Using iNaturalist with Students, Especially Remotely

With so many educators forced to teach students remotely due to the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, I’ve seen some chatter on Twitter about using iNaturalist as a way to do some fieldwork education remotely, so I thought I’d start a thread here for educators (or anyone else) to share their ideas, experiences, resources, and best practices for using iNat with students.


A note for educators: please read our Teacher’s Guide before using iNaturalist with your students, it contains advice, best practices, and ways to avoid common pitfalls.

We also highly recommend that you familiarize yourself with iNaturalist before having your students use it. By far the biggest indicator of success when using iNaturalist in the education space is that the educator knows how iNat and its community works, and that they curate and watch their students’ postings. If you come across any issues, ask for advice here and/or to email help@inaturalist.org. We also have some extensive help pages listed on the left side of the Teacher’s Guide.


Please stay healthy and safe, everyone.

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A great way to familiarize students with local nature is this delightful quiz.
https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/how-well-do-you-know-your-local-wildlife-now-you-can-test-yourself/10711

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In addition to typical iNat observations at our field sites, I had my class of upper-division university students write up a paragraph about each field site before our visit. I gave them a brief tutorial about how to view previous observations from a site, then instructed them to tell me something interesting (range/distribution/phenology/etc) about 9 species commonly found at the site. I also asked for 1 rare or unusual species that they were particularly hoping to observe. The students wrote lovely summaries of each site, and I always looked forward to reading them. I liked that this put the students in charge of learning about the site before we arrived, which hopefully made it “stick” a little better than if they were seeing everything for the first time on the day of the field trip.

While it was nice to follow up with a visit to the site together, the site summaries could be followed by individual visits to the site, or could even replace a site visit altogether if necessary.

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This link to iNaturalist species bingo was just shared on twitter by @vilseskog. Maybe Lena can share more when she has a chance.

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My students are very familiar with iNat and beg me to post everything we find. They are ages 6-10, too young to use the app. If you are excited about it, they will be too…I suggest showing students how you use it by showing them what you’ve personally observed. For younger kids it may make sense to have a class account that you are in charge of. They can send you observations, you can request a second draft if need be, and you can post for them as the school. I end up posting most of the pictures from our hikes but our school has an account which we use in the classroom to protect student privacy.

They do offer this critique of the app: “water is alive so you should be able to post pictures of water”

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20 posts were split to a new topic: My experience as a student using iNat in Higher Education

I think one of the best ways to use iNat with students is through projects that feature unique places. For instance, take a virtual field trip to whichever park you wish. https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/national-park-service

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That’s actually an awesome idea. I like that.

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Teachers could require that students display a real attempt at ID for all their observations, using physical or online keys. That ID, and link/reference to guide, could be placed in the observation’s description. They would be directed not to actually register that ID. Teachers could also evaluate students on their continued interaction with community. Or on finding something in each of listed target taxa (whatever). But I agree, having an explicit nudge toward using guides would be valuable for students of all ages.

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I remember, back in the day, penpals was a big thing. Our school/class (in the 70s) had contact with another school/class overseas and we would be given a name from that other class. We would write and receive letters with that other student throughout the year. I wonder if we couldn’t have similar sorts of experience here in iNat…

I imagine that we could partner up with another iNat member from a different country, and after a few emails introducing each other a little more indepth than the profile description might do, we could then take turns at picking one of our favourite (own) observations and sharing why it is so special. We can elaborate on what the trip was about, who it was with, what we have found out about that species, and so on.

Of course, in the school example of penpals, there was an implied vetting of participants in that it was school classes, and there was supervision and even censorship to an extent by the teachers involvement. How that would factor in an iNat sense I am not sure…

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love it! and of course, everyone is encouraged to try new things. I ain’t eating the mynah though… I’ll lick the feathers but that’s as far as I’m going :D

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The analogy that I like most for iNat, is that it is a great hall that everyone comes to with their weird and whacky show-n-tells. iNat provide the venue, the guidelines on behaviour, the few rules that shalt be followed, and even (by virtue of it’s internet form) a library of resources and plethora of services, not least of which I would rate the translations services (Google Translate but also other iNatters) that allow it to be an international meeting place that welcomes all.

But, just like a hall, it is truly what it is most when it is full of people… discussing, sharing, assisting, organising, dreaming…

As someone that finds crowds of people to be intimidating and anxiety provoking (even the library has me on edge), I most like the fact that I can fill it with as many people at any given time as I am comfortable with! Perhaps that is going to be a huge factor in the appeal of iNat during this time of social panic and travel restrictions and bans on large gatherings and such…

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I just created a primer for teachers unfamiliar with iNaturalist on accessing iNat data to teach biomes, food webs, migrations. I actually used National Parks to teach food webs. I’m adding the umbrella project as a resource. Great share!

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That is cool!

Slide 3 bottom line seems confusing: “where it was made and that observations distribution map.” Should it be “that observations location map”?

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I think of inat as a really fancy mutual field notebook.

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I put together this inquiry based lesson that asks students to compare biodiversity in two locations using inaturalist data. I’ll admit it needs some work but I’ll put it out there for anyone who wants to adapt and use it. Please share any modifications you make or positive experiences.
https://docs.google.com/document/d/1UhwmE-jU9s4wNsSZuhHuCjDLBob9trOSFbrn-2bAE7g/edit?usp=sharing

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You are not supposed to ‘handle’ the evidence. Let alone EAT it ;~)

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Riding my bike today I passed two mothers with their kids who had just identified a road-side plant with Seek.

They were social distancing - a family unit outdoors, but were getting excited by a new plant (California flannelbush). The kids were jumping up and down saying “we found a new species!”.

I stopped to take my own iNat picture as they proceeded, and when I passed them again they were shouting about a cool yellow flower.

This is iNat doing good in the world!

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When you minus out of the location map on the observation info card, you can see where else that organism was documented on iNaturalist, i.e. its distribution.

The wording on the slide is clunky. Need to rethink it. Thank you for highlighting that.

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Hello @chriswidmaier

Nice activity!

A clarifying question: is hacking the url part of the lesson? Because your students could set up a bounding box in a couple of different ways.

  1. They could search the city in the location search box. This will give them a quadrat demarcated by a bounding box that they could bookmark.
  2. The student could plus in till they get the geo-spatial area they want and then hit Re-do search in map which sets a bounding box. They could also bookmark this.
  3. If they have an account and 50 or more observations, they can set up a quadrat as a community curated place to the exact specs they need.

I’d love to hear what your students come up with. This is a great inquiry based lesson.

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