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Agenda 21 NOW! 2004 and 2005...

The Internet Conference for students in its fifth and sixth year

by Martin Jarrath

Looking back from the moment when I am writing these lines (27 October, 2004) it is now five and a half years ago that we first announced our idea of a worldwide internet conference for students in March 1999 in Sodankylä / Finland (yes, the Sodankylä beyond the Arctic circle, and Finland, those days were a terrific experience I’ll never forget!) during one of the BSP consultation meetings. Since then, five annual Internet conferences called “Agenda 21 NOW!” have taken place in the years 2000 to 2004, and we are in the middle of the preparation of the sixth conference on 10 February, 2005.

The story about the making of the Agenda 21 NOW! Internet conferences 2000 to 2003 has been told in [2] and [3]. UNESCO ASPnet Germany [4] made Agenda 21 NOW! a pilot project in late 2002. Since the conference on “Borders and Diversity” on 25 April, 2003 the project has expanded: Until then two German schools had been preparing and running the conference: Anna-Schmidt-School in Frankfurt am Main, where it all started in 2000, and Kandel Comprehensive School in Kandel, they joined in 2001. In summer 2003 I changed my working environment to Hindenburg-Gymnasium Trier in the far west of Germany. Moreover, in early 2003 Agenda 21 NOW! became part of the Comenius Project “Environmental and Cultural History of the Baltic Sea Region”: The four participating schools, not surprisingly all of them BSP-schools, decided to make the preparation and the conference itself a part of their project work.

The Agenda 21 NOW! team in Trier 2004

The team in Trier together with Jolanta Mol, Katowice (Poland) the general coordinator of the Baltic Sea Project, on 26 April, 2004.

Hence, since the 2004 conference we are six schools cooperating to run “Agenda 21 NOW!”: Anna-Schmidt-School (Frankfurt am Main), Kandel Comprehensive School (Kandel) and Hindenburg-Gymnasium Trier in Germany, Amtsgymnasium Sønderborg in Denmark, Konopnicka Secondary School in Katowice, Poland and Tartu Tamme Gymnasium in Tartu, Estonia.

This expansion lead to some changes in the cooperation structure, e.g. a change in the decision making process within “Agenda 21 NOW!”: In the past the conference theme and the title had been adopted by all members of the team in a meeting about six months before the conference. Since all participating schools were located in Germany, such a meeting with more or less all team members was no problem. This time it was completely different: It had to be delegates of all six schools during a regular Comenius Project meeting in Kandel in November 2003. It took us, teachers and students from all the six schools, one day to decide the theme as well as the title: “Focus on Food – Shape (y)our future NOW!”.

Another change has taken place on our website: In late 2003 we introduced interactive pages.

The idea of Agenda 21 NOW! is to have quality discussions among students (and teachers) who have prepared for the conference, e.g. during ordinary school lessons. Students and teachers who want to work on our conference theme prior to the conference may find different kinds of information as well as selected links on our website. Many of the preparatory articles there had been written by students of Anna-Schmidt-School and Kandel Comprehensive School in the past.

Now all these pages are interactive, in wiki technology. This means: All preparatory texts and images (again being written by students from the Agenda 21 NOW!-schools), including the material from all the former conferences, are now available in a fully editable format. Hence, every registered participant may edit every sentence written on any of the interactive pages, the participants may add new words, sentences, pictures or even new pages – and also erase them, if they like to!

In fact, such erasures have never happened.

As in many other examples – the most famous and most successful one is the fantastic online encyclopedia Wikipedia [5] – this structure has not at all proven the typical teachers’ fears I also had when I heard of it for the first time (a lot of low quality and least quality stuff expected). The interactive pages developed the way Wikipedia and most other wikis on the net developed: the content quality and quantity are in time rising. Participants voluntarily added their own knowledge, we found mistakes being corrected, rewritten paragraphs and also new contributions. All this more or less worked on its own, surprisingly (or not surprisingly, as Wikipedia and other wikis show) without any need for active quality management by the Agenda 21 NOW! team.

As in 2000 and 2002, the conference 2004 took place on the German ASPnet’s international action day, this year on Monday, 26 April.

A good conference needs good moderators. Therefore, on Friday and Saturday before the conference the moderators of the German schools – most of them upper secondary students –met for the traditional moderators’ training course in Kandel, being joined by Jolanta Mol, the new BSP general coordinator from Poland, who we had invited for the conference. The upper secondary students from the three German Agenda 21 NOW!-schools learned about the special role a moderator plays in a conference and how to say (i.e. write) things adequately in different communication situations.

After these two demanding days for the team there was only a short time for relaxation. The team in Trier was to open the conference at 00:00 h U.T.C. on Monday – 2 a.m. our local time – so we met at school at 10 p.m. on Sunday evening to get the technical equipment ready for the conference.

As always the conference took place in a closed area on the Internet with conference rooms and workshops, open exclusively for the 1,160 registered participants from 50 countries holding a ticket for the conference. Quick registration during the conference was also possible, and we manually checked all registrations for quality reasons.

During the conference the team of moderators in Trier, working during the entire 24 hours, had an exciting time, with somewhat calm periods during the first and final hours and intense activity especially in late morning and on midday, as shown in fig. 1., i.e. in Europe’s and Africa’s morning and midday. As the great majority of the registered participants was from Europe and Africa (among the 1-10 countries only Indonesia was in a considerably different time zone) this shows very clearly when and where Agenda 21 NOW! is used most: at school, during lessons.

This is exactly what we had always intended: making an offer for ordinary school lessons, giving teachers and students the opportunity to make use of the unique facilities of Internet communication. Fig. 1 (see below) also reflects a 40 min web server breakdown at best conference time in the morning which naturally caused a terrible lot of frustration within the team and most probably among many participants, however, after relaunch for more than three hours the communication activity was higher than at any time during any of the former conferences, and for the moderators it was demanding to follow the discussions and do their job properly during these hours.

The discussions were intense, at least many of them. Once again our impression was that many participants were well-prepared, very interested and looking forward to meeting participants and experts from other corners of the globe. As always, some discussions were also very emotional, this was the time when the moderators had to do their very best to help the participants understand each other and thus calm down bad emotions.

Despite our 40 min breakdown and –14% participants (compared to 2003) we had +28 % written contributions and I dare say, of higher average quality than in 2003. This happened despite the fact that we did not have the Iraq war more or less as a conference theme (as in 2003) and “Focus on food” presumably did not nearly hit the users’ emotions as did our conference theme in early April 2003.

For me, this very well shows the important role of skilled moderators in the Agenda 21 NOW! schools. 14 of them were students from Trier, my new school, and they voluntarily (nobody promised them good marks for this) did a technical as well as a moderators’ job during 28 and a half hours without sleep in between: Never before have I seen such a fantastic group of well cooperating, constantly seriously working students. Thank you, folks, this was outstanding, you have done a great job!!!

Thanks also to everybody else, teachers, students and all the other cooperating people in the Agenda 21 NOW!-schools. Unfortunately I did not personally, live and in colour, see you working, but it was a smashing day and an excellent cooperation!

The next conference will be on Thursday, 10 February 2005, about “Sustainable Consumption and Recycling”. Teachers and students from the Baltic Sea region and all other parts of the world are again invited to register on our website and be with us during the conference. All registered participants are again welcome to use our website to prepare for the conference and to write their contributions in our Interactive Pages – be it slight corrections or a complete article – , and we are looking forward to the challenge of a sixth conference.

May we invite you?

See you on the net!

(Written in October 2004.)

Martin Jarrath
Agenda 21 NOW! coordinator
Hindenburg-Gymnasium Trier
Augustinerstr. 1
D-54290 Trier
Phone +49 651 9795 0
Fax +49 651 9795 299
E-mail jarrath@agenda21now.org

Agenda 21 NOW! is technically sponsored by CEMA AG, an IT company from Mannheim, Germany, http://www.cema.de

[1] Agenda 21 NOW! on the Internet:

[2] Jarrath, Martin: The Agenda 21 NOW! story, 2003. http://www.agenda21now.org/index.php?s=87Su296g3S&at=agendastory

[3] Jarrath, Martin: From Local to Global. In: Birthe Zimmermann (Ed.): Baltic 21. An Agenda 21 for the Baltic Sea Region. Copenhagen 2003, pp. 130-136.

[4] UNESCO ASPnet Germany website (in German language)

[5] Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Available in many languages, currently (26 Oct. 2004) 17 languages with more than 10,000 articles each. English language version:

Fig. 1: Conference activity during the conference on 26 April, 2004

Messages per hour 2004

Annotation: Times are given as ending time in U.T.C., e.g. “11” (the most active time interval) means 10-11 h U.T.C., which is 12-13 h local daylight time (e.g. Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Poland), 13-14 h (e.g. Estonia, Finland), 14-15 h (Western Russia) respectively in the Baltic Sea Region.

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