Exc-el: a community grid?

Last week I was searching for a metaphor for a model to describe how exc-el works.

“Sustainability of initiatives is always a difficult thing to manage. Usually an initiative survives as long as funding is available, the key person is in post, or enthusiasm is maintained. We are seeking to create something which is much more organic and can constantly be reinventing itself as time goes by.”

I tried using the idea of “cells” – “a group of people who are linked by a common purpose but who are not dependent upon a hierarchical top-down system of organisation. Instead we create small groups of people, or cells – or better still they create themselves – using the website to publicise their work and to build and share their practice”

However, when I tried this on a couple of people during the week it wasn’t that they were offended by the idea of “cells” – they appreciated what I was driving at – but both said “so they work in isolation”. Unwittingly, I’d used a metaphor which recreated exactly what we are trying to avoid. Of course, “cells” don’t talk to each other – for fear of detection – so what would be the point of creating a community of learners where particular groups did not communicate with other groups. In a way it would only serve to reinforce the idea of schools working in isolation.

So here goes with metaphor number two –

Scientists have discovered that rather than trying to make huge super computers to solve mathematical problems they are better served by making use of the spare computer power on people’s PCs.

Grid Computing: The Basics
Grid computing joins together many individual computers, creating a large system with massive computational power that far surpasses the power of a handful of supercomputers. Because the work is split into small pieces that can be processed simultaneously, research time is reduced from years to months.

For example:

“The proposed World Community Grid was developed with the National Institutes of Health, the World Health Organisation, the United Nations and Oxford University to allow scientific researchers to tap the power of idle PCs to solve problems that usually require the use of supercomputers.

IBM is hoping that the scheme will help crack the genetic structure of diseases like Aids and cancer, as well as modelling and forecasting natural disasters.


This set me to thinking about the spare – or I’d prefer to descibe it as untapped – capacity (knowledge) which exists in our schools. Could Exc-el act as a community grid to enable people to make small and manageable contributions? Could we build upon these contributions incrementally? Does this metaphor have potential?