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Educator's love of learning creates passion for teaching


April 24, 2006

Ever since ASU professor Alice Christie was a young high school teacher, her willingness to innovate has come in handy as situations altered her notions about teaching and learning.

When asked to teach physics to her high school students, Christie – an English major – traded her physics textbook for a General Motors manual: an in-depth handbook on the four stroke engine. Using the manual as a teaching aid, she was able to engage her students and create an educational environment that was meaningful and intentional.

In the late 1970s she taught a student diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Unable to communicate, the student was frustrated by his disability. Christie applied for and received a grant to purchase the student a state-of-the-art computer: a single-chip 64K microprocessor with a black and green screen. Quickly the student was able to express himself and to be understood for the first time.

It was at that point in her career Christie realized the power of technology and its impact on the needs of diverse learners.

“I had an instant love affair with technology and its potential for teaching and learning,” said Christie, a professor in the CollegeTeacher Education and Leadership at ASU’s West campus. “Technology can serve as a tool to remove barriers and offer solutions.”

In many ways, Christie is ahead of her time. Born and raised in rural Pennsylvania on the outskirts of Philadelphia, she attended an all girls Quaker School between the ages of 4 and 18. Christie’s perspectives are firmly rooted in this non-traditional educational experience.

Christie received her bachelor’s degree from Denison University, her master’s degree from Boston University and her Ph.D. in Elementary Education from ASU. Since 1995, she has taught numerous courses in technology and language arts for both undergraduate and graduate students.

For almost 40 years, Christie has devoted her professional life to education, searching for innovative, meaningful ways to inspire her students. Her dedication earned her the distinction of President’s Professor, an honor that awards faculty for their outstanding contributions to undergraduate education. Christie is only one of four ASU professors recognized as a President’s Professor. She was recognized for her remarkable contributions to teaching and the use of technology in education.

“The use of technology in the classroom helps to create a very student-centered learning environment in which students can take charge of their own learning,” said Christie. “It helps students produce professional quality work that engages them and others around them, not only in the classroom but also in the community.”

Christie’s research and teaching interests focus on using the Internet across all curricular areas and the social and educational implications of such use. A sample of her studies include examining how technology and multimedia can shape classroom knowledge and instruction; gender bias in teacher-student interactions; and whether having students post their work assignments to the Internet effects their learning.

Her leadership in developing “Learning Communities” for the first two incoming freshman classes of ASU’s West campus led to the creation of the Web site “The ASU West Freshman Experience.” Christie’s own Web site, www.west.asu.edu/achristie, averages more than 98,000 visitors each month and more than three million visitors since its inception in 1997. The site provides sound uses of technology in both teaching and learning, and offers a variety of tutorials, activities and projects. The “Chronicle of Higher Education” called Christie’s site one of the best educational portals on the Internet.

“Her students rely on her site as a valuable source of information,” said Joseph Ryan, interim dean of the College of Teacher Education and Leadership. “Yet her love of face-to-face teaching is readily apparent. She delights in learning, looks for opportunities to co-learn with her students and creates a great sense of community within her classroom.”

Christie actively engages her students in the learning process, using a technology-rich, hands on approach. She creates authentic assignments that are relevant to students, and she structures her classes to motivate students to attend and participate.

“The more you challenge students to reach new levels of understanding, the more they will take responsibility for their own learning,” said Christie. “And, the more students and instructors are learning together and understanding the value of each individual’s contribution, the more self-worth students will feel.”

Recently, AzTEA, Arizona Technology in Education Alliance, awarded Christie with its prestigious Innovation Leadership Award. She was honored for positively impacting faculty, university students, and K‑12 teachers and students. AzTEA described Christie as a “true agent of change encouraging every educator to incorporate the most appropriate technology to enrich their classes.”

Christie is convinced that no teacher becomes a good teacher on his or her own. She credits her colleagues and students for offering many of the ideas that have made her a more effective teacher. Nearing the end of her fourth decade as an educator, Christie is grateful to have worked with so many educators, and is thrilled to see her students excelling in classrooms around the state.

And if they ever need some advice on how to coordinate a lesson plan on physics, they know just where to turn.