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Homework is no longer a tag on Stack Overflow.

Keeping this post for historical reference. --Shog9

The result of a rather lengthy discussion concludes with the tag needing to go away on Stack Overflow. As far as tag burninations go, this is quite large, with over 20,000 questions to examine. When the tag is removed, it will be blacklisted - banished to the outer realms and never spoken of again.

The need for preemptive cleanup

Before we put the torch to the thatch, it's worth taking a minute to review these questions manually. One of the reasons why the homework tag is now being discouraged is that it was so often used pejoratively - a way for someone to say, "this question looks useless or lazily-written" rather than offering advice or... Cleaning it up. While the majority of the questions are decent enough, that still leaves hundreds that should've just been closed, and many more that could use some editing.

How can I help?

Jeff suggests the following strategy:

  1. View the tag ordered by votes, then go to the bottom (lowest voted). Deal with the "worst" 100-200 of these first.

    http://stackoverflow.com/questions/tagged/homework?page=1222&sort=votes

    If your page size is set to something sane, you'll want to click the last page number at the bottom there.

  2. View the closed questions in this tag, order by whatever you like (votes?) and deal with the worst.

    http://stackoverflow.com/search?q=%5Bhomework%5D+closed%3A1

Try to remove the worst of the worst, then we can remove the tag from the rest en masse.

So... I just need to edit out the tag on these then?

NO!

The vast majority of these questions will be re-tagged without anyone looking at them directly. We're looking specifically for questions that need some attention but will get lost in the noise when the tag is removed.

After you've given it the attention that it needs (whether that's editing, closing, or flagging), then remove the tag - but remember, you're re-tagging purely as a signal to others that this question is done. Only remove the tag once that question is as close to perfect as you can get it.

What should I look for?

  • Is this even a real question?

    If you can't make sense out of the question, or it's simply a dump of an assignment with no context or additional detail, or an indecipherable mess vote to close it or flag it as "Not a Real Question".

  • Does this only make sense if you know it's homework?

    In some cases, an assignment is so contrived that it sounds completely insane unless you know that it is homework. If possible, edit these to clarify the purpose and intent, so that they can stand alone - but if that fails, vote to close as Not a Real Question.

  • Was the tag inappropriately applied?

    There are some very basic but still perfectly decent, on-topic questions that may have been closed once someone other than the OP made an edit to apply the tag. If a closed question is basic, but on-topic and well-asked and was not closed as a duplicate, vote to re-open it.

Why do you hate students?!

We're not discouraging students from asking questions on Stack Overflow! However, the consensus is that everyone can benefit from answers that explain why not just how, and everyone should be encouraged to ask questions that are clear and complete (and list all requirements up-front, even if they're the nonsensical products of an out-of-touch professor or manager).

By getting rid of the "homework ghetto", we hope to make it clear that asking good questions and writing good, informative answers is something everyone should strive for. And if you feel the same way, we're all grateful for your assistance!

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locked by Shog9 Mar 27 '13 at 0:46

This question exists because it has historical significance, but it is not considered a good, on-topic question for this site, so please do not use it as evidence that you can ask similar questions here. This question and its answers are frozen and cannot be changed. More info: help center.

108  
If the tag is removed, how will we know for sure that the user prefers us to not give complete answers? Though it's usually clear from the question itself, an explicit tag helped. Tag removal may open up old questions for downvotes, because an important piece of context is removed. –  dasblinkenlight Sep 14 '12 at 14:59
16  
How do we do it ? I mean : if I remove the tag homework when I vote to close, other people won't see it as homework and thus won't vote. Should we refrain from removing the tag until it's closed ? –  dystroy Sep 14 '12 at 14:59
39  
What is homework tag doing on meta! –  Bhuvan Rikka 웃 Sep 14 '12 at 15:00
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@dasblinkenlight If you don't want a fully vetted, complete and testable answer, Stack Overflow is not the place to ask. –  Tim Post Sep 14 '12 at 15:00
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@dystroy If you vote to close, there should have been problems with the question beyond the homework tag being applied. –  Tim Post Sep 14 '12 at 15:03
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We can continue to use the tag on Meta for people asking about the main site's homework question policy. Or, from another angle, [homework] is fine on Meta because it's not a meta tag here (as weird as that sentence looks). –  Pops Sep 14 '12 at 15:18
69  
I should start an open source framework called 'homework'. That should make everything easier. –  Joe Sep 14 '12 at 17:23
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As an added bonus, this will get rid of about 10% of the most annoying recurring comments on SO. –  Bill the Lizard Sep 14 '12 at 18:29
45  
@TimPost: "If you don't want a fully vetted, complete and testable answer, Stack Overflow is not the place to ask." So Stack Overflow isn't a place for asking homework questions anymore. I find this a very sad state of affairs. –  sbi Sep 14 '12 at 18:45
28  
@sbi No, SO is just not a place to ask vague, general, non-specific questions. A specific homework question is still answerable. –  JNK Sep 14 '12 at 18:52
18  
@JNK: You've just knocked out a strawman, and not in an impressive way. Tim and I were referring to answers being more vague for homework questions, not the questions themselves. But even if that were not the case — are you seriously trying to tell me that the removal of the homework tag will remove a single vague question, homework or not? All you do by removing that tag is to remove a guideline for answering questions in a way that aids learning, rather than getting a job done. This will make the web a slightly worse place. –  sbi Sep 14 '12 at 21:37
22  
@sbi - is it really the responsibility of SO users to police students and their homework questions? I don't think it is. For example we don't police questions about NDA'd tech such as (and typically) the next version of IOS. If a vendor has a problem with this then they can DMCA notify SE to pull the offending material if it violates copyright, or they can kick the offending devs out of their closed beta programme's. If college CS departments don't want students to get complete and correct answers to their homework questions on our site then it's up to them to police that, not SO. –  Kev Sep 14 '12 at 23:33
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@sbi I'm not without sympathy. I've also taught, and I did spend quite a bit of rewarding time answering homework questions. Unfortunately, the tag creates a mountain of problems for each problem it's designed to solve. People being penalized for doing exactly what we want them to do - posting complete and verifiable answers to questions .. just can't continue. -1 you just did his homework for him! ... that has to stop. Looks like homework, tag it as such or ur a cheatin! .. has to stop. So much about it just has to stop. –  Tim Post Sep 15 '12 at 4:48
11  
The main reason I would be sad to see the homework tag go is because it is a valuable tool to me when responding to a question. That tag signals that the question is probably not of high quality because of inexperience, and that explanations need to be on a more accessible level, and that often core concepts are misunderstood. Removing the door to the common man risks disconnecting StackOverflow from the populace, the same populace that StackOverflow will then need to re-court to maintain a community. –  Edwin Buck Sep 18 '12 at 14:28
25  
I assume [I-don't-know-how-to-google] and [I-didn't-know-the-question-should-contain-a-question] tags are out of the question. ;) –  Peter Lawrey Sep 25 '12 at 15:17

9 Answers 9

Here's an idea, why don't we ask SE to tweak the new review queue and route all the questions through there (note, I'm not asking for a tool that let's moderators do this, that opens the door to abuse, but rather, I want them to manually tweak the algorithm/flags/whatever to run that set of questions through the queue)? We'll certainly get the closures quicker and ensure coverage of all those questions.

Once the queue is cleared again (which should be quick, because we'll have all of the people who use that queue, not just people who are always on meta and willing to do something about it), the tag can be nuked from orbit, knowing that all the questions with the tag had been properly vetted.

The blacklist could then be applied.

Easy-peasy. Let's do it.

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What (if any) ramifications would surface if mods could just suggest a tag to review? That's going to come up as a slippery slope. –  Tim Post Sep 14 '12 at 17:24
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I don't think so. If a mod put a tag up for review, and there had not been consensus on Meta beforehand, I would assume there would be pitchforks waiting for said mod on Meta. At which point the SE team could step in to help clear it up. It is a matter of trusting the mods to do their jobs, while at the same time trusting there is a recourse for action if one happens to stray off the path. –  jschoen Sep 14 '12 at 17:38
4  
@TimPost If we suggest it on Meta, it's pretty transparent, I'm not worried about that case. If we suggest it through other channels and it happens, well, that would be an issue, but I assume SE would shut us down because of the lack of transparency and route us back to meta. Note, I'm not asking that mods be given a tool to indicate what questions should be routed through the review queue by tag, I'm saying SE should do whatever they do to route this particular set of questions through the queue at our behest for this purpose. –  casperOne Sep 14 '12 at 17:38
    
Consider yourself shut down and routed back to meta. ;) (Seriously, though, I find the idea of tag-based review queues intriguing in principle. Need to think more about it and/or see a fleshed out proposal before forming a strong opinion one way or another.) –  Anna Lear Sep 14 '12 at 21:03
17  
@AnnaLear - I kind of like the idea of special job queues that appear periodically to quickly sort out a problem. There could be a badge for taking part for each one. And community feels good about itself for being part of a task force when needed. –  Kev Sep 14 '12 at 22:31
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I definitely like the idea. Additionally, those that follow a tag (but perhaps not meta) could be informed of coordinated tag efforts in their global inbox. The queue would need to be a bit different though, as each effort would presumably have some guidance to read and follow. –  Tim Post Sep 15 '12 at 4:21

If only we could find a way to embed one of these into the final product of everyone who posts on the homework tag.

enter image description here

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4  
Lulz, I would see that on some classmate's assignments. –  Moshe Sep 14 '12 at 18:38
23  
... Add some strange invisible unicode letters in a comment, so they get copypasted with the code? ;-) –  romedius Sep 26 '12 at 0:49
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Can we add such a stamp on all answers to questions of professionals who actually earn their living by asking questions on SE. In contrast to the scholars, they are actually expeced to know or to be able to find the answers themselves. –  GolezTrol Sep 29 '12 at 8:12
    
@GolezTrol - Sometimes finding the answers yourself involves asking specific questions about a certain piece of the puzzle so that one might take that information and work towards a more complete solution. For instance, I asked and got tips on how to get Objective C and C++ to work together, but with the answers I got I'm nowhere near done. I still have to make all my code work together. In short, asking for help is just as important for a professional to do as it is to know how to dig in and try to solve problems yourself. :) –  jmort253 Sep 29 '12 at 19:06
1  
Sure, but some of those questions (too many, I must say), lack that professional attitude. Anyway, I said this in context of this 'anti-homework-tag' thread. I see in many places on the internet, including here on SE, that asking homework questions is frowned upon, but I don't really see the difference between a scholar asking questions and a professional asking questions, apart from the difference in salary, of course. ;) Not saying that asking questions is at all bad. –  GolezTrol Sep 29 '12 at 21:30
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@GolezTrol - The questions asked by "scholars" are mundane, trivial and repetitive. –  Ярослав Рахматуллин Oct 9 '12 at 23:39
    
@GolezTrol That's ludicrous, you're putting scholars above others because someone else had already asked and answered the question they're about to ask. Instead of answers on SE and the last few decades etc, they've got all of human history to refer to. Not an fair comparison, I don't think. –  TankorSmash Feb 6 '13 at 22:13
    
I'm not putting scholars above others, and neither do I say that questions by scholars aren't trivial and repetitive. I do say that most questions on SO are just that, not only those by scholars. I daresay that at least 90% of the questions could be fairly easily answered and are answered before on SO or elswhere on the internet. You'd be surprised how much rep you could gain by writing a bot that pastes the title of every new question into Google, and pastes the first result as an answer. I don't like it if students ask those stupid questions, but I hate it when professionals do. –  GolezTrol Feb 6 '13 at 22:34

With a big tag that needs cleanup, I do two things to triage, and I'd suggest the same with

  1. View the tag ordered by votes, then go to the bottom (lowest voted). Deal with the "worst" 100-200 of these first.

    http://stackoverflow.com/questions/tagged/homework?page=1222&sort=votes

  2. View the closed questions in this tag, order by whatever you like (votes?) and deal with the worst.

    http://stackoverflow.com/search?q=%5Bhomework%5D+closed%3A1

The best thing to do is deal with the bottom of the barrel first, try to remove the worst of the worst, then burninate the rest as at least not-harmful.

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4  
So the assumption is "More than likely, if there are a number of upvotes on the question already, the question is a safe candidate for blind removal of the tag"? –  corsiKa Sep 25 '12 at 19:17

YES!

I don't see how this review-and-remove can work if the tag isn't blacklisted. It's going to be added again and again to new questions. If the tag was blacklisted, editing a question tagged , for any reason, would require removing the tag. I think that's ok. There are plenty of “homeworky” (and non-homeworky) questions in need of closing that don't have the homework tag anyway.

I don't think there's anything to be gained by not burninating the tag right away. Part of the reason the tag is useless is that it does not categorize questions in any meaningful way. The probability that a -tagged question needs reviewing is higher than average but not dramatically so.

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Oh no, it's not coming back after this. –  Tim Post Sep 14 '12 at 15:32
    
Can we actually blacklist it without removing it from all the questions though? –  Ben Brocka Sep 14 '12 at 15:32
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@BenBrocka Can you break dance safely in an event horizon? Yeah, I'm not trying that either. –  Tim Post Sep 14 '12 at 15:33
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@Ben It is extremely messy and will cause a lot of fuss because people will see that "homework" totally exists, but when they try to use it, they can't, which is weird because there's thousands of questions that have it. That's one of the more relevant reasonings why we don't blacklist live tags - it creates a lot of mess that gets in the way of doing the cleanup. –  Grace Note Sep 14 '12 at 16:06
    
@GraceNote that makes sense...I just figured blacklisting implicitly deleted the tag as well, since it doesn't make sense to have an unusable tag that still exists. –  Ben Brocka Sep 14 '12 at 16:12
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@GraceNote: but listening to the whining and gnashing of teeth is satisfying when you vote to close... –  user7116 Sep 14 '12 at 16:34
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@TimPost Here we go: stackoverflow.com/review-beta/suggested-edits/651486 –  Gilles Sep 14 '12 at 17:34
    
@Gilles Title edit made, just FYI. –  Tim Post Sep 17 '12 at 17:59
    
@GraceNote - It may cause some confusion to blacklist it now, but I worry about just leaving it enabled. I've been actively hunting homeworks for a few days, and about once every hour or two I see at least one new homework question posted, or an old question that's been retagged as homework. Given that after 3 days we've only touched something like 5% of total homework questions, I'm afraid most active retaggers will burn out, and the count might start creeping up again. It takes a lot of vigilance just to tread in place. –  Tim Sep 17 '12 at 21:05
    
@TimPost - "Can you break dance safely in an event horizon?" - you should ask that on Physics SE :) –  DVK Sep 30 '12 at 12:10

I've been working on the question cleanup. To help, I created a SEDE query that lists all the tags associated with questions tagged , sorted by question count.

What I do is:

  1. Pick a small-ish tag of a dozen or so questions, such as .
  2. Search for [homework] [masm] to show all those questions.
  3. For each of those questions:
    1. Flag any This should have the homework tag!!1! comments as obsolete.
    2. If the question is perfectly fine without , remove the tag. (I try to add a more specific tag in its place, depending on the question topic).
    3. If the question is not a real question (eg. verbatim homework dump) or too localized (eg. "you forgot a closing brace"), vote to close the question as necessary and leave the homework tag in place.

The above ensures that others who are searching for questions will also see those that still need attention.

In just a couple of days, we have nailed nearly 5% of the homework questions. This is doable, but it will take a while.

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Should the tag be removed once the question is closed, or do we want to keep it as a marker for deletions, too? –  Josh Caswell Sep 17 '12 at 20:23
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I would say leave the tag attached after closing, so that those questions can be readily found for deletion. –  Greg Hewgill Sep 17 '12 at 21:01
    
Removing the tag is rather important once you are able to do so, because it decreases the time it will take to reach zero (or few) tagged questions, at which point we can blacklist the tag to keep new questions from using it. Presumably, if something is ready for the bit bucket, the deletion cycle would be not unlike any other poor question. –  Tim Post Sep 18 '12 at 15:45
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We really need a way to deprecate a tag so that people can't apply it any longer while explaining to them why they can't add an existing tag. –  Tim Post Sep 18 '12 at 15:48

Could people please stop asking for mass deletion of the homework tag?

I want it gone just as much as anyone else but.... even a quick look will show you that there are a lot of these questions that are inappropriately tagged, even once homework is removed. That means these questions need some tender McLovin'. There are a whole bunch of questions just labelled (and some that also contain a third random-ish tag), so just blowing away the homework tag will leave these questions balancing precariously on the edge of the tag universe.

We should also be flagging the Is this homework? or You need to tag this as homework comments as part of the clean up. These comments are redundant now that the tag has entered burnination.

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Flag the comments on the questions you think are salvageable or have been salvaged, but don't worry as much about comments on something probably headed for the bin. It'll help keep the signal to noise ratio in our queue higher during the cleanup. –  Tim Post Sep 15 '12 at 4:51
    
@TimPost I think slugster's probably mostly thinking about comments on posts that aren't tagged [homework]. –  Ed Staub Sep 26 '12 at 18:52

There's a lot of good commentary, but one point that was raised doesn't sit right with me.

Will this question help anyone else but the person who asked it?

This is predicting the future. While there is "low hanging fruit" on the question tree that applies to nearly everyone, there is also room for questions that seem to apply to only a single person. I don't want StackOverflow to be only a "greatest hits" question repository, as we often see that popularity doesn't breed an ideal world (for whatever measure you are seeking).

Also it implies that you can predict a question's future utility, or that you can measure that utility based on StackOverflow's captured metrics (which are not gathered in the blind and are subject to gaming).

It also shifts StackOverflow from a resource where one can part-time mentor a new software developer into a resource for seasoned professionals. Yes, we have tons of entry points for fresh meat, but those new recruits to the field need to be acclimated to StackOverflow's way of doing things after they attempt to use StackOverflow. It would be nice if it worked the other way around, but the complaints about "what you are supposed to do" are proof that there is an acclimation period that trials first SO use.

I don't think that this criteria is well thought out, and it seems to be a weak point. Kill the homework tag if you wish, but don't confound utility of the question and answers with popular utility of the question and answers.

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By that, I was saying you should ask "Is this question too localized?" Which is one of the reasons why a question can be closed, currently in place on Stack Overflow. I've edited for clarity, and included the definition given for the close reason as reference. –  Tim Post Sep 18 '12 at 15:32
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A much better way of stating it, and like all elegant software development, the new solution comes from a reduction in items, but more power in their expressiveness. –  Edwin Buck Sep 18 '12 at 15:40

A quick search shows that there are 1,809 homework questions which are already closed. That's almost a tenth of the 20,000 total questions. Can we possibly get a mass-untagging of any closed homework questions?

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Or a mass deletion? –  Bill the Lizard Sep 14 '12 at 18:17
    
If the mods all agree that that's an acceptable solution, then by all means. –  meagar Sep 14 '12 at 18:17
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The already-closed questions need to be reviewed for reopening. Granted, most of them aren't going to be reopened (and should therefore be deleted), but statistically speaking a few of them have been edited into shape, or have been mistagged (perhaps maliciously by another user!), and should be reopened. Cc @BilltheLizard –  Gilles Sep 14 '12 at 18:29
    
@Gilles Good point. I guess we do have to look at them individually. –  Bill the Lizard Sep 14 '12 at 18:33
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This is a good option for the ones that are zero upvotes and no upvoted answers. –  slugster Sep 15 '12 at 2:48
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Any perfectly valid, reasonably well written but extremely basic question should not be closed unless it's a duplicate of another. Those are going to need individual review, but many questions closed 'because they look like homework' could have probably been closed because they were simply duplicates. I'm not saying don't examine them, but don't go agonizing over them. The tag needs to be removed, either way and if you run into salvageable stuff .. well, great :) –  Tim Post Sep 15 '12 at 4:27
    
I think correct time for this mass untaging would be when query for "homework" tag returns only closed question. Until then tag is still useful because it points to questions that need reviewing. –  Oleg V. Volkov Sep 18 '12 at 12:14

With this answer, I am suggesting a feature-request (a kind of).

We would have such situations in future that would require a clean up for tags. Can we some-what automate this? I suggest create a tag (may be 'cleaned-up' or '.' (dot)) as a master tag, and then, if you could make 'all such tags to be cleaned up' as synonyms to this master tag.

And then, make some rule at back-end to just not display such tags any more, or do any other appropriate thing like close the post/put into moderator review queue, or ??

This would save much of the effort and time. I mean - all the active users would do this respectfully try to action them at their end as much as they can, but 17,000 + questions is a huge number. And as this process has started, we see a lot of old questions dumping in the front.

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Sounds like what casperOne already proposed. That will bump the questions — SE has never accepted anything that would modify a question without bumping, except outright removal of a tag, which is performed by a developer. There's no harm in bumping old questions now and then — as long as the front page isn't flooded, which can't happen on SO. –  Gilles Sep 26 '12 at 13:05

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