Campus Meets: EdHacked Founder Barry O’Rourke

Barry O’Rourke’s Twitter bio declares him a “Freelance Journalist MA” with bylines on the likes of RTÉ and the Irish Times. However interspersed between these details is the fact that he is editor of EdHacked, a new educational website “where education is made easier; for teachers, parents and students”.

This few lines on his Twitter account represent Barry’s interests perfectly. A former primary school teacher who left education to pursue a MA in Journalism, he is now combining his training from both sectors with his new website.

EdHacked, created, designed and curated by O’Rourke himself, is an online hub of resources, ideas and articles about education and teaching. A former teacher himself, he has plenty of good things to say about education in Ireland.

“Our teachers are incredibly dedicated. They deliver a huge curriculum in a short space of time, and students are always their number one priority”.

Unfortunately, this is not always reflected in Irish schools. According to Barry, a “shortage of teachers is one of the biggest issues facing the Irish system right now. Schools are finding it very hard to find substitutes or fill job vacancies.”

With many talented teachers leaving education to retrain – like O’Rourke – or even to emigrate, Barry believes that “they are an asset and getting them back home should be a priority”.

This is where EdHacked comes into play. After spending several years in the “competitive” and “over-crowded” industry that is media, O’Rourke had a lightbulb moment when he realised that he could combine both his skills.

“A lot of jobs now mesh into one another … taking those skills with you is lifelong”.

This is evident in Barry’s latest venture. Bringing his skills and knowledge from his time in media to his experience in the classroom, means that EdHacked has emerged as a fully-formed, no doubt valuable asset for teachers and students alike.

“At the moment I’m a one-man band. So everything from design, social media to content is from me. In the future I’d love to have paid contributors – teachers, parents and students themselves. To have content that isn’t just what I think or what interests me.

Because education should include everyone; with that said, I’d like to make content specifically for adults, like retraining and skills. People don’t stop learning at a certain age, so I’d love for EdHacked to reflect that”.

People don’t stop learning, and learning never stops changing. A quick glance at the EdHacked homepage indicates a shift in education. In Barry’s early days a teacher, “pritt-stick and scissors were my best friends, and high-speed broadband was a work of fiction!” Nowadays, there is an increase of understanding and appreciation of STEM subjects, one of the many topics EdHacked covers.

“I think STEM is very exciting right now. I see it with my own nephew. He’s off coding and he’s only four years old … which is scary”.

O’Rourke tells the story of when a parent realised just how many educational – and accessible – resources for children are out there.

“As a teacher I’ll always remember my first parent teacher meeting as that ‘light bulb’ moment. A mother was very concerned over her child playing Minecraft. Little did she know it’s one of the world’s most popular educational games out there. Whatever we were learning about in class, he would build it that night in the game. When I explained this, she got very embarrassed. “Really? I didn’t even know what it even was…” And then she had that lightbulb moment and got involved with it at home.

But how was she to know beforehand? So I think that’s the inspiration – tapping into simple things kids do and own, and see what’s educational about them”.

However, O’Rourke is careful to make sure there is a balance for students. “There’s a lot to be said for thinking creatively about things as well as scientifically … there’s no point having these amazing technological or engineering skills and putting other subjects to the side. STEM is pointless wihtout creativity and communication skills”.

Another topic EdHacked has touched upon was the recent tragic school shooting in Florida. With many parents and teachers firm believers of protecting children’s innonence, what does O’Rourke think of broaching these more serios topics with children?

“In a world of ‘fake news’, children need digital literacy skills – how do you evaluate a piece of information? Is the source trust-worthy? Why is this news and why am I being told it?

I think there is an onus on teachers and parents to explain these kinds of events age-appropriately. School is supposed to be a safe-space and that reassurance is needed. It’s how you relate it to them that’s key”.

Barry continues to emphasise relating to children, utilising what they already know and love in a way that makes education enjoyable for them – and the teacher.

On a personal level, O’Rourke remains positively wistful about his days in the classroom. “There are times when I miss it dreadfully. Being able to work alongside some fantastic young minds, learn things yourself on a daily basis, and then call it a job is something else”.

“But then a side of me loves to write. And produce content. And mix in some social media, and video, interviews. So I think for now I’ve found a happy medium between the two for now.”

Will he ever make a return to the classroom?

“Would a school even have me is the question! … hey, in time EdHacked may make it into some classrooms – so maybe that’s the return I’m destined for!”

You can follow Barry on Twitter here, or EdHacked here, whre you will find updates on EdHacked.

Still here? Check this out: Campus Meets: Æ MAK