My experience as a student using iNat in Higher Education

If I was a teacher I would never be able to recommend this site to students or children. Instead I would advocate for for free access to field guides and other resources.

The reason being is that this site doesn’t help with ID. I seen it all the time. Other classmates would either be forced to make an account as a school project in college and university. Then after they would abandon in it and never use it again. Lots of students make an account just to get quick free ID’s on plants, fish etc. So they don’t actually have to do the work and never learn anything at all.

In college we had to do a plant collection and forage fish collection and lots of people did this. They put no work into it at all. So it’s pretty much anti-learning.

Also in college, I found this site on my own and brought it up with my wildlife prof. He said he hated it for this reason, plus the aggressiveness of users on the site and the abusive nature of some users. He said he only used it for a short amount of time and gave up on it.

At university they made us use it. At the college they suggested against it.

I didn’t think anything of it at the time, but lately I have been getting a lot of that as well. I wouldn’t be able to subject children to that.


Wondering why?

Sorry, that sent before I was done typing. I edited the rest in.

I’m sorry you’ve had that experience. We mostly observe very common things and animal tracks, and no one has ever been abusive or unkind. Edit: I think having an adult do quality control is key to making this work with a classroom. I also like the lag time between posting and identification…it makes them think about what it could be. We then go back and compare what it is with what they predicted.


There are many different ways to learn species identifications, and asking other people (which is the core of what iNaturalist is) is just one way. If it’s not your preferred method, then you can seek out other methods.

We take the community guidelines (and forum guidelines) of iNaturalist seriously and encourage anyone with concerns to flag posts and/or contact @jameson_nagle has done this with some of his concerns, to which curators, staff, and moderators have responded.


I agree. However as a fish and wildlife technician and biologist I don’t think being told what something is really counts towards learning an identification. To truly learn an identification one has to learn why whatever the specimen is, what it is. Or why it can’t be something else.

Simply telling somebody what something is, takes away the appreciation, wonder and satisfaction of actually taking the time to do research, create dichotomous keys, etc. To create a proper hypotheses and reach a conclusion.

inat is good for afterwords, where you can confirmation with other users.

Admittedly though, inat would be good for children to gain a basic intro to field identifications if it wasn’t for the aggressive, competitive, brigrading and other inappropriate behaviors. Then I think it would be an amazing tool.

Also, my professor in college, said he left this site because he posted a spreading dogbane and somebody freaked out at him because they went to that spot and couldn’t find it so they lit into him. After 3 times somebody was hostile to him. He said after that he never used inat again. He hasn’t logged in since Sept 11 2019. Poor guy. He was a really nice guy too. Probably one of my favorite profs from college.

1 Like

In my experience with the site over 6 years, I have only very rarely encountered such behavior, and it is almost always quickly flagged and dealt with. I don’t think these rare exceptions need to prevent

or other educational uses of the site, with the understanding that it can be a helpful supplement to learning


I think this is a valid point and one I just made in a comment on one of my recent observations. I am grateful for every suggestion anyone makes and I know many of the people who make suggestions do cover a lot of ground and can’t make comments about the details they are using for their id very often.

But, especially if it’s a disagreement with a previous suggestion, I sure would appreciate what I should be looking at. I don’t know a lot… but I research a whole lot before making a suggestion. If I’m wrong, I obviously need to learn something I wasn’t able to on my own. I’ve asked a few times for some help on why something is X instead of Y and my return rate on those requests has been very low.

I’m using iNat to support work I’d already be doing. Everything I get is a plus and everything I don’t get is no worse than working without it.

But I might be frustrated if I was trying to use it as a more aggressive learning tool. (for example school work vs retirement hobby)

Additionally, every photo that has one suggestion of an id shows up in the photo album of that species (or genus, etc) whether it was a correct suggestion or not. I’m learning that I can’t really rely on iNat’s photos for a species I’m trying to identify. I can perhaps eliminate a species but if I think it might be X species, I go find other sites/sources for some sense of confirmation. Some of those sources do a bit better job on explaining why someone is suggesting an id or disagreeing with someone else’s.

and I’ll end with a thanks to every iNat user who has responded to my requests for elaboration on identification. All of them were helpful and advanced my knowledge in very useful ways. :-)

edit to add a bit of a tangent - I will admit one massive disappointment with iNat and one that would really make me rethink its use for lower grades. In researching a plant I’d photographed, I went to look at the photo album for one suggested species only to find the thumbnail image to be the plant in the background and an obscene hand gesture in the foreground. I can only imagine it was meant to be a ‘for scale’ type of addition but, although I’m not easily offended, I found it highly inappropriate. I flagged it and it was determined to be something like ‘obscene but defendable’. I can’t remember the designation. Something like that puts educators at potential risk of criticism from parents should their younger child happen upon it. Personally, knowing an image like that was deemed allowable would keep me from recommending the site for use with younger children.


I won’t argue against the basic point, that learning to make IDs on your own is the best or most effective way to learn. But forms of life are so fantastically diverse, and so many, and so many taxa do not have published ID guides to use as references, that i’m not sure learning on our own is always the most practical means of learning for everyone and for all life forms. For instance, late in my career i’ve become interested in invertebrates, from amphipods and arachnids to a whole host of cave-adapted inverts. Posting photos of some of these taxa on iNat has been extremely valuable to me in obtaining an ID, and obtaining those IDs that i can be confident in does help to maintain the motivation to continue the search. And one doesn’t have to just stop at the suggested ID. The suggested ID can serve as the launch pad to delve into the research of that taxon, to search out and read the available research, and on your own try to understand what distinguished the specimen in question from other species or genera. i absolutely appreciate iNat and those who spend their time IDing observations, it has helped in my professional understanding and appreciation of forms of life i have long ignored


everyone is different and every taxa is different but I’ve learned way more plants by other people showing them to me (multiple times) and talking about them than I have by keying them out myself. And I’ve keyed a lot of plants out. I think instead of assuming everyone will learn the same way, if it doesn’t work for you, you can stop using it, and those of us who want to use it can continue doing so.

I personally find rude/bullying/inappropriate behavior/etc to be lower on this site than just about any other site with multiple users, though that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist ever at all.


Beyond the identifications themselves, iNat is really great at building community. Encourage students to not only post observations and get IDs, but to actually communicate with those giving the IDs. The assignment shouldn’t be “Identify what this fish is”, but “show evidence of you having engaged with an identifier and being shown how to identify yourself…”


Telling people not to use a service and product you work for and endorse is bad economics, logistics and overall bad business practice. I don’t know if that was directed at me or not, as you have said the same thing to me before and suggested I leave. Personally I find it offensive.

I don’t think users should have to leave because a forum moderator and curator is intolerant of there constructive criticism. The point to constructive criticism is for it to be taken into consideration to making a product better and it’s users experience better.

Simply telling people to bug off and not use it is inappropriate.
I would never ask you or anybody else to leave. It’s not polite.

Like imagine if you ordered a strawberry jam sandwich from a cafeteria or something and they gave you a peanut butter and jam sandwhich and you went into anaphylactic shock because of allergies.
Then you went back to confront the issue by means of constructive criticism and they just told you to bug off and not come back. Lol

See, teachers have a responsibility to protect children. if I was a teacher and I got students to use this site and something happened. I would be responsible. If some intolerant person told them to bug off and not come back. That would be emotionally scarring to a child. They wouldn’t understand.

Having a lot emotional scarring as a child myself that carries on even to this day. It’s just not a cross i’m willing to bare. If I was a teacher, that is.

1 Like

I don’t work for Inaturalist. I volunteer to help with the forums. My posts aren’t official Inaturalist decrees.


But what you do on here still represents the Inaturalist brand and it’s views.

I’m not sure why you’re saying that but in any event I’ll be done with this exchange. Good luck. Please contact the staff if you want official Inaturalist policy.


Some people learn best by having someone looking over their shoulder and guiding them all the way. Others learn best on their own, trying and failing and learning from their mistakes with little outside guidance. Most of us probably gain knowledge and experience from a combination of both.

I appreciate it when a botanist jumps in and IDs one of my iNat plant photos that I’m clueless about. I learn something since I’m unlikely to go through the arduous process of trying to key it out myself. Is that lazy of me? Sure, maybe, but none of us has unlimited time to struggle through every learning opportunity presented to us.

iNat is a great tool for learning about nature. Everyone uses it in different ways. Some might have unpleasant experiences with it, but most don’t. Not sure what the issue is here.


charlie’s comments here don’t represent iNaturalist’s views, neither do yours or mine.

Aside from that, the vast majority of the interactions I’ve participated in and the interactions I’ve observed on iNaturalist have been positive, upbuilding, and educational. The inappropriate behaviour mentioned here is very rare and far from the norm. A more common problem I see is that students often don’t see the comments other users make on their observations, which are generally helpful and trying to improve the quality of the observations.


Perhaps one problem I hadn’t thought of is that a reviewer can’t always tell if the observer is a young kid or an adult. My comments on another’s record are never insulting but they might be terse since I’m often just pointing out something that might be problematic with the record. A sensitive kid might think it rude, discouraging, or intimidating. Well, I’m an old curmudgeon and I suppose some of my comments could come across that way (unintentionally). That’s where having an adult (parent or teacher) being involved with the kid at the other end is important.

I didn’t grow up with the internet or even have it during my college years. So I’m probably not sensitive to all the issues with kids using it. It’s a different environment than my childhood/young adult experience.


Charlie is only offering an option here. He clearly stated it as his thoughts, and is not telling you to do anything. That you interpret it as “telling you” suggests to me that you might be prone to misinterpreting. If the misinterpretation is deliberate, then it is a logic fallacy called “attacking the straw man”

To carry on the straw-man that you erected… iNat is not a product that has been offered to you as part of a choice. iNat is what iNat is. iNat is not the cafeteria, it IS the peanut butter sandwich. You have picked up a peanut butter sandwich without consideration for what it might be, and if you are allergic to peanuts, then I would agree with Charlie and strongly recommend putting down the sandwich! Like Charlie, I will stop short of TELLING you to do so though :)


Well, it is sort of a cafeteria. The botanists often head for the salad bar while the zoology folks tend to load up with the meat dishes. Something for everyone. ;-)