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I've seen a few very strong statements recently here on META about students asking questions on SO. Personally, I think that we are all students in some way shape or form, just at different levels in turns of experience, knowledge, etc. So why the hate towards the academics?

Why should students not ask questions here? Isn't this just what the site is for? Who cares if it can be found via a Google search, that is irrelevant.

Obviously the "Plz send the codez" questions are worthy of down-votes and getting closed. However, I'm concerned that an almost elitist attitude and approach towards students in general will drive folks away from the site.

It would also seem logical to separate out the issues a bit. Students all seem to be getting lumped together as being bad, when in reality there are a very small minority of folks who take away from the community.

One Example... There are others I've seen recently, but can't find them all right now...

"What we get is a bunch of deperate undergrads engaged in a desperate search for knowledge that is so accessible elsewhere. And the more they ask, the more points they get. Of what benefit is that? Do you have significant development experience, or are you an undergrad too? – polyglot yesterday "

Please charge rep for questions after threshold

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Can you link to some examples of strong statements that show hate towards the academics? –  Bill the Lizard Oct 14 '09 at 11:59
"And the more they ask, the more points they get" -- The fixation on rep-whoring is becoming obsessive. IME, students who ask questions like this seldom have much rep anyway. –  Robert Harvey Oct 14 '09 at 19:48
@Robert: That is essentially where my head is at... Who cares if they ask questions... Bad questions seem to get dealt with... –  RSolberg Oct 14 '09 at 20:54

8 Answers 8

up vote 28 down vote accepted

Students should absolutely ask questions here.

What matters is how they ask their question.

plz give me the codez for teh towers of hanoi
in c
k, thx.

That question will likely get downvoted or closed with extreme prejudice (currently as "unclear what you're asking", or "too broad"' as applicable)

However, when a student:

  1. Marks their question as homework / admits it's homework
  2. Shows they're working towards a solution (by showing us the code)
  3. Actively participates in expanding their question
  4. Doesn't ask for an 'answer' to their homework; rather they ask for an answer to the specific problem their having with their homework

Then I'd be surprised if that question was closed, and I'd re-open it in a heartbeat.

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The plz and k, thx. are for Rich B –  alex Oct 14 '09 at 11:06
+16: Completely agree... –  RSolberg Oct 14 '09 at 20:55
Agreed. As someone who works in academia, I have a supreme irritation with cheaters. If someone comes in with the honesty and integrity that George commends, then I help them. Or try me best to. –  Paul Nathan Oct 14 '09 at 21:47
I'm a Master's student in CS and ask all kinds of questions here that get responded to favorably. SO has been awesome to me. :) –  Sarah Vessels Oct 15 '09 at 3:02

Here is nothing wrong with getting help for homework, or assisting students. In fact, my question Bubble Sort Homework got a lot of attention, including a mention on the podcast.

When asking these sorts of questions, make sure you ask them in a way that not only solves your problem (otherwise why would you ask it), but is still vague enough to be a helpful resource for others. John Fouhy wrote this comment on my question:

The post is essentially: "I have trouble coding, this is what I did, it doesn't work." There's obviously an implicit "Can someone give me some pointers please?" Unlike many homework questions, this one:

  • is well written
  • is upfront about being homework
  • includes a good attempt at solving the problem.
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I think the majority of the 'resentment' towards students is based on the questions that are pretty much just PLZSENDTEHCODEZ/HOMEWORK questions. Postgrads/Ex-students didn't have SO to post on to get their homework tips/tricks/code - perhaps it's that that makes those certain members resentful.

I totally agree with you though - one of us (even Jon Skeet) isn't as clever as all of us. The whole point of SO is that everyone works together, everyone has their own fields of expertise. And because of that - we are, all students.

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I believe the phrase you're looking for is "None of us is a dumb as all of us." –  user27414 Oct 14 '09 at 11:12
@Jon: Yeah, it was meant as a play on that phrase. –  Daniel May Oct 14 '09 at 11:27

I don't think that there is a resentment to students on the site. There is, however, a resentment towards cheaters -- of all stripes. Getting people to do your homework for you is cheating -- both the other students in the class and yourself. I'm happy to assist students in learning, that's what we're all here for: to learn and to teach. There are ways to ask homework questions that will get you help on learning how to solve it yourself or to get over a specific hurdle that you are facing. These questions should be and, I think, generally received well here. Then there are those that post a series of questions, often in the form, "Suppose you have a network..." that are obviously copied directly from the homework assignment. Answering those with anything other than "we won't do your homework for you" is a disservice to the student and to the others in their class.

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Why is there resentment towards students on the SO sites?

There is no resentment, au contraire, its extreme love towards them, as most of us try to direct them towards places where they can learn and find more information on the inquired topic, but at the same time allow them to have the chance to figure it by themselves.

If the only reason they think an answer for homework is correct just because it has many up votes while not understanding the answer, we are just doing a disservice to the poor fellow.

As long as the question is reasonably laid, the questioner shoud not find himself chastitized.

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@Voyager: Not everyone seems to share the opinion of you and I, hence this question... +1 for a great answer though... –  RSolberg Oct 14 '09 at 20:57

I seem to remember a podcast from Jeff & Joel where Joel pretty much says that they want every search for technical questions to throw a SO link of some stripe. Given that as a goal (and I tend to support that thinking as it makes my life easier to have a good, open, publicly verified answer source), I have to think that the management would strongly like to intelligent conversations about homework/abstract/entry-level questions of all stripes. I suppose that over time the questions will die down as they're already answered and it doesn't seem like there are more new questions coming out (I mean honestly, who hasn't seen Towers of Hanoi).

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fwiw - Ive "seen" Towers of Hanoi, but have never implemented it :) –  warren Nov 4 '09 at 2:56

Sometimes I wonder if the blatant and unresearched homework questions don't piss people off so much because it forces the less introspective among us to stop and think about the fact that they're helping complete strangers for no tangible reward whatsoever.

I don't personally think that's the case, and I'm well aware of the reasons that I enjoy this community - but I have a theory that the more 'violent' reactions to homework questions stem from this odd unease people have with the idea of doing something for 'nothing'.

Or hey, maybe they have a nite job as a tutor, and simply don't like the idea of a free website cutting into their moonlighting check. ;)

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While we're playing amateur psychologist, I think the violent reaction against "plz do my hoemworks" questions comes from (most) programmers' logical and empirical natures: the point of homework is to learn, therefore if you're not learning anything you're not really doing homework, and you're not making progress towards understanding (it is implied that understanding is a good thing). –  Super Long Names are Hilarious Oct 14 '09 at 18:45
Oh definitely, but I felt that had been adequately described. Time to whip out my pseudo-psycho-armchair and stab about. ;) –  Kara Marfia Oct 23 '09 at 18:13

I think it's more a resentment towards stupidity. There have been several students who came here asking questions that just seem to drop the average IQ of this size with a dozen or more points. Questions like "What is a boolean?" or "When I type 'HelloWorld.c' at the command prompt, it won't execute my new application. Why?"

Of course, several students also just ask us to do their homework. For free, that is. Thus, they're faking their whole studies, which will end up in more stupid developers who just don't know the difference between = and == in C++...

Of course, the problem with students is that they haven't grasped the concept of writing "well-written questions", thus they're often considered rude or just plain stupid. Several students also tend to use the same writing style that they use for social networks which also annoys a few people here. In general, they just tend to speak a different language than experienced developers, thus it's easy to consider them to be less than regular developers.

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Homework questions are not bad by definition. This one, stackoverflow.com/questions/895371/bubble-sort-homework, has nearly 60 upvotes –  David Pearce Oct 14 '09 at 12:06
Yep. There are a few very good homework questions. Unfortunately there are also a lot of bad ones... –  Wim ten Brink Oct 14 '09 at 14:36
I think that, even if a homework question is poorly written and shows little effort, you can still give them the "force you to think about the problem on your own" answers (i.e. telling them what functions to use, linking them to documentation, giving them hints, etc). Bad questions don't need to be downvoted into oblivion, they just need not to be rewarded with bad (as in "h3r3 @r3 t3h c0d3z") answers. –  Super Long Names are Hilarious Oct 14 '09 at 18:29
Personally, I don't downvote Q's with 133t text. I just vote to close them as "not a real question". The same with bad questions. In general, I only downvote bad answers. –  Wim ten Brink Oct 15 '09 at 10:04
I edit questions with poor grammar, and allow others to close them. My theory is that if the askers see their questions being "drastically" changed (with no semantic change, just spelling and formatting), maybe they'll do better next time (and yes, I know sometimes they're from non-native English speakers) –  warren Nov 4 '09 at 2:57

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