Classes uploading large quantities of poor observations

I just saw a bunch of observations show up today from what appears to be a class. Most of the observations have poor photos, many of the subjects are unidentifiable, and many are IDed with obviously wrong IDs. It’s a mess. I don’t see how any of this is of value to inaturalist and it seems the students probably don’t care much about what they’re doing. It wastes a lot of valuable identifier time. Is there a protocol for dealing with groups like this? Can we somehow track down the teacher and discourage them from using the platform in this way?


You can check one of numerous previous topics about students, yes, you can try to track the teacher if observations are in a project, but not always teacher has a profile.


The saving grace is that these swathes of ‘interesting’ IDs by students as part of a class project tend to dissipate after a very short period of time. Thank god for short attention spans.

Just hold your nose while it’s happening :upside_down_face:


This happens with some regularity at the start of each semester for many universities. It can be frustrating because of the volume of poor observations, but otherwise there isn’t much difference between the growing pains associated with other new iNat users. Use the tools available to you (e.g., DQA).

To teachers: please give a detailed tutorial on iNat as part of the class if you plan to set up an iNat-related assignment. Additionally, it’s a good idea to set up an iNat project for your class and monitor the types of observations coming in and address any reoccurring issues (e.g., captive/cultivated not marked as such, many impossible-to-ID observations).


It passes quickly. Think of it as an opportunity to grab the one who will actually care.


Yes, I got started with iNat as part of a class in my undergrad.


If they are using it properly and trying to make sensible obs and IDs then yes I would consider them equivalent to other new iNat users. And they should be welcomed and encouraged. If not, they should be dealt with accordingly. My anecdata analysis shows a strong correlation between garbage and school projects. Getting the teachers to be accountable for their obs, ids and comments would go a long way towards mitigating this.


I liked that our local project for students had strict rules and if students didn’t care to follow them, they were excluded, they’re old enough to know what rules are, otherwise they should use Seek.


You can always use the Account Creation filter in Identify and set it to “More than a week ago”.

If it’s particularly bad and I can’t find a teacher account I sometimes email the school from my address and ask that they send it to the teacher using iNaturalist. Often that’s too late, though, as the observations have been created.


If it’s any consolation, I have found and reached out to a professor at a local university encouraging their students to mass-upload planted trees to build an inventory of tree species on campus. I was able to find the professor through the project they had made, which, ironically, was preset to exclude captive organisms. I messaged the professor, and received a favorable and apologetic response back.

What I do in this situation:

Try to find the range of the “damage” (in the sense that there is something that needs repair, not a disparaging comment). Typically, this is mostly restricted to campus. In Explore, you can create a circular or rectangular boundary. This will generate a URL in the following format, where “NUMBER” will be the coordinate boundaries instead. I like to use rectangular boundaries, which will look like this: (edit: forgot to mention, this URL doesn’t work, so there’s no reason to click on it)

Copy the section of the URL beginning with and including the question mark, and go to the Identify portal. Paste that sequence into the URL, so that you see “identify?nelat=” where the preexisting URL and the pasted section meet. This will restrict your query to this one boundaried region. In the Identify portal, you can simply press “X” on your keyboard to instantly mark an observation as captive.

Additional restrictions can be put in using the Identify portal’s UI. Most of the time, these observations have defined “start” and “end” points, when the assignment was created and when it ends. If you know these already, you can further restrict your criteria to these dates. Additional restrictions that may help are to only look at plants or “unknowns,” to exclude casual observations if you haven’t already, to filter by the class project (if you find it), or to filter by account creation date (as mentioned by @tiwane). Additionally, you can tack “&per_page=100” to the end of the Identify portal URL to look at 100 observations at a time, rather than 30. I find this helps greatly with expediting identification.


Alternatively, once you’ve set up your boundary you can navigate from the Explore interface to the Identify interface just by clicking the Identify link at the bottom-right of the Filters dialog (next to Atom and Download). You may need to double-check things like Quality Grade and Reviewed status in the Identify dialog after the switch, but your geographic boundaries should be preserved.

There isn’t an equivalent single-click way to go back from Identify to Explore, but you can edit the URL to remove the “/identify” portion and that should get you back to Explore with all your filters intact.


I didn’t know about that, thanks!


Truthfully, it took me about 3 years before I saw that Identify link in the Filters dialog for the Explore page.


Having yesterday seen a class project with an inordinate number of zinnias and cabbages – if I was the teacher, I would make captive observations not count toward the grade.


Maybe it was a home economics class :laughing:


I didn’t know that!


A pain, certainly. We can hope that this fulfills iNaturalist’s goal of getting people to interact with nature. And once in a while they find something interesting. More interesting, anyway, than 20 out-of-focus photos of Trifolium repens. (I remember that school project too well.)


Wow! I was just planning to suggest this function as a feature that would save ID’ers a lot of time. Thanks for pointing it out.


Wouldn’t that just mean you get the same flood of observations a week later?


It was bad enough from a university here (regularly, twice a semester - at the start when everyone got their account and then everyone who forgot at the end cramming it in) and it was 100% cultivated plants around campus. Pages and pages of it. Sometimes coming in faster than I could give the welcome to iNat post to each new person if I happend to be working on IDing at the same time they were uploading. It got to me enough - and was so repetitive obviously for some undergrad bio course or such that is taught every semester - that I emailed a very polite email that included iNat guidelines, links to the teacher help pages, etc - CC’d to every biology & forestry & ecology type department head at that university to please disseminate to their department. I got only one reply from someone who no one in their department used iNat in classes. But…there’s not been any more such uploads… crossing fingers as the semester has started!

If I see stuff again from other places, I will probably do that again, as it seemed to work.

I always suggest that teachers/professors set up a project that students need to join so there is accountability. The folk who do that, I’ve never had much issue with their students, but I think there is high overlap between proper onboarding for the students and who also keeps an eye on their students here ;)