From its genesis in the Victorian era as an activity for the elite to today's emphasis on “Big Data” and continuous monitoring, natural history has a prominent role in scientific discoveries for many fields. However, participation in field expeditions is limited by funding, space, accessibility, and safety constraints. Others have detailed the active exclusion of minoritized groups from field expeditions and harm/discrimination faced by the few who do participate, but we provide one solution to broaden opportunities for participation in natural history: Virtual Expeditions. Virtual Expeditions are broadly defined as open source, web-facilitated research activities designed to analyze bulk-collected digital data from field expeditions that require visual human interpretation. We show two examples here of their use: an independent research-based analysis of snake behavior and a course-based identification of invertebrate species. We present a guide to their appropriate design, facilitation, and evaluation to result in research grade data. We highlight the importance of open source technology to allow for longevity in methodology and appropriate quality control measures necessary for projects that include dozens of researchers over multiple years. In this perspective, we specifically emphasize the prominent role that open source technology plays in making these experiences feasible and scalable. Even without explicit design as broadening participation endeavors, Virtual Expeditions allow for more inclusive participation of early career researchers with specific participatory limitations. Not only are Virtual Expeditions integral to the large-scale analysis necessary for field expeditions that generate impossibly enormous datasets, but they can also be effective facilitators of inclusivity in natural history research.
Richelle L Tanner, Talia Y Moore, Virtual Expeditions Facilitated By Open Source Solutions Broaden Student Participation in Natural History Research, Integrative and Comparative Biology, Volume 62, Issue 4, October 2022, Pages 1121–1130, https://doi.org/10.1093/icb/icac065
Oxford University Press