I was just thinking about how all the meta tags are removed but one big meta(ish) tag is still here:

Is this an exception to the no-meta-tag rule or is it an oversight? Or would you even consider it to be a meta tag? I mean according to Jeff's blog post a meta tag is defined as a "dependent" tag, which says nothing about the content by itself. definitely fits that category but is it really a meta-tag?

12 Answers 12


It's definitely a keeper, in my opinion. And it's definitely a meta tag.

It's almost as if this whole anti-meta-tag thing might not be a great idea...

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    it's not as meta as you think it is. apply the two rules: 1) can it work alone? and 2) does it mean different things to different people? – Jeff Atwood Aug 11 '10 at 2:25
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    @Jeff: I'm not completely sure what you mean by 1: I don't think so, as it doesn't categorize the question in a programming language or something like that (a main category). Regarding 2: no. – Marcel Korpel Aug 11 '10 at 19:45
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    "It's almost as if this whole anti-meta-tag thing might not be a great idea..." - completely agree!! It has made search/discovery much worse. Why not just make it so meta-tags can only be added after one or more tags are added? That way you can have the best of both worlds. Meta-tags are not useless. – timepilot Sep 17 '10 at 18:02
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    @Jeff: If it is not meta, then probably this should be edited, as it explicitly identifies the homework tag as a meta tag and discourages its use based on that assumption: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/10811/… – Grodriguez Nov 12 '10 at 7:46
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    @JeffAtwood: Where does it work well alone, or is that only a hypothetical that never exists? It means different things to different people just as expressed in the answers and comments to this question. – Fred Nurk Jan 31 '11 at 9:23
  • @fred it means cs101, any entry level college programming student should be able to solve it anywhere in the world -- meta.stackexchange.com/questions/60422/is-homework-an-exception/… – Jeff Atwood Jan 31 '11 at 11:57
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    @JeffAtwood: Isn't that just "beginner" in a different spelling? I notice you've defined it here in terms of people asking/answering rather than content asked, while your linked answer defines it concretely (though again not based on the content) and differently. – Fred Nurk Jan 31 '11 at 12:01
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    @JeffAtwood - "any entry level college programming student" is a subjective measure. Believe me, we'd like to think that is isn't subjective, but of course it is. It's also an arbitrary line drawn at college rather than high school, or after a person gets their first pro programming gig, etc. I don't think it can work alone, unless the StackExchange site in question is a site about being a teacher, or being a student. I think tags should give fact-based context. What's the difference between homework in school, and a task in your professional career to which you don't know the answer? – jefflunt Dec 22 '11 at 18:48

From the blog:

From this point on, meta-tagging is explicitly discouraged. [Emphasis not added by me]

I don't know why homework should be an exception. I feel it adds no value to any questions.

In some cases, it even adds negativity to a question that may have otherwise been well received.

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    That's a good point: a good homework question should be indistinguishable from a good non-homework question. – James McNellis Aug 10 '10 at 23:18
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    In the same post, Jeff says regarding the homework tag: “I’m less worried about the ragged edges of the system; […] So we don’t have to stamp out every iota of meta-tags, we just have to DISCOURAGE it, and make sure it doesn’t come to DOMINATE the top (n) tags list — as it did on Stack Overflow.” – Marcel Korpel Aug 11 '10 at 19:41
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    @Marcel I think the Homework tag is one of the most meta tags. Alas, most people disagree with me. I don't really car what happens to the tag. I just value consistency. – jjnguy Aug 11 '10 at 20:06
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    I think it does add value. There are many questions where the answer would be "use this or that library" in the context of actual work. Knowing that the question is homework implies that that decision cannot be taken. For me, it also means that I try to avoid digging into too much detail with the solution, that is, avoid actual running code. I know this last part is arguable. – David Rodríguez - dribeas Jan 31 '11 at 9:24
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    I encountered a question today (stackoverflow.com/questions/8565151/…) which was asked with reference to provided partial implementation. I spotted that the partial implementation was not needed at all and that there was a far easier way to approach the problem in it's entirety. I answered with the solution I had found, only to be told afterwards that the question was with regard to homework, and had to be done the way it was originally described. A homework tag would definitely have helped in this case. – AdamRalph Dec 19 '11 at 18:23
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    Homework questions often have artificial constraints. For a non-homework question the answer might want to challenge those constraints/assumption. A homework answer must accept them. – DNA Mar 13 '12 at 19:47
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    If I know it's Homework I won't give a complete solution. Because... well, it is homework. The OP has been given this task to learn, not copy and paste. – rlemon Jul 10 '12 at 20:10

I have been teaching a programming language (C++) for years. The last thing I needed when looking at the students' homework (a time-consuming procedure anyway) was to spend time on searching the whole web for the place one of them copied their homework from. Of course it's often obvious when they just pasted code from somewhere without really understanding it. But you still need time to find it in order to bust them. Effectively, this takes time that would better be spent writing helpful comments to what the other students turned in.

If I, as a developer, have a problem that's keeping me from moving forward, Stack Overflow provides me with the right answer within 5 mins, then this is great. (And if I don't fully understand it, I can always ask in a comment or edit my question.)

If I, as a student, post my assignment and get a pasteable answer within 5 mins, then this is wrong. As a student, I should get a nudge into the right direction and hints about how to apply my knowledge, but not pasteable answers.

Therefore, I'm all in favor of the homework tag, and I would like it to suggest that the answers should be helping to learn, rather than solve the students' problems for them.

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    For good questions it rarely matters if it's homework or not; it's only bad questions that seem to need these special restrictions through the homework tag — or we could spend that effort on getting people to ask better questions. – Gnome Nov 14 '10 at 7:10
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    @Gnome: This certainly strongly depends on your definition for a "good" question, but I'm not even inclined to discuss this as long as there are "bad" questions (according to your definition). People do ask bad homework question, they ask duplicate questions, they ask meta questions (other than on the meta sites, I mean) and whatnot. And there's ways to deal with each of these categories. The homework tag is one of those ways. – sbi Nov 18 '10 at 10:53
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    Now you don't have to search the whole web - you only have to search one site! – Andrew Grimm Nov 29 '10 at 8:23
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    @Andrew: I suppose this was meant as a joke? If so, it escaped me. (And if not, it's wrong.) – sbi Nov 29 '10 at 13:38
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    Flypaper theory – Andrew Grimm Nov 29 '10 at 22:20
  • Perhaps you should be give your students homework that requires more than five minutes of a StackOverflow user's time. – Dathan Sep 11 '12 at 2:16
  • @Dathan: Is it your intention to insult me, or are you just showing off your ignorance? – sbi Sep 12 '12 at 7:48
  • @sbi I wasn't trying to insult you, so let's go with ignorance. Is there a reason, aside from the very beginning of the first semester of a CS 101 class, that you can't task your students with longer and/or harder questions that would be harder for them to cheat on using StackOverflow? I appreciate that at the beginning of an intro class homework questions by nature have to be pretty basic, but by the end this problem ought to have been mitigated. – Dathan Sep 12 '12 at 18:28
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    @Dathan: I was teaching C++ to students who had some previous exposure to Java. Most of them considered my course quite tough with lots of stuff to chew on. I handed out many small questions accompanying some task to write code for. They had to get their code past me (hard, boolean approval), and the questions to earn credit with (easier, discrete approval) that counted towards their final score. The questions were meant for them to reiterate a point I had made in the lectures. I was fine with them looking it up on the web. I was just not fine with them pasting answers from somewhere. – sbi Sep 14 '12 at 8:00
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    @Dathan, the point is that SO community is extremely powerful. You'd be surprised how hard tasks can be cracked in 5 minutes. If I myself with so low rep can say anything, [homework] was a signal "don't post a complete solution!". And I found it OK. – Bartek Banachewicz Sep 27 '12 at 17:09

Homework, I am torn on, because although semi-meta, the tag does tell me with a fairly high probability what the question is likely to contain, and that it's a student who asked the question.

If the tag can’t work as the only tag on a question, it’s probably a meta-tag.

It's not great, but Homework can work as the only tag on a question. It's programming homework (the progamming part is always implied on Stack Overflow, which is why we don't have the [programming] tag) -- meaning the question will be basic CS101 stuff you'd find in a college or high school computer science class, and any working programmer should be able to understand and answer it without worrying too much about "which language?" etc.

If the tag commonly means different things to different people, it’s probably a meta-tag.

[homework] means homework assigned from computer programming / science classes at the basic college or high school level. How else would you get programming homework? By assigning it to yourself?

The [homework] tag also strongly implies the person asking is a student so they probably don't have a lot of programming background.

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    I would lump [homework] in with tags like [language-agnostic] or [algorithm]: they're probably not great by themselves, but they could stand alone and definitely help to guide both readers and those answering. And while [homework] implies that the author is a student (just as [c#] implies the author is a c# programmer), it doesn't impose a harsh classification on him as, say, [beginner] would do. – Shog9 Aug 11 '10 at 2:56
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    meaning the question will be basic CS101 stuff.. huh? If someone is majoring in computer science, or even getting a doctorate, the courses will get past the "basic CS101 stuff" really quickly. What would be the point of going to college if everything they teach you was "basic" and that "any programmer would easily be able to answer"? Also it's far more likely people will need help AFTER moving past the basics. – Thomas Bonini Aug 11 '10 at 23:34
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    It's true that the [homework] tag is used in a similar manner to the [beginner] tag. You see a lot of this happening, where a user tags a question homework on a completely false assumption which could be equally offensive to tagging [beginner] - "I'm a professional with a problem and that guy just tagged my question as homework. Jerk!" – Andy E Aug 13 '10 at 13:11
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    Going through the latest 150 [homework] questions, I only found two users using it alone. Both were extremely new (and still have <10 rep), and were actually using specific languages. Where is a good question that finds value being tagged only [homework]? The tag does mean different things to different people, since it gets added to questions where the OP clearly states it was not assigned in a classroom. – Gnome Sep 18 '10 at 21:37
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    Is your answer based on the assumption that the OP tags the question homework, or it's tagged as such after the OP comments that it is? Iff not, then [homework] is entirely subjective and doesn't tell you whether the question is basic or an assignment, just that some random user thinks it might be. That is, the [homework] tag could be completely misleading. It's only useful in as much as it's guaranteed accurate. – jball Dec 1 '10 at 18:29

I think we should get rid of it.

First of all it's one of the most abused tags ever. If someone asks a question that may be homework, immediately he's asked several times with comments to mark it homework, and almost always someone who can't possibly know if it's homework will add the tag.

Second I never agreed on the whole "if it's homework I will answer differently" thing. For example Marcel Korpel said in an answer to this question:

I will give a different kind of answer when I know I'm answering someone's homework, e.g., only giving clues in the right direction.

I don't think this should be done for several reasons, the main one being that the 1 to 1 relationship between the OP and the person who answers pales compared to the relationship between the people who find the question through google: they're so many that their needs should have priority, and they may have the same question even if it's not homework.

Another reason is that you shouldn't have to force the person to reason in order to understand the answer; if he or she wants to copy and paste it then too bad for them, they won't be very successful in a future work environment. If they are a "serious" student then they can certainly learn just as much (and - most likely - more) with a complete answer.

I think dividing the answer in two parts with the first that gives only "clues" and the second that gives the real answer would be acceptable, so you can let the user choose which part to read; but I find that an answer that is intentionally vague is just not a good answer.

For the reasons explained above the homework tag has no use and is harmful. Get rid of it!

Of course this is just my personal view of the situation (which I voiced already several times here on meta), and I realize it may be controversial in some ways.

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    I hate it when someone who is obviously (to me) doing some exercise to learn the language out of interest, and someone comes along with the [homework] stamp. – detly Aug 11 '10 at 0:01
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    @detly: Pedagogy is pedagogy. It doesn't matter if it was given to you by a teacher or not, questions that are intended to teach something need to be treated differently than others. – dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten Aug 11 '10 at 1:56
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    -1 You make some good points, but I strongly disagree with you. Asking for homework solutions is plain wrong - morally wrong. We should NOT encourage this behavior. Or do you really want the next generation of coders to have degrees obtained dishonestly? – quantumSoup Aug 11 '10 at 2:21
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    @dmckee - I don't understand what your point is. I'm not talking about pedagogy. I'm talking about a situation where someone decides to code some silly little thing to teach themselves C, asks a question about it, and someone declares it homework. Maybe I'm just obsessing over the edges cases. – detly Aug 11 '10 at 2:34
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    @quantumSoup - if they can obtain an entire degree by parroting a dozen lines of code per week in response to questions involving while loops and getc, I would suggest the dishonesty lies with their institution. Their teachers should find a better way to evaluate understanding, just like they have to in every other accredited discipline. – detly Aug 11 '10 at 2:38
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    @detly: I mean that self-assigned learning problems have the same character as other-assigned learning problems. (Well, up to the point were it is unlikely that the self-learner will want to cheat...) – dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten Aug 11 '10 at 2:45
  • @dmckee - I see your point, but look at @quantumSoup's comment. That entire argument evaporates when you're talking about self-learning. It's not morally wrong to cheat when you've set your own "homework." – detly Aug 11 '10 at 3:07
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    @detly: I don't care about the moral behavior of the asker. I care about my own. It is wrong for me to give a complete answer to a pedagogical question because the next person up the pipe stands to benefit or not from the care I put into the answer as well. – dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten Aug 11 '10 at 3:17
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    @quantumSoup: I would argue that it's smart rather than wrong if done sparingly (when you really can't seem to find a solution by yourself, not for every little thing). This is because you learn what to do when you can't find a solution yourself, and in that case learning to post on stack overflow is a damn effective solution, which you can use even after school when you are employed. Learning "how to ask for help on the internet" is very valuable. – Thomas Bonini Aug 11 '10 at 10:21
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    I think it would be worth running some checks to find out what percentage of the [homework] tag is edited into other people's questions. Looking down the list of most recent questions tagged [homework], it's quite a lot, and there's a lot of assumptions going on. – Andy E Aug 13 '10 at 13:17
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    @quantumSoup: it's not our job to force our morals on other people. It's up to the institutions to find out if their students are "cheating". Pasting lines of a user's code into Google would likely return their Stack Overflow question as the top result. If a question is asked, it should be answered with no discrimination. Unfortunately, that's not really happening on SO. Even questions that aren't homework but look like they might possibly be homework are tagged as such and then treated with disdain. – Andy E Aug 13 '10 at 13:50
  • I don't understand why this answer's main point -- that the [homework] tag really poisons the entire philosophy of a general Q&A site -- isn't getting more attention. As it stands today, if people are respecting the [homework] tag as they should (by gently instructing the OP) then they are making the answers to the question categorically worse for future consumers than otherwise -- read: the vast, vast, majority of eyeballs. – Kirk Woll May 8 '12 at 0:56
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    The point about the wider audience far outstripping the original relationship between asker and answerer is largely irrelevant: most homework questions have a narrow scope that isn't of interest to a wider audience. I've never been directed to one when searching for an answer to a problem I'm having. I also think the negative impact a single coder that hasn't actually earned their degree/diploma/etc can have on a team of competent coders can be far worse than the potential benefit of a complete answer, especially when you consider how little interest there is likely to be in that answer. – Mac May 30 '12 at 0:18

The friggen tag is the cause of more noise than anything else. The comment mod queue is chock full of "tag this as homework" and "if this is homework, tag it" and "I tagged this homework, you can change it if you want" nonsense.

Who gives a damn if its homework? Apparently everybody knows when a question is homework. The tag is moot. And why would I ever search the [homework] tag?

The only reason for its existence is to go in the ignored tags list. Is that what tags are for?

Ban it and delete all comments calling for the tag, imho.

  • BTW, I don't delete "homework" comments unless they're rude. – user1228 Nov 15 '10 at 20:35
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    A person who wants to learn how to implement a quicksearch would add the tag to his own question, and people, not interested in getting a quick solution for their homework, but explanation, would use it to search for it. While a mature C-programmer, who likes to know where to search for quicksearch in Java wouldn't tag his question that way, and search for -[homework]. – user unknown Apr 3 '11 at 14:21

My position has been and continues to be that pedagogical questions are of a different nature than others, and require answers of a different stripe. As such, they should be differentiated.

I've not terribly happy with [homework] for this purpose (because it seems to engender some confusion about whether homework belongs on the sites (it does) and some hostility from people who seem to feel it is derogatory), but it will serve.

Keep it, or replace it with something more properly descriptive.

  • I agree that you should approach some questions differently than others, but that has nothing to do with whether a particular problem was assigned by a teacher or not. A pedagogical approach is, at least on SO, often appreciated for any question, even when it is above and beyond what's required by the OP. – Gnome Sep 18 '10 at 21:29
  • @Gnome: I don't demand (or even consider it important) that [homework] was assigned by a teacher. Some questions have that nature. A different tag might help cut down on the resentment that sometimes crops up. Possibly [exercise], but no one has shown much interest in that suggestion in the past. – dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten Sep 18 '10 at 21:52
  • @dmckee: That nature comes from the particular motivation/inclination/skill-level/etc. of the poster. You're responding to their frame of mind and how they need to progress, not the content of the question. – Gnome Sep 18 '10 at 22:12
  • If people treat [homework] questions differently by giving vague/incomplete answers, then all that accomplishes is to condition people into not using the [homework] tag even when the question is homework. In principle, you may be right, but in practice, it simply cannot work as expected. Even if everybody used the [homework] tag exactly when it was supposed to be used and nobody ever misused it, there will always be other users who don't understand or agree with the idea of "pedagogical" questions and will just answer it directly anyway. – Aarobot Sep 18 '10 at 22:50
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    I'm actually okay with the [homework] tag as a topic tag - I don't really consider it a meta-tag - but it's this strange attitude toward homework questions that makes it a meta-tag, and a very subjective one at that. If somebody really just wants hints, then they'll phrase their question to ask for hints instead of a complete solution. – Aarobot Sep 18 '10 at 22:53
  • @Aarobot: Exactly what I've said elsewhere: tagging [homework] has no useful meaning and you must still state any special requirements explicitly or (by choice of phrasing) implicitly. Without doing that, answerers have no more information about how to answer because it's tagged [homework] than they would otherwise. – Gnome Sep 18 '10 at 22:59
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    All I can say guys, is I disagree. I am a teacher among other things; I can smell pedagogy (and I smell it in the question, that's why questions asked by skilled craftsmen can also get labeled that way), and feel that leading, unfinished answers are the right answers to questions of that sort. They are more correct---much more---than finished answers. – dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten Sep 18 '10 at 23:20
  • @dmckee: I thought we meant the same thing with pedagogical: trying to teach, e.g. by including underlying reasons, theory, background info, etc. If you mean "incomplete answers", then we definitely do not. IMHO, those asking such questions deserve finished, complete answers (and you can do this without "doing their work for them") just as much, if not more, than others. And so do any later visitors to that question, for whom you have no idea if it's "homework" or not. – Gnome Sep 18 '10 at 23:35
  • Additionally, if you feel questions tagged [homework] should be given unfinished answers, that's why you see hostility. You are using the tag pejoratively. – Gnome Sep 18 '10 at 23:41
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    @Gnome I don't apply that tag to other peoples work, nor suggest that they do. Like I said I can smell these questions. And I stand by the claim that these questions deserve leading answers. You do the asker a vast disservice to give them the solution; even if they thought of the question themselves rather than receiving it as an exercise. – dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten Sep 19 '10 at 0:05
  • So if you don't find this tag helpful for differentiating these questions (because you recognize them anyway), what purpose does it serve? I'll have to agree to disagree on the latter point; I just can't say willfully withholding information specifically asked about is teaching. – Gnome Sep 19 '10 at 0:53
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    @Gnome: The tag categorizes the question like ever other tag, and pointing the student on the path to figuring out the answer is the way you insure they understand and recall it as well as being able to repeat it back. – dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten Sep 19 '10 at 1:17
  • @Gnome - you seem to be arguing from the standpoint that "wilfully withholding information" is wrong. Am I correct? Can you justify this standpoint? – Stephen C Nov 23 '10 at 3:07
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    @Gnome - @dmckee can easily differentiate the questions, but I'm sure that lots of other people cannot. – Stephen C Nov 23 '10 at 3:10

I think we should definitely keep it; I've seen many comments like “you should mark your homework questions using the [homework] tag” and it's there for a reason; I will give a different kind of answer when I know I'm answering someone's homework, e.g., only giving clues in the right direction.

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    Exactly. I would also know that I'm dealing with a beginner(most of the time). I also think it should be kept. – Earlz Aug 10 '10 at 23:08
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    So you'd give a full, complete answer with explanation to someone asking about, e.g., their paid work, but you wouldn't for someone expressly trying to further their education? – Gnome Sep 18 '10 at 21:15
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    People often say to use [homework] merely because it exists, they've seen it used, and others will drive-by insert it regardless of what the OP states. Arguing it should exist because people say to use it is circular. – Gnome Sep 18 '10 at 21:21
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    @Gnome - I certainly do answer a "homework" question differently to a non-homework question, and I do it because I think it is in the OP's interests to do that. Students will learn more if you give them hints and then let them work out the solutions themselves. – Stephen C Nov 23 '10 at 3:00

Not anymore, apparently.

According to The homework tag is now officially deprecated, the community has recently decided to burninate .



Post the decision to abolish meta-tags finding "introductory" language agnostic content quickly has proven to be very difficult.

Popular tags such as beginner have been replaced by tags that have either been also deleted (newbie, etc) or tags without much use: fundamentals, getting-started, howto, intro, tutorials, learning, self-improvement, etc.

Homework remains a notable exception - receiving numerous questions/answers every week.

Personally, I don't care if homework as a tag remains or not. However, I feel very strongly that some tag needs to exist for "intro" content. We have intro CS classes, Beginning XYZ lang books, posts on learning Emacs, etc - but somehow this is taboo @ stackoverflow?

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    I question the use-case. This is not a tutorial site, it's a Q&A site. Why does anyone need to look up "intro" material? – John Saunders Sep 17 '10 at 20:11
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    You don't think there are Q&As re: intro material? How did you learn anything new? – timepilot Sep 17 '10 at 20:20
  • This answer is off-topic. – Aarobot Sep 18 '10 at 22:48
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    Why can't we just have "intro content" in questions? Why does it need to be delineated from "non-intro" content? It's not taboo; "there is no question too basic." – Gnome Sep 18 '10 at 23:07
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    Why do we have tags for anything? So users can find the relevant content quickly. If I want to read/answer new C questions, I hit the C tag. If I want to read/answer new "intro" questions, there is no relevant tag other than homework. – timepilot Sep 19 '10 at 13:11

When Google and Wikipedia start returning different responses based on whether your question is for homework maybe it should be considered.

Until then I thought SO was trying to be the "definitive location for programming questions ®" not the "definitive site for programming questions unless its for homework so go somewhere else ®".

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    Homework is definitely allowed. That is not in question and has not been for a long, long time. The issue here is should they be tagged as such. – dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten Aug 11 '10 at 1:51
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    Uh... Google will return different responses if you include "homework" in your query. Ex: "pythagorean theorem" vs. "pythagorean theorem homework". – Shog9 Aug 11 '10 at 3:01
  • @Shog9 But Google doesn't have a horde of zombies waiting to pounce on suspected homework queries by tagging them [homework]! – Mateen Ulhaq Sep 12 '11 at 4:31

A homework tag is potentially useful for several reasons. First, people who dislike answering homework questions can ignore the tag. Second, it lets users know that it might be better to give clues rather than complete code as an answer. Finally, it's a good way to mark something as an easier question. Since other meta-tags have been removed, it's difficult to hunt down easier questions specifically.

I find answering questions to be a good way to learn more about a language I'm interested in, but without some sort of intro tag, it's easy to get lost in all of the highly technical and challenging questions on SO.

It could also be a good one to search with if you have a question that you know is somewhat basic/would probably come up in a programming class. Of course, this leaves things open for people who just want easy rep, but that's unavoidable and not particularly harmful anyway.

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