A recent suggestion about changing the homework policy gathered quite a bit of support, and a specific proposal for a new policy is currently being thrashed out. The new policy is basically just a rephrasing of the old one, effectively changing "you can ask homework questions, but only if they're about concepts" to "you can't ask homework questions, but you can ask questions about concepts." This will involve changes to the homework close reason, as well as the homework policy documentation on meta, the tag wiki, and a few other things.

If we decide to change the homework policy, we have to decide what the new version will say about the tag.

This entails two distinct choices: first we have to decide whether any questions should be on topic; if not, then we have to decide whether to keep the tag. This makes a total of three options, and I will post answers corresponding to each of them so that we can vote on them.

Note that none of these changes will happen unless the proposed policy change goes ahead. If you're for or against the policy change itself, please express this by voting on the proposal, rather than here.

  • Policy opition 1: some homework is on topic

    This entails keeping the tag, and keeping its meaning separate from the homework close reason. This means some questions will be classed as homework, but also still be on topic, as is the case with the current policy.

    The proposed policy (in its present form) takes this approach, but (in comparison to the current policy) raises the bar in terms of what's required for an on-topic question.

  • Policy option 2: all homework is off-topic

    The other option is a policy that defines all homework as off-topic. This has the advantage of making the policy simpler to apply, hopefully encouraging more people to join in with closing homework questions. However, it will take some work to convert "good" homework questions into non-homework questions.

    If we take this approach there are two options for what to do with the tag.

    1. Keep the tag, but let it be synonymous with the close reason, i.e. if a question is legitimately tagged as then it should be closed. Keeping the tag means that people can still ignore it. If the new policy is successful in increasing the rate at which homework questions are closed, we would later have a discussion about getting rid of the tag altogether.

    2. Delete ("burninate") the tag shortly after the new policy is introduced. This can be justified on the grounds that option 2 would be tag abuse, which is generally frowned upon. From a more pragmatic standpoint, if people can't ignore homework questions they're more likely to participate in closing them. However, this is quite a radical step to take.

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    $\begingroup$ It seems premature to have a vote on the homework tag before we have seen whether or not the new homework policy has the intended effect and are working properly. Why don't we postpone such a vote until the facts are in? It could very well be that further options are needed than the so far listed ones. $\endgroup$ – Qmechanic Nov 15 '13 at 10:50
  • $\begingroup$ @qmechanic there already are three options, one of which is exactly what you suggest! $\endgroup$ – Nathaniel Nov 15 '13 at 13:37
  • $\begingroup$ @dilaton I'm not sure why that was an edit rather than a comment, but I didn't make the question community wiki because people might want to give non-voting answers to it. $\endgroup$ – Nathaniel Nov 15 '13 at 13:39
  • $\begingroup$ @Nathaniel, by making the question a community wiki, it allows users to add their own proposals $\endgroup$ – Kenshin Nov 15 '13 at 13:49
  • $\begingroup$ @Qmechanic, what measures will the community look at to determine whether or not the new homework policy is effective? $\endgroup$ – Kenshin Nov 15 '13 at 13:50
  • $\begingroup$ @qmechanic also note that this question is partly about fine tuning the policy itself. That's why we have to vote on it before we implement the policy. $\endgroup$ – Nathaniel Nov 15 '13 at 14:04
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    $\begingroup$ No need for CW, people can add their own answers with different proposals if they want. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Nov 15 '13 at 16:19
  • $\begingroup$ This question appears to be off-topic because it is premature. $\endgroup$ – Abhimanyu Pallavi Sudhir Nov 16 '13 at 14:31
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    $\begingroup$ @dimension10 how is it premature to discuss the form of the new policy before we implement the new policy? I can see how Qmechanic could have misread the previous version, but surely after the edit it is clear? $\endgroup$ – Nathaniel Nov 17 '13 at 3:33
  • $\begingroup$ @Nathaniel: It isn't even certain that the hw policy has been changed. Many highly upvoted feature requests were not conducted eventually anyway, so I think that first, the hw policy needs to be changed, and the discussion on the tag can happen later. $\endgroup$ – Abhimanyu Pallavi Sudhir Nov 17 '13 at 4:08
  • $\begingroup$ @dimension10, if we change the policy, we have to decide what to change it to. This post is discussing one detail of that, nothing more. It is impossible to have such a discussion after the policy has been changed. $\endgroup$ – Nathaniel Nov 17 '13 at 4:22
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    $\begingroup$ @dimension10 also please note that having the discussion later is one of the options presented here. I implore you to vote for it (option 2.1) instead of trying to shut down the discussion. $\endgroup$ – Nathaniel Nov 17 '13 at 4:25
  • $\begingroup$ Just in case it isn't clear: if you read the current version of the proposed policy, it stipulates that some homework is on topic. Therefore there is no option to ever get rid of the tag, barring a further change in policy. I would prefer a policy that makes all homework off topic (but redefines hw not to include certain 'good' questions), which then does leave open the option to discuss the tag later. If we don't make that decision now we will not be able to do it later. $\endgroup$ – Nathaniel Nov 17 '13 at 4:40
  • $\begingroup$ @Nathaniel: Ok, retracted close vote, +1. $\endgroup$ – Abhimanyu Pallavi Sudhir Nov 17 '13 at 4:57

Answer for voting: option 1 We should go with policy option 1, the least-radical change. We should keep the tag, and some questions would be on topic, as is currently the case.


Answer for voting: option 2.1 We should go with policy option 2, but keep the tag for now. Questions legitimately tagged with would always be candidates for closing. We would have the option to discuss removing the tag at a later date.

  • $\begingroup$ I can't vote on my own posts, but my vote would be here. $\endgroup$ – Nathaniel Nov 15 '13 at 5:03
  • $\begingroup$ I agree with this one: It is simpler to apply and the strange concept of "on topic homework" (ie a regular on topic question that mentions that it is homework) need not be invoked. We can phase the tag out later if the issues with closing are resolved. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Nov 15 '13 at 7:27

Regardless of the policy, I'd burninate* it, but for different reasons:

  • It's a meta-tag, and not very useful for searching. (It might be good for ignoring, but since homework questions are about to be banned anyway, it shouldn't be necessary in the future.)
  • Currently, it just means "don't give the OP a full answer". Or worse, "answer only in riddles, or as if you were talking to a student". I'd personally perceive it as condescending to see that tag added to one of my questions without asking me. From the tag wiki :

    Applies to questions of primarily educational value - not only questions that arise from actual homework assignments, but any question where it is preferable to guide the asker to the answer rather than giving it away outright. Please READ THE GUIDANCE IN META before asking homework questions.

*) never thought I'd use that word!


Answer for voting: option 2.2 We should go with policy option 2, and immediately burninate the tag. There would be no specific tag for homework questions, and we would instead rely on all homework questions being rapidly closed.


Answer for voting: we should do none of the above but instead keep the current policy, or make some other change not covered by the proposal.


Policy Number 3: We let the community decide which homework questions to close by looking at vote counts. Homework posts which reach a score of -3 get closed. This is proposed because I believe some specific problems encountered in high level research or graduate studies may still be a good fit for this site, because in such instances it may not be possible to ask about a general concept without asking the specific problem that is faced.

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    $\begingroup$ In my view it's better to just define the homework tag so that it doesn't apply to those questions. In practice homework questions rarely get downvoted very much, so I think it wouldn't be too wise to rely on it as a mechanism. $\endgroup$ – Nathaniel Nov 15 '13 at 14:02

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