How to customize identification key

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The original text of this mobile key for small children (left) was modified by a teacher (right) using the Open Key Editor
The Open Key Editor allows a larger key to be split into smaller keys, thus largely overcoming the problem of translation, and permits users to add user generated content to “their” keys.


KeyToNature identification tools have fundamental features that enable teachers and schools to become easily involved in the use of the tools themselves. The features are:

  • adaptability
  • customization to users’ needs
  • possibility of adding user-generated content

There are three ways to obtain a customized identification key: 1) obtaining it directly from a KeyToNature partner (KeyToNature works mainly with schools and other educational institutions), 2) customizing an existing key with the Open Key Editor or 3) customizing a Wiki key.


Keys for schools


KeyToNature gives schools of all levels the opportunity to produce identification keys centred on small areas, which contain from less than 50 (first level schools) to more than 500 species (high schools and Universities). The keys are optimised to the target users, and can differ both in the hierarchies of characters and in the terminology used. Keys for schools are produced following a standardised procedure, whose steps are:

  1. Teachers contact KeyToNature partner in their country.
  2. A local expert from the KeyToNature network “adopts” the school. Experts are usually professors, university students or amateurs who are skilled enough to contribute to the project.
  3. The expert, together with the teachers, produces a list of organisms (e.g. trees and shrubs of the school garden).
  4. The list is sent to the KeyToNature partner which, in a few days, generates a first draft of the key immediately available in the web.
  5. The URL, together with a paper-printed version of the key, is sent back to the teachers and expert.
  6. The teachers and expert can modify the key, optimising it to their educational purposes, e.g. modifying terminology, introducing new species, or suggesting changes in the iconography.
  7. The proposed changes are applied to the key by the KeyToNature partner.
  8. The key, in its final version, is officially published on-line in the Web pages of KeyToNature.


At the end of this process, teachers can receive also a CD-Rom version of the key and, upon request, a PocketPC version. Both teachers and experts become co-authors of the key.

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Visit the National Portals to get more information about customized identification keys in the local language.


The Open Key Editor


A KeyToNature Open Key Editor has been developed to re-engineer existing keys - within and outside of the KeyToNature consortium - and to produce localized mini-keys for specific applications such as school gardens, parks and reserves. In addition to access on the internet, output on mobile platforms is included.

Many keys made available by the data providers are ‘master keys’. Master keys can, for example, encompass all plant species occurring in a country. These can be very large files, e.g. for the floras of Italy (7000 species), Spain (6500 species), the UK (3500 species), and the Netherlands (1900 species). Long keys are complicated and have redundant information when used in a region with fewer species, such as a park or nature reserve, or a school garden. The Open Key Editor allows users to ‘crop’ a master key and customize it for a given set of species. The ‘cropped’ key can than be edited for language and illustrations (e.g. to suit a particular user level, or platform such as the mobile phone).

With the Open Key Editor the user can browse existing master keys and edit them. The first step in making a customized ‘mini-key’ is to create a filter: this is a list containing a subset of the species in a main key. The filters can be stored for later editing, so many mini-keys can be tailored from the same basic dataset. In the Open Key Editor new couplets can be added to the key for identifying species that are absent in the original key.

Thanks to the Open Key Editor, the guides created for a single school or for a natural area are no longer rigid and "imposed top-down" by whoever generated them originally.

The Open Key Editor has two further important features:

  • It largely solves the problem of translation: once a “large” key has been translated into a given language, it is possible to derive from it a high number of smaller keys adapted to the users’ needs without the need of further translations.
  • It enables users to add to the key user-generated content in their own language, thus enhancing considerably the degree of interaction between users and KeyToNature identification tools. The new keys can be thus influenced directly by the end-users: the school or the park can adapt the guide and enrich its content (changes in terminology, inclusion of new species, new images, new notes for the species, inclusion of local names and uses, links to archives of distribution maps etc. etc.). This tool can be used to involve students in the development of their own keys, too. Once a large key has been translated, it is possible to automatically generate from it hundreds of fully illustrated, smaller keys without needing any further translation, and users will have the possibility of adding a large amount of user-generated content directly in their own language: a typical case of use- and re-use of data.


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More about Open Key Editor and how to install it


The wiki-keys and the jKey Player and Editor
At the start the Wiki key is displayed in printable overview mode
The interactive jKey player displays only one identification step at a time. At the bottom it records a history of previous decision steps. Individual steps can be annotated as "uncertain". All steps are revisable and the player can be toggled between overview and step-by-step mode without loosing its place in the identification process.


On wiki-based keys a community of users can work together in constructing and improving identification tools. More advanced KeyToNature wiki-tools have:

  • An interactive player that reduces the complexity of the identification process to single decisions, while at the same time providing a history of previous decisions, allowing annotations, and later revisions.
  • A web-based editing tool that simplifies modifying, pedagogically reducing, or translating existing keys (as well as creating keys for teaching subjects that are hitherto not covered by the KeyToNature partners).
  • A javascript-based additional functionality such as toggling the display of secondary text and images and enlarging images on click.
  • A javascript-based player called “jKey” supporting interactive use, tracking and annotating previous decisions, and allowing all decision steps to be easily revisable. The revision capability is especially useful in classroom use, allowing rapid identification of erroneous decisions, discussing the reasons for these, and continuing from there (without restarting the entire identification process).
  • The complementary jKey Editor allows form-based editing of the identification keys.

The potential strength of the wiki-key approach is not to be found in the isolated key, but in the fact that the key is a natural part of a well designed and tested collaboration and trust building platform, that allows more functions than just running keys (e.g. writing rich text, integrating text with images, sound and video) and which is designed to scale with respect to security management to potentially millions of users.