What is iNaturalist’s position on providing IDs for observations that are part of someone’s college class assignment? I have just ID’d a bunch of plants and been thanked for it in a message that reveals that IDs for these observations are worth 30% of this person’s mark in a plant taxonomy class. I really don’t feel good about unknowingly doing someone’s work for them.
Teachers using iNaturalist for class assignments should be aware that their students can use the computer vision feature and get help from the community for identification, and that the ID on a student’s observation may not necessarily have been made using a dichotomous key or traditional modes of identification. Presumably, hopefully, it’s the making of the observations and not just the IDs themselves that contribute to their grade. Anyone, including the teacher, can access the observations to see who contributed the IDs. iNaturalist doesn’t have a position on this, except to provide guidance on best practices and example curricula for using iNat with students in the Teacher’s Guide.
If the student is referring to a class assignment that isn’t related to the use of iNaturalist itself (that is, they were supposed to key out these plants on their own), I’m not really sure there’s anything that can be done about that. It’s no different really than someone “cheating” by asking on a Facebook group or in a tweet, emailing pics to someone knowledgeable, or having someone just point out to them in the field what the plant is.
Thanks for your response. For teachers using iNaturalist for class assignments, is there some sort of a registration process at iNat? Or is it done “informally”, that is, with no way of others knowing whether crowdsourcing the IDs is approved or not? I did read through the Teacher’s Guide and didn’t pick up on any sort of registration so I gather it’s the latter?
I find it kind of annoying to feel like I’m unwittingly doing someone’s assignment for them, whether it’s here or on any other plant ID site.
No, no registration process. I choose to follow my students to keep tabs on their activities. I do not require observations nor is their use of iNaturalist graded nor marked. Even the choice to use iNaturalist is their choice, no requirement is made. I use the teacher’s guide and provide that same information to my students. For those who choose to observe, I encourage them to work on identifying what they have observed. I also show them how they can help with identifications with easy to identify species such as Cocos nucifera. What you describe does sound problematic. That said, I feel it is incumbent on me as a faculty member to know the technologies out there and how they may be misused.
As a teacher who has used iNat for class, I don’t think you should feel bad about this. It isn’t your responsibility to monitor who is using the site for what ends. The site is transparent as far as that goes with a full record of who is posting what pics and who is offering IDs. If the student said “Help me cheat” or something like that, then maybe I would avoid it, but otherwise, they are observations like any other.
If a teacher is using iNat for a class assignment and expecting other iNat users not to add IDs to their students’ observations, they obviously don’t understand how iNat works/is supposed to work. Again, that’s their problem, not yours…keep on IDing!
I use iNat in my classes now, though not for taxonomy. Instead, I have a class on ecological restoration that has as one goal to have the students learn much more about species around them (many students have no background in biology and ecology, let alone taxonomy). I try to have very few constraints for the students: they explore their surroundings and report back 20 observations/week (for a total of 240 over the course of the semester). I ask them not to report on house plants, pets, garden plants, or ornamentals, and instead to focus on “wild” organisms, whether invasive or native. We have a project for the class and they can see what their classmates observe, too. I think it works well to promote closer observation, and we’ve had over 1100 identifiers now over two versions of the course. Identifiers from outside the class are absolutely essential, and one of my favourite features of iNaturalist is how wonderful the community is: thanks everyone for weighing in with IDs! In general I think the role of iNat in this course is to provide more opportunities for students to engage with and see species we talk about all the time in ecological and restoration contexts: it’s less about knowing how to ID all the species but knowing they exist and what they look like and where they’re found. I provide deeper taxonomic guidance when the students ask. Thanks again everyone.
If it’s worth points, I’m assuming it’s a project where they had to use a key to make a proper ID; therefore, this would have been cheating. There is no way to prevent it. In my opinion, I feel as though the student’s working smart instead of hard. But at least they’re on iNat and hopefully they stay and learn from their mistakes. I’ve never had to use iNat for a class nor have any of my Profs ever spoken about it.
When I was going through highschool, oh so long ago, it was whether we were allowed to use calculators instead of doing “in the head” long division or log books etc.
That is my sense of technology as well. The debate over calculators is now fairly settled ground, the new front line are things such as Desmos that permit graphical solutions to algebraic equations and other algebra engines such as Mathematica. Inaturalist brings a disruptive technology into the life science educational space. And here I use disruptive only in the sense that these technologies change what one can do in the classroom and thus impact curricular choices. Technology “disrupts” the status quo. Computer vision technologies are still in their infancy. Given a few decades and these technologies will be only more powerful and more capable. As I am preparing my students for their future, I think instructors should be introducing technologies in their field to their students along with keys and field guides. The instructor will have to decide how to ensure the students are accomplishing the desired learning outcomes. Anyone teaching taxonomy today really ought to be aware of the technology available and teaching the students both how to use the tech and the limitations of the technology. That is my job - to be up to speed on developments in my field including technology.
Welcome to the forum, @bstarzomski! Glad that you are sharing iNat with your students in a thought-out and conscious way.
I suppose whether it was cheating or not depends on the exact nature of the assignment, which you cannot know, so you shouldn’t beat yourself up about it. Clearly the student was not forthcoming at the beginning. Sooner or later, if he/she wasn’t supposed to get these observations identified by someone else, this behavior is going to catch up with the student. Imagine taking an exam where you are supposed to be able identify something yourself and not knowing how to do it because you had iNat. do it for you and didn’t learn. Anyway, that said, as an English literature teacher, I can say that this happens all the time in English–a student relies on notes or ideas or papers off the internet to “cheat” on a paper. As a teacher, I make myself aware of sites that could prove overly helpful to students, and I often recognize a pattern of cheating as a result. Teachers know the resources out there. If the professor assigned a project where the student could use iNat to cheat, that professor knows about iNat and may very well find the observations. However, no one can catch everything. It’s just the world we live in–as I said, the student eventually pays the price for not learning what was taught through the assignment. Small comfort, perhaps, but you cannot hold yourself responsible for his/her bad behavior. And, it’s possible that the assignment allowed iNat. as a resource in which case you’ve proven its effectiveness. All this to say, don’t worry too much about it.
yes, as others have said, iNat is specifically set up to get IDs for organisms, so it isn’t a good place for teachers to run assignments where students aren’t meant to ask for outside help. If it’s part of a class using iNat, hopefully the teacher realizes that, and if someone is using iNat to cheat on their botany class or something, it’s not really the responsibility of the identifier to monitor that. One side note is that sometimes ‘cheating’ takes the form of posting photos from internet searches and such, and that is against the policy of the site and those should be flagged as copyright infringement. Otherwise not much can be done about it. There’s been a lot of discussion of the pitfalls and issues with assigning people to use iNat, you can search the forum for ‘duress user’ and find a bunch of it.
I love the good models that @danaleeling and @bstarzomski are providing for how to use iNaturalist effectively in teaching. The teacher in the original question probably didn’t have time to research all the pitfalls, but they’re likely to learn from the experience and will either do better next time or will drop the idea. Meanwhile, to address @je9h’s question, don’t worry about it. When you ID an observation you’re helping yourself learn and you’re helping the iNat database, so it’s always valuable. You can minimize the chance of inadvertently doing someone’s work by spreading your IDs around and not doing a lot for one person, especially a new user.
I imagine a test will cover much of the IDing that the project was covering. If the teacher isn’t doing tests, and weighting them sufficiently to highlight shortcuts students took during assignments, there isn’t much you can do about it. Several students in a Physics course I was taking searched the internet for answers to homework assignments. They did better than I did on that small percentage of their grade. They struggled to get passing grades on the tests though.
I can see this being more of a problem with an insect collection, where students can post what they have found and are supposed to ID on their own. Putting it up on iNat can help them circumvent the work, but that does not have to be a specific iNat collection that should be graded.
In a botany class, I can understand a professor asking students to set up an account just with observations that would count as a collection of observations. I wouldn’t make it worth much though. What is to stop a student panicking at the last minute and just using google images of the items that student needs?
This happens rather often and they seem to usually get caught, because most experts can tell something is off. Sometimes it takes a while though. Someone recently added a bunch of fake but subtle tree observations and that took a while to shake out, before that generating a bunch of interesting discussions about tree range. And sadly, there weren’t range extensions, just someone inexplicably creating fake data. So it does happen though it’s often nipped in the ‘bud’
From an educator’s perspective, I think identifying things for students is fine. It is up to the educator to ensure that the assignment’s rigor is such that a student’s use of technology doesn’t shortcut the academic process or lesson intended.
If the lesson was to use a key, require the students to list the couplet pairings (path) they followed in the key. If they can use iNat, they should have to cite the process (iNat’s original ID, identifications suggested by individual user’s, etc.).
A well constructed assignment can be educational even if the student gets “the answers” from the community. And it teaches them the value of citizen science.
When I was taking various -ology courses in college, we often were required to collect and preserve specimens which factored into our final grade. My understanding is that photo records have replaced the physical specimens in many cases, so iNat seems like an ideal place for a student to archive their collection.
The main problem I see is that a student using iNat for a class assignment is under a time constraint. They might need to post X number of records and get IDs on them by some deadline. This is counter to the way most iNat submitters operate. As we know, it can take months or even years for an expert to come along and provide a good ID for some hard-to-ID submissions. A student might be tempted to cut corners by having a fellow classmate agree with an ID, when neither really knows what they’re doing. Also, it might increase the number of solicitations to taxon experts by these student submitters with pleas to look at their records. I don’t know if that’s a problem at this point but could become one if iNat is increasingly used for such classroom assignments.
Well, if the assignment requires you to get someone to ID it for you, then it should be on the instructor to take on that roll. Creating a project for the class would make tat easy. Coupling the grade of the observation with time and location references should make this more rigorous as well, preventing cheats.
As a professor who has taught these sorts of courses in college I would require majors students to report the steps in the dichotomous key they used to arrive at the identification along with any measurements they took of the organism that helped them decide. For High School and non-majors I’m not sure. Perhaps if it was liberal studies students I would ask them how to teach the use of various dichotomous keys to 7th-12th graders. Just grading them on ID’ing something isn’t really teaching in my opinion. I am hoping that since it was 30% of the students grade, they were simply asking more experienced folks to confirm their identifications and that 70% of the assignment involved documenting the process or some similar activity.