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When I first saw Why don't we just ban homework altogether? my initial reaction was "hell yeah!". As I've thought about the issue more though, I wonder if banning homework will do Physics.SE more harm in the long-run.

Part of David's answer is particularly apt:

Perhaps more importantly, no matter what policies we put in place, we can't actually stop people from posting homework questions. It's the nature of a physics Q&A site that lots of people will show up asking for help on their homework without bothering to check whether doing so is appropriate. The best we can do is use the policy as justification to close such questions as quickly as they come in. The moderators (well, some of us) try to do this, but we're only a few people, and it gets exhausting.

David is absolutely right that no matter what our Homework Policy ends up being, we can't stop homework questions from being posted.

I think there is another, possibly more important issue though. This is a small community and if we don't bring in new members at a healthy rate the membership will decay over time. It can already be hard for inexperienced members to find questions to answer or ways to gain reputation and feel like they're a part of the community. I suspect banning homework and aggressively closing homework questions will alienate some new users that we actually want to have stick around.

Homework questions are already "essentially banned" and it's a lot of work to close them. I don't really see how changing our policy to more explicitly state that they are banded will do anything meaningful to help the situation.

If instead, we actually relaxed our homework policy we could aggressively tag homework questions and tell all members that don't like them to put the tag in their ignore filter. I don't see any harm in letting homework questions go ignored and unanswered and doing so would allow inexperienced users a chance to try their hand answering them.

With banned homework we're essentially telling potential users to go get experience somewhere else and come back when they're ready. Could we adjust our homework policy to give these users a chance to get experience here while also not frustrating our veteran users that hate homework questions?

So, does banning homework do long-term harm for only short-term gain?

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    $\begingroup$ An important corollary to the passage you quoted is that, while we can't completely stop people from posting no-effort homework questions, we can reduce the rate at which they do so by making and enforcing a policy hostile to such questions. (Or conversely, we can and will increase that rate if we are welcoming to such questions.) $\endgroup$ – David Z Nov 25 '13 at 0:45
  • $\begingroup$ Wasn't there a Beta for research level only physics that closed on stackexchange? Was that an attempt to remove low-level questions like homework? $\endgroup$ – user6972 Dec 1 '13 at 18:46
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Of course it is possible to write a set of restrictions on question that would impede growth and chase beginners away to get their experience elsewhere (and thereby transfer their loyalties), but we don't just need more users we need good users.

And good users mean one who can write good posts. So let me counter with another quote from the same thread:

IMO an on topic HW question is indistinguishable from a normal question when the "this is HW" part is excised.

It is not per se homework versus not per se homework, it is questions that show some level of thought and preparation versus those that do not. Personally I don't want to spend my time on site full of rotten no-effort questions.

We've having rather a it of trouble with that kind of thing right now and it is pissing me off. At times it is all I can do to to remain civil on the site.

"Do my homework for me" is just one of several red flags for a bad question, but bad questions are bad and they should go.

Beginner's questions should be allowed but we should insist that they be good ones.


The second part of your proposal is a suggestion that are skilled and experienced users should ignore the junk. That arrangement would allow the junk to proliferate without bound. In my opinion it is the very worst thing we could do because visitors and new user will see all the junk. Indeed they we see a site dominated by crap, and they will form the obvious opinion.

We had this argument out on Stack Overflow. The inclusionists were ascendant for a couple of years, but many of them came around.

Not that we can or would attempt to stop any user form applying what filters they would, but making it policy to ignore the crap is simply a bad idea.

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    $\begingroup$ It seems to me that the class of questions we wish to discourage are those which seek an immediate answer without regard for learning. We wish to distinguish those questions of the moment ("please please help me!") from the more genuine conceptual questions("this has been bothering me for some time..."). Would some temporary hold scheme be feasible? An engaged OP genuinely interested in learning would be willing to wait. A "loafer" looking for a quick answer to a problem he has no interest in would not. What think? $\endgroup$ – Alfred Centauri Nov 26 '13 at 4:02
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    $\begingroup$ I find it troublesome that such a high rep user of the site gets pissed off by bad questions. I can understand wanting questions to be of a higher quality, but that level of emotional response seems more like a knee jerk reaction. New users to the site may not completely understand how to ask better questions, and should be politely directed in the manner. You could say, "We get tons of bad questions", but even though you have seen many, that individual has only posted "one", so the appropriate level of response is needed. $\endgroup$ – Charlie Brown Nov 26 '13 at 16:26
  • $\begingroup$ @CharlieBrown Be troubled if you want. When I get that way I walk away for a few hours or days. I have made the "only one bad question form this user argument" many times on the mother meta, and I know what the costs of overreaction are. But I also know that it is not 1994 anymore and there is no excuse for Endless September. $\endgroup$ – dmckee Nov 26 '13 at 18:18
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    $\begingroup$ @CharlieBrown, I don't find it troubling at all. In fact, I think it shows that dmckee is engaged and involved. Would it not be troubling if a moderator didn't care at all about rotten, no-effort questions and their effect on this site? Those that care about the direction and future of this site ought to be pissed off. Is it not obvious to you that almost all of the rotten, no-effort questions are from anonymous, 1st time users that, I can say with almost certainty, give a damn about this site only to the extent that it relieves them of the effort to think. $\endgroup$ – Alfred Centauri Nov 26 '13 at 22:53
  • $\begingroup$ I agree that its very obvious which group is providing the low quality questions, I just don't agree that someone who cares needs to be emotional as well. You do bring up another could be meta discussion with your point about answers vs learning. Is the intention of stackexchange sites to learn about a subject, or get a quick answer? $\endgroup$ – Charlie Brown Nov 27 '13 at 18:08
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    $\begingroup$ @CharlieBrown, I suppose it depends on what your idea of "emotional" is. When dmckee writes that he's "pissed off", I don't take it to mean that he's surrendered his rational faculty to emotional whim. Rather, I take it to mean that he's having a rational response based on strongly held beliefs about how this site ought to be. $\endgroup$ – Alfred Centauri Nov 28 '13 at 2:38
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    $\begingroup$ @CharlieBrown, regarding the intention of stackexchange sites, I see them as a marketplace where those that desire to learn and those what wish to share what they've learned trade value for value. When someone asks an interesting question and several here take the time to formulate an answer, value is created and exchanged, i.e, all are better off for it. Getting a "quick answer" is more like getting an unearned reward and neither party profits. $\endgroup$ – Alfred Centauri Nov 28 '13 at 2:41
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I have some sympathy with Brandon's point.

I'm a bit concerned we'll end up seeming an unfriendly and elitist site. The moderators are admirably tactful in dealing with homework questions, but I see comments to homework questions that while justified strike me as a bit bitchy. I worry these will put new users off - it's easy for us old timers to forget how intimidating asking your first question can be.

The other point that strikes me is that I see various questions about esoteric subjects like supersymmetry that look awfully like homework set by a PhD supervisor, but of course the level is far higher than the usual homework question. These tend not to be tagged as homework (possibly because few of understand them :-) so presumable there is some ill defined cut-off point where homework ceases to be homework.

Picking up on a point made in David's answer, it seems to me the most important thing is the amount of effort that's been put into writing the question. This is what I was getting at in Updating the *How to ask* FAQ. At the moment we have a Homework tag and we have a close reason that says Homework like questions ... should show some effort. The homework tag works fine, but I think the close reason should be unrelated to whether the the question is homework. The close reason should be that the OP hasn't made sufficient effort. This would be applied to homework, but would also be applied to questions like Tell me about the Standard Model that we get from time to time.

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  • $\begingroup$ I think you touch on the vital issue. I agree that effort is the main decider between good and bad questions. I've tried to formulate an answer to your earlier meta post with my thoughts on what constitutes a good question (very similar to what seem to be your thoughts). I was going to do it here, but realized it was probably more appropriate over there. $\endgroup$ – Wouter Nov 25 '13 at 16:40
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, I see a pretty decent number of graduate-level homework problems (some, I am sure, were pulled directly from MTW or Wald), that rarely get tagged as such. I get pretty cranky at this, as quite a few graduate students coast through using the internet and published solutions to, i.e., Jackson, which hurts everyone. $\endgroup$ – Jerry Schirmer Dec 3 '13 at 15:35

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