Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Barbara J. Thayer-Bacon

Committee Members

Joel F. Diambra, Lars Dzikus, Lisa C. Yamagata-Lynch, Melissa J. Geist, J. Robby Sanders


This dissertation is a cultural studies project that aims to understand how power manifests and influences knowledge construction between students working in an undergraduate, interdisciplinary, collaborative learning environment. Power – which holds the potential to empower and/or silence students - is intrinsic in social interaction and therefore inherent in collaboration. Exploring how power influences new knowledge construction in undergraduate, collaborative learning environments has the potential to uncover what type of interactions are valued and integrated or marginalized and excluded as part of these communicative exchanges.The purpose of this dissertation is thus not only to improve student learning within collaborative contexts, but also to further the implications to teaching that could help advance interdisciplinary communication and new knowledge construction. To explore these dynamics, a two part analysis employing James Gee’s approach to critical discourse analysis was applied to archival data collected from an undergraduate interdisciplinary course entitled, Clinical Immersion at Disciplinary Interfaces (CIDI). This unique, interdisciplinary course required teams composed of chemical engineering and nursing students to develop a prototype of innovative technology that addressed real-world problems in the healthcare profession.The findings emphasize that the manifestation of power and its influence on knowledge construction was primarily accomplished via students’ association with a specific disciplinary cultural model. The affiliation to a specific disciplinary cultural model determined several of the ways in which students engaged within particular social contexts embedded within the CIDI course including: how they positioned themselves (as either insiders or outsiders within that space); their expectations regarding how they understood that space and made situated meanings; and ultimately, their perceived ability to contribute within that space based on their fluency of the associated social language or Discourses. Utilizing a cultural studies lens, scholarship from this field of study is integrated to emphasize how manifestations of power impacted the context of the CIDI course in three ways: through space, language, and disciplinary beliefs. Five pedagogical implications are underscored as part of the concluding remarks.

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