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

Year of activity: 2013-14

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.


  • 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).


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.


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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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.


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.


Campus Wildlife Champions

Dr Graham J. Holloway, School of Biological Sciences
Year(s) of activity: 2014-15


8750Students (mostly BSc Ecology and Wildlife Conservation students) carried out species identification activities in The Centre for Wildlife Assessment and Conservation on Wednesday afternoons. Students were encouraged to ‘adopt’ and focus on a taxonomic group (or community) to acquire deep learning. As a result of this and other activities, we have increased the campus species list to nearly 1700 species, an impressive statistic that we use during Information Days.


  • To develop a sense of community amongst the BSc Ecology and Wildlife Conservation students.
  • To increase appreciation of the importance of extra-curricular learning.
  • To develop skills valued by many potential employers of these students.


There is often a mismatch between what students value from their time at universities and what employers value. Employers in the conservation sector frequently value extracurricular skills in addition to modular learning. A skill that is acutely lacking in graduates is an ability to identify species and, therefore, to carry out surveys under field conditions. The Campus Wildlife Champions project offered a way for undergraduate students to develop their CVs.


The Ecology and Wildlife Conservation programme adviser meets with the students on a regular basis. During these meetings the importance of a strong CV that provides evidence of understanding, interest and learning, vital for career development in the conservation sector, is impressed on the students. Funding provided by the Teaching and Learning Development Fund was used to provide resources to facilitate engagement of students with species identification. Every Wednesday afternoon the project leader, along with Mr. Chris Foster (a Teaching Associate of the School of Biological Sciences), worked with the students in labs to help them to get to grips with specialised identification keys.


One of the main objectives was to encourage students to appreciate that on completing their degree programme their CV becomes the most important element in their armoury. Students need to take charge of their own learning to develop their skills so that their CVs showcase who they are and what they can deliver to a potential employer. Relying entirely on learning through modular teaching is unlikely to make them special. For this reason I was not happy to make this activity compulsory; students had to choose for themselves whether they were interested and how far they would like to take the activity. Seventeen students engaged with the project but this number dropped off as the academic year progressed, in particular as the examination period approached. Several students though remain active and it is hoped that they will continue a second year.


This type of activity had not been attempted before so we were unsure how it would unfold. To have several students still interested in the activity is great and I will be encouraging these students to resume engagement during the coming academic year and to interact with the new cohort of students starting in September 2015. Continuity was a major aspiration so to have a real prospect that Part Two students could become mentors for Part One students is excellent. It is not obvious how we could have done things differently or better while operating within the constraints.


The Campus champion project has appeared as a university news item:

Data from the project are contributed to the Whiteknights Biodiversity website:

Creating a campus biodiversity recording app by Dr Alice Mauchline

IMG_2897 (2)There is an on-going multi-disciplinary, student-led project at the University of Reading to create an app for recording biodiversity sightings on the Whiteknights campus. This project was funded by the Teaching & Learning Development Fund and is currently engaging students, staff and external natural history groups alongside design and technology experts to create and customise an app for data collection on smartphones and other mobile devices in the field.

The biodiversity data records will be stored in a central database which students and staff can analyse to e.g. monitor long-term changes in the local environment. It is anticipated that this dataset will develop over time and that the app will be used to support curriculum teaching and other research projects at the University including those that are coordinated through the Whiteknights Biodiversity blog: http://blogs.reading.ac.uk/whiteknightsbiodiversity/.

One of the main aims of this project is to ‘engage students in research and enquiry in the curriculum’ which is one of the University’s T&L key strategic priorities. The multi-disciplinary team of students will have first-hand experience of developing a data collection tool that can be used for research projects in the curriculum across several Schools. The future availability of this app has already prompted both staff and students to think of ways that it could be used in teaching and research and it is hoped that it will help to ‘evolve our approaches to teaching and learning’ – a second T&L priority – and to support Technology-Enhanced Learning in fieldwork.

The team comprises six student champions: Liz White (Biological Sciences), Liam Basford (Typography & Graphic Communication), Mark Wells & Stephen Birch (Systems Engineering), Jonathan Tanner (Geography & Environmental Science) and Phillippa Oppenheimer (Agriculture). They are supported by a member of staff in each of these Schools; Alastair Culham, Alison Black, Karsten Lundqvist, Hazel McGoff & Alice Mauchline. The student champions are currently working together to gather information from staff in the relevant Schools about how this app could be useful in their teaching. They are also scoping other external projects and mobile recording apps to provide a basis for our design. The name, logo and branding of the project is also in development and the team held a recent Hack Day to decide on the basic functions for the user-centred app.

The team will soon have a prototype app for trialling and testing on campus and the student champions will be recruiting volunteers to help test the app for collecting biodiversity records. So keep an eye out for them and there will be further updates on this blog as the project progresses.

Please get in touch if you would like further information as we’d like to involve as many people in this project as possible! a.l.mauchline@reading.ac.uk