Disciplinarity, Interdisciplinarity, and the Digital Turn: A Case Study of a First Year Seminar Repurposing Wikis

James D Arrington, University of Pennsylvania


The digital turn in higher education has been described as potentially transformative for students’ access, participation, and learning in higher education. However, for undergraduate students, digital literacy practices and genres are often repurposed to scaffold the reproduction of historically dominant academic literacy practices and organizational hierarchies for scholarly knowledge construction in ways that reinforce longstanding dynamics of academic and disciplinary enculturation. These arrangements of literate activity at times leave students feeling alienated, uncertain, and frustrated as they work to reconcile the competing ethos they perceive between digital, academic, and disciplinary literacies. In this case study, I describe a first year East Asia Studies seminar that employed a different arrangement of practices by tasking students with composing wikis as the culminating curricular activity of the course. Through interviews, observations, and textual and discourse analysis, I show that this shift in the genre network elicited generative tensions between the students’ models of textuality, audiences, and authority in familiar academic and digital genres. As they navigated these tensions during their collaborative composing processes, the students strategically leveraged globalizing connections to familiar instantiations of the genre of wikis and localizing moves that reflected curricular exigencies. These processes mediated their emerging understandings of disciplinarity and interdisciplinarity as dynamic, negotiated alignments between interests, discourses, methodologies, and knowledges. This activity reoriented the students to seeing disciplinary knowledge frameworks as malleable discursive, semiotic, and cognitive resources that can be actively reshaped and placed in pluralistic interaction to construct new knowledges and address novel social functions for a range of interested communities. For post-secondary educators, academic support practitioners, and higher education researchers, these findings indicate that repurposing public digital genres for a localized curricular genre network in ways that call attention to boundaries between readership communities, the ways in which knowledge is communicated, and the extent to which knowledge construction is monologic, dialogic, or pluralistic can facilitate students’ processes for transforming paradigmatic understandings of disciplinarity and interdisciplinarity.

Subject Area

Higher education|Pedagogy|Educational technology

Recommended Citation

Arrington, James D, "Disciplinarity, Interdisciplinarity, and the Digital Turn: A Case Study of a First Year Seminar Repurposing Wikis" (2021). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI28650681.