ABCD Study and Course Motivation

The Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study® is the largest long-term study of brain development and child health in the United States. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) funded leading researchers in the fields of adolescent development and neuroscience to conduct this ambitious project. The ABCD Research Consortium consists of a Coordinating Center, a Data Analysis, Informatics & Resource Center, and 21 research sites across the country. The ABCD Consortium has invited 11,878 children ages 9-10 to join the study and researchers are tracking their biological and behavioral development through adolescence into young adulthood. ABCD protocol summaries describe the physical, cognitive, social, emotional, environmental, behavioral, and academic assessments, as well as multimodal neuroimaging and biospecimen collection for hormonal, genetic, epigenetic, environmental exposure, and substance use analysis.

One goal of the multisite, longitudinal ABCD Study® is to create a unique data resource for the entire scientific community by embracing an open science model. However, an increasing body of evidence points to some issues in reproducibility in biomedical or life sciences. The issue of lack of reproducibility has been now described in several scientific domains, and for several years raising concerns in the scientific community. ReproNim, a Center for Reproducible Neuroimaging Computation, aims to help researchers achieve more reproducible data analysis workflows and outcomes. ReproNim has developed a curriculum that gives researchers the information, tools and practices to perform repeatable and efficient research, and a map of where to find the resources for deeper practical training.

The ABCD-ReproNim course was designed to provide a comprehensive background to the ABCD dataset while delivering hands-on, interactive instruction to enable rigorous and reproducible data analyses. We assembled an interdisciplinary team of instructors and evaluators that included ABCD Study® Investigators, ReproNim team members and collaborators, and non-ABCD/ReproNim researchers. The ABCD-ReproNim Course resulted in a cadre of investigators well trained in analyzing ABCD data in ways that support efficient, re-executable design and FAIR practices.

ABCD-ReproNim was supported by an award from the National Institute of Drug Abuse (R25-DA051675).

Course Philosophy

Most educational programs around neuroimaging rely on intensive teaching over a short period, typically ranging from one day to two weeks. Reproducible analytics, a topic not taught in traditional university curricula, requires absorbing a significant amount of diverse technology-oriented content. Hackathons or unconferences, are increasingly well-attended around neuroimaging and other conferences. These events, by their design, often self-select individuals who are already knowledgeable in many of the areas spanning data science and are often not suited for training. However, mastery of computational technologies is a challenging task for students to complete in a one- to two-week immersive hackathon or workshop. Our experience suggests that learning, conceptual consolidation, and computational skill development does not optimally occur over a short intensive period of time. As instructors, we know it is common to spend a significant portion of a hack week on didactic instruction.

Thus, the ABCD-ReproNim team created a new form of an inverted classroom for workshops and hackathons.

Course Design

The ABCD-ReproNim Course was offered virtually and included both asynchronous and synchronous activities. Using the “flipped classroom” approach, our goal was to slow down the didactic teaching process so that it occurred over a 12-week semester and with a curated set of teaching objectives. The online course included pre-recorded video presentations; additional course readings were provided to enhance and reinforce online lessons. Open-access data exercises were assigned for each week's video presentations to ensure learning objectives were met. Students used that time to learn content and gain skills, allowing the ABCD-ReproNim team to evaluate progress and determine if any students needed additional support or assistance.

Once students had ample time to learn and master the proposed data analytic skills, they had the opportunity to put those skills to use during ABCD-ReproNim Project Month. Students self-organized into small, collaborative learning groups and developed proposals for data analysis or resource development projects. During Project Month, they applied the skills learned and worked towards completion of their project activities and also learned to contribute to open source software.

With this educational design, ABCD-ReproNim filled the needs between a typical NIH T32 program and an immersive summer school. The increased number of hours spent on training through instructor-based and assignment-based pedagogy provided a better grounding for participants before Project Month, focused on innovating around ABCD data.

Student Participation

The 2020 and 2022 ABCD-ReproNim Courses have ended, but the materials are available for you to learn about reproducible ABCD analyses in a self-paced manner. You are welcome to view the lectures and access the supplemental readings. Hands-on data exercises are available to review and reinforce course content while developing practical skills in reproducible neuroimaging analyses.