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While we as a community not only accept but (I feel) encourage the asking of questions for the purposes of homework, it tends to be a point of contention.

Questions which are obviously homework (and are even just copied/pasted from the assignment without any changes to the wording) but aren't tagged as such are definitely frowned upon. The community seems to do a pretty good job of cleaning that up, though. It happens, often, but the questions are closed quickly. However, when someone genuinely has problems with their homework and is up front about that and asks a legitimate question, we as a community enjoy helping them.

However, it occurs to me that there's a common problem with the answers to "legitimate" homework questions. And I consider this to especially be a problem when the OP voluntarily and explicitly tags the question as .

Many people will post answers which are nothing more than code to be copied and pasted as a solution. Sometimes there's a description, but many times there isn't. They may have, on a technical level, solved the problem. But did they help the OP? By tagging the question as and presenting it as such in general, the OP has indicated that he/she is a student and is trying to learn. What did the OP learn from a snippet of code to be pasted into the assignment?

My suggestion is that we add some simple text above the answer box, triggered by the presence of the tag. Something as simple as this:

enter image description here

We could even go a step further by having a filter when submitting the answer which would check:

  • Is the question tagged as ?
  • Is the answer nothing more than formatted code?

If both conditions are true, maybe pop up a little notification box along with the answer, suggesting that the answerer further refine the answer to better guide the OP. Something like:

enter image description here

Note that it doesn't stop the answer from being posted (since we definitely don't want to encourage anything like that), but instead is just a friendly reminder to try and improve the quality of the answer given the circumstances of the question.

share|improve this question
I like this idea. Not sure most people will get a chance to see it before the almost inevitable closure though ;) – BoltClock's a Unicorn Dec 22 '11 at 17:17
What's wrong with just looking at the tags and seeing that it's tagged as homework? Honestly, if you've read the question you can tell it's a homework question. Some people just don't care. – animuson Dec 22 '11 at 17:36
@BoltClock'saUnicorn: True, but I don't have any ideas to help out the bad homework questions. The good homework questions, however, do exist ( and it would be nice for the community to keep that in mind :) – David Dec 22 '11 at 17:37
@animuson: Not always. There are questions which are tagged as homework but aren't obvious as such from the content (usually because the OP has actually put in some effort and is just presenting it as a decent, albeit entry-level, question). The tags aren't always obvious because users don't always have a reason to look at them. – David Dec 22 '11 at 17:40
@David: Yes, of course :) – BoltClock's a Unicorn Dec 22 '11 at 18:14

Questions are just questions. You can decide to answer them or not, and placing qualitative information on them (whether those be constraints, notifications, or qualitative tags - e.g. meta tags), or any other qualitative mechanism around a question essentially puts that question in a special class, which results in special treatment, which results in values and emotions (rather than facts) dictating the way that those questions are handled.

The problem with the issues around homework questions is that by treating them differently, we're inadvertently introducing emotions into a system that is founded on principles of fact-based Q&A. homework is, at its root, a meta tag, and I think its use should be completely removed. I really don't understand why, as a community, we don't remove homework as meta. It certainly fails the test that Jeff laid out in his blog post, based on the following criteria, even if Jeff himself argues to the contrary for the continued use of homework:

  • homework as a tag, is subjective, and impossible to accurately enforce
  • It does not describe the content of the question any more than a tag of beginner or newbie does, and therefore should be treated as a meta tag
  • homework could not be effectively used as the only tag on a question, because it doesn't actually tell you what the question is about

The controversy over the homework tag (and I'm going to go a bit off topic from your question here) seems to me to be against the spirit of knowledge sharing itself. Did we, as a human culture, really create this thing called the Internet - the single greatest information sharing platform yet conceived - so we can think of ways to prevent the propagation of information, or label stuff as globally "unworthy"? I'm not saying that your suggestion "prevents the propagation of information" (which is why this paragraph is bordering on off-topic from your question), but your proposal does lead to special treatment, without actually getting to the root of the homework controversy, which is really what I'm getting at.

I'm okay with people not wanting to see homework questions, or taking measures to filter them out, because that's a decision that affects only that user, and it boils down to a personal preference, as opposed to affecting the community at large. However, I don't think we should treat any question fundamentally different than any other question in a way that affects everyone. Voting (and down voting) as well as casting votes to close, already handle these situations by giving users the ability to express their individual voice.

share|improve this answer
Burninate the tag! Or, we can combine these ideas. Allow a question to be tagged as [homework], BUT hide the tag from the tags list and display the message instead. I'm sure they could think of something. Maybe like a checkbox similar to community wiki, "this is a homework question." – animuson Dec 22 '11 at 17:53
Great points. The tag definitely does meet the meta criteria, and its presence does tend to make people think differently about the same question without it. But I wonder how strict we want to be in enforcing the bare facts of Stack Exchange, even if it's at the expense of providing a little more useful/targeted help to beginner developers. Perhaps we could think about spawning off a homework-specific site? (There may even be one in Area51, I haven't checked.) That could provide the help while containing the emotional responses. – David Dec 22 '11 at 17:54
@David - I think the deeper issue is that the use of meta tags (specifically homework, in this case) are trying to solve a problem similar to curation, simply because they are the best filtering mechanism available. If we want to improve the filtering (or curation) of questions, I'm all for that, but subjective labeling of any kind that isn't also user-specific (as opposed to globally visible to all users), regardless of its implementation, is problematic. – jefflunt Dec 22 '11 at 18:01
"Did we, as a human culture, really create this thing called the Internet [...] so we can think of ways to prevent the propagation of information" You assume it was created for a purpose of any kind. The Internet, like everything else, was created because it was interesting. How we use it is entirely up to us. And if we want to impose value judgements on the utility of information, who are you to say that this is wrong? – Nicol Bolas Dec 22 '11 at 19:22
-1: The simple fact is this: people ask homework questions. And many people are, for very good reasons, hesitant about answering them. Now, some questions can sound like a homework assignment but not actually be one. The homework tag is a way to let us know what questions actually are homework (and thus, those with moral issues about answering it can excuse themselves) and which ones are not. – Nicol Bolas Dec 22 '11 at 19:24
@NicolBolas - I'm not saying it's wrong to allow value judgements - it's absolutely fine. I'm saying it's wrong for there to be a global value judgement. Implementing such a feature places that value judgement onto homework questions for everyone, rather than letting individual users decide (a) if they personally are okay with homework questions, and (b) whether or not you even want to see homework questions. – jefflunt Dec 22 '11 at 19:26
@NicolBolas - and I'm not arguing about how people should feel about homework questions - people are absolutely free to feel anyway they wish. Homework (and meta tags in general) have lead to punitive action on the part of the community, which is why they were largely removed. Meta-tags work, for better or worse, as qualitative labels that also contain large assumptions. The resulting behavior around meta-tags winds up being a form of discrimination based on those assumptions, rather then the question itself. – jefflunt Dec 22 '11 at 19:30
@NicolBolas - I'm not accusing anyone, or you, of rude/bad behavior. I'm saying that when tags cross over form being about a topic, and into the realm where they carry these heavy connotations and assumptions, some of the negative sides of human nature tend to come out as well, and that's just not what I want StackExchange to be about. – jefflunt Dec 22 '11 at 19:32
@NicolBolas - finally, I agree that people have their reasons for feeling the way they do about homework questions. My point is that those feelings, while totally valid, are (1) up for debate, and (2) reflect the personal feelings of the person who holds them. This effectively boils down to a matter of personal preference, which is why I think it should be a personal choice, rather than a global setting. – jefflunt Dec 22 '11 at 19:36
-1: I don't think it's this simple. Questions aren't just questions. Questions are asked within the construct of a community of norms and values, and Stack Overflow has a complex and self-reinforcing value system. Only English questions are allowed. Many kinds of questions are not allowed, including opinions, polls, and so-called 'subjective' advice. Questions about illegal activity are not allowed. And so on. These norms exist, the community generally endorses them, and they create many gray areas. I don't see why homework is any different. – ire_and_curses Dec 22 '11 at 20:23
More broadly, there are many 'points of etiquette' which are self- or community-enforced, and are not part of the mechanics of the system. Copying other's answers, defamation, abuse, trolling, incorporating information from others into your answer, down-voting rivals, etc. etc. are all examples of behaviours which are viewed negatively by the community, and often punished when discovered. None of this is precluded by the engine itself. – ire_and_curses Dec 22 '11 at 20:26

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