By Shawn Pollgreen, Professor, ESL
Kevin Colwell, professor, English for Academic Purposes (EAP), on West Campus, describes himself as someone who enjoys “dealing with complex teaching and learning problems.” It is for this reason that he regularly conducts action research (AR) projects in his classes: small-scale, practical research projects in which faculty investigate questions regarding student learning. “I love doing research,” said Kevin.
In summer 2011, Kevin conducted a research project titled Collaborative Wikis as Final Exam Study Guides, in which he investigated whether increasing time on collaborative writing/revising/editing tasks would improve EAP1540 high intermediate writing students’ ability to recognize and correct editing errors in the final editing exam.
“I created group Wikis, and each group was responsible for posting specific review information about sentence structure,” Kevin explained. “I found that while the majority reported positively about the experience, it seemed to benefit the low performers much more than higher performers.”
Based on his findings, Kevin revised the assignment to allow more types of input from higher- performing students. “I have not taught EAP1540 since that semester,” Kevin said, “but the insights from the students alone made the project worthwhile, as they apply to the way I approach my other writing classes.”
In his next action research project, in fall 2012, Kevin examined whether implementing a reading guide would improve EAP0320 low-intermediate reading students’ ability to identify and understand main idea and supporting detail items on reading tests.
“After the midterm exam, students began using the reading guide, and their answers to main idea and detail questions were tracked from both the midterm (pre-test) and final (post-test). I noticed some major differences that led me to investigate the test items themselves.”
He found that the items covered different skill levels (passage-level versus paragraph-level questions) and had markedly different discrimination. Based on those findings, Kevin revised his teaching, but his findings also suggested that the exams should be revised. This project started his interest in assessment design and item analysis.
In fall 2013, Kevin implemented another AR project, Using Peer Assessment to Increase Self-Assessment:
“I wanted to see if students got better at self-assessing after peer-assessing (using the same rubric) in an EAP0400 speech class.” In this project, students were trained on the rubric and self-assessed their own speech 1, which was recorded before training and posted to Blackboard. Students then assessed four peers. Finally, students self-assessed their own speech 2. Kevin found that “variance of instructor’s score and students’ scores went down slightly. Students reported increased confidence with noticing and commenting on positive traits in speeches but did not report such large gains regarding negative traits.”
Reflecting the spiral process of action research, in which investigation results in critical reflection, which leads to further investigation, the findings of this project instigated Kevin’s next action research project, to be conducted in spring 2015. In reflecting on the results of the previous AR project, Kevin found research suggesting that lack of self-reflection skills may lead to overestimation of performance by low performers, which in turn may lead to inadequate preparation. Therefore, in his upcoming project, Increasing Insight in Self-Assessment, he plans to implement a strategy that “aims to increase insight capacity. In the previous study, most students reported trouble with identifying areas for improvement,” Kevin noted. “Perhaps when given the tools, these perceptions will change.”
In addition to engaging in action research, Kevin also volunteered earlier this year in a Valencia- Hope CommUnity Center project in Apopka to build partnerships with the community and provide an educational service to pre-college students, many of whom were second generation or first generation English-speakers. In six sessions that focused on English composition and used the ENC1101 textbook, Kevin’s students completed writing tasks using evidence and citation. They then spent another six weeks studying with faculty from Valencia’s math department. “I hadn’t taught such young folks in a while, so it was interesting to see what they responded to and what engaged them,” Kevin said. He plans to participate in this project again next spring.
Kevin is an Orlando native. He earned a B.S. degree in financial management and human resources, before discovering the field of ESL, earning a Cambridge CELTA (Certificate of English Language Teaching to Adults), teaching in Prague and Ecuador, and then returning to the U.S. and obtaining an M.A. TESOL (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages) degree at UCF.
He taught Adult ESOL at Seminole State College and Orlando Tech before starting at Valencia as a senior instructional assistant in the West Campus Writing Center in 2007. Kevin became an adjunct EAP professor in the fall of 2008, obtained a four-month contract in 2012 and is now a full-time EAP professor on an eight-month contract.