Who Owns School?
Authority, Students, and Online Discourse

by Kelly Ritter

New Dimensions in Computers and Composition Series
eds. Cynthia Selfe and Gail Hawisher
Hampton Press, 2010

Reviewed by Rita Malenczyk
Director, University Writing Program and Writing Center
Eastern Connecticut State University


What About Freire?

The Pink Monkey

Psst! Wanna Buy A...?

And His Pants Are Ugly



References and Credits

In Chapter 3, “Negotiated Identities: Online Paper Mills, Student Authorship, and First-Year Composition,” Ritter extends Chapter 2’s ideas to explore how students decide whether or not to plagiarize—specifically, whether or not to buy papers online.  For Ritter, students’ decreased reliance on a classroom teacher for learning problematizes their sense of what academic integrity means.  Students remain, however, very much aware that teachers are gatekeepers, the arbiters who determine their academic and, by extension, economic success.  This success is what they arguably think most about when deciding whether or not to buy a paper online—since, as Ritter points out, the whole notion of authorship is debased for students, taken out of the picture by the meaninglessness of the writing tasks they are usually asked to perform in school. 

The chapter draws on research Ritter conducted at two similar institutions where she was a faculty member: Southern Connecticut State University and the University of North Carolina-Greensboro. At both institutions, Ritter surveyed first-year composition students to ascertain their attitudes toward authorship, and got similar results even though the surveys were conducted seven years apart.  Most of the students she surveyed did not see the papers they wrote in school as having any use outside the classroom, did not share faculty definitions and perceptions of what constitutes authorship, and did not feel that the writing they did in first-year composition was representative of their writerly selves. (Ritter contrasts this perception with the agency students obviously feel on PinkMonkey.com, where they take great care to defend and articulate their positions and opinions.)  Nor did the students Ritter surveyed regard Internet postings, or other types of writing found online, "as ‘authored’ material” (p. 89); this includes papers on online paper mills.  In addition to the problematics of authorship mentioned earlier, this phenomenon is due in part to the increased commodification of education: if you can buy an education, why not a paper?