Christina A. Christie: Recent Book a Tribute to SRM Professor Marvin Alkin

Co-edited volume highlights CSE/CRESST founder's contributions to increasing the use of evaluation.

Christina A. (Tina) Christie describes her colleague and mentor, UCLA Professor of Education Marvin Alkin as a teacher who is always thinking about how to best teach evaluation .

“Marv is very student-centered,” says Christie, a UCLA professor of education and Alkin’s former student in the division of Social Research Methodology (SRM), where she earned her Ph.D. “He first develops an understanding of students’ interests and then positions, tailors, and relates the course content to the issues and topics that are of greatest interest to the students in his course. “He is also very skilled at weaving into almost any discussion, even those with colleagues, friends and family, concepts related to evaluation.”

Christie’s latest book, “Evaluation Use and Decision-Making in Society: A Tribute to Marvin C. Alkin” (with Anne Vo, Information Age Publishing, 2015, Charlotte, NC:), draws upon papers that were presented at a symposium that she and her colleagues organized in 2011 to honor Alkin, who had “retired” a few years prior to the event. The book addresses a fundamental issue in the evaluation field – the use of evaluation information for decision-making, with chapters written by leading evaluation scholars, including Ernest House, Stewart Donaldson and Tarek Azzam, Eric Barela, Richard D. Nunneley, Jr., Jean A. King, Kelli Johnson, and Laura Pejsa, Eleanor Chelimsky, Michael Quinn Patton and Wanda D. Casillas, Rodney K. Hopson, and Ricardo L. Gomez.

Currently, Professor Alkin teaches a popular course in UCLA’s undergraduate Education Minor Program and a Research Apprenticeship Course (RAC) for students in UCLA Department of Education’s division of Social Research Methodology (SRM). For his RAC, which meets every other week year round, Alkin assigns readings in response to students’ interests or topics that have emerged during previous meetings and then facilitates discussion amongst the group. Christie says that when working with SRM doctoral students, Alkin goes to great lengths to expose them not only with current issues in evaluation but also with a historical perspective on the field.

“[Marv is] incredibly thoughtful about the materials he has his students read,” says Christie, who serves as SRM division head. “He is also well connected to all of the fields’ major contributors, so he often invites authors to join a discussion via phone. Students are then able to ask questions of as well as develop a personal familiarity with important thought leaders.”

Professor Christie says that Alkin’s early work as the director of the Center for the Study of Evaluation (CSE) was critical for the development of the field of evaluation. The Center is now the National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing (CRESST). Alkin’s work made the use of evaluation a much more critical issue to policy makers.

“When the field first developed here in the U.S. with the passing of the Great Society Legislation , what you had was a group of researchers that were funded to do evaluation work, who were, not surprisingly, working like researchers,” says Christie. “They weren’t providing policy makers with timely, useful information to be used for decision making . So Marv’s early work and the work he continues to do [has been] focused on what can be done to facilitate better use [of evaluation] among decision makers. This orientation impacts everything from the questions [researchers] should be answering to how we communicate our findings.”

Christie’s work examines the “connections between the various evaluation theoretical models and what we see in practice. This includes studying the the ways in which evaluation policies legislate practice.” Currently, she is a co-investigator on a National Institutes of Health (NIH) center grant with several UCLA colleagues, including Sylvia Hurtado, former director of the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) at UCLA Ed & IS, Kevin Eagan, managing director, HERI, and Keith Norris of the David Geffen School of Medicine, who serves as principal investigator. The team will create a coordination and evaluation center at UCLA for NIH’s Diversity Consortium, which supports programs that are designed to diversify the biomedical research field.

Professor Christie is also evaluating the implementation of the Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning (CSEFEL) in California, an early childhood emotional development program that is being implemented statewide by WestEd.This study is funded by the California Department of Education.

In addition, Christie has recently completed a study on the California Preschool Instructional Network (CPIN), which has identified childcare centers across the state that need additional support to promote children’s academic progress. This research was also supported by the California Department of Education.

While Christie’s book is a tribute to her former teacher, evaluation colleague, and lifelong mentor, the greatest homage she has paid Professor Alkin is with her own approach as an educator.

“Marv taught me to meet students where they are,” says Professor Christie. ”He is always reflecting on his teaching… always testing new approaches and pedagogy. He doesn’t say, ‘I’m teaching this syllabus.’ He says, ‘I’m teaching this group of students.’ He also takes very seriously his role of mentor. He wants to know who his students are and what they care about. He strives to keep an open and honest relationship with his students, so that they may engage in genuine discussions about their work, new ideas and life.

The most important thing I learned from Marv is that your greatest contribution as a faculty member is not going to be the literature; it’s going to be to your students.”


Above: Professor Christina Christie (at center) and Social Research Methodology (SRM) alumna Anne Vo, co-edited “Evaluation Use and Decision-Making in Society: A Tribute to Marvin C. Alkin” as a tribute to their teacher and mentor. Pictured with Professor Marvin Alkin, a research professor in SRM and the founding director of the Center for the Study of Evaluation, which is now the National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing (CRESST).