Create Separate Accounts for Students Assigned to Use iNaturalist

I think educators / teachers should pair up with local iNat power users, and be mentored in how to run their assignments/projects. I would volunteer!

I’m a fan of the idea of probationary accounts for all new users:

  • Observations and IDs made under probationary period are flagged as “under probation”
  • Probationary IDs don’t count to CID
  • Optional “Mentor Account”, which can log in and make limited changes in an account (ie not able to view personal/direct messages, but can fix dates, pin locations, withdraw and apply new IDs, etc)
  • Mentor account or a curator/staff can release the probationary account early, for keen and capable students or for experts/specialists signing up. Option to release all existing IDs/Obs from probation when releasing an account early.
  • Individual probationary IDs or observations can be released, one at a time, once mentor/curator/staff have checked them.
  • Other users can have an account setting to either include or exclude seeing probationary obs/ids

I would imagine that for a lot of users that show responsibility and capability from the outset, it would just be a simple release account and obs/ids, and by the time the probationary period is up (after which IDs and Obs made are normal), most duress users would have lost interest and/or requirement to be using the site.

Another possibility is to have teachers give US the ability to vote on whether the content/interaction from the student warrants a pass or a fail!

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Just initial reaction – I’m thinking this would be a bit heavy-handed.

What would you think of having the same probationary/mentor system, but have it be assignable by a curator, instead of be the default from the outset?

That way curators could visit the “recent users” link and look for a bunch of new sign-ups that appear to be from the same school, and give them probationary status. Or at least respond to flags and other user input with that additional option. It wouldn’t be perfect, but maybe not so onerous or off-putting to new non-duress users.

I would definitely support initial probationary status for some kind of special student or class account if that can be implemented. Then we just need to brainstorm the best ways to funnel student/class users into that account pipeline.

And I love your idea of being able to weigh in on student grades! (Would probably want to see the teacher’s syllabus first, though, to know what the initial expectations were…)

I’m not a huge fan of “probationary accounts.” What made me bold enough to try iNaturalist for the first time was an NPR article that explained what the site was for and how user friendly it was, and then, when I did try it, the ease of use and friendly tone established on the site made me come back. I never felt “stupid” for not knowing how to do something or that I was wasting any expert’s time by posting. People were encouraging. I realize students forced to use the site gum up the works (even as a teacher I find the blurry pictures puzzling–surely, someone gave better instructions about photos . . .), but I’d hate to put all new users on “probationary status” to weed out unhappy students. It just seems less friendly and open–it ups the “risk” for a new contributor–even if it’s only a small extra step because it presents itself as a test. If your background is not scientific and you don’t have experience photographing organisms, you’re going to make mistakes. I make lots of mistakes–and I’ve been here since 2016. I plan to make a lot more, but I would hate if someone zinged me for them because I’m truly making an effort to do something I love.

I wonder: Is it possible to have a teacher register for a school account and could observations on the school account have a “publish button”? (Rather like online grade books–you input grades but no one sees them until you hit publish.) The teacher could review the observations that have been uploaded and then “publish” those of acceptable quality to the rest of iNat community? Or is this too complicated? Anyway, just a thought.


That was your first experience of the site. If all accounts are probationary at the start, then that will be their first experience of the site, and that first experience won’t be hugely different from what it is now, just that CID won’t be affected by your IDs and some users might have opted to not see your IDs and Obs… how would you even know the latter was the case? And for the CID, unless you knew it used to be different, how would you even know that was the case?

For a large number of new users now, their first experience of the site is getting lambasted by the hyper annoyed regulars for posting blurry photos and/or having a laugh by IDing their mates as baboons. Hardly a friendly welcome! At least with probationary accounts and them being filtered out by those that are bothered by them, it is just the cool-headed and patient regulars who get to interact with them! I’m just as concerned about losing the expertise of our regulars that are starting to leave because of the nuisance factor the duress users are presenting.

It is far more welcoming to new users to be granting them more access as they continue to engage, rather than starting at a level that then gets chopped back just because they are part of a school group. That would have the effect of detering the few amongst them that might go on to become regular and power users. Just look at this forum, and how it “opens up” as you use it more! I didn’t find it off putting at all… it just encouraged me to be more active!


Yes, of course, you’re absolutely right–it was my first experience using the site–I can only speak from that experience. I’m just saying I don’t see why the “hoops” have to apply to all new users if the problem is students. I also don’t see why teachers can’t oversee school observations and make choices about them. If the problem is overwhelming people with awful observations, then the first line of defense should be giving the teacher the right to publish or not publish these photos–if possible. Students are used to teachers making decisions about their work and calling them on bad behavior. If a teacher says it can’t be published and explains why, the student learns just as much as if he/she is denied full access via the site curators. The difference is that the feedback comes from the person who is trying to teach them and knows them personally. Other new users don’t get denied full access, just as the rest of us were not denied full access when we started.

Honestly, I haven’t seen that many regulars chewing out kids. As a teacher, I would quickly decide not to use the site with a class if I thought users were likely to berate kids, so if that is happening, then I’m guessing we’re going to see teachers choosing not to use the site as a teaching tool. (I teach literature, so this isn’t an issue for me, but all teachers care about student online learning experiences. They don’t send kids where kids aren’t wanted.)

I agree we don’t want experts leaving. Are they?

At any rate, I was just offering an idea because I have some reservations about making everyone who signs on probationary and limiting access when people seem especially concerned about students. However, if all new people, from students to retirees to experts in their fields, are subject to the same scrutiny, then it is fair at least. I still can’t say I think it’s great idea, but then I hardly matter in the grand scheme of things. Thank you for sharing your perspective with me. It is interesting to hear other points of view.


many good suggestions above. So, let me just toss out my takeaways from the most recent City Nature Challenge in Penang … This was from all accounts I can discern a total disaster.

Problem: many of these brand new accounts posted 100+ observations that single day, now while I take pride in a good species century myself, I also typically get 95% of that century to RG within a few days, by taking good photos, and knowing what kinds of features lead to solid IDs in many classes of organisms. Expecting 100+ good observations of wild things from a new user is just not realistic.
Solution: limit uploads to 10-20 per day (they can take a week to upload if they choose
Solution: checksum limit photo resubmission, one potted cactus was loaded by one user 30 times, with 30 different IDs (one might even have been right?)

Problem: I think users were encouraged to try to get to the “top” of the ID standings. I saw several users that made several hunderd (400+) IDs that one day. Of course all were AI/CV assisted IDs, and (since the computer hasn’t seen anything in Penang before), they were all wrong
Solution: do not allow CNC challenges to even know their ID count no counting of IDs (that they can see), or Do not allow new users to place IDs deeper than order (yes, they even get Class IDs wrong (Dicots as Pinales, Pinales as ferns, etc)

Problem: After uploading those 100 obs in a day, or making those 400 IDs in a day, they have vanished from the site, now those in-the-wrong-class observations need to get the right class (bumps them to Tracheophyta or Animalia), so then the next 2 IDers have to be willing to troll through that huge set) and it takes 3 right votes to fix. It has been 3 weeks, of those 1500 IDs I’ve made on Penang, about 10 have had an ID of_any_type added after I made an ID, so unless I @ someone, they are dead observations.
Solution: See Two solutions above

In short, we gathered here are all in the business of sorting things into bins, that is taxonomy. The Penang observations amount to a very small quantity of gems needing to be sorted out of huge heap of trash (60,000) that we have allowed to be dumped upon us.
Solution: Try some:
or this:

and yes, even the butterflies on Penang, half are in a butterfly FARM !

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Ugh. Thanks for the links. Did my part and got a page of Unknowns into the right bins at least. (Unfollowing each one along the way…)

Good suggestions all, hope some are feasible.

Fair points. So far, we on this forum are a pretty small and self-selected group, however, so I don’t know that we can yet project our experiences to the majority of iNat users. But over time, maybe so…


FWIW @lincolndurey, @carrieseltzer and I spoke with the organizers of that event and I wrote a summary here:

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Related to this issue, but somewhat different is the submission of observations for training purposes. This example seemed fishy because, while the identification was correct, the observation date/time was within a minute of the submission date/time. That doesn’t make sense for a pinned specimen on display.

Only after I inquired about that did the submitter explain that the submission was made in a training exercise. So the location isn’t accurate either. I gave it a thumbs down on the accuracy of the date and location, but it’s really easy to assume that cases like this are genuine.

I have seen other cases like this, so I think it would be useful if there was a sandbox version of iNaturalist available to the public where training exercises like this could take place, but the data is isolated from genuine observations (not to mention GBIF).


As someone who probably would have stopped using the app and probably not bothered at all with iNat if I had been prevented from adding more than 10 obs my first day, I think, as @octobertraveler said, that lumping people like us in with students and duress users will do more harm than good. Eventually I expect the community want people like us and keep us engaged so we get better and have more to contribute. Put yourself in the position where you are excited to use the app (I used ebird mostly before this and still do FYI and they didn’t have any limit to how much data you submit) go out in your patch or a rail trail and then have to carefully choose which things to report…based on what? That requires focus be put in the wrong place in my view. The number of obs is only going to deter users trying to populate the site with crappy data for some other purpose: school, a challenge, etc. For me what would have been the rationale? If my 10 obs are garbage because I don’t know what I’m doing but I have to wait to try again until tomorrow and keep track of when I can do more that seems silly to me and would have felt that the emphasis was on keeping me out rather than cultivating my education and better site usage.

The idea of a training zone sounds good to me. I really thought that Discourse’s discobot interactive welcome was great, in that it works with you to learn the site and corrects you if you’ve done something wrong. If iNat had some onboarding feature that interactively walked you through your first few observations that would be useful and might in of itself deter users who are impatiently just trying to compete with classmates since you’d have to go through the tutorials if you want to make IDs and obs. it would prevent some issues with poor photos (although there are no rules against blurry photos and the issue is the bad IDs as far as data is concerned not a photo that nobody IDs and sits there), incorrect use of Identitron, info on geoprivacy etc.

I know I am not a tech person so maybe this isn’t feasible. If all new users did have to look at examples of bad observations vs. ideal ones this might teach better than the current cartoon instructions (although those are cute they don’t show how a photo can help or hurt.) which one needs to have the initiative to seek out rather than it being an automatic, compulsory thing when signing up.

We have to remember to “assume most users mean well” and address the problem at hand which is not amateurs sincerely trying but those forced or just using it like a game not a serious (but fun!) data repository for citizens and pros alike.

A welcome wagon of interested moderators is a lovely idea and the human touch to curb bad behavior might create more of a sense of accountability. I still make mistakes or am careless with buttons and IDs if I’m tired but I am around to correct them and apologize (too much usually). I personally respond(ed) well to those interactions and hopefully my data has been good for the site as much as possible and not bad for it.

I’ll stop there but one more plea not to lump users in a punitive way but rather find new ways to encourage and educate and weed out duress users.


My understanding is that students are posting their observations to projects for the teacher to see for a grade so, at least for identifications, I wonder if it might also be useful to tackle this issue by looking at project usage as well.

I don’t know how easy either of these might be to code, but two possibilities are:

A) The creation of ‘School Projects’ that work differently than standard projects. For example, identifications from project members might not count toward CID on project observations unless approved by the project creator or a project administrator. I imagine this would cut down on the number of RG observations that are the result of students using the AI and/or blindly agreeing with one another.

Going an extra step further, if observations were not officially tallied in the project numbers until they were reviewed by the creator/administrators it might also bring inappropriate attention from students to a teacher’s attention more easily. And if the students notice that their observations haven’t been added to the project tallies yet it might encourage them to notify their teacher and ask that the recent additions be gone through and approved. (Thus the students would care as much about the teacher’s attention to the project as regular iNat users who might also be going through the observations.)

Perhaps when a project is created the site can look for a list of keywords (school, class, elementary, primary, etc.) with a pop-up asking if it’s for a class project and explaining how it works. That might not work in every case but perhaps it could be a start?

B) Another option is to not have project members’ identifications on other project members’ observations count toward CID if their account is below a certain age. They would still be allowed to add full identifications to other observations on the site as normal, the restriction would only be for the projects that they have voluntarily joined. This wouldn’t do much to help in collection projects – which includes the City Nature Challenges, if I remember correctly – but might help for teacher-created class projects.


fundamentally, i think what’s being proposed here would have to be implemented as something like public/private observations/accounts, where private observations are viewable by only a user-defined subset of the community. i think the best model for something like that would be Twitter, where you could define your account as either public or restricted. if restricted, then only your followers can see your observations. as applied to iNaturalist, you’d want to give projects the ability to follow people.

i understand the desire for something like this, but i don’t know that it’s a great path to go down. you always get a little noise with democratic systems, and i think we should try to steer away from give-people-a-voice-until-what-they’re-saying-is-inconvenient as much as possible.

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i mean the real ‘elephant’ in this thread, and one we can’t fix here, is just how broken the education system is if it’s model of ‘assignments’ so contaminates motivation to learn that it causes people to not show interest in something that so many thousands of people get so excited about when they find it on their own. I’ve also seen this in similar cases where undergrad college students are assigned to work on an ecology or land management or habitat restoration project. The quality of work is again often lower than what that student appears capable of. Interestingly this ‘duress effect’ doesn’t seem to apply to my project based grad school program, i think because it’s competitive and specifically laid out for people to do projects, so it isn’t duress any more. But why do undergrads feel they are there under semi-duress? I know this may be roaming way beyond the initial post but i think it could help inform what decision we make to deal with it. (if this topic takes off i can move it to General Discussion as a separate thread)

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@charlie – i think you may be misidentifying duress in many cases. maybe a student who made an observation or two really was excited about the project? maybe they don’t continue to use the platform after because they lack the resources to do so or because other schoolwork takes priority? who knows for sure? maybe the quality of their observations didn’t quite live up to certain standards, but is that because they were unmotivated or because they were newbies? i don’t think anyone here really understands all the different motivations that people have when then make certain observations. (or if that data does exist somewhere, i certainly haven’t been privy to it.)

the ‘duress’ term is kind of tongue in cheek (i don’t know who started it) and includes apathy within it. it isn’t meant to be judgy. But it’s definitely separate from other newbies. The newbies who find iNat on their own may make mistakes, but they act VERY differently in my observation at least.

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I do very much agree that if teachers had to pass a hurdle before starting a project for their duress user students, that might help. A lot of teachers seem to leap into an iNat project without really having any idea what iNat is.


Interesting perspective, @mira_l_b, but it made me think of a reflection I had on my first submissions. Like a number of people, I had a backlog of pictures that I submitted as fast as I could. Then (because I had no community) most of them just sat there and languished with no attention. If on observation #10 there had been a message saying “Hi janetwright, now that you’ve submitted 10 observations, time to Pause. You’ll have better results if you take some time to develop a community network. Try tagging one of the top identifiers for your organisms, or take a look at some observations near you…” I would have caught on to the system quicker. Just a thought. New users could be “paused” to learn more about iNaturalist, which wouldn’t put off enthusiastic users (like me anyway) but would deter some of the Duress/ Competition users.


I get that, @janetwright. I should have specified that my use of iNat was restricted to the field for the first many months (actually well over a year before I ventured online and realized what i was missing!) so the app was it for me. I didn’t upload my backlog (still have more) until 1/19 so you and I came to use the site from different directions it seems. With the app I would be in the woods excited to go document things and would have been grumpy after setting out to realize I was done for the day (on iNat) after 10 observations, which would be five minutes here in season. Also, top identifiers and all sorts of stuff isn’t accessible through the app and the screen is way too small for me to look at the website with regularity while in the field. I am in a rural area where I have spotty reception. I think its important that whatever the improvement or decision/ change is that it take into account both of our experiences and everything on the spectrum in between. I have mentioned in other posts that pop-up reminders for new users, like the one you reference and several others, “Since your ob has no photo did you know it would be “casual?” which means…” (especially in app) would be great and well-received and would accomplish the same goal of cultivating motivated users who understand things more quickly and adjust their usage behavior as a probation or obs limit (that might actually have the opposite impact on folks who are meaning well but confused).

I could say more about some of the other differences between our experiences based on what you said but I’m not sure they are relevant to the focus of the topic and I’ve already strayed as it is. I think it’s all valid though!


Maybe I can add insight here. Last year my school decided, I cannot remember why, to have small groups participate in a bio-blitz, using iNat. I had nothing to do with this project except as leader of a group of six students (we were assigned). In fact, no one at school really knows I belong to iNat. I think we all deserve some privacy. When I saw the instructions for the project, I saw problems:

  1. The small groups–So we had kids and teachers who had no clue what iNat is, and many w/ no special interest in flora and fauna.

  2. Individualized accounts–So kids signing up for accounts that would need monitoring, but teachers were monitoring, so see #1.

  3. Wrong time of year–It was the beginning of April, which in my state means little to see unless you know where to look. (I suspect we were avoiding later dates because we have a lot of poison ivy in the park we were working in, though I could be wrong.)

  4. No real training regarding photos–So kids didn’t know they needed clear shots and multiple angles.

What we did get right was no one was required to upload photos, and we didn’t have a competition to see who could upload the most nor did we encourage identification of each other’s photos. We had a local naturalist group help choose areas in which to work–I’m not sure if they eventually looked at observations as well, which would mean we did even more right.

Honestly, I worried when I saw the project come through, and I know others didn’t know what they were supervising exactly.

I’ve looked, in the last day, at the tutorials for teachers–they’re good. But, somehow, I think teachers are missing the importance of the information, so there’s a communication gap. Also, teachers are amazingly busy and are asked each year to add more to their plates. I think some of these problems arise from time issues–no time to fully familiarize oneself with the site. Pressing issues that keep the teacher from returning to the project to scrutinize it carefully. I have no doubt teachers embark upon projects with the best intentions, but I’m not sure it’s clear how these projects appear and cause problems for others. Thus, I see this as a school issue, not a new user issue. I’ve been teaching for 20+ years both at high school and college levels–at last I feel like I’m an expert on iNat in something (even if it’s just wrangling teenagers), so forgive me for weighing in so much. ;) I shall not post on the subject again.