amateur naturalists and those not necessarily vouchered by specimens (Gries et al., 2014). Thus, a new paradigm in biodiversity
informatics is emerging, one in which the invaluable curatorial
and analytical skills of scientists are integrated with the Web-
2.0-enhanced observational power of amateurs in the important
task of documenting and conserving our changing biota.
Given the phenomenal potential of this new paradigm and
now-widely available tools (Table 1) that facilitate the traditional
work of field biologists while also capturing volumes of additional,
crowdsourced data, one could argue that higher education, in its
preeminent role of training the next generation of biodiversity scientists, is obligated to provide formal exposure to the use and
potential merits of these technologies. Yet the literature is wanting
on whether this is happening and, if it is not happening, whether
there are negative ramifications of any neglect in this regard. Here
we present the results of a seven-year, empirical assessment of (1)
the extent to which these new technologies are being integrated
with university coursework in natural history, and (2) what if any
assets this integration brings to the educational goals of a course
or to the efforts to better understand and conserve regional biotas.
Materials and Methods
To What Extent are Web 2.0 Informatics Tools Being
Integrated with Traditional Coursework?
To determine the extent to which Web 2.0-enabled tools were
being used with traditional field-based collection projects or journaling projects, we conducted a survey of 60 taxon-based university courses in subject areas ( i.e., entomology, ornithology, and
plant taxonomy) that have historically had strong field components
that would lend themselves to the use of such technology, namely
locating and identifying organisms in the field. We limited ourselves to courses taught between 2010 and 2015 because this was
the same period that our empirical study with our own student
projects (described below) was taking place and during which
Web 2.0 tools like those listed in Table 1 had been widely available.
Google searches were used to obtain syllabi on the Web for courses
in these three subject areas on June 5, 2013 (10 syllabi for each
course type) and again on July 15, 2015 (an additional 10 syllabi
for each course type). Searches were performed by searching on
the name of the course type plus the term “syllabus” (e.g., “plant
Chosen for review on each date were the first 10 syllabi found
for each course type that also met four criteria: (1) being contemporary with the term of our study ( i.e., Spring 2010 or later); (2) having a lab component; (3) being sufficiently detailed to discern the
type and scope of projects assigned; and (4) that the syllabus or
course described not be a duplicate of one assessed earlier. This
quasi-random survey was thus limited to syllabi written in English
and posted openly on the Web; the survey was unable to detect syllabi not posted on the Web or those posted only on private,
password-protected course-management servers. This survey also
did not specifically target websites such as those listed in Table 1,
where specific projects or specific courses using such tools might
have been listed, since doing so would have skewed our survey
results and precluded any attempt to generalize about what was
happening in higher education at large.
Of What Value is the Integration of Web 2.0
Informatics Tools? An Empirical Assessment
The empirical assessment of the value of using Web 2.0 tools with
course-related field activities was done with plant collection projects in seven annual offerings of Plant Systematics (BIOL 325) at
Millersville University of Pennsylvania. BIOL 325 was offered with
two hours of lecture and three hours of laboratory weekly for 15
weeks, typically to between 21 and 24 students every Fall Semester (with the exception of a Spring Semester offering in 2010).
During the seven semesters reported here (Spring 2010 and Fall
semesters of 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015), BIOL
325 was taken largely (n = 155 students) by seniors (76%), followed by juniors (20%) and sophomores (4%). Most students were
biology majors ( i.e., 95%, Table 2). The collection project was
worth 15% of each student’s total course grade, with the mean
grade on the project being a B (85%) and the mean whole-course
grade being a C+ (78%).
The project required each student to collect 10 flowering, fruiting or sporing specimens of wild plants from 10 different species
and to preserve and mount them as herbarium specimens for deposition in the university’s James C. Parks Herbarium (Appendix 1,
Table 1. Web 2.0-enabled informatics sites, which allow users to log at least basic data about the
occurrences of species (ordered alphabetically). NatureAtlas was the site used for the study reported on in
Site Web Address Taxonomic Focus
eBird www.ebird.org Birds
EDDMaps www.eddmaps.org Invasive Species
iMapInvasives www.imapinvasives.org Invasive Species
iNaturalist www.inaturalist.org Animals, Fungi, Plants, etc.
iSpot www.ispotnature.org Animals, Fungi, Plants, etc.
NatureAtlas www.natureatlas.org Animals, Fungi, Plants, etc.
Project Noah www.projectnoah.org Animals, Fungi, Plants, etc.
*This list does not include other sites geared primarily to the collection and dissemination of herbarium or museum specimen data, some of which have recently
also implemented crowdsourcing functionality, which allows observations not vouchered by specimens.