UNCG Campus Weekly

Campus Weekly is published each Wednesday when classes are in session. In the summer, it is published biweekly.

The Five Spot: Dr. Kelly Ritter

110310FiveSpot_RitterDr. Kelly Ritter has been director of composition and associate professor in the English Department since 2008. The manuscript she has completed – it’s now with the publisher – is about Woman’s College, looking at our campus from the 1940s to ’60s, and particularly looking at how writing was taught. She loves UNCG’s archives. She did not know very much about archives until she used the ones at Harvard and Yale, while she was a faculty member at Southern Connecticut State University. “I just walked into [Yale’s Archives] one day and said ‘Help me!'” That research resulted in her book “Before Shaughnessy: Basic Writing at Yale and Harvard, 1920-1960.” A lot of faculty and students don’t know how to properly use archives, she says. “There’s a science to it.” She’ll take her students in a graduate course next semester to the UNCG archives In Jackson Library to help them learn these techniques.

Her book that was just published is “the odd man out” – it does not use archives. It’s “Who Owns School? Authority, Students, and Online Discourse.” In it, she looks at online venues that students use to discuss classes, professors, subject matter, etc. A lot of learning activity happens under the radar, in online communities. Some schools embrace them, some abhor them. Regardless, the internet has changed our culture. And students connecting and engaging with each other online will only get more pronounced over time, she explains. What are some realizations she had, in researching this book?

Points to consider about the online realm

  1. Sites like “Rate My Professor” are one place students engage each other. Not fun to look at if you’re a professor. [You’ll see things like] ‘I think he’s boring.’ Or ‘ I don’t think he’s boring.’ It’s a quasi-dialogue. It lets them talk to each other and students they don’t know and lets them do evaluations. It gives them a sense of agency in a system where they feel they don’t always have a voice.
  2. Online paper mills, offering papers for a fee, are often used by students for economic reasons. [In many cases], they’re not trying to trick you. They don’t see that it’s wrong. We live in a culture where you buy things … [We must educate students about this.] We must make students know we value their writing.
  3. A popular site is Pink Monkey, by Barron’s Book Notes. Sort of like Cliff’s Notes, with book summaries [etc.] – and an extensive discussion forum, [with comments like] “I don’t understand the symbolism of the sled in ‘Citizen Kane.'” It allows discussion. It gives the students a chance to express things not expressed in the classroom. The students are kind of teaching each other – high school and college – on different levels.
  4. Teachers should leave sites like these alone. Don’t use them in class. When [students] go online, they choose their communities. … I don’t bring it up in class. I don’t want to force it. … I say there’s some sanctity to that. [If you try to introduce online forums into a classroom] for one thing, they can’t talk about you anymore. [As for trying to use Facebook or Twitter in class?] They will feel they’re being surveilled. They are outlets for what school is not. I want to respect what my students do on the outside.
  5. The internet continues to change culture. Online communities will become the norm. The mall next to my undergraduate college [University of Iowa] went under. Why? Everyone buys stuff online. We’ve become a privatized culture. The more our culture becomes electronic, the colleges get pulled into that.

A main message in her book is: “If people ignore youth culture online, that’s a problem. If they want to co-opt it, that’s also a problem. … Be aware, but you don’t have to immerse yourself. Just be an explorer.”