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Some other sites in the SE network have recently been moving toward eliminating the tag. I think this would be useful for us to consider as well, particularly in light of questions like this one - if you look at the comments, the OP says "Also there is a homework tag so I assumed it does allow homework questions." That's one of the main arguments for removing the tag, both here and on other sites.

Removing the homework tag would not change our policy on what sorts of questions can be asked here. Specifically, it is now and will continue to be OK to ask a conceptual question that arises in the context of a homework assignment. Also our existing homework policy would be more or less unchanged, except that we would no longer ask posters to use the tag for homework or self-study questions.

Should we go ahead with removing the tag?

If not, what exactly is the purpose of keeping it?

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    $\begingroup$ what "other sites"? Mathematics.SE is certainly not among them. $\endgroup$ – Yrogirg Sep 7 '12 at 6:45
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    $\begingroup$ Computer Science has done it, Stack Overflow and others are considering it. Mathematics is one that seems to be standing behind its homework policy, at least for now. $\endgroup$ – David Z Sep 7 '12 at 15:37
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I) In 99 percent of the cases, the tag runs smoothly and as intended. In a few cases, OP does not agree with labeling his question with the tag; often it's a new user that hasn't read the wiki description or the site policy, but sometimes OP is right and the tag is removed again from the question with no further discussion.

II) In the early days of Phys.SE, whenever there was posted a homework question without the tag, then the moderators would politely ask OP if this was homework or not? Typically, a couple of full answers to the homework were posted and accepted before the issue of whether or not to add the tag was settled. Thus OP would succeed in getting a homework solution from our site, which in other respect is mainly dedicated to just conceptional physics questions.

III) In the last year or so, the tagging practice was changed, and users with tagging privileges would now often add the tag whenever they felt it was appropriate without first asking OP. The answers were now typically just hints, advices, outlines, etc., instead of full solutions. So the tag clearly had the desired effect. Moreover, this new practice didn't seem to spur repeated back-and-forth edit war over the tag. Typically it became clear to everybody whether or not the tag would apply in a given case or not.

IV) If it ain't broke, don't fix it. I fear that by banning the tag, we in practice loose a useful user-based moderation option, and effectively turn this site into a homework help service.

V) Another aspect is that many of our readers use the tag to decide whether or not to read a post. This goes both ways.

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We could remove it, once the FAQ is updated to reflect the underlying issues around homework-type questions, and once we're sure that most active answerers understand the policy of giving leading, conceptual, hint-rich, non-explicit answers to questions that look like homework.

But it seems to me that that won't happen, and the homework tag, and its associated wiki-tip and FAQ entry, are the cleanest and simplest way to communicate the policy on homework questions: a policy that, as I understand it, would remain the same with or without the homework tag.

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  • $\begingroup$ This is a good point, but I'm not sure just how effective the homework tag actually is at providing the information of how people should answer homework questions. We do regularly get full answers posted to homework questions regardless of the presence or absence of the tag. $\endgroup$ – David Z Sep 7 '12 at 17:29
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Let me speak about the rare exception and my thoughts on it:

I have seen both my questions and other people's questions fall into the trap of the homework tag due to the way it was asked, even though it was nothing of the sort. The reason this happened (in the cases I'm thinking of) was because numbers were included in order to define the problem.

An experienced editor will then see a new or relatively new user ask a question with numbers, and develop the expectation that the user asking wants to get an answer to complete an assignment. Most of the time this is the case... but sometimes questions will get the homework tag even when it's completely absurd. For example, problems that are so involved one couldn't expect an answer to return a value, or problems that simply don't have a straightforward answer.

The main problem with communication IMO is that it's often hard to tell why the person is asking. Sometimes it's for the purpose of advancing the person's general knowledge, sometimes it's for a class, and sometimes the person is literally building a heat exchanger in their backyard and wants to get dimensions to cut (!!).

The special cases are something to keep in mind, but the homework tag effectively serves a very important purpose most of the time.

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  • $\begingroup$ FWIW the applicability of the homework tag is not entirely related to whether the question is actually a homework question. Do you have some examples of these questions that get the homework tag even when it's completely absurd? $\endgroup$ – David Z Nov 10 '12 at 23:09
  • $\begingroup$ Here is one recent example, I think there are others like it physics.stackexchange.com/questions/45068/… $\endgroup$ – Alan Rominger Nov 25 '12 at 17:57
  • $\begingroup$ The way that's written, it definitely reads like a homework question. The bigger issue is that questions which ask "What's the answer to this problem?" shouldn't be allowed. $\endgroup$ – David Z Nov 25 '12 at 21:10
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I have mixed feeling about . I personally answer pedagogical question in a leading manner and consider such answers to be better than complete answers in that context.

But it seems to cause an inordinate amount of strife and hardfeelings so I wouldn't cry if we saw it go.

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  • $\begingroup$ That's true, but I think an argument in favor of dropping the tag is that we tend to identify such pedagogical questions by their content, not by whether the OP applies the homework tag to them. $\endgroup$ – David Z Sep 7 '12 at 4:27
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I think a homework tag is much less necessary here than on SO

A homework question is normally obvious. It typically includes specific numbers, a ball of mass m falls .... rather than asking about the path of a falling object. It's upto the individual members here to decide if they want to answer it with a simple answer, a hint or an explanation.

Physicsforums is better at homework since you can have a discussion with the questioner and lead them to an answer - the SO model doesn't work for teaching.

The homework tag is very very useful on SO and I really don't understand why it was banned. If somebody asks eg. how to reverse a string - the 'correct' software engineering answer is to call the library function. But if the question is homework then the answer is different. Without the tag you have no way of knowing if they want the software engineering answer or the homework answer.

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Emphatic yes.

Not only is it is discouraging when you are confused enough about something to come on and ask and nobody will help because someone has jumped on your post and tagged it as homework but also because this is primarily a question and answer site.

The majority of questions on the physics stack exchange demonstrate that it is overly dominated by advanced questions. In my view it is not currently all that friendly to less advanced questions and users and I think this has a lot to do with the homework tag, or at least the way it is getting used at the moment.

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    $\begingroup$ For your information, currently 87% (vs. 90%) of homework-tagged (vs. all) questions have upvoted answers, respectively. $\endgroup$ – Qmechanic Nov 20 '12 at 1:34
  • $\begingroup$ That means nothing if the 10% never came back to ask any more questions... $\endgroup$ – Magpie Nov 21 '12 at 0:27
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Yes, I think the homework tag should be removed because www.physicsforums.com already provides homework help brilliantly and so doesn't need to be encouraged here, given that physics.stackexchange.com wasn't designed to compete.

On the other hand, its straight foward to word a homework question in a way which is general and therefore compatible with the types of questions that the intended audience here will find interesting.

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