Biodiversity Survey part 3: Citizen Science (Creating and Curating an iNaturalist Project)
Lesson 5 of 9
Objective: Students will be able to work individually over the long term on a collective endeavor to document and identify the biodiversity that surrounds them with the ultimate goal of creating a body of data that will be useful to scientists.
This lesson is the third part of the Biodiversity Survey project lesson sequence. In this lesson, students will learn how to add their observations to our group biodiversity survey project on iNaturalist as well as become familiar with the extra credit awards that their work on this project may make them eligible to receive.
The descriptions of how I implement this entire project in class are spread out over 5 lessons:
- Community Mapping and Introduction to iNaturalist
- Observing and Identifying Local Species
- Citizen Science
- Managing a Long Term Project
- Making a Collection
Please Note that although this lesson does include steps that you will cover with your students that come after part 1 and part 2 of this sequence, the "creating a project" section should actually be done ahead of all the lessons in the sequence. As such, this lesson consists of a lot of instructions for the teacher and should be reviewed before beginning any of the lessons with your students.
As a general overview to creating an iNaturalist project as part of your class, you may wish to read iNaturalist's teacher's guide.
This project description sheet provides student-facing instructions and describes the entire project in terms of requirements for successful completion. Although students received this handout in the previous lesson, we only covered the second section regarding the requirement for 10 observations. In this lesson, the rest of the handout will be covered which deals with adding their observations to our biodiversity survey project and the awards they can earn.
Connection to Standards:
For me, this whole lesson sequence and the value of iNaturalist really come into focus when you have a project for your students to participate in. Projects give a sense of purpose to citizen scientists' explorations, observations, and identifications. In the case of my class, I had decided when creating this project that a simple survey of the biodiversity in and around or school's campus was a worthwhile project since it does allow my students to take part in citizen science (i.e., the observations they make through iNaturalist are providing valuable data for any researchers that might want to access the information they gathered). See this reflection for more on the possibility of having more student input on the scope of the project and allowing for student-designed projects.
Whether you intend to set up a simple "survey" project or something more ambitious, you will need to set up your own project by going to the iNaturalist Projects page and clicking "Start a new project" in the upper right section of the window, next to the search tool.
The tutorial below explains how to quickly create your own class project on iNaturalist:
Before starting your own new project, it's helpful to browse other projects started by other iNaturalist users. Since there are hundreds of projects established all over the world, I began my explorations by searching for all projects with the keyword "California", then joined any that seemed relevant to the Los Angeles area.
I joined projects that I found interesting and encourage my students to do the same and add observations not only to our biodiversity survey project, but to other relevant projects so that their observations can also provide useful data to professional researchers and citizen scientists with particular areas of expertise and interest. In this way, students are part of a community of citizen scientists. For example, I encouraged any students that added observations of moths or buterflies to our project to also add those observations to the larger "Lepidoptera of California" project.
Curating the project is no small task. You will need to monitor which students are contributing and which are not. The best way to do this is to look at the "all people" link at the top right of your project page, this will display a list of students that have joined the project and lists how many observations they have added to the project. From there you can look at contributions from individual students and advise them through the site itself or in person during class.
As per the suggestions on iNaturalist, another important action you can take in curating the project is to help students with identifications whenever possible, this takes some of the burden off of the community if you can guide students into following some best practices.
In the video below, I demonstrate how I use the project page as a portal to help my students whenever possible:
Here are a few examples of other interactions I took in acting as a curator to the project:
- In this student's observation, they have a nice photo of some pigeons, but it's oriented horizontally. I just added a comment on their page that the birds looked like they were lying down and checked in with the student the next time I saw her and she had fixed the issue by rotating the photo, a relatively easy process explained here:
- This student took an amazing photo of a seagull in flight (for which he won a photography award), but I let him know in class that his description could use more detail. In this way I tried to both acknowledge what he did that was great, while also pointing out some room for improvement.
- This student's observation was identified to the species level by members of the iNaturalist community, but I let them know in class that they still needed to add a written description to provide more detailed information.
- In this example, the student has a nice photo of a parakeet, but there are a few problems:
- The parakeet is obviously a pet, and we had already discussed in the previous lesson that, in order for their observations to be of most value to scientists, students should focus on wild organisms rather than domesticated pets or cultivated plants.
- The description of the parakeet simply states its color and that it has "long" feathers. Again, observations are of more use and interest to the iNaturalist community when they include quantitative measurements and more detailed descriptions.
- The location of the observation shows up as a "?" in a circle. This is a common problem and can be fixed accordingly:
Again, even though much of the information in this lesson is for you as a teacher to understand how to set up and curate a project for your students, this lesson should come after part one (signing up for iNaturalist) and part two (making and uploading observations) because students need to go through those two lessons to do the work for this lesson.
As this class begins, I would ask students to get at least one laptop per group and navigate to the iNaturalist site, and for any students that have the iNaturalist app on their smartphones to open their app as well.
I then ask for one student volunteer to come up to my desk and, allowing them to log into their iNaturalist account, we use the projector and their observations to show the class how to add observations to the project:
Once I have demonstrated to the class how to add an observation to our project, I mention again that students need to make sure their observations contain information as possible, and again stress the importance of writing thorough descriptions, taking multiple photos, interacting with the iNaturalist community, etc.
One way I tried to get students to follow these best practices and encourage even greater interest in this project was to include several extra credit awards in different categories. So after I've demonstrated how to add an observation to our project and reminded students about the best practices, I show the leader board to the students and have students take out the project description handout to read along as I explain how the awards will be determined.
I have the following awards to motivate students to do as well as possible on the project:
- Taxonomy Awards*
- +5 to be the first to describe a kingdom or phylum
- +3 to be the first to describe a class or order
- +2 to be the first to describe a family
- +1 to be the first to observe a genus or species
*Students may be awarded only one taxonomy award per observation, whichever is the greatest value. (e.g., for being the first to take a picture of a mammal, they receive the +3 class award, not the family and genus awards as well)
- Community Awards
- +1 to use and cite an identification guide to help other users on iNaturalist
- +1 sharing an observation with relevant projects
- Best Practice Awards
- +1: Exceptional photography
- +1: All applicable fields filled out in detail
- +5: All of your observations have multiple photos
- +5: All of your collected species are wild (not cultivated, captive, or domesticated)
- Final Awards*
- 1st Place: +25
- 2nd Place: +20
- 3rd Place: +15
- 4th Place: +10
- 5th Place: +5
*The Final Awards are based on the number of unique species identified. When the project is set to contest, a leaderboard will be generated automatically based on this value.
Please note: For the taxonomy awards, I allow students to take only one award, whichever is the highest value (e.g., if a student was the first to find a specific species of bee, but also the first to find an insect in the order hymenoptera, I would award them the 3 extra credit points for order rather than the 1 point for species).
I let students know that, except for the Final Awards which are maintained automatically by iNaturalist (there is a leader board at the head of the project page), receiving credit is their responsibility. In other words, students need to let me know if they were the first to identify an arachnid, or if they submitted an observation to another project, or if all of their observations are wild organisms, etc.
I created a simple spreadsheet on Google docs to keep track of extra credit awards. I emailed the link to all students so they could view it, but I kept their status as "view only" so that I could maintain control of the awards.
As for my students, the majority did not take the time to let me know they had earned an award and, as such, many awards went "unclaimed". Still, there were a few students that were pretty vigilant about the awards they were earning and I happily awarded them the extra credit.