Whiteknights biodiversity monitoring: building an app to collate long-term monitoring data of campus wildlife

Dr. Alice Mauchline, School of Agriculture, Policy and Development; Dr Alastair Culham, School of Biological Sciences; Dr Karsten Lundqvist, School of Systems Engineering; Professor Alison Black, School of Arts and Communication Design; Dr Hazel McGoff, School of Archaeology, Geography and Environmental Science
a.l.mauchline@reading.ac.uk

Year of activity: 2013-14

Overview
KiteSite
A mobile app was developed for the collection of field data, supporting the activities of the Whiteknights Biodiversity Blog, and providing a central database for students and staff to monitor long-term changes in the local environment on the University of Reading’s Whiteknights campus.

Objectives

  • To develop an app, suitable for use with Android and iOS devices, that was user friendly and had strong branding and identity.
  • To build a community of users for the app that would utilise and enjoy the app for biodiversity monitoring objectives.
  • To create the app as a tool that would support the teaching of biodiversity in a range of modules across several schools.
  • To create an app that could support the work of the Whiteknights Biodiversity Blog in monitoring long-term changes in the local environment of Whiteknights campus, including the University of Reading Phenological Monitoring Network (UoRPMN).

Context

The project to develop the app, which was named KiteSite, grew from Dr Mauchline’s involvement in Enhancing Fieldwork Learning, a Higher Education Academy funded project that sought to promote the use of technology in order to improve student learning in the conduct of fieldwork.

The need for the app grew out of the success of the Whiteknights Biodiversity blog. Since being established in June 2011, the blog generated increasing interest, and coordinated multiple records on biodiversity, including a growing phonological dataset, the UoRPMN. The app was conceived of as a field recording tool that would support the work of the blog in monitoring long-term changes in the local environment of Whiteknights campus. Crowd-sourcing data in the manner that such an app would allow will provide researchers with access to data on more species, over a greater area and period of time, than they may be able to collect themselves.

Implementation

First, a scoping study and literature review were conducted in order to identify existing apps, software and online resources that could be utilised.  Concurrently, six student champions, drawn from five schools across the University, interviewed staff members within their schools in order to establish the teaching needs that could be met by the development of the app.

As a result of these findings, a ‘HackDay’ event was held in December 2013 in order to decide upon the requirements for the basic functions of the app.  EpiCollect was chosen as an open source, generic, data collection tool that could be modified but already provided the functionality of sending geotagged data forms and photos to a central project website from mobile devices. The student champions modified EpiCollect to produce a prototype app, which was then tested by user-groups and refined by agile development.

In order to test the app, a mock species identification session was run, followed by field data collection using the app.  This and further data collection and feedback allowed the app to be refined and the database to be developed and enhanced.

In anticipation of the launch of the app, which was named KiteSite, a website and social media profile were set up, while promotional materials were printed and disseminated.

Ultimately the app was launched in June 2014, and a launch event was held, attracting a number of teaching and learning staff who expressed interest in using the app in their teaching and learning.

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Impact

The project successfully created the KiteSite app that is currently being used by a small community for the monitoring of biodiversity on the University of Reading’s Whiteknights campus, and supporting the University of Reading Phenological Monitoring Network dataset.

Reflection

Those involved in the project felt that they benefited from working as part of a multi-disciplinary team, as they developed their skills in effective communication and learnt to avoid the use of subject specific jargon.  Given that team members also had other commitments besides the project, it was sometimes difficult for them to balance their workload.

While it was not possible to create a dedicated iOS app, as had originally been planned, a functioning equivalent within the existing EpiCollect app that operates on iOS was created.

The appointment of student champions was valuable, as by having the project led by the principle end-users, they were provided with the opportunity to shape how the final project could be used and developed most effectively for their needs. The student champions took the lead on developing the website for the app, and one of the student champions drafted the reflective paper that was then published in the Journal of Educational Innovation, Partnership and Change.

Follow up

The project team continue to seek further uses for the KiteSite app. While it is used in teaching, the current objective is to engage with student societies that might make use of the app, such as BirdSoc, an ornithology student society.

Other universities have expressed interest in the project, and are looking to set up similar resources mirroring KiteSite.

Links

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