Has a flag been considered for a homework answer that gives the student too much information? Obviously "too much information" is subjective, but I think there is a difference between (1) putting yourself in a teacher role and helping a student learn by guiding them a bit and (2) simply giving away the answer to make yourself look smart.

Such answers flagged as... "immediate homework answer" could be hidden pending moderator approval. In fact, a role of "homework mentor moderator" could be added to the site for people who are genuinely interested in helping students, but aren't necessarily "general" SO moderators. Who knows, university TAs could be part of such a group and collectively help students around the world, and learn from other TAs.

Ok, that's a bit of a stretch maybe, but let's face it, SO has changed the world for the better for professionals in a collective way, it's possible to put energy into the site to make great changes for the academic world as well. A world that has a strong tradition of collaboration. After all, today's students on SO will be tomorrow's professionals on SO.

There could even be a feature on the site that groups questions and answer on somebody's profile based on whether they were a student when they wrote the content so that students don't have to worry about having somebody think poorly of them when they have 10 years of experience and appear to be confused about the basics of recursion.

  • Your question starts talking about a flag but then mentions several other possible features? Which one are you making a request about?
    – jzd
    Commented Feb 25, 2011 at 18:59
  • Related: Downvoting too-useful answers to homework questions.
    – Grace Note StaffMod
    Commented Feb 25, 2011 at 19:00
  • The flag. The other ideas followed from it. Commented Feb 25, 2011 at 20:10

3 Answers 3


The unofficial stance on homework questions is that you can give them a hint or give them the complete answer, it's up to you, and people shouldn't downvote either one because they prefer the other. We certainly shouldn't be flagging posts because they're "too helpful"

  • That's a good point about posts being "too helpful." I suppose it's how you define "help" in the context of the homework tag. It's almost like the tag should have the semantics, "don't give me the complete answser." Which is not what SO is about, so perhaps such questions have no place on SO. But they are there, so some response to them is reasonable. Maybe there should be a separate site for homework programming questions. Have there been area 51 requests for such a site? Commented Feb 25, 2011 at 20:13
  • @Greg I don't think it really warrants a separate site. If people don't want a complete answer, they could just say so in their post. Homework questions aren't always "My teacher wants me to implement X -- please provide the code so I can copy/paste it"; a lot of times they're asking about something specific they're stuck on that happens to be part of a homework assignment Commented Feb 25, 2011 at 20:23

I always wonder why people make such a flippin' fuss about homework questions.

Judge each one on it's own merits. If it's pretty obvious that the OP hasn't attempted to solve the problem on his/her own then just treat it as you would a "plz send me teh codez" question and vote/flag/comment accordingly.

If the OP has made a reasonable go of it then why not just help out as much as you like. But provide assistance without all the "I know the answer, but I'm only telling you some of it because it's better for your education" condescending nonsense I see quite often.

I get a bit tired of seeing the same old shock and horror reactions because someone asks a homework question. They're really no different from any other question at the end of the day. Both employed developers and students will either have made an effort they won't.

  • Sorry to make you so upset. I think my answer that I linked to from today was my first response to a question tagged as homework. I've not really been involved in the discussion on this topic. Was just sharing my thoughts. Commented Feb 25, 2011 at 20:11
  • I feel like I wrote this answer. +1 Bravo.
    – jjnguy
    Commented Feb 25, 2011 at 20:34

In all honesty I think the "homework" tag needs to be removed. For one thing it encourages people to freak out and append the tag to questions to which it simply doesn't apply. For example, Bill the Lizard gave me hell for not using it on one of my questions just because he thought it was outside the norm (and it was, as was mentioned in the first sentence); I haven't been in school for years. Second, it encourages people to ask dumb questions like, "Plz wrt my cod." Third, and finally, it creates a bias on behalf of a large part of the community because 'homework' questions have this stigmata about them like they're less valid somehow.

A good question is a good question, period. For example: https://stackoverflow.com/questions/4620968/checking-the-type-of-a-protected-member-function

Whether or not that question is needed to solve a homework problem is sort of beside the point of anything related to answering or asking the question. Bickering about whether or not it actually IS for solving homework is petty, distracting, and serves no end whatsoever.

It's easy to tell the difference between a question where the user's done some work attempting to solve the problem and one in which they have not. It's quite easy to tell that someone's simply quoted their homework problem verbatim and asked SO users to give them the answer. You can flag/neg these questions out of existence without there being a need for a homework tag. If they're not homework does that make them MORE valid somehow? I don't personally think so (and my opinion is scripture so there you go).

It's also easy to tell when a question is best answered directly or by encouraging the asker to do research on their own, with some direction as to what it is they need to look for. Granted, giving answers like that is likely to get you abused, but that's beside the point. If the asker is an intern working on a real project instead of a homework problem is the nature of the question actually changed at all? Again, not in the slightest.

Should help solving exercise questions from a book be tagged "homework" even if they're not?

So I honestly see no use in this tag whatsoever. It seems to me just one more way for the community to label questions and questioners that are outside the normal range of topic. Asking obscure, seemingly strange questions--or asking incredibly easy questions--should not warrant this kind of reaction and even though such reactions are quite natural (human nature being what it is) they shouldn't be encouraged by providing special tools for expressing them.

Before SO there was Usenet and when I was in school, and when I was teaching myself, that is what I used to get help with things I couldn't solve on my own. There was no homework tag. When I asked a stupid question I got shit for it, as I should have. When I asked a good question it was generally answered seriously, as it should have been. Homework/not-homework, nobody should care.

Edit (caveat): I actually see one use for this tag but it's not what the tag is used for. Sometimes a question asked regarding homework really does have a different answer than one meant to solve a real world problem. For example, I got trolled by this guy because I suggested to someone who didn't understand their homework assignment that their professor wanted them to learn about references and/or pointers and to look in recently assigned text for related items. I got abused for recommending bad practices, which is of course not at all what I did (reading a book is never a bad practice). Of course I would never recommend that someone use pointers for "output parameters" in C++ (in fact I don't recommend output parameters being used at all), but if learning what pointers are was part of the assignment then using pointers is actually the correct and only helpful answer. In this regard only I see a use for the tag, but since it's too often abused and used as a scarlet letter...I'd vote for its destruction.

  • Tell the whole truth. I gave you hell for personal attacks against other users. stackoverflow.com/questions/4620968/… Commented Feb 25, 2011 at 21:18
  • Yes, you ALSO gave me hell for perceived personal attacks.
    – anon
    Commented Feb 25, 2011 at 22:02
  • It's amazing how you can curse at people and call them stupid and it's only a perceived personal attack, but when someone asks you please tag your question as homework if it's homework, they're giving you hell. Maybe you should use the same standards for yourself as you do for everyone else. Commented Feb 25, 2011 at 22:10
  • @Bill - what does that have to do with the discussion? We have different perspectives over what happened. You think I'm misrepresenting the story, I think you're a little blind to your own participation. You said your piece, I said mine...what is your goal now? Is it not sufficient to disagree you have to try to tear me down too?
    – anon
    Commented Feb 25, 2011 at 23:51
  • You dragged my name into the discussion, not the other way around. If you didn't want me to tell my side of it then you should have left me out of it. Defending myself isn't tearing you down. Commented Feb 26, 2011 at 1:41
  • @Bill - I cited an instance of what I was talking about, it happened to be you (frankly because it sticks in my mind as the most obnoxious example). If defending yourself is all you wanted to do then your first comment was sufficient. After I agreed to your addendum the continued attacks on me where unwarranted...and that's ALL your second comment contains.
    – anon
    Commented Feb 26, 2011 at 2:13
  • I was not attacking you, and don't pretend you were agreeing with me. Plenty of people commented on that post. The link would have been sufficient without calling me out by name. Commented Feb 26, 2011 at 2:20
  • @Bill - comments cannot be linked to directly and like you say, there where a lot. If it being pointed out bothers you, or it being referred to by your name, maybe you should not have done it? I simply don't see how you've a right to be upset about that.
    – anon
    Commented Feb 26, 2011 at 3:07
  • I have a problem with you saying that I freaked out and gave you hell for not tagging something homework when I didn't. I gave you hell for your repeated personal attacks against other users, which I made perfectly clear both then and now. Commented Feb 26, 2011 at 3:23
  • @Bill - Clarity is in the eye of the beholder, obviously. With most of the comment being about homework tagging, only one sentence clearly about not attacking people (and I do disagree that I was doing so--I did not call people stupid as you claim), it seems easy to miss your point. Add to that the snooty remark about it being the only reason you can think of for the question and you'll just have to forgive me for misinterpreting your comment. You both opened and closed with 'homework', which is how English readers are used to finding the main point of a paragraph.
    – anon
    Commented Feb 26, 2011 at 4:39
  • At any rate, I still think it serves as a great example of my point: bickering about homework tags is distracting and pointless. In fact it seems to serve the point even better since apparently the whole purpose of your comment was lost on me due to what I saw as rather rude and obnoxious remarks about the validity of my question.
    – anon
    Commented Feb 26, 2011 at 4:41

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