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This is just an FYI — the Stack Overflow Student Ambassador Program was recently announced. Today we’d like to share what this program is and how students will be participating.

What is the Student Ambassador program?

We are partnering with Major League Hacking to develop our student-ambassador corps, initially drawn from participants at a Hackathon that took place this past weekend. Major League Hacking has an amazing track record when it comes to working with students from a variety of schools. This first cohort will be representing us on their campuses, partnering with us to bring more of their classmates on board, and participating in future Hackathon challenges.

We’re also working with this inaugural cohort to help us plan what future semesters will look like. Currently only students participating in colleges and universities affiliated with Major League Hacking will be able to sign up for the program.

How will students be participating on the site?

If you aren’t familiar with Hackathons they are, as Major League Hacking describes, invention marathons. Hackathon participants are given access to the API for timed challenges. Hackathon participants do not have access to any data containing PII.

The Hackathon challenges will happen off the main sites so nothing will be changing or interfering with how you currently experience the platform. In the upcoming months students will be encouraged to participate in Q&A on Stack Overflow in addition to other sites on the Stack Exchange Network where they have an interest and knowledge to share. Student Ambassadors aren’t given special privileges and don’t have a special badge indicating who they are. They are like any other community member and adhere to the same guidelines when it comes to posting and our Code of Conduct.

We are really excited about this pilot group. Since their inception, Stack Overflow and the Stack Exchange Network have been a place where developers and technologists (including students entering the field) have come together to learn and share knowledge. If you want to read more about the Student Ambassador program, check out the blog post or the Student Ambassador landing page for more details.

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    I'm not sure what is the bottom line, or goal, here. Is it to have more people get familiar with Stack Overflow? Commented Aug 29, 2022 at 17:40
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    Leaves me wondering: "What is the Student Ambassador program?" and "How will students be participating on the site?" Commented Aug 29, 2022 at 20:22
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    The linked blog post and this post call it 'Stack Overflow Student Ambassador Program", and the web page for it also does that (i.e., refers to SO instead of SE). If this is mainly about SO (which it seems like it is IMO, then why was the announcement not on MSO? Or alternatively, how is this relevant to SE overall as opposed to just SO?
    – cocomac
    Commented Aug 29, 2022 at 23:03
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    @cocomac it's written in this announcement: In the upcoming months students will be encouraged to participate in Q&A on Stack Overflow in addition to other sites on the Stack Exchange Network where they have an interest and knowledge to share. So while the center is SO, they'll also be encouraged to try out more sites. Commented Aug 30, 2022 at 7:12
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    I know its amusing to try to, or actually close an official staff post - but the goal here is to get feedback. If its unclear - that's what comments and in these cases, answers are for Commented Aug 30, 2022 at 13:28
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    I hope that it will be explained to this new crop of contributors that any new content that they generate (Q's or A's) will have a very high probability of being redundant on Stack Overflow. If we want to get the best bang from new engagement, we should be asking new contributors to start aggregating pages by narrow topic and then suggest pages which should be closed, merged, deleted, edited, and nominated as the canonical dupe target. If all we are getting is more people generating more content, then curators are going to have even more work to do. I have my suspicions. Commented Aug 31, 2022 at 3:00
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    Is this US only or meant to be international in any way? Commented Aug 31, 2022 at 12:13
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    Despite your staff's assessment that feedback is wanted starting the post out with "This is just and FYI" strongly implies the decision is made and this post is "Just for your information about the decision we made". If the goal is actually education rather than a publicity stunt I think they should go in a special queue thats hackathon centric. Hackathons require quick responses and the OP is unlikely to interact with the question once the hackathon is over.
    – Philippe
    Commented Aug 31, 2022 at 18:56
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    @MicheldeRuiter MLH is an international organization as was mentioned by others. At the Hackathon this weekend we had the opportunity to chat with students from all over the world.
    – Rosie StaffMod
    Commented Aug 31, 2022 at 19:39
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    So maybe one challenge could be: find a way to block students from posting extreme amounts of horribly poor questions on SO. Maybe an automated system which reports students dumping their homework on the site directly to their university? The large amount of student users on the site is clearly one of the biggest problem we have been facing through the history of SO, so how do we solve it? By bribing more students into using the site, not because they wish to contribute, but because they are getting free pizza?
    – Lundin
    Commented Sep 1, 2022 at 9:48
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    I don't think that spamming universities with complaints is a viable solution @Lundin Maybe tracking down their mothers might work.
    – W.O.
    Commented Sep 1, 2022 at 10:21
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    @W.O. If there was an easy solution, we wouldn't have the problem. However, I'm quite sure that bringing more unmotivated students in is not the solution...
    – Lundin
    Commented Sep 1, 2022 at 10:59
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    Please explain what this announcement is actually announcing. It's very unclear and as a SO mod I am afraid of what this means for the platform.
    – Dharman
    Commented Sep 4, 2022 at 19:09
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    Re opened. I am very disappointed in a few people Commented Sep 4, 2022 at 23:08
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    The close votes are feedback. And it’s the same kind of feedback we give to any other asker who writes overly vague posts. It is also an incentive towards clearer writing: make yourself clear, or you will not get answers. Reversing the close vote by fiat amounts to a tacit admission either that this system does not work, or that Stack Exchange thinks they should not be subjected to it. Commented Sep 13, 2022 at 11:16

8 Answers 8

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If folks are going to represent a site, or network - especially in the context of a contest (of sorts) or in academia, they're probably going to need a solid grounding in network culture and community.

I've been here since the early days (when we had site contests!) and one often found that while events were a good way to get people to stay (I still have my first run SU T shirt, and the SSD I won in a contest!), a lot of people were here mainly just for the short term benefits

The more students you sign up as part of your Stack ambassador, the more perks you’ll earn at your pizza fund events. For example, sign up 10 students - we’ll provide the soft drinks. Sign up 20 students, and we’ll add dessert to the menu.

Sounds almost like a multilevel marketing scheme, to be honest.

I love the idea of getting people in early, but what are y'all doing in terms of mentoring (hopefully the next generation), outside throwing them challenges and letting them loose? Outside the MLH based hackathons (which is what this really seems to be built around) what does being an ambassador for the SO community mean to y'all. This feels like the perfect opportunity to mentor folks in a slightly more structured way than "Here's the site, don't drown".

Stack Overflow is looking for its first cohort of Student Ambassadors, leaders who will represent us on campus, partnering with us to bring more of their classmates onto our platform, and taking a leadership role to complete challenges, earn rewards, and help us plan what future semesters will look like.

This is eerily content free to me.

What's the goals in the long term - are we hoping to grow the community core with fresh blood? What's the deliverables, so to speak for the SO and SE communities from this program? What do the students get out of it beyond opportunities to network and so on?

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    "What's the goals in the long term": I thought the "Students who join us will get access to an instance of Stack Overflow for Teams." was clear. For me, that could be the major long term goal: Introduce a SaaS product as early as possible in the future work force, in the hope said product will be demanded and deployed by the same work force once they (the ex-students) enter the market.
    – VonC
    Commented Aug 30, 2022 at 6:25
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    I want to echo what Rosie said in their answer but also add my perspective. SO is known world wide as the place for technologists-- especially ones that are starting their journey. As it was discovered this weekend, many of these students are already well versed in our site norms and are part of the community. However for those who are not, the Teams instance is a great way to have the other students, as well as us, 'show them the ropes'. Every student will be expected to follow the CoC as well as site expectations, but for many the norms and culture of SO is already known.
    – Bella_Blue StaffMod
    Commented Aug 30, 2022 at 15:16
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    @Bella_Blue "but for many the norms and culture of SO is already known" I seriously don't want to put all students into the same basket but finding students that know the rules and are capable of asking good questions on SO is as easy as finding the needle in a haystack. Commented Aug 30, 2022 at 19:29
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    That is precisely what the Teams instance is for. :) Any student who is unsure or inexperienced will have a place to ask questions and get the feel of things. It also will allow us to also help ensure they are meeting the high quality standards that we require from all of our users. :)
    – Bella_Blue StaffMod
    Commented Aug 30, 2022 at 19:43
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    @Bella_Blue That Team seems like an excellent place to learn what faq / help center amendments are needed.
    – wizzwizz4
    Commented Sep 2, 2022 at 17:57
  • Who, or what, are you quoting about the pizza? What's the source? Commented Sep 9, 2022 at 6:43
  • The blog post linked in the question - both quotes are from there Commented Sep 9, 2022 at 13:24
  • I came across this older post - which involved a very similar program Amusingly, I feel like the questions I'm asking are roughly the same 2 years on, and Makoto's answer has very pertinent questions too . I think its relevant 2 years on that our questions are the same, and maybe 2 years in future, hopefully we'll have something new to ask :D Commented Sep 18, 2022 at 4:06
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You said,

Currently only students participating in colleges and universities affiliated with Major League Hacking will be able to sign up for the program.

I'm curious what's behind this restriction. For example, is this a regulatory thing that is being imposed on you by higher powers or are you doing it yourself to cut down on the number of applicants?

To be clear, I'm not requesting that this be changed, but any future request for a change would be best made with an understanding of the original reason for the rule and whether that reason is still valid. For example, something like "We don't really like this rule, but the program is funded from a grant from the National School Hacking Institute and they are threatening to take away the money if we don't enforce it." or "Preliminary surveys indicated that we would be inundated with millions of applications that we could never find time to individually evaluate, so we had to establish some arbitrary criteria that would bring the number of applicants down below ten thousand or so." could be valid answers.

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    We’ve limited it to the schools participating in MLH this round for a couple of reasons. One is to have a lower volume of participants since this is the pilot program. The second is because we are participating in virtual Hackathon challenges that MLH is hosting this semester.
    – Rosie StaffMod
    Commented Aug 30, 2022 at 14:01
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Ya know... if ya'll want to make inroads in the student community, why not launch an attempt to replace Piazza?

Piazza is a more or less terrible thing that teachers (at least at my old school) like to use as a Q&A forum for assignment questions, etc. It's pretty bad. Not as bad as some tools, but pretty bad.

Why not give Teams away for free to university CS classes? It doesn't cost you anything, these classes aren't going to pay for Teams anyway, and it's the perfect onramp for these people to then want it at their real jobs.

I can probably find a couple CS classes at local universities to pilot something like this.

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    The university where I teach uses Piazza and my experience with it has been good. I also never recall them being down due to a DDoS attack. What do you not like about Piazza? I also worry about the negative effects of having an SE-like voting/scoring system of posts in any replacement of Piazza. Commented Aug 31, 2022 at 20:31
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    "Why not give Teams away for free to university CS classes? It doesn't cost you anything, [...]" – I haven't been a part of any discussions that may have been had on this issue, but I'd speculate that "giving Teams away for free" would still cost the company something, in terms of needing to actually provide product support. (That doesn't mean it wouldn't still be worth it, just that it's not simply a matter of it costing us nothing.)
    – V2Blast
    Commented Sep 1, 2022 at 15:48
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    "Why not give Teams away for free to university CS classes?" related on MSO: Stack Overflow for Teams for Students? Commented Sep 2, 2022 at 14:44
  • I am an instructor and I used SO as a replacement for Piazza one quarter. It did not go well, and this is NOT a good way for SO to enter the University market. I would rather see encouragement and mentoring for students to help build the university's private Stack Overflow for Teams toward a resource that would be useful to everyone on campus (as I am currently trying to do solo) rather than only for students in a particular offering of a course. Commented Sep 9, 2022 at 19:47
  • This idea COULD work, however, if a free SO Team instance was offered for each course and GREAT deal of design effort went into identifying which questions are worthwhile from year to year and which questions need to die after the first year they are asked because they are out of date. Commented Sep 9, 2022 at 19:48
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One of the goals of this initiative is to engage more with undergraduate students. As mentioned in the blog post, we want to learn how students engage with the site. We know students use Stack Overflow and many of the other technical Stack Exchange sites as a learning tool. This gives us an opportunity to get some meaningful feedback from them. This is also an opportunity for students to engage more with Stack Overflow and encourage their classmates to as well.

The reference to access to a Teams instance addresses the concern Journeyman Geek raised about what we are doing in terms of mentoring them outside of challenges. The Teams instance will be a place for student ambassadors to engage with one another during and outside of the challenges. It will be a closed space for them to engage with some of the Stackers who will be involved with the Hackathon Challenge. This is a place for them to be able to share things that would be considered off-topic for the site. It also gives us the opportunity to help guide them if we see something that would be a great Question to post on SO or one of the other sites. We want to encourage them to participate on the public sites when we see they have content that would be a valuable contribution to the community.

On a personal note I attended the Hackathon this past weekend with some other Stackers. I had the opportunity to chat with a number of students at the event who are already engaged with Stack Overflow. Students shared their love for the site with me. One of the comments that really stood out to me was “Thank the Community for keeping the quality of the content so high.” A recent graduate who was at the event as an advisor said “I owe a huge part of earning my degree to Stack Overflow.” It wasn’t a surprise to me that there wasn’t a single student who wasn’t familiar with Stack Overflow. Some students reported they were more active participants than others. They were all familiar with our FAQs and some mentioned looking forward to being able to participate and contribute more when they felt they had questions and answers to share that would be meaningful to the community.

Hearing feedback like that makes me really excited about this program. This is the pilot semester. We have to see how this works with the first few Hackathon challenges we’re involved with and to Journeyman Geek’s point see what the level of interest and engagement is from students participating. I’m really looking forward to seeing how this evolves and to seeing what contributions these students have to make as they become more involved with a community they are already a part of and have such respect for.

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    The team's the where - the quality (so to speak) of the folks already in the SO ecosystem would determine the "who", "how" and 'how well' - which is important there. It does feel like y'all know a few folks who you believe have the qualities needed, so I guess we'll see Commented Aug 30, 2022 at 23:46
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    Yes, we need the positive stories as well. It is easy to forget when Eternal September on Stack Overflow has lasted about 12 years now. Commented Aug 31, 2022 at 1:32
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    “Thank the Community for keeping the quality of the content so high.” - thank the community indeed, because the company had nothing to do with keeping quality high in the last 5+ years and instead seems to actively work against the quality-focused parts of the community. In doing so, you lost quality-focused people like me (I sometimes closevote/downvote some trash on SO main but don't provide any content anymore).
    – l4mpi
    Commented Sep 8, 2022 at 10:29
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Hackathon participants are given access to the API for timed challenges. Hackathon participants do not have access to any data containing PII.

Does this mean our data (without any PII) will be available for students to "play with"?

If so, does this mean we will have the option / ability to opt out of having our data used in this if we wish?

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    It is already available for anyone to play with, via the public API (and the data dumps as well), so that's not really relevant. Commented Aug 30, 2022 at 13:41
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    The students will have the same access to data as is already publicly available to anyone who wishes to use it, inside or outside this event. We just wanted folks to be clear that we are not changing anything that is not already in place, which is why I had included it in the post.
    – Rosie StaffMod
    Commented Aug 30, 2022 at 14:08
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    @Rosie "The students will have the same access to data as is already publicly available to anyone who wishes to use it, inside or outside this event." The root of the misunderstanding is probably "Hackathon participants are given access to the API for timed challenges." in the question. The "are given access" statement suggests this is something extra beyond what is already existing. Commented Aug 30, 2022 at 14:23
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    @Trilarion maybe the API keys are already generated for them, where someone outside the Hackathon has to do this step on their own. Commented Aug 30, 2022 at 14:30
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It sounds like this is a great opportunity for SE to front-foot conversations with otherwise inexperienced users (putting aside the students who are already active on or experienced with SO).

In the upcoming months students will be encouraged to participate in Q&A on Stack Overflow in addition to other sites on the Stack Exchange Network where they have an interest and knowledge to share.

New users who are students on Stack Overflow are often linked with low-quality questions. We've had dozens (if not hundreds!) of discussions about homework questions, and questions along the lines of "I have this assignment question, what's the answer?" still plague the site.

These students, however, have the benefit of SE itself providing them with a welcome. Perhaps this welcome could include some of our existing guides on how to write an effective question, what expectations the community has of askers, what an MCVE is and what's on topic.

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    Clarification - what's front foot mean in this context? 😅 Commented Sep 7, 2022 at 6:37
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    @JourneymanGeek I might have been hanging around too many MBAs hahaha. By "front-foot" I mean take the initiative.
    – Joundill
    Commented Sep 7, 2022 at 6:41
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    I speak slightly fluent corporate, and I need to add that to my vocabulary :D Commented Sep 7, 2022 at 7:05
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    It's just one of the many "learnings" I've picked up over the years.
    – Joundill
    Commented Sep 7, 2022 at 7:11
  • This makes me think, SE staff coming from the inside won't get so excited from seeing students using Stack Overflow. Commented Sep 7, 2022 at 7:37
  • "New users who are students on Stack Overflow are often linked with low-quality questions.", I could Imagine a site flooded with quality posts :(
    – Jorgesys
    Commented Sep 7, 2022 at 15:13
  • @Jorgesys Haha, what a dream!
    – Joundill
    Commented Sep 8, 2022 at 0:44
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Posts and comments by staff members have indicated, to my understanding, that some of them went to a hackathon event and spoke to undergraduate students there, and found that a majority of those students were active contributors on SE/SO or were familiar with site culture, FAQs, and norms (i.e. they were not the ones flooding the sites with off-topic or poorly written questions and homework dumps). However, these people are not a representative sample of undergraduates: they are overwhelmingly the over-achievers who want to compete against the top programmers in their region. The average student, in my on-the-ground opinion as an undergraduate, does not know that much about site culture, and is more likely than not to be a homework-dumper.

I don't see a strong enough emphasis on making sure that when these students are introduced to the network by the ambassadors, they will be taught site culture. The blog post says "[more points for] every student you recruit to attend the event or sign up for our public platform." This is super easy for an ambassador to game. I'm sure the events will talk a little about how to ask a good question or write a good answer, but this points system still rewards ambassadors who bring in mounds of homework dumpers simply by getting them to sign up.

Furthermore, getting someone to sign up for a site is easier than getting them to visit an event, so there's a possibility that the ambassadors who aren't doing a great job and simply rapidly getting people to sign up (whether or not they are doing it maliciously) will get the bigger rewards.

Is there a safeguard against this that I missed?

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I realise that a lot of critique has been levelled from the SO site and from those flooded with low quality contributions (admittedly that can be any site some days!), but I'm optimistic about the impact on the wider set of SE sites. SO and SU are something of a gateway drug to the wider SE community, which is wonderful in some ways, but also skews our user base towards CS professionals rather than other types of experts.

We have many niche communities on the platform which can really benefit benefit from a bit of fresh blood - it's down to our communities to make sure that fresh blood is encouraged to understand and contribute to our sites positively. Ideally before the sharks arrive, so to speak.

MLH seems like a sensible partner at this early stage, but it would be good to see attempts at partnering with wider networks of University groups and societies to draw out specialists for other sites in the network. For example, over on Biblical Hermeneutics we target academic-grade analysis of biblical texts at a very accessible level for undergraduate students, but most such students are completely unaware of the platform. I'm sure the same pattern holds for many other smaller sites, which may benefit from just having an extra 3-5 questions a day.

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