Academics & Faculty

Obituary: Merlin C. Wittrock, 76, UCLA professor emeritus of education

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Merlin C. Wittrock, renowned educator, researcher and professor emeritus of education at UCLA's Graduate School of Education & Information Studies, died November 28. He was 76.
 
Wittrock's scholarship centered on learning processes and learner-centered instructional practices in the areas of mathematics, science and reading comprehension. He conceived the generative learning theory, a renowned system based on neural research, and he spearheaded research that demonstrated the theory's validity.
 
The generative learning theory asserts that learners actively participate in the learning process and generate knowledge by forming mental connections between concepts. Successful teachers connect new knowledge with students' existing concepts, generating links between the contents of short-term memory and students' knowledge base, or long-term memory. The theory was revolutionary in the field of educational psychology and was the predecessor of current constructivist theories of learning.
 
"Professor Wittrock's death is a great loss to us all," said Aime Dorr, dean of the Graduate School of Education & Information Studies. "Throughout his years in education, he exemplified the humanity, the inspiration and the vigor of a dedicated scholar and professional. It is these qualities which won him the admiration of his colleagues and the enduring affection of his students."
 
Wittrock joined UCLA as an assistant professor of education in 1960 and was the founder and first director (1966–69) of the UCLA Center for the Study of Evaluation. He served as the head of the division of educational psychology from 1986 to 1994 and was chairman of the faculty from 1991 to 1993. Throughout his long career at UCLA, he provided devoted and distinguished service at all levels of the University of California system.
 
Wittrock never forgot the key role of professional development in the growth and retention of excellent teachers. He created and taught UCLA Extension courses, workshops, conferences and continuing education programs for nearly five decades. In his role as faculty advisor to UCLA Education Extension, he made a major contribution to the development of the UCLA Extension Urban Intern Teacher Preparation Program.
 
"The planets aligned in 1996, when our department embarked on the first elementary credential program to be offered through UCLA Extension," said Linda Gibboney, director of UCLA Education Extension. "The 40 percent attrition rate of new teachers; the need for an off-site credential program to serve districts in southeast Los Angeles County; the implementation of the Class Size Reduction Act; and, most significant, Professor Wittrock's retirement from his full-time faculty position were the forces that led to the outstanding program that has produced successful teachers and educational leaders over the past decade. Merl Wittrock's legacy of excellence with elegance will guide us and those who follow for years to come."
 
Wittrock served as president of the division of educational psychology of the American Psychological Association, as a member of the American Psychological Association Council, on the board of directors of the American Educational Research Association, as chair of the Los Angeles Unified School District's Committee on Research and Evaluation, and as chair of the board of advisors of the National Center for Research in Mathematical Sciences Education at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Additionally, he served for 12 years as a University of California Regents' representative on the board of directors of the WestEd Laboratory, a San Francisco-based nonprofit focusing on education and human development within schools, families and communities.
 
A beloved professor, Wittrock received the UCLA Distinguished Teaching Award in 1990. His numerous honors include listings in more than 25 national and international "Who's Who" directories, including "Who's Who in America" (1979–present) and "Who's Who in the World" (1980–present). He was a fellow of the American Psychological Association, the Association for Psychological Science, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University. In addition to awards from the American Educational Research Association, Wittrock received the American Psychological Association's Thorndike Award for distinguished psychological research contributions to education in 1986.
 
Wittrock published more than 200 books, articles, chapters and papers on learning, instruction and teaching and was a co-author of "A Taxonomy for Learning, Teaching and Assessing: A Revision of Bloom's Taxonomy" (2001).
 
Wittrock is survived by his wife of 54 years, Nancy; his son Steven Wittrock; his daughters Catherine Harlow and Rebecca Wittrock; his four grandchildren, Steven, Elizabeth, Andrew and Catherine; and his sister Marianne Henry. A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. on Dec. 6 at the Palisades Lutheran Church (15905 Sunset Boulevard, Pacific Palisades 90272, 310-459-2358). Donations may be made to the Palisades Lutheran Church.
 
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