Tag Archives: SkypeRead

Creating new connections across Asia

Image: IMDb, Fantastic Mr. Fox

Last year we launched a total eclipse collaboration between students at Tadulako University (Indonesia) and Western Kentucky University (USA); we also set up an annular and partial eclipse collaboration involving Kobe Shinwa Women’s University (Japan) and the University of Mahajanga (Madagascar). Both these projects included remote teambuilding activities where we did online read-throughs of the science-fiction movie “Europa Report”.

This month we are excited to be meeting old friends and creating new connections! We are bringing together students from Tadulako University, Kobe Shinwa Women’s University and Amagasaki-Kita High School (Japan) for two online read-throughs of the stop-motion animation “Fantastic Mr. Fox”.

Students at Tadulako University preparing for this month’s read-through.

The goals of the project – which involve students from Indonesia, Japan, China and Vietnam – are for students to make new connections, practise English communication skills, and have fun!

As Mr. Fox himself says, in one of cinema’s most inspiring monologues:

I think it may very well be all the beautiful differences among us that just might give us the tiniest glimmer of a chance of saving my nephew and letting me make it up to you for getting us into this crazy whatever-it-is. I don’t know. It’s just a thought. Thank you for listening. Cheers, everyone.


We are extremely grateful to everyone who has made this collaboration possible, including Elisa Sesa, Darmawati Darwis, Marsetyo Marsetyo and Mohammad Zulfikar at Tadulako University; Ritsuko Anzai at Amagasaki-Kita High School; and Keisuke Tabata at Kobe Shinwa Women’s University.

Thank you also to Wes Anderson, who has given generously given us a copy of the original script for “Fantastic Mr. Fox”.

Got it.


How do you know if you’re watching a Wes Anderson movie? And what is our whack-bat challenge?

We’ve just had an end-of-semester* “Fantastic Mr. Fox” movie night at the University of Shiga Prefecture, which included a brief introduction to the world of Wes Anderson movies: perfectly centred shots, overhead shots, use of colour, Bill Murray, etc.

Also: fast, complicated monologues – which is the basis of our whack-bat challenge… With the (optional) help of a glass of beer (or two), students (and teachers) read Coach Skip’s high-speed explanation of the rules of whack-bat on page 28 of the script.


As always, we’re hugely and enormously grateful to Wes Anderson for giving us the script of “Fantastic Mr. Fox” to use as part of our SkypeRead project.

* Actually, it wasn’t really an end-of-semester movie night – it was more of a ‘welcome back’ to Martin Stack, our former colleague (and my SkypeRead collaborator) who’s now based in the US, but is currently back in Japan for a few weeks :-)

What will happen to our body in space? And other great questions at 6am…


Our second collaboration between Alma College (in the US) and Omi Brotherhood High School (in Japan) came to an end last week with some thought-provoking presentations.

We met on Skype – at 6am here in Japan, which was 5pm the previous day in Alma – for an intensive 90 minutes of cross-border discussion.

The Japanese students presented a series of questions related to the movie “Europa Report” (which we used for a ‘SkypeRead’ teambuilding exercise at the beginning of the programme). Our picture shows some of the slides from Group C’s presentation: “What will happen to our body in space?”

The American students talked about their work for Alma’s e-STEM Cooperative Research Experience (CORE), a one-month academic camp for high-school students and teachers; the students shared the results of their high-level studies on everything from flavonoids in strawberry preserves to influenza.

A very big ‘thank you’ to everyone who made this collaboration possible!

Across 6,500 miles and 13 time zones – part 2


We’ve just begun our second collaboration between Alma College in Michigan, USA, and Omi Brotherhood High School (OBHS) near Kyoto, Japan.

Our 2016 programme involves 24 students, who have been drawn from:

  • Alma’s e-STEM Cooperative Research Experience (CORE), a five-week science summer camp for high-school students
  • OBHS science department
  • OBHS language department.

Our picture shows the students taking part in our cross-border team-building activity: a read-through of the sci-fi thriller “Europa Report”.

“If it’s not easy, it’s interesting”

The students began introducing themselves – and exchanging photos and videos – in a closed Facebook group last week. They also got some advice on working in a global team from Professor Kathrin Altwegg, who is part of the European Space Agency’s Rosetta mission.

Rosetta made a historic rendezvous with Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in August 2014; Kathrin’s team is studying the comet’s atmosphere. The members of her team are based across Europe and the US, and I asked her if she had any advice for our American and Japanese students about working across borders.

“You have to be patient, that’s the main advice,” she said. “It will not work the first time probably, so you have to try again and again and again. Cultural diversity means people don’t solve problems the same way. You have to be patient, never give up.”

So, it’s not easy… But Kathrin says that’s a GOOD thing. “I like to work with all cultures. Some are more easy, but the others are more interesting. If it’s not easy, it’s interesting! And you learn something from other cultures – if people are the same as you, you don’t learn anything.”

Building a sense of community in a digital society


ICoME 2016 – the International Conference for Media in Education – will take place in Kyoto, Japan, on August 18th, 19th and 20th. The theme of the conference is “Building relationships and a sense of community in a digital society”.


I’m going to be presenting a paper with Keisuke Tabata from Kobe Shinwa Women’s University about our “Global Communication and Science” collaboration with the University of Mahajanga in Madagascar (abstract below). As always, we’re hugely grateful to Eriky Haritsaratiaray and his amazing team in Mahajanga for helping to make this project possible!

Global Communication and Science: a Madagascar-Japan collaboration

Astronomy and English were the themes of a “Global Communication and Science” project involving students from the University of Mahajanga (Madagascar) and Kobe Shinwa Women’s University (Japan).

Kobe Shinwa students took part in an English-language science workshop to prepare for a partial solar eclipse in Japan (March 9th 2016). They then connected online with Mahajanga students, who were preparing for an annular solar eclipse in Madagascar (September 1st 2016).

As an intercultural team-building exercise, the students met on Skype and did a read-through of the script for “Europa Report” (2013), a science-fiction movie about an international mission to one of Jupiter’s moons. (The script was kindly provided by Start Motion Pictures LLC.) The collaboration continued in a closed Facebook group, where discussion topics ranged from the principle of women-only universities, to typical breakfasts in Madagascar and Japan.

The students deepened their understanding of science, cross-border teamwork, and the language and cultural differences between non-native English speakers across the globe. One of the Mahajanga students said: “Language comes through culture, and culture comes through language. Either way, there were real differences in how people thought about what they wanted to express, and how they expressed it.”

Photo: kconnors (Morguefile)

“We have to get out of this”

A ginormous ‘thank you’ to two BRILLIANT English teachers who became two AMAZING test pilots!

Monica Sampaio de Lacerda from Brazil and Wynn Nguyen from Vietnam bravely agreed to take part in our first ever “SkypeRead” read-through of the 8-minute sci-fi movie “Exit Log”.

Exit Log 1

The results of our ‘test flight’ were spectacular… Monica and Wynn totally became Amy and Hannah – “How could this happen?” – and they followed up the read-through with a tremendously stimulating and insightful discussion about the complexities of the characters and the story. I learned a lot – a very sincere ‘thank you’ again to Monica and Wynn!

“Fantastic Mr. Fox, and other heroes”

Martin Stack (my co-conspirator at the University of Shiga Prefecture), Shiho Matsumi (one of our brilliant students) and I will be presenting “Fantastic Mr. Fox, and other heroes” at the national convention of the Association for Teaching English through Movies (Kyoto Women’s University, 7th August 2015).

The keynote presentation at the convention will be “Bi-language Simultaneous Learning with the Aid of Movies” by Professor Takahiro Ono, a longtime friend of the legendary Noam Chomsky. We’re also really looking forward to “Character Speech in the Movies: A Sound Design Perspective” by our Shiga neighbour, the amazing Dr Carl Boland.


“Fantastic Mr. Fox, and other heroes”

In 1949 Joseph Campbell published “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”, in which he aimed to “uncover some of the truths disguised for us under the figures of religion and mythology by bringing together a multitude of not-too-difficult examples and letting the ancient meaning become apparent of itself. The old teachers knew what they were saying.” Campbell identified the fundamental stages in “the adventure of the hero”, and his work has been a huge influence on story-tellers – and movie-makers in particular – ever since.

In this presentation we will explain why we think the Hero’s Journey is a powerful model for the adventure of learning a foreign language. We will also explain how, with very kind support from the writer, director and producer Wes Anderson, we have gone about applying it.

We are involved in two projects that use movies and games as way to develop a range of “21st-century skills”. One of these projects is SkypeRead, which brings non-native speakers from all over the world together, via Skype, to do read-throughs of movie scripts; the other is the WoW-EPIC, which takes students into the language-rich world of a Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (see “Developing Language and Cross-Cultural Communication Skills via Movie Read-Throughs and MMORPGs”, ATEM Journal, Vol 20).

This year we have re-designed these projects around the framework of the Hero’s Journey, using a 12-point cycle that begins and ends in “the ordinary world”, and crosses over into “the special world”. The 12 points of the cycle are: status quo; call to and refusal of adventure; assistance; departure; trials; approach; crisis; treasure; result; return; new life; resolution.

We are also very fortunate to have received support from Wes Anderson, who has given us the script for “Fantastic Mr. Fox” (2009) to use as part of the project. Based on the Roald Dahl children’s story, this stop-motion animation movie takes a uniquely fun and thought-provoking approach to the Hero’s Journey.

FOX: Who am I, Kylie?
KYLIE: Who how? What, now?
FOX: Why a fox? Why not a horse or a beetle or a bald eagle? I’m saying this more like as existentialism, you know? Who am I, and how can a fox ever be happy without a — forgive the expression — chicken in its teeth?
KYLIE: I don’t know what you’re talking about, but it sounds illegal.
FOX: Here, put this bandit hat on.


From the chemistry of rocket fuel to the ethics of space exploration

Our exciting collaboration with Alma College (in Michigan, USA) and Omi Brotherhood High School (in Shiga, Japan) came to a wonderful finish today, with our four groups of students making their final presentations.

The project kicked off three weeks ago with a cross-border read-through of “Europa Report”. Since then, each group has been working on formulating a question related to the movie, and preparing a response. Today, the students came together on Skype for a final time to watch each other’s presentations.

As this splendid post on the Omi Brotherhood High School web site notes, the students had to overcome time differences, language barriers AND a typhoon that is currently lashing western Japan…

The questions that our four groups came up with were as follows. (Anyone who has watched “Europa Report” will understand the relevance of the first question…)

(A) Is there an alternative to using hydrazine as rocket fuel?

(B) Do you think that life exists somewhere other than Earth?

(C) Manned vs. unmanned space exploration: which is better?

(D) Do the scientific discoveries from space outweigh the need for humanitarian missions on Earth?

I would like to say a very, very big and sincere ‘thank you’ to all the students and teaching staff who made this project an outstanding success.

Across 6,500 miles and 13 time zones…

Andy Smith, a teacher at Omi Brotherhood High School in Shiga, Japan, has put together this 23-second video of last week’s “Europa Report” read-through with students at the Co-Operative Research Experience summer camp at Alma College in Michigan, USA.

“Wow, we made it!”


Congratulations to the incredible students at Omi Brotherhood High School in Shiga, Japan, and the Co-Operative Research Experience summer camp currently taking place at Alma College in Michigan, USA.

At 6 o’clock Friday morning in Shiga / 5 o’clock Thursday afternoon in Alma, four US-Japanese groups of students came together over Skype and read the entire 90-page script of the movie “Europa Report”.

  • Click here to read “Alma CollegeとのSkypeReadプロジェクト” on the Omi Brotherhood High School blog – “Wow, we made it!”

It was the start of a 3-week cross-border project that will see the students collaborate on questions related to the movie. The objective is to enable high-school students to experience the fun – and the challenge – of working in remote, multi-cultural teams. It’s also an opportunity to think about one of the biggest ‘unknowns’ in science: are we alone in the universe?