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Why Use Service Learning?

Our guest today is Dr. Petyo Budakov – founder of Budakov Films Ltd and a visiting professor at XU University of Applied Sciences, Germany. His company Budakov Films is involved as a partner in to the European consortium “TOGETHER” (Erasmus+ co-funded project), where 8 organizations across Europe have been working on implementing innovative service learning strategies.

Q: Dr. Budakov, could you please explain where does your personal passion for service learning come from?

PB: I have been passionate about civic engagement and volunteerism for more than 15 years. I’ve been volunteering regularly as a member of Lions Club International, where our motto is “We serve”. For all Lions members, service is more than the sum of our collective deeds – it is the wellspring of our hearts. Professionally, I’ve spent much of my career working with nonprofit and government organizations to identify ways to engage volunteers in effective, meaningful roles. My passion specifically for service-learning really began when I started my academic career at the New Bulgarian University. The end result of implementing service learning is a well-rounded experiential education where students learn from teachers, community members, and even themselves.

Q: Do you believe that everyone can benefit from participating in a service learning program?

PB: Absolutely! Service-learning is an incredibly accessible pedagogy that meets people where they are and simultaneously engages and challenges their intellect, skills, talents, and personal awareness. Regardless of where you are in your career or education, international service-learning can introduce new experiences, amplify your existing skills and knowledge, and provide you with a new, potentially future-shifting adventure. However, many schools have been employing “service learning” and I am delighted to express my excellent impressions from the Bulgarian private high school “Educational Technologies", where the management board managed to establish a strong link between students’ learning objectives and the actual needs from the community based on a systematic approach which they have developed and successfully validated.

Q: What are the expected results of the Erasmus+ co-funded project “TOGETHER”?

PB: The project TOGETHER: Implement service learning in schools TO GET digital cultural HERitage enhanced” is a European project funded by the Erasmus+ (submission number: 2020-1-DE03-KA227-SCH-093556). It aims to support young students in school to engage creatively and critically with the cultural resources through the smart adoption of digital technologies. This change of paradigm will call for a re-thinking of the fruition of cultural wealth, that should be digitally enhanced to improve its flexibility, accessibility and potential for inclusion. Teacher capacity, in this context, will be among the main challenges, since education practitioners may lack confidence and experience in developing young people’s creative digital skills. For this reason, TOGETHER aims to support them with adequate training and professional development to make digital creativity emerge and be applied to cultural heritage.

Further to our numerous project activities, our consortium has been actively working on the following tangible results:

1. Teacher’s Handbook and Competence framework

The Handbook will be a meaningful pedagogical resource made available for the Continuous Professional Development (CPD) of secondary schools’ teachers a, providing them with an innovative educational model that leverages on digital creativity skills to formulate concepts of Service Learning and project-based learning aimed at involving students in initiatives based on the digital enhancement of local cultural heritage.

2. TOGETHER Digital Creativity Academy

The Academy will be an online platform that will host the digitised version of the Handbook’s modules, previously developed during the first intellectual output and a Toolbox with a collection of tools, instructional materials and multimodal resources complementary to the Handbook. The aim will be to create an open online environment that will be useful for secondary school teachers and leaders to integrate the learning path taken with the Handbook, thus enhancing their learning experience. The Academy will also serve the purpose to create a social hub between all users scattered across EU, leading to the formation of a community of practice.

Q: When it comes to education what is your personal teaching philosophy?

PB: As a faculty member, it is my goal to enhance student learning as a transformative experience. Ideally, I want students to feel personally changed by their participation in a course I am teaching by making a match between the needs of our community and the learning objectives. One way I work to encourage students to challenge existing boundaries is by teaching them to make the familiar strange and question how they have come to know what they believe to be true about their world. Honestly, my pedagogical stance has been greatly influenced by my mentors. In the classroom, my mentors helped me develop my ability to assess, create, and articulate ideas. But they did more than just aid in my intellectual development. Each one set an excellent example for me to follow as a professor. What made my mentors exemplary teachers was their devotion to their students and to their profession. Specifically, my mentors were exemplary teachers because; they developed strong curriculums with the knowledge to support it, they set high academic standards for students and for themselves, they respected intellectual diversity inside and outside the classroom, and they built trust among their students. In sum, each one led by example. One of the most insightful lessons I learned from my mentors was that being able to critically think is an invaluable skill for anyone. It is a tool which can be used to succeed in a broad spectrum of occupations.

* The Consortium of TOGETHER (2020-1-DE03-KA227-SCH-093556).

The partnership of the project consists of eight partners from Germany, Portugal, Serbia, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Belgium, Spain, and Italy:

· Berlin Cosmopolitan School, Germany,, project coordinator

· Agrupamento de Escolas José Estevão, Portugal,

· LINK Group, Serbia,

· Budakov Films, Bulgaria,

· Emphasys Centre, Cyprus,

· EUROGEO, Belgium,

· Politeknika Ikastegia Txorierri, Spain,

· Eurocrea Merchant, Italy,

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*Special thanks to Ms. Sheila Larrabaster from Politeknika Ikastegia Txorierri (Spain) for her invaluable support regarding all project dissemination activities including also this article.

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