This is a recent report from Project Information Literacy. They analysed "191 course-related research assignment handouts professors distributed to undergraduates on 28 U.S. campuses. We found the majority of handouts in our sample placed more attention on the mechanics of preparing a research assignment than on conveying substantive information that students also needed, such as how to define and focus a research strategy within the complex information landscape that most college students inhabit today." I was rather surprised that they expected all that to be in the assignment handout, since we would supply some of the information the authors note a lack of (e.g. how/when you can consult the academics) in the Departmental handbook, in class and on the Virtual Learning Environment. I'd also aim to provide scaffolding about how to go about an assignment, in class, although of course you don't always succeed as well as you hope to. It may be a UK/US difference, or perhaps reflects a lack of alignment between learning, teaching and assessment in the classes studied (though some quotations from academics in the report indicate that some of them, also, would not see the handout as the sole resource).
Assigning Inquiry: How Handouts for Research Assignments Guide Today's College Students: http://projectinfolit.org/pdfs/PIL_Handout_Study_finalvJuly_2010.pdf
Photo by Sheila Webber: Summer garden, July 2010.