First, let me say that Stack Overflow and its related wikis are one of my favorite places on the net, and I've learned tremendously from many of you, and find most of you to be fine and charming folks — and most importantly genuinely helpful.
That said I've noticed a few disturbing trends on the site, and I wanted to discuss one of them here.
I've seen a few past posts on this meta like this one discussing how to dissuade users from using SO as a digital "cheat sheet" to do their homework assignments. I get that, and consider that discussion perfectly valid.
Note on title
(Perhaps the title should be "should we?" if we can not prevent this, but I'm keeping the "can", as I think we "should" and "can".)
Let me start with an example.
How do I Select Highest Number From Series of <string>_# File Names in Bash Script
User msw posts a comment "Please discuss the speed..." sounds like homework."
This was NOT homework. It was a post regarding research I was doing. I have no idea how they would even think that a student was using NAMD for a homework assignment (few schools even offer an MD course), but let's ignore that for a sec.
There's a right way and a wrong way to ask every question. First let's consider:
- I was a relatively new user at the time.
- msw had 10k or so reputation, so clearly he was a veteran voice.
- The post was clearly not a verbatim repeat of a question.
But rather than point me to a resource on what qualifies as homework, and suggest tagging politely, they took (what in my mind) sounds like an accusatory tone. There was no helpful information -- just an accusation, without even proper grammar to soften the blow (no capitalization? no quotes?)
Now I would hope this would be flagged and or downrated after I clarified that the post was NOT homework, but it was actually celebrated. There were two upvotes for his snide and unwarranted remark. And this is hardly the exception. I regularly see rude and non-helpful
Is this homework? comments with nary a piece of solid advice being uprated.
It's as if some at SO celebrate experienced posters berating students/new users in a non-helpful manner.
Now I would not have minded if they asked me that question in a nice way and posted helpful information clarifying what is homework and how to fit it into the SO model. But in this case there was no helpful info, only spite. That's just one example, I've seen many more.
(I'll try to add more examples next week, in the meantime feel free to add some of your own if you want to edit this.)
That said, I have to say that ever since I started answering questions on the site, I've noticed a propensity for SO users to shoot first, ask questions later when it comes to the
Is this homework? questions/accusations.
I've been asked that question myself at times, and in some cases it's put me in a rather humorous and ironic philosophical quandary, because I'm a grad student/researcher who often IS posting questions that are peripheral related to course work -- even homework, albeit NEVER asking verbatim for a full solution or even the majority of a solution. Further, nearly all of my posts ALSO pertain to entrepreneurial ventures I conduct as a hobby (game programming) or my research. In other words, a percentage of my posts are indeed homework RELATED, but they're not a
do my homework post.
Now in at least one case I felt I had forgot a homework tag for a course-project/independent-study related question, and chagrined I apologized and added the homework tag ... In time I even started adding this to anything vaguely course-related as a defense mechanism (which worked -- I got less
Is this homework? harassment). But even then I felt a bit silly putting "homework" (which makes me think, daily/weekly assignment sort of fare). In retrospect, I now realize I perhaps caved in too quickly. Questions regarding course projects perhaps should be tagged as independent-study or course-project, but not homework, imho.
I think this is true of most beginning dedicated hard-working SW engineers. Yes, they're doing hmwk, but they're going above and beyond the requirements spelled out there-in, and are hoping to reuse the results in for-profit projects or research.
Yet I've seen a kind of ubiquitous harassment about many beginner level questions, even when someone is clearly not truly soliciting a
do my homework type solution.
But to note just how much of a witch-hunt it is, I've posted scripting questions which absolutely were not in any way course-related, but received accusations of posting homework, just because I wanted to learn. In these cases I responded "No, not homework, grr..." (minus the "grr"), but did so with much irritation, in my recollection.
Now I'm not the most experienced user, and I do differ to veteran posters and I do appreciate what the anti-homework posting crowd is trying to accomplish.
But I would just like to see people be a bit more selective about when they start hurling the
Is this homework? accusation, or at least ask it a bit more gently, if the posting seems ambiguous (as in it could be hmwk, it could not be).
Remember, we're all beginners and if there's an overwhelming homework witch-hunt overtone on the site, not only will it scare of new SW engineers who could most benefit from the site, but it will also often lead to irritation, hurt feelings, and people throwing their keyboards (don't worry I didn't go that far).
My perspective is:
- If a question is a verbatim copy, post your evidence (as in hey, I'm an instructor and this is my question OR hey, I've seen this question in school xxxx's hmwk for course yyyy.)
- If you have no evidence that it's a verbatim copy, but suspect that the question could be homework-involved and it's a new user, point them to SO's rules/quasi-rules (like this informal guide) with respect to homework, suggest a homework tag, if necessary, but explain homework tags aren't necessary or appropriate for course projects, research, independent studies, etc.
So can we agree to cut down on the non-helpful homework accusations, and follow the above productive guidelines to managing the homework issue??
Who's with me? Thoughts?