Intro to iNaturalist: 3 minute overview

I am part of a panel discussion on iNaturalist for master naturalists, where four of us have 3 minutes to share one aspect of iNaturalist. I am the kickoff speaker who will give the overview. The other speakers will cover Getting Started, Data Quality, App and Website observations.

If you were giving the kickoff overview, what would you include?


i think a good 3-minute overview could be done by mixing elements from the first 2:30 of the first video below and the first 1:30 of the second:

i think what’s missing from your rough outline of points to cover is the whole community aspect of iNaturalist. it’s more than just a system and data. it’s the community that really makes it special.


Somewhere when you are putting together your presentation you might want to review List of features - wiki to see if there is a salient point that was left out.

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I totally agree with @pisum. I usually start my intros with something like “You may have heard of iNaturalist as an app, but it’s way more than an app. iNaturalist is a wide-ranging biodiversity resource with two components – a huge international database available online, and a vast community of naturalists building that database and helping each other. There’s nothing like it.”


Ken-ichi’s talk about iNaturalist at TDWG in 2020 was pretty great. He’s also our co-founder and co-director. from 4 minutes to about 10 minutes. After 10 minutes it gets pretty deep into our computer vision system, but before that it’s a great introduction to iNaturalist generally.


This is really fresh in my mind after some recent bad trolling incidents by students. I contacted their teacher and they said they had no idea how much of a community iNaturalist is. Everything their students do affects the entire community and are publicly viewable by anyone on Earth.

The other things I’d emphasize most are:

  • use iNaturalist for weeks before introducing it to your students.

  • have a goal in mind and figure out how iNaturalist can help the students achieve that goal. Just making them take observations without a real purpose and a follow-up discussion or activity doesn’t really do much, IMO.


Last Fall I prepared an example Google Presentation that our university professors could model for presentations introducing their students to iNaturalist. It covers the GIS and biodiversity aspects, the difference between the web version and the app, as well as how to make good observations, the community aspects, and the project possibilities. It’s not a deep dive into any of those. The professors all have very different audiences, from non-majors to upper division ecology students, so they took different things from the presentation. You might find it useful.


I strongly concur… especially the “use iNat for weeks.” And regarding your second point, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard well-meaning educators say “I just want to get them out interacting with nature a bit.” And then they follow up with zero instruction and just an assignment to make 100 observations by the end of the semester. Meanwhile the instructor hasn’t made any observations themselves and the students get busy taking long distance photos of iceplant.


If I am veering off your specific question , apologies.

I would like to see all intros to iNaturalist usage cover very briefly that there are significant differences in what platform is used. E.g., web, android, and iOS apps have quite different features and capabilities. Last time I used it way back when, Seek had its unique twists, also.

Fwiw …


I just want to clarify that I know teachers (at least here in the US, and I’m sure many other places) unfortunately have very little time and resources to do the kind of deep dive I’m suggesting here, and it’s terrible that that’s the reality. But I do think that if they can use iNat before having their students use it, the outcomes will be better for all (or maybe they’ll decide it’s not a good fit for their students/lesson, which is also fine) and could potentially prevent them having to spend hours investigating disciplining students after receiving an email from us about misbehavior.

If teachers just want their kids outside exploring nature, I’d recommend using Seek or just doing some nature journaling and sketching - it’s not always necessary to use a phone when out in nature.


I agree with @janetwright - others seem to be focusing on details about use. Stressing the community aspect is a good place to start. iNat is not just about taking photos. It’s also a place to learn, in a sense to stand on the shoulders of giants so to speak. A place to ask questions about ‘why do you think it is this and not this’, a place to pick up resources (helpful websites etc.). And a fairly ‘safe’ place in which to do so. Although some folks have had a rough time, I’ve found all my interactions have either been neutral or very good.
Three minutes is not a long time, so it will take some finesse to make an ‘Intro to iNat’ talk. One of the hardest things I’ve ever done in a University course was to give a Pecha Kucha presentation - 20 slides, 20 seconds per slide! Took me weeks to get it right.


100%. When I show teachers iNat, it’s in how to use the data to teach and not as a tool to get your students outside. I do stress to the teachers that it behooves them to add their own observations to whatever data set they are exploring, if possible. Kids get such a kick out of seeing their teacher “in real life”. Once they notice the photo and hopefully a classroom appropriate iNat name on an observation, they’ll say something like “Hey! That’s you!” The younger ones will actually think the teacher is internet famous, like a You Tuber or Instagram influencer, lol.


I’ve had two high school biology teachers and two university professors tell me that they do not want to post observations on iNaturalist because they worry about getting the identifications wrong and the students questioning their abilities. Since I don’t know their classrooms, I have to respect that. But I still encourage them to get an account and make at least 100 observations under a pseudonym before designing lesson plans and class activities. We also have faculty who are very successful using iNat themselves and with their students.


I think one the best teaching material in Inat are ID mistakes that you can show to students:
Why did I get that ID wrong? Was that picture shot close enough to show a crucial detail for ID? Is the field guide I used for this ID outdated? Did I get influenced by the fact that usually all observations of that type of organism are the same common and well-known species? …


Absolutely! How terrible to be someone who is too concerned with their image to learn anything.


That’s too funny. I’m willing to give extra credit to any student in my class who finds and corrects one of my ID mistakes.


Don’t get me wrong, the majority I’ve proselytized did not feel that way. I’m just reporting what I’ve heard and I’m not judging because I don’t know what is going on in their classrooms. It could be management issues or it could be students feeling discouraged, “Oh if she can’t even get it right how can she expect me to?” etc. It’s always best not to make assumptions, especially about people’s motivations.