New project to help people learn about nature

I’ve just heard that iSpot Local has been recommended for funding by JISC! Having just seen a post arguing that JISC projects should blog, I thought I better blog about it.

iSpot Local is a project I submitted with a team of people from the OU and a range of partners, led by Ambios, to JISC’s eContent Programme last December . As you might guess, it’s an extension of the existing iSpot project. In case you don’t know, iSpot is a website where you can upload your observations of nature and get help from a social network of expert and casual naturalists in identifying what you’ve seen. It’s fantastic. (I may be a little biased.)

The best way to explain the project is to paste in some of the bid:


  • This project aims to explore the potential of an exciting technology-enhanced learning practice (Bioblitzes) to serve as the key mediating event for the co-creation and crowd-sourcing of digital content related to field biology, by extending an existing web tool (iSpot) and building a strong community partnership network.


The project will:

  • Rapidly deploy a community website (iSpot Local) to facilitate, coordinate and mediate activity.
  • Deliver pre-event learning opportunities to engage and empower potential community users.
  • Deliver six Bioblitz events, generating significant crowd-sourced digital content related to field observations of nature.
  • Develop iSpot Local to integrate community-specific content with observational data.
  • Co-create, crowd-source and identify existing learning resources to meet the needs and aspirations of participants.

So what’s a Bioblitz? In a nutshell, it’s a bunch of people who go to a nature site for a day or so, and record and identify as much of the wildlife as they can see, usually with a bit of help from some experts. Or, more formally, “a Bioblitz is a time-limited wildlife survey of a particular site – usually a single day – during which all organisms encountered are identified and recorded by the public, working with a team of experts.” Bioblitzes are great – they generate real scientific data, and get people interested in the particular place, in the plants, bugs and anything else that they can identify, and in the scientific process. You don’t need any technology beyond a piece of paper and a pencil, but it’s a lot easier and more worthwhile to do it with a bit of helpful technology.

The idea is that we set up a website quickly (iSpot Local!), run some learning activities with local people in the places where we’re doing the Bioblitzes, and then run them. People will take photos of what they see, stick them up on iSpot, and log where it was seen, who saw it, and what species it is. Experts from our network of partners will be on hand to help on the day itself, and experts and enthusiastic amateurs from the existing iSpot community will be able to help online.

Then we’ll help the people who’ve got interested in the places and nature they’ve seen to learn more about them, and share more information about their local place, the local biota, and what’s going on to help look after the site.

Early days yet! The project  starts on 1 March, which is going to be a real challenge to do since we’ve only just heard we are (likely to be!) funded. And it’s not a long project (only 7 months), and we have a lot to deliver.

But it’s a very exciting project to be part of, and we have some excellent people working on it, and I’m looking forward to it.

This work by Doug Clow is copyright but licenced under a Creative Commons BY Licence.
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Author: dougclow

Experienced project leader, data scientist, researcher, analyst, teacher, developer, educational technologist and manager. I particularly enjoy rapidly appraising new-to-me contexts, and mediating between highly technical specialisms and others, from ordinary users to senior management. After 20 years at the OU as an academic, I am now a self-employed consultant, building on my skills and experience in working with people, technology, data science, and artificial intelligence, in the education field and beyond.

7 thoughts on “New project to help people learn about nature”

  1. Glad you did blog this, but I hope my post read as encouraging projects to blog, rather than nagging them to 😉

    Looks like a really interesting project. Hope it goes well!

    1. I didn’t feel nagged – more nudged to do what I meant to do all along!

      Thanks for the good wishes. Will blog more as the project proceeds.

  2. Oooh! Any chance a Bioblitz might come to Nottingham, or nearby? How many people do you need for one? There’s a Wildlife Watch group here, made of non-school children and their parents, and I wonder if that could be a nucleus for it… or at least be involved.

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