May 16, 2016

Whitney N. Yarber, Communications Specialist

Dr. Li-Mei Chen Honored with President’s Award for Excellence in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning

Pictured, from left to right, is Dr. Cecil P. Staton, interim president of VSU, and Dr. Li-Mei Chen, a professor of English and applied linguistics in the Department of English.

VALDOSTA – Dr. Li-Mei Chen is the recipient of Valdosta State University’s 2016 President’s Award for Excellence in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning.

The President’s Award for Excellence in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning is presented to a full-time faculty member who has worked at VSU for a minimum of three years and engages in public, peer-reviewed, and critiqued scholarship on the systematic examination of issues about student learning and instructional conditions promoting learning and building; documents the use of strategies for investigating and evaluating the impact of teaching practices on student learning anchored in the research literature and dissemination of their scholarship results; produces scholarly work which contributes new questions and knowledge about teaching and learning; and develops a well-articulated teaching philosophy that drives research questions.

Chen, a professor of English and applied linguistics in the Department of English, was selected by the College of Arts and Sciences Presidential Award Committee and scholars in the Innovative Designs for Enhancing the Academy (IDEA) Center for her work with international students, as well as her publications and presentations on working with English language learners (ELL).

“Whether I teach an academic writing course to international students, an undergraduate English to speakers of other languages course to prospective teachers, or a graduate ELL course to teacher-educators, the tenet comprising my teaching philosophy always revolves around the student-centered principle with an aim to foster English teaching and learning and promote student achievement,” said Chen, who joined the Blazer Nation family in 2005. “In order to reach this goal, I serve to facilitate and encourage student learning by recognizing student individuality and accommodating each student’s uniqueness in order to create an equal opportunity for each student to succeed.”

Chen said her scholarship of teaching and learning focuses specifically on six courses, which have enabled her to mature her craft of teaching — and teaching others how to teach — English language learners.

In ENGL 1101: Composition I and ENGL 1102: Composition II, she works with international students to develop their writing proficiency and critical thinking abilities. In ESOL 4010: Applied Linguistics and ESOL 4020: Cultural Perspectives for English to Speakers of Other Language Teachers, she provides pre- and in-service teachers with the necessary knowledge and skills they need to teach English language learners.  In ENGL 8710: Language in School, Community, and Society and ENGL 8720: English Language Learners, she advises in-service teachers and educators to delve deeply into the theoretical knowledge and professional competencies essential for working effectively with ELLs.

Several years ago, the College of Arts and Sciences established special sections of the composition courses for international students after discovering that mainstreaming them into regular sections of the core classes was not effective for them.

“They needed much more instructional help,” said Dr. Connie Richards, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

After being assigned to these special sections, Chen soon discovered that she needed to incorporate a variety of teaching styles in order to meet the needs of every international student in her composition courses.

“… all students come from very different linguistic and cultural backgrounds, as well as very different levels of English proficiency,” she said. “… with the constant change of learner factors, educational policies, learning contexts, and technology, I have to question myself repeatedly: How can I advance the field of English teaching and learning and what can I inform the best classroom practice? As such, I have to continuously pursue research studies and educational theories that can better explain to me such an effect.”

To reflect the international students’ language individuality, Chen incorporates metacognitive reflections to work with each individual student’s writing errors. In the example of intralingual, or developmental, errors, she provides explicit instructions to help individual students understand the target concepts. With regard to interference errors, she assists students with learning about the language patterns between English and their first language to avoid negative transfer.

Chen also holds reading discussions and raises thought-provoking questions while teaching to develop critical thinking and analytical skills and uses systematical writing analyses to help students identify their individual writing strengths and weaknesses.

“I notice some students are reluctant to participate in in-class discussion due to their personality or lack of oral proficiency,” she said. “For this, I provide optional online discussions to engage those students. In addition, I use peer responding and confer with individual students to encourage and monitor each student’s development.”

Due to the increasing load of online courses she teaches, Chen said she has conducted several projects focused on promoting the teaching and learning of English language learners by searching for the positive impacts of testing and appropriate approaches to integrate technologies.

“To motivate student learning, intellectual commitment, and personal development, I incorporate instructor-student, student-student, and student-content interactions,” she said. “I always scaffold my instruction using learner-friendly technologies to engage students and motivate their learning.”

Chen utilizes the student-oriented online readiness tool, which asks students to rate themselves concerning the main topics closely related to online success. This allows students to fully understand the expectations of the courses and their readiness for the courses in an online format.

Her other projects regarding ELLs were inspired by some of the challenges that she and many composition instructors in the Department of English have faced in teaching ENGL 1101 and ENGL 1102 to international students.

“I have noticed that international students lack the necessary cultural background to critically analyze their reading and writing assignments,” said Chen. “… as I learn from research studies, cultural awareness can positively influence students’ critical reading analysis, writing styles, rhetoric, and quality of writing.”

In 2006, Chen piloted an intercultural email exchange project into her ENGL 1102 class.

“I paired up each international student with a native peer from other ENGL 1102 classes and asked participating students to exchange their viewpoints regarding a list of intercultural topics related to their reading and writing assignments via email,” she said.

The project was a success. More than 95 percent of international students commented that the emails contributed to their intercultural competence and understanding, which in turn contributed to their writing development and cultivated their critical thinking ability.

Chen noted the benefits of the email exchange project were further confirmed when she modified it to include social media websites and began incorporating it into her ENGL 1101 courses.

Despite the success of her email exchange project, the IDEA Center faculty fellow and scholar continued to remain frustrated with the writing errors she would repeatedly mark on the work of international students. Therefore, with the support of a 2013-2014 pedagogical innovation grant awarded by the IDEA Center, as well as a Faculty Research Seed Grant, Chen developed a database of errors to help aid international students in improving their writing and to assist the professors who teach them.

Chen said the database includes the error code, type, cause, frequency, and suggested treatment and has made the faculty in the Department of English’s grading and feedback communication with international students faster and stronger.

In addition, she has had numerous opportunities to contribute to ELL academic writing by mentoring colleagues new to teaching composition classes to international students. The writing error database she created has also helped VSU’s Student Success Center with training their new tutors on how to work with international student-writers.

Chen is currently working on a report of this project that will be published in the International Journal of English Studies in the future.

While Chen believes it is research that facilitates her preparation and enhances her results in the teaching profession, she also said her service to the university and the community has contributed significantly.

“I have been highly involved in a variety of services for enhancing cross-cultural understanding and communication across different linguistic and cultural groups,” she said. “These shared responsibilities have afforded me opportunities to understand more about the university’s policies and strategies, the College of Arts and Sciences’ mission, the Department of English’s goals, and local English to speakers of other languages and cultural programs. Participating in these activities enables me to look at my teaching from a broader perspective so that I am able to design, assess, and adjust my teaching to reflect ELLs’s needs.”

Chen earned a Bachelor of Arts in foreign languages and literature in English from Tunghai University in Taiwan in 1990; a Master of Education in language literacy from Utah State University in 1993; and a Doctor of Philosophy in second and foreign language education with a specialization in applied linguistics and English to speakers of other languages from Ohio State University in 2002.

As a professional, she has published more than 10 articles in refereed journals; reviewed five manuscripts; presented at more than 15 local, national, and international conferences; conducted workshops geared toward promoting the teaching and learning of English language learners; and received 10 grants, awards, and fellowships related to the scholarship of teaching and learning.

She currently serves as a coordinator and advisor for the Azalea International Folk Fair’s Beyond the Books: English Summer Camp.

Contact Dr. Li-Mei Chen at or (229) 333-7346 for more information.

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