The International Steering Committee (ISC) met on 2 November 1996 at the ESO Headquarters in Garching, Germany. Most members were present but because of urgent teaching duties, a few were unfortunately unable to come.
This meeting served to discuss the present status of the Astronomy On-line Programme and, in particular, the various activities which will have to be implemented in the time from now until the formal termination of the Hot Week on 22 November 1996. Moreover, the members resolved to discuss in some detail how it would be possible for astronomy education to continue to profit from the extensive networking structure which has now been established in the course of the Astronomy On-line Programme.
Many things have happened since the last ISC meeting in mid-September, and the ISC members expressed general satisfaction with the past development of this Programme. The large number of participants was welcomed, although it was also acknowledged that this has put significant strain on the organizers. There is no doubt that every effort must be made to ensure that Astronomy On-line continues as well as it has until now.
In the meantime, experience has become available from many schools in various countries and there is no doubt that the advent of Astronomy On-line has had a positive effect for the early connection of schools to Internet in some areas. However, it has also become clear that many teachers and students are still quite inexperienced in using the new medium; this is exactly one of the areas where participation in Astronomy On-line has already proven very useful.
The ISC members discussed the involvement of Astronomy On-line National Steering Committees (NSCs) and were pleased to note that many of these have been extremely active during the past weeks. In many countries there has been good interaction with the media and the large number of participating groups in some areas is a clear sign of the successful work of the Steering Committees.
But their work is not yet over! A list of future actions for the National Steering Committees was established and is published in the present Newspaper. The ISC urges all NSCs to consider these items and to deliver the requested reports etc. within the given deadline.
The ISC is of the opinion that the level of many items in Astronomy On-line is somewhat advanced and therefore not easily accessible for the younger age groups. For this reason, a special effort will now be made to add more items at the basic level.
In this connection the ISC members were pleased to note that a number of new collaborative projects are ready to be implemented, some of which, for instance the Observations of Meteors and Variable Stars will be quite easy for the lowest age group. Here, the estimate of light pollution plays a particular role, and it is hoped that a very large number of groups will join this activity which will provide the first opportunity to make a global map of light pollution in Europe's cities.
More items in the Try Yours Skills area are being prepared. It is expected that there will be a total of approximately one dozen available before the Hot Week starts.
Some newcomers to Astronomy On-line have experienced problems of orientation, and the ISC therefore decided to implement a Welcome area under General Instructions.
Although it is evident that many groups have started to communicate with each other, it is very difficult to get an overview of this important activity. The ISC therefore urges all groups, National Committees and others involved to make use of the communication facilities which have been set up in the corresponding shop. It is hoped that the example of some participants will incite others to follow so that much interacting and useful information will soon be available in this area. It is still the intention to set up a White Board before the Hot Week.
The Observations Shop is now fully open and the ISC expects that the first observing proposals will be received within a few days. Although some groups may find it somewhat difficult to prepare a real observing proposal, it is believed that once some proposals are displayed on the Web, it should become more easy to follow the example by other groups.
The Hot Week was discussed extensively and a steady flow of activities has been scheduled, which will ensure a well-structured and interesting development of the activities during these 5 days. This will include continuous updating of the observations which will be undertaken at this time and support to groups who prepare the corresponding reports. Moreover, there will be a Final Event in which all groups will be able to participate; this will be announced at the end of the week before. At the end of the Astronomy On-line event, on Friday, November 22, the Diploma to all participants will be distributed as a sign of recognition of their active involvement in what has now definitely become the world's largest astronomy event on the Web.
The European Association for Astronomy Education (EAAE), represented by its members on the International Steering Committee, will now start to investigate how Astronomy On-line may continue in the future in a modified form. The amount of material, information etc. now available on the Web is substantial, and it should not be too difficult to perform a re-organization which will make the structure more suitable for future educational purposes.
At the same time, the EAAE will attempt to identify funding sources for the continuation of this network, so that it may provide the backbone for future astronomical educational activities in Europe and beyond.