iSpot: A Growing Informal Learning Community

Presentation by Doug Clow at CALRG 2012.

Cloud created by:

Rebecca Ferguson
19 June 2012

iSpot is a website designed to support learning about nature through sharing observations of wildlife.  These observations serve as shared social objects, supporting focused discussion and learning.  Users upload a photograph, with a location and a description of what they've seen.  They and other users can then comment on the observation, and add an identification of the species observed using iSpot's tools to support scientific names.  Users can 'Agree' with an identification, which works in interface terms rather like a Facebook 'Like'. However, not all agreements are weighted equally: an identified expert's agreement counts for much more than a new user's.  Agreements also increase the score of the person who made the identification, again weighted by the score of the person making the agreement.  The scoring is represented in simplified terms next to each user's name, along with 'badges' for members of relevant nature groups.  This reputation system was designed to support and encourage learning by providing feedback to learners (a proxy form of assessment), and making expertise of users visible.

The site was launched in Summer 2009, and has grown considerably since then.  Over 18,000 users have posted over 100,000 observations; more than 125,000 identifications have received more than 400,000 agreements.  The site was linked to an OU short science course, S159 Neighbourhood Nature. The assessment included contributions to iSpot and a multiple-choice online exam.

This approach to learning activity - a large-scale open online system to support learning, with assessment requiring little or no individual academic input – is attracting significant policy interest at the moment.  With recent developments and announcements such as MITx, Coursera, Udacity and edX., iSpot offers a long-standing case study to provide some grounding for the hype.

 So what's been going on? Has anyone learned anything?

This presentation will:

  • outline iSpot and its growth to date,
  • present some analysis of the activity on the site –in quantitative and qualitative terms, and what that might mean for learning, and
  • discuss future directions for the iSpot project, for research in to iSpot itself, and for understanding and developing large-scale online open courses.

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Rebecca Ferguson
1:11pm 19 June 2012


iSpot currently has over 18,500 registered users and has had over 300,000 unique visitors. Over 115,000 pbservations have been posted, including over 180,000 images. These observations have included over 5,000 species - and over 96% have a name. Half of observations receive a response within the first hour, and three-quarters receive a response within the first six hours.

Reputation is used as a proxy measure of learning

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