Asset Mapping: An Equity-Based Approach to Improving Student Team Dynamics

Cliff Rouder

Faculty often ask us if there are ways to have students work more equitably and effectively in team projects. In our 2018 STEM Educators Lecture, we had the pleasure of hearing Dr. Elisabeth (Lisa) Stoddard discuss the work she and her colleague, Geoff Pfeifer, have been doing at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) to minimize bias and stereotyping in undergraduate student project teams. Her discussion generated interest in our TU STEM community. We know this work is relevant and useful for all disciplines that utilize team projects for deep learning, and thus we are delighted to share an overview of their work with our whole faculty community.


The Issue

We know that student group projects can be a valuable experience for students. However, even  with an equal distribution of work, they may not always be equitable. This can be especially true in disciplines where underrepresented and marginalized groups might be stereotyped as not being capable enough to handle the project. Consistent with prior research in STEM fields, Stoddard and Pfeifer reported that in WPI’s required first-year interdisciplinary project-based learning course pairing one STEM and one social sciences professor, women and students of color more frequently experienced their ideas being ignored or shut down, being assigned less important tasks, dealing with an overpowering teammate, and having their work go unacknowledged or claimed by others.


The Approach

Stoddard and Pfeifer employed an equity-based approach using asset mapping originally developed by Kretzman and McNight in 1993. In essence, asset mapping gives students the opportunity to get to know their and their team’s strengths, interests, identities, and needed areas of growth related to the project. But it goes well beyond that. Asset mapping is just the initial step of a process that enables students to take a deeper dive into bias and stereotyping as they evaluate their own behaviors and the dynamics of their teams. In a paper presented at the 2018 Collaborative Network for Engineering and Computing Diversity Conference, Stoddard and Pfeifer shared quotes from their students that spoke to improved teamwork by overcoming stereotypes, minimizing task assignment bias, and building student confidence.


As a way to operationalize asset mapping, Stoddard and Pfeifer developed this toolkit containing three modules that include the tools, activities, assignments, and rubrics needed at different times of the semester. Here is an overview of these modules:

  • Module 1: Individual work.  Before teams have their initial meeting, students complete a series of self-assessments about their discussion, presentation, problem-solving, and conflict resolution styles. They then create an asset map. (Students are given a sample asset map and a free asset map-making tool.) Students also choose three areas for growth as a result of completing the course or group project. Having reflected on all of these, they are then asked to write a short critical reflection essay that addresses specific prompts.
  • Module 2: Group work. Teams then meet early in the semester to get to know each other’s assets and growth areas, and complete a group chart that maps these to each task/skill required for the project. Each task can have multiple members working on it, with some using assets and some developing assets.
  • Module 3: Individual and group work. Beginning about halfway through the semester, students are given readings about equity and bias and individually work through a set of questions to assess how the team is functioning in terms of equity and productivity. The second step is a team processing activity to assess what is going well on their team and where their team may be struggling in terms of team dynamics, including whether assets are being used and opportunities for growth are being made available to all. The final step is an individual essay reflecting on whether or not they and other team members are using their assets and creating opportunities for growth, and the effects of bias and stereotyping that may have occurred on their team dynamics.

While there are real benefits that can accrue from this process, Stoddard and Pfeifer recognize that for some students, overcoming biases and stereotypes does not happen as a result of one classroom experience. They see this as a first step in a longer process, and thus recommend that these experiences happen at different times throughout a student’s course of study.

We invite you to explore with your program faculty how you could incorporate this equity-based approach into your curriculum. As always, don’t hesitate to reach out to a CAT faculty developer for assistance. Added bonus: Assessing the impact of asset mapping on team dynamics would make a great research project if you are looking to do scholarly work in the area of teaching and learning (better known as the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, or SoTL), and the CAT is here to help you with that as well!


Cliff Rouder is Pedagogy and Design Specialist at Temple Universitys Center for the Advancement of Teaching.

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