School/Homework Questions on the Forum

Lately there have been questions posted on the forum from high school students, and some seem to be straight up copies of homework questions. I don’t want to call them out specifically - they’re kids and they’re learning (as we all are, really).

As an educator in my past life, I don’t think the iNat Forum should be a place to get your homework assignments answered for you. It’s not helpful for the student’s education and I doubt it’s what their teachers would want.

I can see a student asking for resources (eg “where can I find information about X?”) or advice on how to answer or research a question can be OK, but even then it’s important to remember that this forum is specifically for the iNaturalist community, not a one-stop-shop for anything nature related.

But I wanted to see what others think. And please don’t chastise anyone or any behavior, I’m curious to know what the community’s opinon is on these types of questions. I’m especially interested to hear educators’ opinions. Thanks!


I agree and I think my wife, who’s a biology teacher, would also agree. It seems a little too easy and lazy to post a question here and let others do your research for you. Of course I never had internet resources when I was a student so maybe I’m just envious of what’s available to today’s kids.


Totally agree. Providing an Easy Button for homework answers defeats the object of the exercise. I vote them off the island.


Agree; this is why when I see a group of students uploading a ton of unknowns without even trying to ID things I just skip when in iNat itself. Like…can’t be arsed to even use the CV? Really!? I understand these topics are not for everyone and people end up in classes they dislike; and some teachers/profs are really bad about teaching students how to learn; but when I don’t even see bare minimum effort (google exists, librarys exists, cv exists with links to wiki pages…) I don’t feel it is or should be on me/the community to do the homework for them


New forum guideline? Aside from students saying its a homework question, how is one able to tell that it’s a homework question vs. a green user who is just getting into naturalism?


As an educator trying to teach students ‘information literacy’ of whatever buzzword you want to use, this would be a teachable moment to have a discussion with the class about what constitutes a primary, scholarly source for their homework project and what doesn’t.

Oh yeah, I see these for our campus and wait to add IDs until the semester is over when it’s too late to affect their grades. I also like to find out which class it is and may try to track down the instructor to see if they need some advice for their use of iNat in the classroom.


the noticeable number of school assignment questions has put a damper on my enjoyment of the forum.

for me, the main thing is that these questions are often posed with zero context. on the one hand, this helps to identify them as school assignment questions. on the other hand, it’s frustrating in general to see topics started without any indication of why the particular question is important and without knowing how much the poster knows about the subject already.

just for example:

do big cats purr?

leads to a very different discussion than:

i’ve been reading up on big cats since watching the Tiger King. i’ve read that the structure of the skulls in big cats – lions, tigers, leopards – prevents them from purring. but then i’ve seen a video of a mountain lion purring. it’s curious to me that mountain lions would have the ability to purr but not lions. did purring arise in only some branches of the cat evolutionary tree? or did some cats lose the ability to purr? why would some cats lose (or develop) the ability to purr? what is the evolutionary purrpose of purring (especially in the context of the big cat like a mountain lion)?

for me, “do cats purr?” is like posting a bug report with no screenshots or steps to reproduce the problem. anyone who wants to respond now has to make a lot of assumptions about where and how far to take the conversation, or else they have to spend a lot of extra energy exploring all the possible avenues either by offering all the possibilities upfront or doing a lot of extra back and forth just to establish the basic direction of the discussion.

even when the question is posed with some context, the other main problem of such questions to me is that they feel very transactional. as soon as the person gets an answer, they often disappear into the ether, never to be seen again.

i get that not everyone is going to become an active long-term participant in the forum. but i do think that part of the reason of having the Forum is to build a community. and those school questions almost never seem to lead to a better community.

also, because the questions feel very transactional, it makes me less willing to put a lot of effort into answering them. that in itself is not the issue, but i think my unwillingness to have a good discussion then carries over to other discussions.

i think if the problem continues, it’s probably worth it to develop at least a general official policy for dealing with school assignment questions, just as there is policy around discussions that merely promote a product.


I agree.

And yet.

Community knowledge is now being taught as an authentic source of information. It’s presented as taking away the gatekeeping of academic journals. Without having seen the questions, it’s hard to tell if the student is using iNat the way they would Wikipedia or some other resource or just hoping for a cut and paste answer. Probably some of both in many instances.

I would not answer a question like that but I also wouldn’t work too hard to shut it down either. Unless it’s taking a big toll on forum resources then I’d let it be and encourage others to do the same.


Is it possible that the teacher is directing students to use the forum as a resource in answering their homework questions? Or are the students finding the forum on their own? Are any of these students also on iNaturalist or are they just registered on the forum?


for what it’s worth, i did a quick search for general internet sources recommending iNatForum as a place for homework help, but i didn’t find anything.


One give-a-way is a brand new forum user (e.g., <5 minutes Read Time and with few to zero observations) who posts an oddly sophisticated or specific question .


My initial reaction: of course not, why would they do that? But then I remember the community college instructor who assigned many dozens of students to go to my place of work, find a staff member, and ask the same set of 3 questions each time. Worst. idea. ever. We only have 4 staff members. It got to the point that I would spit out the answers without letting the student read the questions to me first.


for what it’s also worth, they should just stop assigning homework for primary school, as the data shows it has little if any value, and can be harmful for younger kids. Just saying. Sorry, kinda off topic.


Yep, the blunt, very specific question. It’s almost cute.


One too many for me.
I flagged up the latest for filmy fern.

What is the general shape of this plant

Flat out announcing, I have done nothing, made no attempt whatsoever to find answers. So there. If you fall for it and do my homework. Oh yeah, thanks a bunch.


If there’s a strong pattern, that’s certainly a possibility. Finding and talking to the teacher would help clarify what the assignment looks like. For example, in my current course we compare different sources of information and discuss reliability and bias of each source. E.g. how does a scientific paper differ from a university press release about such a paper vs. an article some journalist wrote based on that PR vs. how the public reacts to it e.g. on Facebook/Twitter. I could imagine asking a pointed question on a forum being a legitimate part of such an exercise rather than an attempt at cheating or cutting corners on an assignment.

Oh yes, I’ve been a target for this type of assignment as well. Usually some freshmen class being asked to interview professors on specific topics. It always seems to be the same topic and gets old pretty quickly. By now, I have a canned email response I can send to students who ask for a good time to do an interview…


And get the same wrong answer each time. I’m not suggesting you or anyone else gave an incorrect answer, but it happens and maybe that’s a lesson as well ;)

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I agree, and I also feel it’s unfair to their fellow students who may be trying to actually do the assignment on their own. Imagine getting a lower grade just because your least-motivated classmate managed to get someone else to answer the questions for them - feels like cheating.

Im my experience these two are pretty easy to distinguish just by how the questions are phrased. Homework questions sound very wooden, awkwardly phrased, and show no indications of actual curiosity. They also tend not to give any details about why they would be asking that question.

Genuinely curious people show some enthusiasm / excitement, tend to ramble a bit, and want to tell you about the cool thing they saw the other day on their walk that got them wondering about how bird feathers work or something. And they generally ask for recommendations about where they can learn more about a topic, rather than just seeking a direct answer to a single specific question.


I don’t agree with people answering questions for them. I can’t see a problem with asking questions though. The answers might be right or they might be wrong, but asking questions is not per se wrong. It doesn’t really matter where they’re asking the questions so long as they ask them; unless we’re saying that asking questions is bad. That said, the person asking the question should state what their current opinion is and, preferably, state why that is their opinion or say they have no idea and are asking where or what to look at

Edit: What I’m saying is that there is nothing, in my opinion, wrong with asking questions


Let’s keep the focus on the appropriateness of these types of posts on the Forum, please.