Casting Learning Into Flowing Streams

This video is a screen recording captured on January 30, 2011. An additional screen performance was captured on June 11, 2011 to create an opening frame for the piece. An audio recording of the narration was added after the screen captures were combined. The piece showcases materials from an undergraduate introductory literature class. The video (along with others) was curated by the author and three students and published as "Casting Learning into Flowing Streams" in College Composition and Communication Online 1.1 (2012). A prepublication draft of the project is available.

Casting Learning includes several student video reflections. Passages from the reflections are highlighted in several compilation videos, which are played in the captured piece. It also includes a video with a musical performance as well as videos with footage of trains, pottery making, and work with a computer painting program. The video also includes a narration track that discusses aspects of learning and guides viewers through these materials.


00:00 The video opens with a computer desktop. On the desktop is a text file with the script of the video narration, and two video player windows. The text file and the video players are mostly covered by a Photoshop file showing a white canvas with thumbnails at the top. The cursor brings forward one of the video player windows. Screen clipping crosshairs appear and draw a rectangle over the cream-colored surface of the video window. A camera shutter sound is heard. The narrator speaks: "Welcome. This project reflects on a course that focused on digital composing and performance. You'll find here a collection of materials composed during and after the course. The project includes the creative work of many people. It serves as a kind of portfolio for an entire class."

00:22 After the shutter sound, materials and windows are mixed in Photoshop, and a layer palette is clicked through to create text on screen, listing a title and authors: "This is what we did in our class, Daniel Anderson, Jackclyn Ngo, Sydney Stegall, Kyle Stevens." The narrator continues: "We're calling it 'Casting Learning into Flowing Streams,' or 'This is what we did in our class.'"

00:32 The cursor brings a web browser window on screen; thumbnails linking to videos appear across the top and bottom of the browser window. The cursor moves over the thumbnails, revealing short descriptions, as the narrator continues: "These screencasts capture performances as they record activities, and they include overviews and discussions of performance, portfolios, composing, and creativity. These pieces at the top provide the insights of the authors about some of the projects created in the course. The videos reflect on student work. It's possible to move from left to right among these, though certainly not necessary. The videos below include pieces referred to in the discussion above. Screencasts by Austin Cooper, Sarah Brady, Sean Mattio, Katie Meyer, Jackclyn Ngo, Austin Shaw, Sydney Stegall, Hannah Easley, and Kelly Wollman are of two types: sample projects that represent digital composing and reflective videos created for course portfolios.

01:28 The cursor brings forward one of the video player windows. It contains several web browser windows, which the cursor navigates and resizes. The narrator continues: "The next segment of this video provides an overview of the teaching philosophies associated with the course. It was recorded as a live performance, with this voiceover added now. I've opened a browser window with a video by Ronnie Tucker, capturing some digital painting. And I want a soundtrack for the performance. This is String Cheese Incident doing 'River under African Trance.'"

01:55 Crowd sounds, and then music, can be heard. The cursor arranges and resizes browser windows. The narrator continues: "I'm going to transform these bits to bring into view a teaching philosophy. It's linked with digital composing, creativity, and a studio model of the classroom. This is some pottery making by Charles Smith. I'm bringing in some archive footage. It's called 'Big Trains Rolling.'"

02:22. The cursor brings forward a video player window that displays a title reading "Shifts in Composing." The narrator continues: "And this is one of my videos. It looks at student reflections on projects created for the undergraduate class. When you finish with all of these materials, you may wonder about the course title, Introduction to Literary Studies. Both lower and upper division students, many English majors, made up the group. The class is mostly about digital composing."

02:45 On screen, the "Shifts in Composing" video is enlarged and a passage of a student reflection is highlighted. The student reflection reads: "Instead of a straight up reading and writing style English course, this seminar asked us to mix mediums and to compose without words. Rather than adding to the trillions of pages of subpar essays written by students since the dawn of time, we created videos, presentations, and interactive web essays." The narrator comments on the passage: "Austin points out the way the class treats words as one among many composing materials. He reflects on a shared sense of accomplishment, and on digital projects leading to a 'holistic understanding of what it means to compose.'"

03:06 On screen, the cursor rearranges browser windows. The narrator continues: "The class assignments call for shifts among modes. Opening the channels of sound and image, word and motion, allows new stories to be heard. And moving among these materials creates rhetorical fluencies, spillovers, strategies, techniques, and questions."

03:30 A new reflection excerpt is highlighted; it reads: "While the web essay assignment still contained some semblance to traditional composition—a strong written component—this assignment seemed to come straight from the Communications Department. I had many questions, Shouldn't an English class teach us how to utilize words more effectively? What can a video mashup teach me about composition? Where do I possibly begin to do this assignment?" The narrator continues: "Austin asks, 'Shouldn't an English class teach us how to utilize words more effectively? What can a video mashup teach me about composition?'"

03:44 The page with the student reflection is scrolled down, and a new passage is highlighted: "I had a much more difficult time choosing a topic. I could not decide what it is I wanted to say. This I realized was exactly like composing in the traditional way, just like the creative process of writing: there was a multitude of brainstorming; I had to decide on a 'thesis' for my mashup, what I wanted to say or prove." The narrator continues: "He discovers that mashups reveal familiar facets of composing. We find brainstorming, focusing, authors, purposes—'What [do] I [want] to say?' So old currents blend with new through digital projects."

03:57 On screen, windows are rearranged and resized. The page with the student reflection is scrolled down, and a new passage is highlighted: "At this point in the process, the mashup's relation to composing became clearer, and my definition of composition began to shift. Here I had developed [a] thesis I was seeking to prove; I was exploring with different tools (formatting); choosing my music, images, and effects carefully (word choice); and I was going to the original sources for material (quotes)." The narrator continues: "The teaching philosophy pushes this blending. We practice with tools, play with genres, extend words with images or music, and discover a fluid sense of materials and messages."

04:14 A passage in the student reflection is highlighted in yellow: "A video mashup was far closer to a composition than I had previously imagined, and it was infinitely more fun. Working late into the night, without the endless griping that accompanies some essays, I completed a first draft that I was quite proud of." The narrator continues: "And shifting modes does much more. It mixes up the educational elixirs of motivation and engagement."

04:28 Another excerpt in the student reflection is highlighted: "The assignment was fascinating and exciting for me. Here, I had done something really cool. I had composed without using a single word. I had created a work that expressed an idea, a thesis, a concept in a new, interpretive, and creative way. Better still, I had shared my creation with the entire world through YouTube." The narrator continues: "We know that writing with its risks and publics can bring a sense of authenticity. And authenticity is linked with engagement. And both are amplified through social space. When shifting modes, projects aren't crafted for some imagined reader. They are cast out into the world." On screen, another excerpt from the student reflection is highlighted: "If nothing else, the assignment was different and proved that qualifying as 'composition' does not depend on words, but rather on the successful conveyance of ideas. And as for effectiveness, whether it was because of the medium or because it was new and different people noticed it more; I noticed it more. While I never send my essays around to my friends to read, I emailed this video to everyone. So perhaps, this was more effective than writing an essay because instead of saying something, I showed it and people looked."

04:50 Another video player window comes forward, titled "Performing in the Learning Studio." More student reflections appear. A passage is highlighted: "This class was by far the most interesting and rewarding English class I have experienced at UNC. Professor Anderson introduced a whole new style of teaching and learning, which proved to be much more of a class conversation, and a process, than any of my previous classes." The narrator continues: "I'm going to bring another video into this piece. This one looks at performance, processes, and some of the portfolio elements of the course. And let me interrupt the flow here to prepare you for a skip. . . ."

05:08 The audio track in the video briefly goes silent. The narrator continues: "A small gap in the song. In her portfolio, Michela reflects on the way the class was configured as an ongoing conversation, an image speaking to the organic nature of composing and the emergent qualities of projects in the course. The conversation is captured in part through portfolios." On screen, an excerpt from a student reflection is highlighted: "This project primarily taught me the importance of self-examination in the writing process. If I had been able to step away from the essay when first writing it, I would have seen that my thesis attempted to connect too many ideas. Now I can see the shortcomings of the essay, but in all honesty, I still am not fully able to get past them." The narrator continues: "Here, Sydney reflects on composing a web essay. The portfolio captures processes and learning that comes from happenstance or less-than-perfect projects. The web essay raised particular challenges with its one foot firmly planted in written essay mode, and the other pushing students to 'compose with media.' Video, image, and sound meet words—but in their native space of the composing window."

06:03 The cursor brings another video player window forward, titled "Open Assignments, Affective Modes, and Creativity." More student reflections appear, highlighted or resized to accompany the words of the narrator: "Let me bring in my third video. This one touches on affect and creativity. One of the claims we are making is that digital composing opens new channels for sharing stories. These channels bring new voices into scholarly conversations." On screen, an excerpt from a student reflection is highlighted: "[The fact that] our class would be centered on technology-based projects was extremely appealing. I am a tactile, product-driven learner; I love to manipulate ideas with my hands and eyes and do much better working toward the end goal of a visible or tangible product instead of a pen and paper test grade. Twenty years from now, I will not show off an exam grade, but I will certainly still retrieve my digital videos and broadcast them." The narrator continues: "Jackclyn reports on her tactile approach to ideas. Modes of composing both enable and limit participation. Broadening the available means makes possible the creation and sharing of knowledge by those who otherwise might be filtered out. Channels open when shifting modes. When students moved from web essays to mashups, they switched gears, discovering what Jackclyn calls 'a more auditory and emotional mode.'" In a student reflection, a passage is highlighted: "I had to switch gears from words and images to a more auditory and emotional mode in completing our next assignment."

06:48 On screen, an excerpt from a student reflection is enlarged. Circles and underlining highlight phrases in the excerpt. A cursor appears above the excerpt and begins to type: "I shared my own work with my friends and family in a way I'd never shared my essays." The narrator continues: "Jackclyn moves through these channels to create knowledge. Her reflection speaks to her engagement with texts, with ideas, with cultural connections, and her willingness to share this engagement."

07:05 On screen, a new student reflection appears among the other continually playing videos, and text is again highlighted: "Once Professor Anderson explained that it could be more about a feeling, and less like an essay, I was good to go. I really liked the idea of finding a way to engage with some of my tangled feelings about the book." The narrator continues: "These shifts in affordances beg for revisions in teaching. Hannah notes the ability to move forward once given license to make her screencast 'more about a feeling and less like an essay.' We find new channels for connecting and affective modes of communicating, allowing Hannah 'to engage with [her] tangled feelings.'"

07:30 On screen, the cursor rearranges and resizes windows. Multiple excerpts from student reflections appear. One reads: "I got really into the process of video editing. It was very time consuming, but I also found it rewarding. It reminded me of the labor intensive processes from some of my studio art classes, like developing photographs or working with a printing press. I loved the way I could manipulate the clips and say whatever I wanted." The narrator continues: "Classrooms become studio-like environments, productive spaces where students manipulate materials and have their say. Reflecting and speaking generates rhetorical knowledge."

07:50 The screen zooms into a particular window, where a passage is highlighted. The narrator reads the passage: "'Dear reader,' Hannah says, 'this note to you is the last piece of writing I will ever do as an undergraduate. Wow. Maybe I should say the last composition, actually, since it's more than writing. . . .'"

08:06 A new excerpt from a student reflection appears, replacing Hannah's, and yellow marker highlights several phrases: "[English majors] are well accustomed to writing analytical papers. . . . But our projects strayed from this standard format in exciting and intimidating ways. This was extremely gratifying, but also very frustrating at times. This class was intriguingly self-reflective, ultimately an ongoing conversation about communication and how to better learn in a classroom setting. I immensely enjoyed . . . creative projects that I will have forever." The narrator continues: "Michela notes how projects strayed from expectations. Here, we begin to recognize signs of creativity. Where we see gratification and pride mixed with frustration, we find assignments that move beyond boredom. The projects introduce unfamiliarity and challenges. There is a heightened sense of working with technologies and materials, of rhetorical resistance."

08:30 On screen, an excerpt from a student reflection is highlighted: "It turns out that 'Performing Literature' is unlike any class I've taken before. We looked at the idea of communication as something much broader than writing alone, and at the role technology plays in the way we communicate. Projects like the mashup and the screencast involved a philosophy of composition much closer to the ones we'd discussed in my art classes than my English ones. These projects brought up an idea I hadn't thought on before: how to get people to engage with the material you create. I'd always just assumed that no one but my teacher was going to read my essay about parallel structure in Donne's sermons. (And, in fact, I think it's safe to say that no one else did.) But something like a screencast enables you to present information in a way that engages people much more fully. I spent a lot of time watching my classmates' mashups and screencasts, and I shared my own work with my friends and family in a way I'd never shared my essays. Although the essay will always have a special place in my heart, and a special function, I think it's a fantastic idea to explore different ways of presenting ideas that might get a wider audience. Most of all, I think this class helped me to broaden my idea of what it means to have a scholarly discussion. My engagement with literature doesn't have to stop after college. It can happen on YouTube, or a discussion thread, or even (of course) face to face." The narrator continues: "But the challenges and activities emerge in a collaborative, productive space and through the ongoing composing supported by portfolios."

08:42 On screen, the cursor continues to arrange and manipulate windows and materials, including adjusting the font size in a text file to reveal the text of another student reflection: "I got into 'the zone' much as I do when working on my paintings or other art for my Studio Art classes, and I didn't even notice I'd been sitting there for hours making it! I think this medium is much more comparable to creating an art piece or composing music in that there are few limitations or restrictions and it capitalizes on creativity and an artistic eye." The narrator continues: "The result is the kind of balance between frustration and accomplishment often associated with creative endeavors—the mythical 'flow state.' As Katie puts it, 'I got into the zone . . . I didn't even notice I'd been sitting there for hours.'" On screen an excerpt from a student reflection is highlighted: "I also managed to find a clip that made the loud banging sound about halfway through the trailer make sense. Before, it sounded random, but now the fiancé character looks as if he hears the noise, then turns and sees a hand at the window." The narrator continues: "We see this creative state often when working with digital modes. Fixing a mismatched sound or struggling with a technical jam provides a kind of material pushback that helps induce heightened engagement (and sometimes frustration)."

09:23 A new student reflection appears on screen, with some text highlighted: "I ran into massive technical difficulties. So my screencast became about the messy process of making itself. I actually had a lot of fun with it. It was pretty freeing to just give up some control, and adapt to what was happening." The narrator continues: "Hannah notes how this messiness became the focus of her composition, pointing out the freedom that comes from '[adapting] to what [is] happening.'"

9:35 The screen displays many different windows, some containing student texts and others showing videos hosted on YouTube or student-created graphics. In a student text, a passage is highlighted: "Doing the Prezi and group presentation really helped us to focus our idea, and to figure out what needed work in our analysis. Our presentation had a much more meaningful analysis than our first draft. I think it did a better job of answering the ever-present question of "So what?" The narrator continues: "An improvisational current flows through the teaching philosophy. Drafts, activities, and performances become heuristic, leading to new knowledge and furthering the development of projects. Such ongoing composing also calls for new modes of reading and assessment. Again, portfolios fit well and help voices emerge. In fact, the portfolios themselves become digital compositions developed through shifting modes."

10:14 On screen, an excerpt of a reflection is enlarged and highlighted: "This course has also placed a strong emphasis on revision. As an English major, I'm accustomed to the long process of editing. But Professor Anderson has taken revising a step further in this course. As the Fall semester draws to a close, I have not received a single grade on any of these projects. There have been due dates, but they were all deadlines for drafts. This portfolio (which has been revised itself many times) will be graded as a representation of all my work and learning for the semester." The narrator continues: "Katie explains that she '[has] not received a single grade on any of [her] projects.' Instead, the portfolio itself—revised many times—becomes the 'representation of . . . work and learning.' And the philosophy redraws the boundaries of the classroom through a collaborative, emergent, and widely public approach to composing."

10:37 A student reflection is highlighted: "Yet, in most college classes, the writing relationship is constant—one to one, student to professor. Writing takes place in the private space of one's computer or notebook, unseen by other student writers." The narrator continues: "Works in progress are posted. Readers respond. Writers revise. The openness and shared sense of composing transforms relationships."

10:47 Another student reflection fills the screen and an excerpt is highlighted: "I was very relieved that I could do an abstract reading for the screencast though, because I feel like viewers can get more out of the atmosphere created by the screencast instead of having the information pounded into their heads without their own thought process. Just as our individual reading of McCarthy's text is done without Cormac McCarthy to dictate an analysis, the readings of the screencasts should be done without the creators' words dictating a reading." The narrator continues: "Public composing amplifies investment and authenticity. Jackclyn sees her screencast as akin to other class texts, calls herself a 'creator'—crossing the boundary between consumer and producer of knowledge. Digital composing is here layered with authenticity and engagement, collaborative spaces, new channels and modes. We're shifting. Austin started us off asking about composing. Let's watch some."

11:22 On screen, two video player windows are arranged side by side and enlarged to show excerpts from student reflections. Small, rectangular callouts highlight phrases and words in each excerpt. The narrator continues: "Serendipitous, really, these clips flowing together. Austin and Hannah, thinking about feeling and voice. I'm talking about what we did in our class. We're listening while reading pictures of audio rolling like waves. Our 'idea[s] of composition [have] changed.' It has taken attention, time, and help."

11:45 The multiple windows again fill the screen. The video featuring the live musical performance ends. The narrator continues: "The sound track has stopped, but extensions of the performance are beginning to build. We see them pixelated here. They echo."

12:00 On screen, the cursor selects minimize buttons and windows disappear. The narrator continues: "In motion they continue having their say. They should never stop." The video ends.

The video includes three subvideos that have been compiled by the author. These videos (Shifts in Composing,Performing in the Learning Studio, and Open Assignments, Affective Modes, and Creativity) are themselves made from screen recordings of student portfolios. The three videos have been edited to highlight excerpts from student reflections.

The video also includes three videos that are hosted on YouTube. A live performance of the song "River under African Trance" by the band String Cheese Incident plays throughout most of the video. A video called "Big Trains Rolling" depicts train imagery. A video called "Pottery Wheel Demonstration" and a video called "The Valley" provide more visuals.


"Big Trains Rolling." 1955, Archive.Org, uploaded by Dudley Pictures Corporation, July 16, 2002,

"Charles Smith Pottery Wheel Demonstration." YouTube, uploaded by Charles Smith, December 28, 2006,

Cooper, Austin. "A Composite on Composition." 2010. Web. Accessed October 15, 2011.

Davis, D. Diane. Breaking Up (at) Totality: A Rhetoric of Laughter . Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2000.

Lang, J. "Garden of the Forking." 2009. ccMixter.

Meyer, Katie. "Katie's Portfolio: Reflections on a Semester." 2010. Web. Accessed October 15, 2011.

Ngo, Jackclyn. "Portfolio: Am I Write?" 2010. Web. Accessed October 15, 2011.

Sawyer, Keith. Explaining Creativity: The Science of Human Innovation. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.

Sawyer, Keith. Group Genius: The Creative Power of Collaboration. New York: Perseus Books Group, 2007.

Selfe, Cynthia L., and Richard J. Selfe. "The Politics of the Interface: Power and Its Exercise in Electronic Contact Zones." College Composition and Communication 45, no. 4 (1994): 480–504.

Shipka, Jody. Toward a Composition Made Whole. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2011.

String Cheese Incident. "STRING CHEESE INCIDENT - RIVER UNDER AFRICAN TRANCE - SCI - DENVER, CO - FILLMORE (PART 1 OF 3)." YouTube, uploaded by HarvatiBrothers, September 26, 2009,

Ulmer, Gregory L. Heuretics: The Logic of Invention. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994.

"The Valley." YouTube, uploaded by Ronnie Tucker, October 12, 2008,


When we get used to one way of looking at things, it's hard to see alternatives. "As technologies embed themselves in everyday discourse and activity," Jody Shipka tells us, "they slip into the background and it becomes far too easy to lose sight of the way they shape, whether for good or ill, the routine dimensions of our lives" (54). Shipka is summarizing the "disappearance effect" discussed by Bertram Bruce and Maureen Hogan, the same phenomenon that Cindy and Richard Selfe described in 1994 when discussing the invisibility of the desktop metaphor that shapes our computing experience. The concern is that, as these technologies slip into the background, we lose sight of how they shape our identities and behaviors. The good news is that, as Shipka explains, "one way taken-for-granted technologies are rendered visible is through breakdowns or disruptions" (55). Casting Learning considers what happens when we deploy screen composing in the classroom to create these disruptions.

Diane Davis calls for a pedagogy that's transformative, dangerous even. "Writing involves risk," she says. This pedagogy would welcome ambiguity and be linked with authenticity and emergence. This approach disrupts the closure-oriented modes of college, "forcing a writer constantly to double back on herself and her 'texts,' to crack them open again to expose her own assumptions, to reveal inconsistencies, motivations, contradictions, limitations, incantations" (243). Screen composing allows everyone to experiment with ambiguity, incantations, and expectations and to double back. Casting Learning is an emergent text built through this process, a process begun by asking students to create video scholarship.

Reflection is a key mode of this scholarship. Reflection drives creativity, both in the projects under development and in the act of looking back on them. This distance between project and assessment, a layering, drives creative response. In studies of creativity, Keith Sawyer notes, "when a person knows he or she will be rewarded for the quality of their work, they can't stop thinking about that reward, and they find it impossible to get into the flow state where they're doing the task simply because they like doing it" (53). The videos in Casting Learning carve out a space between composing and reflection by asking students to creatively revisit their own texts. This composing is performative, improvisational, happening "in a zone between complete predictability and being out of control" (253). The student voices describe the results: "I got into the zone. . . . I didn't even notice I'd been sitting there for hours."

screenshot of Casting Learning video

Screen composers lose track of time and get into the flow zone

Emergent composing with ambiguity in mediated spaces marks the poetics expressed by Gregory Ulmer in his book Heuretics. Here, a composition is "an experiment: it is offered not as a proof or assertion of truth but as a trial or test" (38). Ulmer cites Julia Kristeva in describing "a space that is neither that of propositional knowledge nor commonsense opinion. This boundary or frontier (interface) calls for invention conducted as a transgression of the rules." We find "passages" between systems of meaning that call into question "classic mimesis, argumentation, judgment, realism" (176). As familiar sense and intelligibility break down, meaning must "be approached indirectly, by extended analogies" (67), an approach that "collapses the distinction between concrete and abstract" (128) until the "boundary or frontier (interface) function of chora on the verge of language is glimpsed through artistic, poetic practices" (176).

This heuretics traces from Plato to Kristeva to Derrida to Ulmer and beyond through discussions of chora. We find a fit between this kind of composing and video scholarship, since, Ulmer notes, "chorography promises something more than just an alternative to concept formation as a way to organize data into meaningful sets. It promises also to engage the users' premises in the process of learning, opening a mutually transforming circuit between judgment and theory" (202). In this circuit, we find alternative formations coemerging. The moments link feeling with judgment and evoke insights and the joy of the sublime (143). And they extend behavior to the point where judgments "have been rendered ambiguous, uncertain, undecidable" (214). We experience these passages and circuits when we perform screen composing together in the classroom.