Humanoids: A Creative Application Project for 

Developmental Biology Courses

Judith M. Thorn1, Erin A. Jezuit1, Larissa E. Roy1,2 & Jacqueline W. Brittingham3 

1Dept. of Biology, Knox College, Galesburg IL, 2Dept. of Biological Sciences, Illinois State University, Normal, IL, 3Dept. of Biology, Simpson College, Indianola, IA


Goals for an end of the term assignment

  • Engage students with course material.
  • Aid student retention of course material.
  • Help students understand material better by working with/through course material.

Attributes of the ideal solution

  • Embedded assessment.
  • Serves as a review for final exam.
  • An application of course material.
  • Opportunity for exploration of subjects not covered in the course.

Our solution

Humanoid assignment: Using what you know about the mechanisms that drive normal human development:  Choose a humanoid and describe the development of three of the creature’s distinguishing features.  Describe the cellular and molecular mechanisms that would account for such features.

Creativity and clarity of writing are essential components of the project.

Optimizing our assignment

  • Make expectations for students clearer.
  • Does success on this assignment equate with success with final exam &/or the final course grade?
  • Standardize and streamline grading.

To achieve these goals, we designed and validated the inter rater reliability of a rubric for our humanoid assignment.

Rubric criteria identified and described

We distilled six important aspects of the assignment from suggestions made by current and former students as well as faculty.

  • Clarity of Writing
  • Description of Humanoid
  • Justification & Logic Skills
  • Analysis of the Scientific Literature
  • Synthesis of the Scientific Literature
  • Originality of Process

We created, reviewed and revised written descriptions of each criterion for four different levels (marginal, proficient, commendable, & exceptional).

Evaluating the inter rater reliability of our rubric

Four evaluators graded 45 humanoid assignments submitted by Developmental Biology courses (2006, 2008 & 2009).

Phase I

Papers 1-10 graded.  Comments about rubric and assignments reviewed.  Concordance observed.

Phase II
Papers 11-20 graded.  Results combined with scores from 1-10 for correlation analysis.  Correlation of total scores & individual scores significant*.  Correlation of graders scores for justification and logic skills and synthesis of the scientific literature significant*.
(*p=0.01, two-tailed)

Phase III

Rubric language was modified for description of humanoid, analysis of the scientific literature and clarity of writing criteria.
Papers 21-45 are currently being graded using this version of the rubric (see Figure 1).

Future Directions

Provide students with rubric in advance.

  • Is student performance improved?
  • Is there a correlation between performance on this assignment and final exam &/or final course grades?

Disseminate assignment & rubric.


Click here for a PDF copy of the assignment

Click here to download a PDF version of
Figure 1.  Phase III version of humanoid rubric

Click here to read an accepted article from Catch (Spring 2009), Knox College’s biannual journal of student creative work, based on sample Humanoid assignment papers. 


This work was supported by grants from NSF (CCLI A&E 0127106) and the Teagle Foundation (Missions & Majors). Thanks to the Eleanor Zweifel and Anne Zweifel Taylor Fund for supporting faculty travel.