.
Data quality would be ‘Casual’, and if we needed help with IDs we would post individual observations as a normal iNat sighting, outside of the project.
Where it gets tricky is we also want to upload annual data from old spreadsheets for previous years, going back to 2007, so students can quickly and easily access temporal data for species. The best I can come up with would be to create one project for each year, with a different year in the title. I know that individual historical observations can be uploaded to iNat going back any amount of time, but is this also possible in Projects, as a kind of ‘historical project’?
And if so, is there any way of gathering the years/projects together in some way? Under an ‘Umbrella Project’? This probably isn’t a huge deal, because they should line up nicely anyway in search results because only the year would be different.
Many thanks in advance for any assistance with this.
My understanding is that collection projects are formatted, saved searches. Every time you open a project, you are executing a data query per the project parameters and the data is returned to you in the project format. Collection and umbrella projects don’t live on the server in the same way traditional projects do.
Tell me more about your thought process behind tagging all observations as Casual. Casual is reserved for observations that are not wild or natural, lack a photo or sound, or are lacking a vital piece of metadata - time, date, location. When you upload an observation, it’s available for anyone to view and ID. Some identifiers screen out casual but I want to make sure that casual is doing what you think it’s doing.
Once the data from past bioblitzes is uploaded, you can filter previous years’ data into projects pretty much as you wish; year by year or on in one massive pre-iNat project. The data will have an independent existence outside the project.
Hope this helps. I work a lot with educators so I’m always up for helping with school BioBlitzes to make them useful for learning AND the iNat platform.
Welcome to the forum - it’s great that you’re asking before starting!
Things sound good with using a teacher/class account and parent/helpers to post observations.
You say that
but I’m not sure why this is necessarily the case - are these going to all be observations of cultivated organisms or something similar?
You also noted that
There is only one kind of observation on iNat - all observations are open to be IDed by any iNat user. With a collection project, there wouldn’t be a clear way to upload these inside/outside of a project I don’t think, and I’m also not clear why you’d necessarily want observations you weren’t sure of the ID of outside the project.
As far as uploading previous year’s date - would these observations have pictures/sounds or not? If not, I don’t think that there’s too much point in uploading them to iNat - the students would probably be able to access this data in the spreadsheets as well as on iNat. iNat doesn’t have much in the way of functionality when it comes to comparing two different sets of data over time. I suppose you could create a project for each year, and then add those all to an Umbrella project. This could allow you to see number of species or observations in different years? But the comparisons would be pretty basic - you can check out what other umbrella projects look like, but I think you essentially get a bar graph with a bar for each collection project included, and I don’t know if you can control order/display much.
If the past years’ data will come from spreadsheets, it will automatically be tagged as casual because there’s no photo documentation. That’s ok for your purposes, if you make the location something like a single point in the middle of the plot. Notice that if the plot is a quarter acre, that’s a very small “place” for a project, and if the uncertainty bubbles for observations cross the rectangular boundary, they won’t show up in the project if it’s a Collection project, so you need to make the bubbles small.
It sounds like you could make a Collection project for each year, using the same place but the specific dates of the BioBlitz, and then an Umbrella project that includes all of the Collection projects. I am pretty sure that would exclude observations made on dates that weren’t in the individual projects. It’s unlikely that anyone would go back and add observations to those past BioBlitz dates, so even if it’s a Collection project it would be virtually static. But I agree with @cthawley that you won’t be getting much of the functionality of iNaturalist, as your sub-projects will just be the same lists you’re looking at on the spreadsheets.
cthawley’s reply hints at the exasperation a lot of us have as identifiers when we come to a school project with a dozen photos of the same cultivated bush, and similar student “efforts.” janetwright’s reply suggests that what you have in mind may not be a task that iNaturalist is well suited for in the first place.
You mentioned that the location is “a quarter acre patch on school grounds.” So the question is, do you have a reason to believe that the biota of the school grounds will show meaningful patterns or changes from year to year? Is this quarter acre patch a wild or untended area that might, for example, demonstrate ecological succession, or is it a tended area that stays largely the same over the years? If the former, where does iNaturalist’s functionality come in, i.e., why take that approach rather than doing a data analysis of the spreadsheet data? I guess what I’m trying to understand is why you feel that iNaturalist is the most suitable venue.
I don’t think we mean to be throwing cold water on your idea of BioBlitzing using iNaturalist. That is a fun event, and it’s exciting for participants to see their (usually cell phone) photos posted and identified and even mapped. Since you seem to have a draft plan to do it, why not go ahead with it this year and each year in future. Whether or not you decide to post the previous years’ data, you can still make some comparisons with previous years from the spreadsheets. And as you all get more familiar with iNaturalist, you may think of new ways to use it to answer questions about your site.
Thanks everyone for all the helpful feedback. It’s greatly appreciated.
Here’s some more info on the issues raised:
Why upload old data to iNat? Mainly so the class/school can blow their trumpet a bit, having data easily available to the wider community on such an excellent platform as iNaturalist, rather than a dusty old website, where the data currently sits and is viewed by very few. But it would also be for the benefit of others. It’s a pretty impressive dataset.
Casual grade observations - this is mainly because the data for previous years lacks photos, sounds, etc. Observations from this year onwards wouldn’t need to be casual.
Collection vs Traditional - I’ve just re-read the projects info, and maybe Traditional best suits our needs. We’re in the odd situation where we don’t want any members of the public to post observations for us, just students. One downside however would be that there’s no neat clickable URL to send out to parents with Traditional? I may also be overlooking other advantages of Collections.
Biodiversity - the survey area is good quality bushland, only slightly disturbed.
For both collection and traditional projects, you can limit the observations to project members/invited members only, so this is not a reason to choose one or the other.
Place-based collection projects can sometimes be a bit tricky because the accuracy circle of the observation must be completely within the boundaries of the place in order for an observation to be included. On the other hand, observations are added automatically if they meet the criteria for the project.
Traditional projects mean that people add observations manually, so it does require that little bit of extra effort from either the observer or another project member, but if you aren’t expecting many hundreds of observations, this should be manageable.
There are a few minor differences in how the statistics are displayed on the page for collection vs. traditional projects, if that is a consideration for you.
First of all, kudos for taking the time to learn about a new tool before using it!
iNaturalist is a great resource for learning, but it can be a little complicated, and it’s not uncommon for teachers to hop on the bandwagon without understanding what they’re getting into.
the search function of Discourse (the software that hosts the forum) can be… iffy. The Educators category is IMO the best way to get results that will help you.
You may also want to check out iNat’s Seek app, which is designed for younger citizen-scientists. It’s much more user-friendly, gives live ID suggestions (which have variable accuracy though!), and has strict privacy protections.
Sounds good, and empowering. I do wonder if it might be fun, though, to also take a look at the list of species which have been identified near the school by all iNat users – just as a preview, or even a “quest list”. You can save an Explore search
feel free to play with the filters. this is a circle from HaBima Square in Tel Aviv (where I live) that encompasses any observation with a photo – so casual, needs ID, and RG – within a few hundred meters. And looking at the “species” tab.
you can filter Explore results by project + date. Haven’t worked with fifth graders for ages but I wonder if they could learn how to use the search filters themselves. Seems like a good life skill / tech literacy?
I think there’s a way to mass import using CSV but I’ve never done it. If you do this, make a project, then use the shiny new “add to project from Identify” feature you could quite rapidly put it all under one project, or several if you want to essentially pre-sort the data so as not to require the students to use advanced filters.
they are, but it also provides a home page, (very simple) data and charts, and an easy way to reuse that search without resetting all the parameters every time.
I also want to ask, how are you planning to identify your students’ uploads? The new ones with photographs, I mean. If there is only one account, a teacher’s, involved, then you should be able to monitor incoming IDs. It’s worth noting that non-wild observations, while valid data, will not be included by default in most searches and also will not be uploaded to external sites which collect research data. Meaning that IDs will be slower. The flip side is that cultivated/captive species tend to be much easier to ID, between Computer Vision and identifiers’ familiarity with the relatively small pool of species.
I, for one, would be curious to see it.
re: the small and relatively stable area – it may be a good idea to emphasize finding “new” or mobile things. weeds, insects, birds, anything which may not have been there the year before. also, baseline data is important too. knowing what doesn’t change, or what changes slowly, is still useful.