Activity: Joanne’s first semester at university

Stephen Fanning

Joanne and Bernadette are fictional characters who are employed in this activity to provide a typical first semester experience. Apologies to all Joannes.

Joanne works in an organisation that specialises in bathroom fittings and tiles. She feels that without a business qualification she will be overlooked for future promotions. Her short-term career goal is to acquire a position as a B2B sales representative. She believes that a B2B sales representative role will provide a degree of autonomy and as a ‘people person’ provide the opportunity to build business relationships. 

To achieve this position Joanne has recently enrolled in university as a part time student. It is week 3 and she is undertaking her first university assessment, like many students, she is a little unsure of what is expected. Joanne has contacted her boss, Bernadette, who is 10 years older and has a business degree. 

Let us begin

Just after morning-tea Bernadette rechecks her emails and opens an email from one of her staff members – this was unusual as Joanne rarely contacted her.

Email: Dear Bernadette, I recently enrolled in a marketing unit at university. I am the first in my family to go to uni and as I am studying part time I feel a little lost. Could you look over my assessment I have never done an academic essay before. The assessment is due in one week. Please HELP. Thanks Joanne.

Bernadette opened the attachment, read the assessment, and thought – this girl needs HELP!

Email: Dear Joanne, Please send me a copy of the unit plan with the assessment instructions – ASAP. I will then read the instructions and look over your work. Please do this ASAP and we can talk after lunch I will ask the other team members to cover for you.

After lunch Joanne enters Bernadette’s office, clearly Joanne is anxious and floundering, Bernadette recalls her first assessment and understands the feelings that Joanne must now be experiencing – she decides to go gently and slowly.

‘Hi Joanne, it reads really well and it is interesting, but, I sense that you want to get a good mark – so I am going to tell you the truth. I was like you – no one in my family had been to uni and I gave my first assignment to my mum to read and she thought it was marvellous, sadly, I failed that assessment. I was gutted and embarrassed and wanted to quit uni. Looking back – the trouble was I didn’t follow instructions, actually I didn’t understand the instructions – to be honest; I really didn’t know that an academic assessment was assessing my abilities as a student – that I needed to study and demonstrate that I understood the unit material. Honestly – looking back – I think I was trying to impress and show I was really smart. I copied from here and there and put it together and my lecturer commented that my work was an ‘uniformed opinion and unintentional plagiarism’. I didn’t even know what plagiarism was.

Bernadette asks ‘Joanne where did you get all your information?’

Joanne cringes ‘I Googled it – is that wrong?’

Bernadette states ‘Well it isn’t a good idea, that is what my lecturer meant when he said my work was an ‘uniformed opinion’. Your work reads as if you have cut and pasted word for word because the fonts vary and the writing style varies’.

Joanne asks ‘Is that bad?’

Bernadette states  ‘Look Joanne, it isn’t bad it is just that – you don’t know and at this stage – you don’t know what you don’t know. Also, be careful, there is a lot of crap on the internet much of it is some random’s opinion – but rarely will it be consistent with the unit content. This unit has 3 assessments and the first is what some lecturers call ‘baby steps’ this means getting students to study the unit material, gather content, put the content into context, synthesise themes so that the work is succinct and follow the structure for that style of assessment. So lets start at the beginning. Do you have a textbook?’

Joanne states ‘This unit has a free e-book and I have been reading it, and I think I understand it, but I thought the lecturer knows what is in the e-book so I would try and find some new stuff.’

“WRONG” says Bernadette ‘The instructions in the unit plan state ‘students are required to demonstrate their knowledge of marketing through a detailed discussion of the marketing concept, a marketing philosophy, and a marketing culture. That means you must demonstrate to the lecturer that you have studied. Tonight, read the textbook and read everything that relates to these three topics the marketing concept, a marketing philosophy and a marketing culture. Make key points on each – what they are and why they are important. Then pop in same time tomorrow.’

Joanne says ‘I guess that means you think my work is shit?’

“Well let’s put it this way – it is better than my first academic essay. Joanne, where can I get my hands on the e-book I wouldn’t mind reading it to refresh and make sure I understand the concepts? Asks Bernadette.

Joanne checks her phone and emails to Bernadette.

Just then the MD walks in to Bernadette’s office, he congratulates Joanne for enrolling in university; whatever you do please make sure you attend the classes we can work around your studies. He is about to leave when he adds ‘In my view students must construct assessments as if the marker is their customer – students are not writing for pleasure but writing to show that, as a student, they are studying and learning – that is why its called an assessment’.

Discussion points:

Do you believe the university ‘acculturation process’ [i.e., learning what to do and what not to do] is more difficult than most would anticipate?

What is ‘intentional’ plagiarism?

Direct quotes, even if referenced, attract less marks than works that is interpreted and synthesised – why do you think that is the case?

Discuss the statement by Bernadette’s boss. ‘In my view students must construct assessments as if the marker is their customer – students are not writing for pleasure but writing to show that, as a student, they are studying and learning – that is why its called an assessment’.


Four days later after multiple revisions Bernadette sends Joanne an email

Email: Hi Joanne, I have finished reading your latest version and I feel you are now addressing the tasks outlined in the unit plan. I would suggest it is ready to submit. From my perspective I feel you have the appropriate content, provided context, synthesised your learning so it is succinct and flows well. I think the assessment structure is fine for this style of assessment – good luck. Keep in mind most universities have learning advisors who are employed to help students – I went to them all the time.

Joanne, does a final read of her assessment and then uploads and submits her very first university assessment online.

Next day at work, Bernadette, who is enjoying her mentoring role, chats with Joanne and suggests that the next assessment is more complex and requires referencing

‘Joanne, referencing is a pain in the arse – many people think that it is to avoid plagiarism – but it is more about demonstrating the breadth and depth of your study. It provides an audit trail of your review of existing literature of a topic. Some people say that you never reference in the real world but actually you reference in most conversations and even when you listen to the radio they identify the artist and the name of the song. You go to a movie and the credits are rolled out at the end. So think about referencing as a paragraph that tells a story. When you reference in the body of your work – this is called in-text referencing, and when you provide a list at the end – this is called end-text referencing —- both are important. Think about it as a way to demonstrate how much you have studied and the quality of your referencing will also determine your marks.’

Joanne asks, ‘Bernadette so am I right in thinking that in text referencing identifies the author or authors and end text referencing identifies who you read, when the author wrote it, what was the title of the article, where did it appear, and on what pages?’

‘Yes that is a good overview and watch out there some different referencing styles – so you need to consult your university referencing guide and be consistent. Lecturers always look out for inconsistent referencing styles as it may indicate cutting and pasting.’

Joanne thanks Bernadette for her advice.

An AHA moment

Joanne is sitting in the lecture theatre and the lecturer states that in her experience there are 3 main reasons why student’s may not achieve the marks they expect.

  • The first is that an unanticipated event has happened that has demanded the student’s attention or distracted the student.
  • The second is insufficient time devoted to the task.
  • The third is that the student is yet to acquire the necessary skills to transition to a university student.

Joanne thinks if I am going to do this I want to do well, I should attend some of the academic skills workshops.

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