ISR Awards

Improving the Science of Learning by Documenting the Biomarker Hype Curve

The 30th anniversary Jacobs Foundation Conference theme was ?An agenda for research on child development and learning for the third decade of the 21st century.? This was intended to be ?a different kind of intellectual enterprise?not a conference of research papers, but a conference of ideas.? The intent being to provide insight into how the Jacobs Foundation would better fulfill its mission to ?invest in the future of young people so that they become socially responsible and productive members of society.? Funding research on the science of learning affords the potential that ?new technologies aimed at facilitating individualized learning? are created and that we can ?tailor education to children?s individual needs, taking into account biological, social and economic differences as well as differences in their upbringing.? Based on the last 30 years of research, and especially the last 10, technology around measuring biology will be a major component of that research. However, often these new approaches that incorporate biological metrics are extremely costly (not only in the money to pay for these approaches but also time and opportunity that might been used elsewhere). Importantly, they also often fail to live up to the initial promise. In this proposal we plan to document the patterns of adoption and use of biological metrics in relation to child development research. Specifically, we hypothesize that patterns of use can be most accurately characterized as a ?hype curve.? Evaluating the shape of the curve (e.g., length of time to peak during initial hype phase, time it takes for the method to stabilize, etc) of ?biomarker? use in publications will be examined in relation to biomarker success (i.e. does it become trusted method, does the number of scholars using the method reach a critical mass, etc) and potential methods to make predictive determinations regarding the feasibility of new methods and metrics (which we expect will come at an increasing rate in the future). This project takes a step back from the focus on substantive results to examine how we as scientists of learning and development might be more efficient and effective in our use of biomarkers. We do this by examining 5 prominent biomarkers in child development: functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), cortisol, genetics (genes, telomere length, polygenic scores), epigenetics, and microbiomics. Following examples from research in emerging technologies in physics, engineering, and business, we utilize content analysis methods to document the cycles of these biomarkers. However, unlike the majority of the work in these other fields we go beyond the documentation of the curve but attempt to quantify the underlying processes so that we can both better understand how biomarkers move through a hype curve, but also so that we can better predict what future biomarkers will be the most useful for knowledge generation. The timeline of this work is short (less than 18 months) because data come from highly focused literature searches. The intended products are at least 1 BOLD blog post on this subject, between 1-3 articles, 2-3 conference presentations, and specific recommendations for the Jacobs Foundation regarding initiatives to determine funding of programs of research utilizing biomarkers in the third decade of the 20th century.