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This question arose out of a time with a lot of discussion on meta about how this site could be improved; it was proposed that we ban homework and this question explored how that would look like and whether people agreed to a concrete form or not. This question gathered a lot of votes (currently +25/-7 on the question, and 13/1, 11/1, 9/0, 7/0, 7/0 and 6/0 on the answers), but my impression is that there wasn't really enough consensus to implement this policy, or at least in this form.

Since then, the debate has slowed somewhat (as in e.g. this question) and it has drifted off into other directions (such as this question). In particular, next week moderators will leave all homework closures to the community as a way to try and find out what we, as a community, think should and should not be on this site. I regard this as a much healthier approach to the problem, and I think it should lead to this document becoming obsolete: we should reformulate the policy in terms of what we actually want and do, instead of some idealized construct.

To add a bit more food for thought to the meta table, I'd like to set down some retrospective thoughts on this proposal.

  • First of all, I must say I regard this as an experiment in writing and large parts of it as not very successful. It was proposed elsewhere that we ban homework questions but still keep the homework tag, at least temporarily. This policy proposal was an attempt to see whether such a policy could be realized in a concrete example, and I tried very hard to reconcile the two conflicting directions. I do not think I was very successful, and the policy below has several sticky points that must be resolved using judgement calls; I think this is a sign of fundamental contradictions at the heart of such a policy, and I'm doubtful that more successful implementations of the same core policy can be written while still retaining the homework tag.

  • The key point that sparked this was the claim/observation by David Z and Manishearth that homework is already essentially banned. I'm less convinced now that that's the case (see e.g. this search), but this was an exercise at seeing whether such an 'effective policy' could be set down into words.

  • Certain parts of this thread definitely still read nicely. I particularly like the emphasis on driving people away from homework-like questions and onto more conceptual ones, the shift to "what should I do if I want to ask a homework question?", and the introduction of sections on what to do if your question has been closed or put on hold or has close-votes on it.

  • Another contradiction is to tell people to drop the dependence of their question on the problem ("it should be useful to someone who's not staring at the same problem") but still telling them it is crucial that they 'reference the source' and provide the full context of their question. I'm not saying that we should drop either requirement, but I do think this merits a lot of thought as to how to reconcile the two once they're on (e)paper.

  • One useful practicality is that there are in fact a lot of small places where users with homework questions come into contact with the policy, which is reflected in the six different answers here. These should all be considered with a view on an eventual reformulation of formal policy.

I'll shut up now, as this page is already long enough. I just wanted to set these thoughts down, particularly since we're coming up on community closing. Any thoughts?

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    $\begingroup$ I disagree with driving people away from homework-like questions as at present, legitimate technical questions as they come up from reading advanced textbooks, following high-level courses, or studying research papers, are stigmated or even closed as "homework-like", too. The notion of what is defined as homework should first be narrowed down to something less broad and more reasonable, as I said here. $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Feb 14 '14 at 16:53
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    $\begingroup$ Looks like we have a meta-homework-post flurry once every month :p $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Feb 14 '14 at 16:53
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    $\begingroup$ @Dilaton If we reduce the income of low-quality homework, I'm pretty sure that high-level homework could be less restricted (although I think that it should show enough effort). $\endgroup$ – jinawee Feb 14 '14 at 18:49
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    $\begingroup$ I still support an absolute homework ban (with appropriate high-level questions not counted as homework); I still don't have time to write a specific proposal; and I still don't get what the point of moving to community closing is. We should work out the policy before we start implementing it. Voting against the policy as written has never been encouraged before, and I can't see any benefit in doing so now. $\endgroup$ – Nathaniel Feb 15 '14 at 14:02
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    $\begingroup$ Students are usually told that collaboration with other students is ok., as long as the homework they submit for grading is not blindly copied. That they get help from fellow student isn't a problem as long as the student understand what he/she is submitting. sticking to that rule is the responsibility of the student. The student will have to pass the exam on his/her own anyway and if there is too big a difference between homework and exam grades, the Prof. will have a chat with the student to see what is going on. Therefore homework questions should be answered in a very detailed way here. $\endgroup$ – Count Iblis Jun 4 '14 at 23:57
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    $\begingroup$ @CountIblis That is a non sequitur. There are other, strong reasons why certain kinds of homework questions should not be answered, either in a very detailed way or at all, on this site. This thread is probably not the place to discuss this; I would encourage you to start a new one or add an answer to Why don't we just ban homework altogether?. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Jun 5 '14 at 0:13
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Good points; I've thought a lot about these myself in the past and come to think of it, never really resolved them.

First of all, I must say I regard this as an experiment and large parts of it as not very successful.

I not sure if the experiment was ever launched. We never really changed the policy; the "new" HW policy hasn't yet seen the light of the day.

But yes, if you mean the meta discussions, those haven't been really successful. There is support for changing the policy, and a lot of support for the proposed draft, but there are still kinks and a arguments.

I'm less convinced now that that's the case (see e.g. this search), but this was an exercise at seeing whether such an 'effective policy' could be set down into words.

Regarding the search:

Note that the HW tag is a different beast from the policy. It gets applied willy-nilly and I personally just avoid dealing with it. A successful implementation of a homework policy (with active 3k participation) should end up in the tag bein totally redundant, but that's not the case yet.

Also, many of those seem to be more technical questions, which are currently under debate when it comes to homeworkiness

Another contradiction is to tell people to drop the dependence of their question on the problem ("it should be useful to someone who's not staring at the same problem") but still telling them it is crucial that they 'reference the source' and provide the full context of their question.

This basically has to do with wording. It should be clear as to what the primary, conceptual issue is, and the rest can be given as an addendum or example.

As far as my own closing habits go, I usually look through the question to check for what it's asking; I don't expect the user to write perfectly organized questions, and IMO that shouldn't be necessary for an on topic question (just highly desirable). This extends to moderation habits, I only mod message (and suspend on further infraction) users who dump no-effort homework problems on us.

We might want to convert this into a suggestion, instead of a part of the policy. Also ask reviewers to identify and reorganize such questions.

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  • $\begingroup$ Quick clarification: the 'experiment' is seeing whether it's even possible to set out a consistent policy, let alone whether implementing it works. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Feb 14 '14 at 17:24
  • $\begingroup$ @EmilioPisanty Ah, I see. Yeah, that's not gone as awesomely as expected, though I'm not sure why. There was a point when we were ready to implement but didn't because everyone was busy. Not sure if we can now. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Feb 14 '14 at 17:28
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    $\begingroup$ I'm not sure that we should. Let's roll with the community closing and see what happens, for now. That should give some better info on what people don't want on the site, and then we can see. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Feb 14 '14 at 17:55
  • $\begingroup$ @EmilioPisanty exactly my thoughts. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Feb 14 '14 at 17:56

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