Project Noah versus Leafsnap

Project Noah and Leafsnap: Two free apps that utilize iPhone’s built-in camera for exploring the natural world; two different solutions for field identification of fauna and flora. One app works amazingly well; the other app works, but not as well. A list of pluses and minuses for both apps follows, along with a summary of the results of my field testing and a recommendation for educators.

Project-noah_logoImg_2374Img_2375Img_2303Img_2376Img_2377Img_2306Img_2310Img_2307Img_2305Img_2304Img_2272

Project Noah

(+) Visually appealing user interface (UI) – In a word, yes. [Image 2 of 12]
(+) Built-in camera – My Noah/New Spotting/”Take new photo” (plus access to iPhone “Camera Roll”) [Images 3 and 4 of 12]
(-) Built-in field guide – The Project Noah Field Guide is not a field guide in the traditional sense of the word, rather it is more like a crowdsourced field guide. Photos and related narrative text are submitted by Project Noah “citizen scientists”: Nomenclature and content quality varies widely throughout the field guide; some groups of animals and plants are either underrepresented or not represented. [Image 5 of 12]
(-) Feedback – “Help me ID this species.” I tapped “YES”; no feedback (since 23 May 2011). [Image 6 of 12] [Editor’s Note: Images 7, 8, and 9 of 12]
(+/-) Geo-referenced data – Optional map view available (see example); photos saved to “Camera Roll” are not geotagged (see example). [Images 10 and 11 of 12]
(+/-) Option to participate in actual scientific research projects – “My Missions.” Your field observations may never be used by real scientists unless you opt to participate in one or more missions. [Image 2 of 13]
(+) Performance incentives – “My Patches,” like virtual scouting merit badges [Image 12 of 12]
(-/+) Built-in documentation and Web support – No built-in help; better Web pages than Leafsnap.
http://www.projectnoah.org/
(-) Universal app/iPad version – Not available

Leafsnap_logoImg_2379Img_2141Img_2380Img_2309Img_2308Img_2142Img_2381Img_2383Img_2382Img_2384Img_0173

Leafsnap

(+/-) Visually appealing user interface – Yes. Leafsnap UI somewhat less appealing than Project Noah. [Image 2 of 12]
(+) Built-in camera – “Snap It!” (plus access to iPhone “Camera Roll”) [Image 3 of 12]
(+) Built-in field guide – Database currently features 2,620 high-resolution images of 185 tree and plant species. [Image 4 of 12]
(+) Feedback – Immediate and very reliable. Leafsnap correctly identified 8/9 trees that I tested; the second result was the correct ID for the 9th tree (a fact verified easily by comparison with field guide database). [Image 5 of 12]
(+) Option to participate in actual scientific research projects – By design, all field observations are used to build scientific database.
(+/-) Geo-referenced data – Optional map view available (see example); photos saved to “Camera Roll” are not geotagged (see example). [Images 6 and 7 of 12]
(+) Performance incentives – “Geodialist’s Collection” (“Geodialist” is my Leafsnap username) [Image 8 of 12]
(+/-) Built-in documentation and Web support – Tap “i” on any page for more information; poor Web support. [Images 9, 10, and 11 of 12]
http://leafsnap.com/
(+) Universal app/iPad version – iPad version available (“Snap It!” doesn’t work with iPad 1.) [Image 12 of 12]

Summary

Overall, Project Noah has twice as many minuses as Leafsnap, and there are more pluses than minuses for Leafsnap. Most importantly, Leafsnap provides timely, reliable feedback while Project Noah fails to deliver this key success factor consistently.

As a former science teacher, I am conflicted by the thought of using Project Noah with students. I’m a big advocate of hands-on learning (a.k.a., learning by doing) and technology-enriched instruction. But I prefer “guided discovery” over random experimentation, that is, carefully crafted hands-on activities designed to lead students to scientifically accurate conclusions. At best — that is, with guidance from a good teacher — working with Project Noah could be a great experience for students; at worst, it could be an exercise in frustration (see Editor’s Note, shown below). Bottom line: Leafsnap is the only app I recommend for use with students. In my opinion, Project Noah is more appropriate for adults than children.

See the related blog post, Field test: Leafsnap app.

Editor’s Note: In the interest of fairly evaluating Project Noah, I re-tested the app by adding a “New Spotting” to “My Noah.” I tapped “YES” in response to the prompt, “Help me ID this species.” This time, I received two “Comments” later the same day, as indicated by the red badge on the “My Noah” page. I tapped “My Spottings”: On the “My Spottings” page, I tapped the right arrow on the first “Needs ID” spotting (that displays an icon indicating two comments); on the “Comments” page, two Project Noah participants correctly identified the plant as a Hydrangea macrophylla (Lacecap). Sounds good — that’s the way it’s supposed to work, right? A couple of questions arise: 1) What are the qualifications of the commenters? (With no disrespect intended, aren’t you naturally a little skeptical of someone who goes by the moniker, “Monkey-mind?”) There is no way to either access a commenter’s bio, or communicate directly with a commenter via Project Noah unless the commenter enabled these options in their settings. 2) What if the commenters had misidentified the plant? Not so good, and arguably worse than no feedback. (Remember the teachers’ old saw that says students must work harder/longer to unlearn misconceptions and misinformation? It’s true!) Project Noah’s highest priority should be to devise a procedure that provides timely, reliable feedback EVERY TIME a participant requests help; until this objective is achieved, I remain very reluctant to recommend its use by educators.

Advertisements

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: