# Homework tag discussion

This discussion started in my other question "Will Homework Questions Be Allowed?".

Should we allow the tag? It seems that some of our sister sites (Programmers, stackoverflow) have not allowed the tag as it isn't constructive to their sites. But other sites (Physics, Mathematics) do allow the site and they have created a few guidelines that help the homework questions be useful yet still educational to the student asking the question.

What say you of CS.se? Is the tag helpful or harmful to the audience that we are trying to get once we reach public beta?

Edit:

I went ahead and made the homework tag and asked one of my current homework questions as a first run. Let me know if this is the type of homework question that the site is looking for or if I should edit it.

Continued at What should the homework tag mean?

• – Kaveh Mar 7 '12 at 0:43
• This recent answer on meta.SO summarizes my feelings exactly. I don't object to homework questions; I object to undisclosed homework questions. (Whether the disclosure is in a tag or in the text is immaterial.) – JeffE Apr 30 '12 at 8:44
• @JeffE: But the premise "Homework questions follow different rules than non-homework questions." is not established on cs.SE. Also: why have a policy you can't enforce? – Raphael May 9 '12 at 19:42
• @Raphael: The premise "Homework questions follow different rules than non-homework questions." is, in my opinion, a basic ground-rule of intellectual discourse, like "Don't take credit for other people's ideas" or "Don't be a jerk". It was established long before cs.SE. – JeffE May 9 '12 at 19:51
• @JeffE: How is question concerning the OP's own research better, then? The point is that a) fraud is not exclusive to homework and b) homework can not be identified, thus a policy can not be enforced. – Raphael May 9 '12 at 19:56
• In SO people can tag their question as homework, but recommended do not retag someone else question as homework. – user742 May 14 '12 at 19:06
• The existence of that fraud over there does not change my response to this much more common fraud over here. – JeffE May 19 '12 at 6:39

I am sure that a decent number of Homework questions will be asked. So we need to see that, should we discriminate them from non-homework questions?

By having Homework tag, some people (who do not want to do homework for others) can ignore such questions.

And if we do not have homework tag, lazy students will appear to be lazy professionals.

Thus I am in favor of Homework tag.

Of course, questions showing no effort should be mercilessly closed/deleted. Unfortunately a burden on moderators, but this burden is not affected by "Homework" tag.

It seems that some of our sister sites (Programmers, stackoverflow) have not allowed the tag as it isn't constructive to their sites.

They can avoid Homework, but in my opinion CS cannot.

• "And if we do not have homework tag, lazy students will appear to be lazy professionals" I don't really see why that would make difference. I'd be equally disinclined to help a lazy professional as a lazy student. – sepp2k Mar 7 '12 at 13:33
• I went ahead and created the tag, let me know if the question isn't what we want on the site. – OghmaOsiris Mar 7 '12 at 19:49
• @OghmaOsiris It is very elementary, and probably on the edge, but I think it is fine. You showed effort and asked for advice; that's ok with me. – Raphael Mar 7 '12 at 21:57
• Well, I didn't have a harder question to ask, lol. I know its elementary and I could figure it out on my ow, I was just asking to get the tag started. – OghmaOsiris Mar 7 '12 at 21:58
• @OghmaOsiris: The question is fine, because I also think that Homework tag is questionable. – Vinayak Garg Mar 8 '12 at 4:28
• I agree with the closing mercilessly those questions. However what should be the reason for closing given (see this question)? – Gopi Mar 14 '12 at 16:26

Let's look at some of our sister sites.

The one advantage I see to the tag is that it's a marker for questions for which a complete answer is not provided, only hints. This implies that two otherwise identical questions, one tagged homework, the other not, deserve different answers and therefore cannot be duplicates. Conversely, the downside of not having a homework tag is that a homework question might poison a legitimate question, because the next visitor with the same question wasn't doing homework and really needed the answer.

The main disadvantage I see to the homework tag is the amount of friction it generates. If the tag exists, we need to manage the case where

• the asker vehemently denies that it's homework, and wants a full answer;
• someone else vehemently claims that it's obviously homework.

If it may or may not be homework, is it homework? Will you delete a full answer just because someone claims that the asker was cheating on homework?

If a student wants to have his homework done for him, and someone is willing to do it, that's fine with me. The student will eventually fail the course for lack of studying; too bad. If the question is a dump of the homework assignment, closing as not a real question may be warranted in some circumstances (typically, when the student only posted part of the assignment, and the posted text makes no sense on its own; or if the question is a scan of the homework sheet (true story!); or if the post is several unrelated questions).

On the other hand, I do not want the efforts of people who write answers to be for nothing: I am against moderating full answers to homework questions. If a partial answer is desired, the question can be worded accordingly.

I am stuck in this assignment about <subject>. Question 1 was …, and I solved it by <method>. Question 2 is …, and I'm stuck. How can I get started?

No need for a framing tag, and this question clearly does not call for a full answer, and would not be a duplicate of a question calling for a full answer.

For these reasons, I am against having a homework tag at all.

• It seems to work well on Mathematics and Physics which I think are closer in nature to the site than Software Engineering and Stack Overflow are. Here are the questions tagged homework on Physics. – Kaveh Mar 7 '12 at 0:33
• I agree with what you say, but I think your views can work with the homework tag as well. I think it is valuable as marker; it will also show up in user's profiles. – Raphael Mar 7 '12 at 0:53
• Your answer is very detailed and I think it provides a very good analysis of how it is used on sister sites and its potential pitfalls, although I disagree with your conclusion. I agree with @Giles on this one, I also wonder whether not having the homework tag would alleviate the "friction" here or on SO and programmers. I imagine that it is quite likely that SO and programmers would be having similar problems even if they never had the tag in the first place. – BrotherJack Apr 10 '12 at 3:43
• – Raphael Jul 30 '14 at 15:14

Actually, SO has over 15,300 questions tagged homework. I often see people adding and suggesting the tag if a question looks like it might be HW. I think it is a good idea to have the tag, if for nothing other than indicating that any answers to the question are not (or should not be) complete, but instead guidance towards the correct solution.

From a current discussion in chat, the following proposal has emerged:

• Get rid of the homework tag. We do not want discrimination based on the origin of a question, nor do we feel responsible for students that want to go the easy way.
• If the asker wants to be treated with hints instead of answers, they should state so clearly, e.g. “How do I get started with this problem?” as opposed to “What's the result?”
• Answerers should respect this wish. They should, however, still give a full answer using spoiler markdown (for future reference; example) if it makes sense.

I'm against the homework tag. As with any of the best answers I've seen on theory questions on any stackexchange site, we should answer questions in a way that leads someone to the answer when the question is the foundation of a science. There is no time that foundational questions like these should either be ignored or answered fully. Regardless if someone is asking for graded homework or for their review. Giving them the answer straight is not beneficial because of the nature of these types of questions.

Preface

The only questions so far that I've asked are homework so here are my thoughts. When I ask a question on here, I don't want the direct solution.

This only applies to the core parts of computer science like with my example:

Where in the Chomsky hierarchy does this language fit?

Reasoning

In my mind, there should be no differentiation between someone asking for homework and someone asking for their benefit. If I put the homework tag, I am inherently asking for members to ignore my question, even though I'm stating that I am not trying to cheat. If the members of this site instead look at each question on the foundations of computer science as the asker is trying to learn and not cheat or be lazy we can fulfill our user's want to not help someone cheat and the students want for some help on their homework.

In my question that I put as an example, this answer was a really good example of how foundational questions should be answered regardless if the asker is doing homework. You can lead them in the right direction while still making sure they get the purpose of their homework, which is to further their understanding. An answer that furthers my understanding, regardless if I'm getting a grade, is the best answer and should be the norm here IMO.

• I don't like the homework tag, but your argumentation rather supports it. “When I ask a question on here, I don't want the direct solution” is the main argument in favor of the tag: it marks questions that may not have a direct solution. Normally, complete solutions are encouraged. – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Mar 21 '12 at 22:09
• The main part of my argument is that we shouldn't differentiate between someone asking for homework or for their benefit. This obviously only applies to examples of computer science fundamentals, but if we don't differentiate the homework from nonhomework and instead answer them with probing questions, everyone gets more benefit. So I am saying all questions of this format regardless of if its homework should be answered without the direct solution. It's hard to make that a strict rule because of exceptions, but it seems good as a guide. – justausr Mar 21 '12 at 22:12
• This is an argument for a homework tag that means “I don't want a complete solution”. This is what happens in practice: we can't know whether a problem was truly given as homework, or whether someone is studying by themselves or asked out of curiosity. – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Mar 21 '12 at 22:17
• That's what I'm referring to. I'm saying I think we shouldn't answer these types of questions any differently. The type of question is subjective, but they can be questions that directly use foundational knowledge of computer science in an abstract or non real world example. These questions are either homework or just someone found a question online or in a book and they want to solve it. My argument is that we shouldnt care if it's homework or not. Giving the answer directly doesn't help the asker as much as explaining how to get to the answer using known methods or just hinting at methods. – justausr Mar 21 '12 at 22:21
• Shall we continue this in chat? This comment thread is getting a bit long. – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Mar 21 '12 at 22:25

Maybe what it is needed is a stackexchange for CS and IT homework.

On the other hand, that someone asking a question here is honest enough to tag it as homework, doesn't seem to me as a bad thing per se. If a poster gets ranting about not getting full answers, give him a thumbs down and ignore him. That's the way to deal with trolls, bullies and idiots in the Internet since, you know, forever.

My opinion is that much of the drama one can see on SO and elsewhere regarding homework questions has as much to do with cheeky students as it has to do with profs who are kittens in real life, but blood-thirsty tigers in the Internet.

The concerns regarding search - or filtering - of questions about particular topics seem to me meaningless (maybe I'm missing something, though). One can filter questions by 'negating' a tag, adding it to the list of ignored tags. I understand that this means that you set the stream to be those items which satisfy:

tag-of-particular-topic && !(homework)

The "noise in search" created by the tag is all but gone.

As I see it, tags have only one meaning: sorting questions by categories. Tags don't and shouldn't change the way the community treats a question. A detailed answer should be provided regardless of the fact it is a homework question. If the OP just wants a hint, that should be specified within the question. If the OP wrote a trivial question, the answer should give a short answer stating this fact (usually with a link to the WP page), or be closed.

With that in mind, the only function that tagging a question serves is a tool to search and sort questions according to their topic. I DO think that the tag is useful, as it allows professors and TAs to go over similar HW questions and get new ideas. It allows student to search for more questions and prepare better before an exam (or just to make sure they understand the material).

The only problem we have with this tag, is that in other communities it is perhaps treated differently (such as: not giving a full answer, etc.). This is indeed a problem, since habits are difficult to change. Maybe a possible solution is to use instead, which just indicates the category of the question (not the answers!). Not sure how to resolve this, but saying that this community is on its own.

I don't expect the OP to use this tag, but rather the community to add such a tag to any question that is common for courses in that topic. This might be a bit vague at times, but classification to other tags is not always black-and-white as well.

• homework-level is meaningless: homework can be at all kinds of difficulty. The homework tag does not indicate the level of a question. It doesn't indicate how suitable the question would be as homework either. – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Mar 26 '12 at 1:29
• @Gilles being able to get a list of homework question in a specific field is very valuable to profs/TAs/students, regardless of the questions' level or difficulty. – Ran G. Mar 26 '12 at 1:33
• Again: the homework tag does not indicate “this question would be suitable as homework”. – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Mar 26 '12 at 1:46
• @Gilles I don't agree with you on that. In most of the cases, it will indicate. It might be less clear than randomized-algorithm, but we don't 100% agree on that as well, so what is the difference?! – Ran G. Mar 26 '12 at 1:50
• The goal of the homework tag was not stating the level of the question. And since a large portion of questions are going to be of undergrad-homework-level it would mean that we use the tag for all of them and that means loosing one of 5 possible tags. On the other hand, homework tag as indicator that the question is a homework has worked fine on Mathematics. I suggest that you remove the later part of your answer since IMHO it does not resolve the issue but just makes it more complicated. – Kaveh Mar 26 '12 at 3:23
• OK, it seems that the "homework-level" is even more controversial. I removed it. – Ran G. Mar 26 '12 at 3:53
• In case you haven't noticed, we're trying to collect opinions on a homework policy. So far your view hasn't been represented on this thread; it would help (both your position and the community in general) if you chimed in. – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Jun 25 '12 at 22:44
• @Gilles thanks for pointing it out. I noticed that discussion and avoided getting into it on purpose. The (extremely) low number of votes in that thread shows, in my eyes, that we discussed it too many times, and there are too many different ideas to get a consensus. My opinion on that matter hasn't changed and is illustrated in the answer above: tags are tools meant to sort questions. Nothing more than that. With a "-1" agreement with that line-of-thought (with respect to other answers here), I change my stand on it into a "don't care". – Ran G. Jun 26 '12 at 0:14
• – Raphael Jul 30 '14 at 15:15