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Dr Simone Smala smiling

Meet the expert: exploring teaching with Dr Simone Smala

UQ people
Published 8 Mar, 2023  ·  3-minute read

Few subjects are as critical for social development as teaching, yet Dr Simone Smala manages to put a fun twist on things.

Watch Meet the expert: Exploring teaching with Dr Simone Smala on YouTube.

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Teaching in Australia

Simone can relate to international students who find Australia an attractive and fascinating place to study – as a senior lecturer in UQ's School of Education, she has now taught in Australia for more than 3 decades after relocating from her homeland of Germany.

“I saw my first koala in a gum tree when I was at one of my first schools. I’ll never forget all the children running outside and yelling, ‘There’s a koala in the tree, there’s a koala in the tree!’ It was so wonderful,” she says.

“I was able to find out a lot about Queensland as a state in those early years and my job description meant I was not only based at one school, but was travelling to three other rural schools every week. I remember in such good terms what it was like to witness the amazing array of nature.”

Simone's speciality was teaching German, and that desirable skill led to her receiving opportunities closer to Brisbane. Her interest in understanding the science behind learning then encouraged her to pursue roles within universities.

“I was always interested in finding out more about what education means, for our world, for our society, how we can explain how people learn, why they learn, what their learning experience is,” she says.

“For me, the natural next step was to embark on research to find out more about learning and how learners feel when they go through different steps in their learning process."

Dr Simone Smala stands smiling in front of a light-filled staircase

“My passion is bilingual education and within that passion I’m focusing on the integration of language and content, a fascinating area," says Simone.

"It looks at what it is like to learn a language simultaneously with learning subject material."

“We have found so many new things about how the brain processes cognitive information.”

Simone's teaching approach

As an educator, Simone prides herself on being both personable and engaging to her students. The fact that much of her research revolves around the use of social media in education means that her topics are always interesting and relatable.

“One of the first things I ask my students is ‘Give me the latest memes’,” she laughs.

"As someone with a deep interest in social media and digital technologies, I have found using generative AI as a teaching and learning tool to be an exciting continuation of my exploration in this field."

"While social media sites like Facebook, TikTok or Instagram emphasize content creation and sharing, tools like ChatGPT have possibilities of human to human and human to machine collaborative learning that we are only beginning to explore."

"I use ChatGPT in my classes to allow students to explore its strengths and limitations, and to develop their critical capacities in utilizing artificial intelligence," she says.

Simone says her own experience from university of having engaging, entertaining lecturers has stuck solid in her mind, as has her memory of those lectures that were heavily content-based but not as enjoyable.

“I do need to conduct large lectures, but I also focus on looking at my students in each tutorial and looking at each individual’s personal story,” she says.

“I hope students see I am really interested in their individual lives and individual experiences, and I can be part of their journey towards a new world, a new professional engagement.”

Explore UQ's undergraduate programs in education or meet some other UQ academics who are impacting the world in their own fields and their own unique ways.

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