Create Separate Accounts for Students Assigned to Use iNaturalist

Since I want to give this message board a try anyway, I am posting one of my top requests. I know there are significant admin/coding challenges to this one, but i think it’s worth having on the list.

Students using inat often provide low quality or problematic observations - not because they are often young or inexperienced, but because they are assigned to use the site and thus many aren’t as motivated to be a part of the community as other users. They also sometimes agree with each other’s IDs inappropriately especially when part of the assignment is to attain research grade. These are the so called ‘duress users’ and while a small number have ended up important and valued long-term community members, most leave the assigned number of observations and then quit without ever fixing or curating their data.

It would be awesome to have a different sort of account for these students. Possible options:

  • Students can not add IDs to other students or else they do not count to research grade
  • Student accounts could be filterable so users could either ignore them or help specificially wih those IDs as desired
  • Students should not be able to override community ID
  • Students could automatically add to a collection project for their class, with teacher accounts getting all the notifications and maybe a special dashboard
  • Students who want to become part of the iNat community could somehow ‘graduate’ if they ask and have their account converted to a normal one

I know there’s lots to this request posted in the Google Groups and others may add more. I just wanted to throw this out here so we had something to discuss :slight_smile:

I’ll append the “Teacher’s Project Portal” idea to this, where teachers can set up a class project and send invitations to students to create these student accounts. Maybe there could be some settings they can make on what happens to the data after the project is complete:

  • Post all observations as normal
  • Reserve all observations to the project and post all data upon completion
  • Reserve all observations to the project and post with IDs removed
  • Delete all observations upon completion

I have seen a number of student post where the username is a version of StudentFirstLast. I like this concept as it lets me know that the poster probably has less experience or knowledge in dealing with the topics we discuss. That, to me, says I should be a bit more helpful/gentle in responding to them. Mostly the kids are trying to learn how to deal with an online group discussion and often need a bit of coaching or assistance to get started.

I really like the idea of making their teacher a Curator for their observations. They can be the first point of contact when a student is having, or causing, a problem.

With the Usernames flagged it would be fairly simple to create a filter for those who don’t wish to deal with the problematic posting. Those of us who are willing to help them learn can see the postings and pitch in to help out where appropriate.

OK, that’s my nickel’s worth.


I like the idea of a probationary period, during which observations made won’t be eligible for RG, and the account can’t make IDs for others etc. Add to this idea the possibility of linking mentor accounts. For instance, a teacher that has a fully functional account can set up probationary accounts for students, and have themselves linked as the mentor account. When the student IDs something, the teacher (from their account) can approve that ID and it becomes visible to all on iNat. Once the probationary period is over, the teacher would no longer need to release the IDs and obs, so new active participants just go on to be active members! Duress posters are going to do their damage in the early stages, so by the time they are out of probation period they are likely not active anymore.

addenda: Maybe all accounts should start as probationary, and a group of regulars/curators could be assigned mentor status for each on a rotational basis. We release IDs and obs after a quick check for (newbie) problems, and give advice where needed. If we are satisified that they are picking things up fairly quickly, then we can release them early from their probation (and save ourselves the extra work!). Of course, if we have bad practises ourselves (I have had one of mine drawn to my attention in the last few days), then we might be proliferating those!


I really like the idea of teacher mentor accounts. I’m getting really tired of going through 500 blurry pictures of middle school sidewalks with no living things in sight. We’d probably have to push a little more education on the teachers as to what is a useful observation as well, but I think it’d be a heck of a lot better than the current system!


When a new user of any type creates an account, there should be more introduction and guidance about how to use this site. Teachers can help by explaining everything to students. The above ideas are great, but we should remember that we are all students, and all learning here. Anyone of any age we can get interested in nature is a win, no matter how annoying blurry or bad photos can be. It’s about education and citizen science, not photography. The students could also be taught to describe what they see, and even add observations with no photos (casual). I like that iNaturalist is a place where novices and experts collide. We need more outreach to the public if we are going to save what is left of wild species and places.


the issue isn’t age, or level of experience, or that we are all learners. The issue is specifically people being assigned to use the site under ‘duress’ (there are lots of threads about this in the old message board). Inaturalist should be a place where amateurs and experts all want to be. People assigned to use the site are a whole other story. In my experience nearly all the users who don’t put in the time ore ffort to use the site properly are ‘duress’ users or similar ‘contest’ users. To be honest i think it should just be a banned use of inaturalist but… that isn’t going to happen.

Anyway there’s a new little discussion here:


A silly question; when somebody creates a new account how would the site know that they are a student? If it requires user input wouldn’t they just not create the special account type.

…teachers. I mean, how did the students know how to create an account in the first place?

I fundamentally disagree with the concept of creating a group of second class citizen scientists, allowed to play with the real people, but dismissed out of hand irrespective of merit. And besides as there is no automatic way to ensure schools or teachers use the proposed system it won’t have much effect.

I think we should go back a step and look at the problems that I think we want to solve with this:

  1. Minimise observations that have low value photos,

  2. Minimise low value identifications.

I’m not sure about how to minimise the low value photos, but maybe a new approach to the second would help that too:

Surely it is long past time we had a ‘competence’ based ID system where peoples IDs are not given full weight until they have demonstrated some ability in that area. Give higher and higher weighting depending upon people’s proven record, and perhaps the ability to create research grade observations with a single ID for ‘proven’ experts. This would also improve the value and reliability of ‘research grade’ observations.

I know this sort of thing has been mooted many times before, and I don’t know how much development has gone into this. But I think it much preferable to spend resources on something that would have a much wider effect, and would be self managing than creating a system that relies upon some external person (‘teacher’) to install their students in our play-pen.

[[ I was going to list many more details of this type of scheme, but remembered that it has all been discussed before, and it’s really a separate topic ]]

As for addressing low value observations, perhaps add a filter tick-box that filters out observations of newbies, or observations of unproven identifiers (implicit assumption that they’re newbies).



why is it creating second class citizens? it’s simply to separate out people using the site as a student/under duress rather than on their own initiative. In fact any student would also be welcome to make their own regular iNat account if they wanted to (or convert their student account after they are done). The only difference is this allows teachers to do a better job dealing with assignments that give class credit, etc. The bottom line is that iNat is not appropriate as an assignment for a lot of reasons, and this is one way to make it work. The other option is to just ban using iNat that way, whcih i’d be fine with, but others are not. But again, this is not about level of expertise or age! it is about the fundamental difference between being here because you want to be, and being here because you have to be for a class.

Another way to look at it - some people run foot races to win a prize, and others go jogging on their own for fun or health reasons. What i am proposing is that when you’re running a race for a prize, there are rules. You aren’t allowed to get in a car or cut corners or leave the starting like 10 minutes before the other runners. When you are running for fun, as long as you don’t do anything illegal (violate iNat’s code of conduct), it’s up to you where you run, when you run, whether you walk part of the way, etc. Because you aren’t competing for anything other than your own satisfaction, or friendly competition with a friend that you negotiate yourself, you don’t need those other rules.

Basically what we have now is people using your jogging loop to stage a race, but not enforcing any kind of rules for the race, so people are running all over the place and bumping into and bothering those of us who just want to go out for our morning run. Except instead of a momentary irritation the damage to the data is really hard to fix. The runners are also littering, being disrespectful to the joggers,and cheating in ways that harms the other joggers as well. In short, if they want to use our running route, they need bibs and race monitors and different rules, or they need to find somewhere else to run. Either is fine with me but the current setup is not. No one is complaining that these runners are too young, or too slow. They are just doing something inappropriate for this jogging route.

There is a problem with any rule or protocol in this setting - some people don’t or won’t follow them for whatever reason. That’s just how it is, and it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

Having an internal ‘reputation’ system is another idea which has been discussed a ton, and honestly i am surprised no one has proposed it on this new forum yet. Someone should definitely do so - i haven’t because i am somewhat ambivalent about it, though not opposed as long as it is intrinsic to iNat itself. But i think that should be proposed and discussed in a different feature request.

Having a tick box to exclude people based on ones perception of ID quality to me seems way worse than having student accounts.


I think we agree there’s a problem, just not on the solution :-)

I also agree that a reputation system is a different question, and may be a long time coming (if ever). But it would significantly address these problems.

I am sure that teachers (and other group facilitators/organisers) would welcome a few tools to help them wrangle their group into productive activities. As part of our out-reach to schools we should consult educators to find what they need in the way of tools to manage classes. I expect at the moment students are directed to get out their phones, install the app, create an account and start taking photos. It must be a lot of work for the teacher to even know the names of the accounts that their students are using, let alone monitor what they’re doing.

I note that some class groups use a single login, and I believe this (multiple people using one account) is not meant to happen - but it does mean that the teacher (who logs into the same account) is able to respond and easily curate their students observations. I suppose that is an existing, though informal, form of ‘student’ account.


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I like this approach, or even having a few group accounts like what was done for the War on Weeds programme.

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I just feel strongly that something needs to be done about these “under duress” accounts.

When a student group who is being forced to use iNat also use the Computer Vision tool (which is almost always the case now), and when they also “Agree” with one another’s IDs, the results can be just horrible, and large numbers of these bogus results sometimes come in so fast and furious that it can be almost impossible for the rest of us to try to fix them.

Imagine what will happen during City Nature Challenge this year in some far-flung parts of the world where inexperienced teachers will tell inexperienced students to make as many observations as possible per day so that their part of the world can “win”.

I do feel we need to do something to make this not such a tempting set-up for teachers who don’t know any better, and also to explain to all new users that the Computer Vision is, most of the time, not reliable for the fauna and flora of most of the world.


I agree. Well said. This is a serious problem.


Explaining, even if we call it “onboarding” won’t do anything. As long as people can default to inaction, they will. Students will disengage once they got the grade, overextended teachers will let things slip, city challengers won’t care once they’ve won or lost, and it will be up to the motivated inaturalist user base to clean up the mess.

A special type of duress user account that disappears or remains dormant unless the users take explicit action is the only actual fix to the problem.


Some other ideas that might help, in addition to student accounts, or if those won’t be launched before the City Nature Challenge:

  1. Limit the number of uploads a new user can make to, say, five per day for the first ten days after opening an account, and ten per day for the first month. Many sites have limitations like this.

  2. Emphasize in outreach to teachers that it is quality not quantity that matters.

  3. To support #2, have some system of prizes/recognition for large events, such as the observation with most likes, and/or make Observation of the Day, Week etc. a more visible and integrated feature of events like the City Nature Challenge.

  4. Make leaderboards a less prominent part of the project pages, and focus them more on taxa than on users - number of species recorded (native and non-native), taxa/observations with the most likes, etc. Make the focus of competition between different cities instead of between users within a city. One could have a gallery of contributors (observers and identifiers) rather than a leaderboard.

Ok, students might spuriously “like” each others’ observations, but that would be much better than spurious IDs! One could also limit the number of likes that new users could give, as the new Discourse forum does.


These explicitly run counter to the bioblitz or city challenge ideas, at least as I have experienced them. Therefore this will be gamed to as yet unexpected effects.

This is very useful. Dialing down the competitiveness would solve so many problems.


yeah i don’t even feel like volume by individual users is usually an issue. High volume newbies seem to tend to be new power users super excited about the site wanting to add a backlog of data. So I don’t think that type of limit is the answer. It’s like we need some sort of filter for ‘do you want to be here’. I don’t think the repeated commentary by iNat affiliated people that ‘it’s about the people not the data’ helps. Everything is about the people. The data is about and for the people and good data is crucial to make this community worth visiting. Going to a baseball game is often as much about friends, beer, hot dogs, the whole spectacle and ritual, whatever, as it is about baseball. But what fun is it to sit in a stadium with no baseball happening? People are more important, but the data is the point. If you don’t want to share what you find and learn about it, this shouldn’t be the place for you. Want being the key word.

Here’s what i’d do, but others may not agree:

-Make student accounts filterable and for that matter don’t put them on range maps, maybe don’t even let them get RG. Don’t let them even do ID help at least not for a while.
-outright ban any duress user uses for normal iNat accounts. Make it possible for curators or users to somehow vote users into the duress bin or something.
-Create a very easy opportunity to convert a student/duress account to a regular account. Like all you have to do is just decide you want to do it and go check a box somewhere. None of the duress accounts will care enough to do it.
-Perhaps create more levels of account:
Power User (equivalent to what is curator now, most are curators now anyway - this level would allow taxonomy editing and some helping with flags
Moderator - to handle more of the interpersonal and newbie help and other such things, maybe only give this small group access to some of the higher level moderating tools as well as the ability to alter autoobscure, etc.
Admin - the iNat staff.
-If people want to gamify, send them to Seek or Questagame. I haven’t tried questagame since there’s so much snow on the ground but maybe it could be a good portal for stuff like this. Have it formally set up for games and competitions and leave ‘classic’ iNat for us nerds, power users, scientists, volunteers, and resource managers of any level of expertise or age. remember the issue is the motivation behind using the site, not any of those other factors.

and perhaps least likely to happen

-shift iNat recruitment efforts away from challenges, classrooms, and blitzes and more towards power users and nerds for a while. That’s how it started, after all.

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It would be interesting to know how many “regular” iNat users (including power and nerd types) got their first exposure or main motivation from challenges, classrooms, or blitzes. Good topic for a poll?