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By TA I mean the (largely US, I think) role of Teaching Assistant, who helps students work through course material.

I'm finding myself unable to come up with a good way to help venkysmarty, who comes to SO with a significant number of algorithm questions. These questions are all good questions, on topic and generally clear enough, given the user is a non-native English speaker. The user is asking for explanations and guidance, rather than plz-send-me-teh-codes, so that's another plus point.

I can't help but think that getting a copy of CLRS (I think), working through it, and turning to SO when stumped, is a really painful way of learning algorithms.

What can we do?

* edit *

to clarify, I'm not complaining; it's just I feel really sorry for the guy, this is going to be so much harder than it would be with the availability of just a little face-to-face teaching.

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I think this is an old discussion about users asking a lot of questions. Another topic, not directly related. I'm not sure if these are related or not. – Time Traveling Bobby Sep 9 '11 at 13:45
Also related: help vampires and dealing with them. – Adam Lear Sep 9 '11 at 13:55
@Anna the thing seems to be that this guy is not really a vampire, as such. – Pëkka Sep 9 '11 at 15:08
up vote 14 down vote accepted

His account looks clean, and the questions are of much higher caliber than I have seen from many students that try to ask questions here. There's not much to do from a moderator perspective; I've seen far worse problems here. I would simply continue to answer his questions, if you feel like doing so.

For problematic users (those who fall below the threshold of clarity and usefulness), you can simply downvote, vote to close and flag. There are plenty of examples of people who cut and paste assignments, use broken English, and in general show little effort. Those folks deserve little mercy.

But that's not the case here.

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Great answer from a moderator perspective, but I think AakashM is also asking, exactly how best to help this user? Providing direct answers to his questions as they're asked may not be the best help we can provide. As AakashM notes, the OP is following a particularly difficult path of learning. – Michael Petrotta Sep 9 '11 at 15:34
@Michael yes, much better than I managed to express myself in my simul-edit! – AakashM Sep 9 '11 at 15:35
The help we are providing may be more useful than you might think; IME learning from a textbook like this it is easy to get stuck on bits of terminology, and getting unstuck can go a long way. – Robert Harvey Sep 9 '11 at 15:37

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