For most students and teachers, our lives revolve around tests. For students, the tests determine whether they’re a success or a failure. The same is increasingly true of teachers. Take my career as an example.
My first full-time job was as a teacher of English. I taught Japanese kids to pass their university entrance exams. Failure for them often meant a whole extra year of studying to attempt those same exams again next time around. A few years later, I taught in Australia, helping Asian students to pass English-language exams so that they could keep their university places. If they failed, they’d often risk losing their visas and being sent home.
After arriving in Georgia, I worked at a middle school in the Atlanta area. We were told to teach to the test. And, the more the children struggled, the more we were told to teach to the test. If the students failed the year and had to take summer school, the regulation was off the charts. Every summer school teacher had to make sure they were on the same page of the same book, every single day.
And, I’m not alone. Most teachers have stories of similar pressures being put on students and teachers.
Freedom from tests
In 2006, I changed careers. I stopped being a regular teacher and stopped teaching to the test. I started teaching open source and started a company called Open Source Training.
Teaching open source has been a breath of fresh air for myself and for many of our students because with the open source way, there are no official tests. There is no official certification for the majority of open source projects. And, there are no prescribed textbooks.
In open source, no employer worth working for will ask for official proof of your abilities. A good employer will look at what you’ve done and ask you to showcase what you can do. Yes, it still helps to have a Computer Science degree, but the lack of one is often no drawback.
Many of our students come to class having taught themselves. With open source, there are no licensing fees to pay, no exam costs, and no textbooks to buy. You can just download the software and get started. That could never happen with old-fashioned, heavily-licensed platforms, where you’d need to persuade an “Enterprise Sales Representative” to give you a license key. If we teach platforms such as WordPress, it’s now normal to encounter students who use the software for fun too. They use it for their hobbies, sports teams, non-profits, side-business, religious groups, and more. The students have done that on their own initiative. They’ve done the research, picked what they wanted to use, and got the ball rolling themselves.
When learning open source, the incentives are radically different. The students don’t take our training because they want to jump a bar that someone else set. The students want to jump bars that they set. Here are some of the things that students have done after their training:
- Started their own web design agencies
- Went to work for larger, existing web design agencies
- Launched sites for organizations in their community
- Used open source software to help their own business
- Used open source software to keep their job or get a promotion
- The students work hard and achieve great things, but they choose the goals that they’re comfortable with. This isn’t unusual.
When I was kid, our teachers kept saying:
Keep learning, the career you’ll have hasn’t been invented yet.
Well, we’re now living in a world where our next job may not even have been invented yet. The old-fashioned test driven model can’t adapt quickly enough or provide the right incentives. Open source software is flexible, empowering, and moves at the pace that students need. It looks far more like the future of education.