Faculty Experiences - Abel Valenzuela

Abel Valenzuela - photoABEL VALENZUELA

Cesar E. Chavez Center

Interview Topics

What matters most to you in your teaching?

How are you using technology as a tool to achieve your teaching goals?

How have your students responded to your use of technology?

What new goals do you have for using technology in teaching?


Asset map

Group projects

Organize information

Student creativity


GIS mapping


Helping Students Interpret Things Differently

For me teaching is when a light bulb turns on for the student. They get energized; they get excited and they learn. It's important that they learn something that they perhaps did not think about before or were not exposed to. I study cities and the people who live in them. I want them to really think about how these cities grow, how immigrants adjust and add to these cities. I get a big joy in seeing students interpret things differently than how the media may portray something.

Every community has assets, attributes, positive components. We try to objectify and place value to these assets. For example, there are physical, economic, cultural, and social assets in every community.

My students must first get a real sense of the communities we study by visiting them, walking through them, and putting an analytical lens in their visits. Then we can incorporate some of the learning we do with technology. We created an "Asset Map." Our Asset Map uses multimedia tools so that we can upload data (assets) from a specific neighborhood. We might upload an image of a community park, specialty store, or a community center that provides music lessons at a sliding fee schedule. The Asset Map will allow users to see exactly where these monuments are located in these neighborhoods. More importantly, the class has to categorize these neighborhood assets in meaningful and analytic ways. So you might have assets that focus on housing, economic development, schools, or culture. In the process, students have to think about criteria of what an asset is and consequently how best to present it on the site. They then are able to think more thoughtfully about communities and the role that assets play. This process differs from the typical, deficit model that is often used to learn about poor or minority communities.

The Asset Map is an interactive program that allows students to upload information such as images and live interviews in a dynamic way. They have a password to access the software and site. The software was developed by the Advanced Policy Institute (Professor Neal Richman) of UCLA. It was actually beta tested in one of my classes a couple of years ago. My TA and I manage the content and web site in coordination with the technicians from the School of Public Policy.

We have presented our asset maps to local officials and community members of Boyle Heights. We showed how we identified, collected, and stored asset information of their neighborhood. It was nice to get the community's reaction and feedback. The data provided in the Asset Map has been made available to them. This was a good example of how real life face-to-face learning and technology can merge in educating people.

We archive the Maps. We did Boyle Heights for two years and Vernon Central for one. We were able to compare categories and of course the two communities.

The students love using the technology and the connection that it potentially has to get local residents involved in community empowerment and development. They get a big kick out of it. It's nothing like using technology to do a research project. They learn a lot about how to utilize technology and the subject matter. They constantly think about how to use it in other creative ways in community studies. Working in groups, there are always the ones who are really excited. They like it as a tool in addition to lectures. It has a different dimension for them.

In the future, I would like to have connections with graduate students who are into technology and urban studies. For example, I would like undergraduate students to have access to GIS (Geographic Information Systems) which map neighborhoods. I'd like to take Asset Mapping to a different level where they can add more types of information and connect it to other communities.

Oral Interview, May 9, 2003