LAB Los Angeles-Based Symposium

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Cal State LA - Downtown Campus



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Los Angeles is a fast-paced, culturally diverse city with a multitude of opportunities and problems.  These qualities make it an ideal focus for classroom activities in any discipline, allowing students to grasp difficult concepts through real-world examples as well as fostering their sense of civic engagement. The Los Angeles-Based Learning (LAB) Symposium is for faculty and instructors at community colleges and universities in the Los Angeles area who are interested in incorporating LA into their curricula.  Participants are those who would like to present how including Los Angeles-based material in the classroom has improved student learning or those who would like to gather information on how to include Los Angeles into their own classrooms. 

The symposium will follow the Unconference format, in which participants generate the content of break-out sessions.   If you’ve developed activities related to Los Angeles, please share them.  If you have questions about how to create activities about Los Angeles in your discipline, you can start a session on that topic.  There are no right or wrong ways to participate.

Participants will gain:

  1. Practical information about LA-based learning.
  2. Discipline-specific ideas for you to incorporate into your courses.
  3. Contacts from across Los Angeles with similar pedagological interests.

Sample Los Angeles-based projects:

  • Inspired by the gas leak in Porter Ranch, students in an engineering class are calculating the contribution of pollution release from fossil fuels and utilities to air quality in a surrounding neighborhood.
  • Students in a criminal justice class are working in groups to investigate a crime problem in Los Angeles.  Students will examine the problem from the angles of law enforcement, legal policies, media, social services, and community.
  • Aspiring teachers in an education class are simulating the decision-making process of LA Unified School District. 
  • Geography students are traveling to the Los Angeles Public Library to study rare historical maps of Los Angeles.  They will compare these early plans for the study with the current urban landscape.
  • Public health students will explore their neighborhoods, taking 5 photographs of things in the community that affirm health and well-being, and 5 photographs of things that undermine health and well-being.  Groups will then identify common themes in the photos and create a narrative for their neighborhood based on the 5 most representative photos.

Frequently Asked Questions


Q: Why study Los Angeles?


A: Los Angeles is a large, vibrant, diverse city with a variety of geographic features and its share of complex challenges.  It is the largest government center in the United States outside of DC and leads the nation in entertainment, fashion, and economy.  More than half the population of LA is Latino/a, and the adjacent San Gabriel Valley is home to the largest population of ethnically Chinese people outside of China.


Q: Why should I include Los Angeles in my curricula?


A: Real-world examples and situations in classes allow students to apply course concepts and develop critical thinking skills.  This may result in better understanding of course material.  In addition, by engaging with their neighborhoods and communities, students develop their sense of civic engagement and confidence in their ability to make a positive impact upon graduation.


Q: If I include Los Angeles in my class, am I engaging in civic engagement?


A: Not all Los Angeles curricula falls within the category of civic engagement.  A class may incorporate material that examines aspects of Los Angeles without taking the step of asking students to engage with their communities, which is necessary for civic engagement to occur.  For faculty not already practicing civic engagement, including Los Angeles activities in their classes may provide the tools and motivation for engagement with local communities.

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