# Should we change homework policy of physics.SE?

All possible sites given by this answer are very disappointing in dealing with question & answer and the Physics.SE is by far the best (with respect to design and with respect to active users ) so I should ask two questions.

1. Why there is such a rigorous policy about homework questions and way this type of questions cannot live among other conceptual and more advanced questions?
2. Usually, reading the discussions here we get that more advanced researches don't want people to ask 'bad' questions, but the edit possibility shouldn't be used to teach how to ask a good question?
3. Why exactly homework-like questions should be deleted? This types of questions are very instructive to high-level research and they are the basis of our teaching standard methods in the world. Even graduate students have tests and questions-type approach's.

Then I'm thinking if it is not possible to have a less-rigorous policy on the homework-questions, even destroying the tag and leaving this type of questions on site for (i) future students (ii) future doubts on the same questions. Creating a tag for 'do this is correct' it is also important.

It is important to see that we should delete duplicate questions and questions that do not show effort on it and for homework question keep presenting just hints and not the full answer but, the way this site is, I think users deleting questions on physics of new users with such a rigorous approach is just killing the site and making more and more a site just for very high level questions that remains unanswered most of the time.

I think changing the policy would bring more people to study physics by their own and more advanced research level professionals in order to answer questions on the site.

• I strongly recommend you to read the posts in the "Related" tab: as you can see, we have discussed similar topics many times already. Thank you for your concern anyway. – AccidentalFourierTransform Mar 15 '17 at 21:50
• "This types of questions are very instructive to high-level research"${}^\text{[citation needed]}$. – Emilio Pisanty Mar 16 '17 at 10:24
• Similarly, when you say "I think changing the policy would bring [...] more advanced research level professionals in order to answer questions on the site", have you got any evidence beyond your personal opinion? If you search the homework tag on this meta you'll find many 'advanced research level professionals' citing a large quantity of low-level homework as a reason to stay well away from this site. – Emilio Pisanty Mar 16 '17 at 10:28
• That said, this site is in a (multi-month(year?)) process of reforming this policy, somewhat along these lines, with the next step in the next six to eight weeks, so do stay tuned. – Emilio Pisanty Mar 16 '17 at 10:32

I support the current homework policy. I "discovered" this site because some of my students had posted here a question I assigned in class. I was not happy to discover this but enchanted to see the community ignored the question; it was eventually deleted.

It is not impossible to ask "good" homework-type questions and I've answered a good number myself. In the good examples, the OP makes some incorrect assumptions or makes some technical error, and it is extremely constructive to provide corrections or hints without necessarily giving the whole cake away. This is what good instructors do anyways when students come to their office to ask questions, and I'm fine with the "show me your work and I'll help you untie some of the knots" approach to answering.

However, SE-Physics could easily become overwhelmed with people simply "farming out" their assignments without discrimination. There is no value in this for anyone, except the cheaters who get their work done by someone else. Professionally, I refuse to answer questions from students unless they come prepared to show some work. This seems to be the accepted modus operandi here, and I salute this.

Can higher-level questions coexist with "homework-style questions"? To some degree they do already, and personally I find that overall the balance to be ok. The higher-level questions for me are often starting points for literature searches and fresh perspectives. The questions linked and related to individual postings are often enough so that, with very few clicks, I end up getting the inspiration I was looking for. If the balance is skewed towards too many homework questions, then it becomes a waste of time to search for useful information.

1. You seem to like Physics.SE better than other sites. Have you thought that, perhaps, this site is better because of the strict policies? Have you pondered over the possibility that, by relaxing the homework policy, most active users would leave?

2. You want to eliminate the tag, as if this tag was something bad - something you don't want your posts to be tagger with. Why? This tag is not supposed to highlight bad/unwanted posts, but to gather together all posts that are about, well, homework and exercises.

3. Do you have any quantitative data to support your claim that closing homework questions

is just killing the site and making more and more a site just for very high level questions that remains unanswered most of the time.

?

• (+1) Your first point is something that I didnt think of. To me the site is very very helpfull in understanding concepts but I think could be better on understanding technical approachs. And I do not have any data to support my personal opinion, I have seen people outside and inside the site claiming that this is a very restrictive site where people are very rigorous, when not arrogant; (usually new users have that critics) and I'm an entusiast of this plataform type for learning. – user78217 Mar 16 '17 at 17:54
• I don't think that they would leave - the MathSE allows homework, it is full with very high level people. – peterh Mar 17 '17 at 8:03

For the record, I do agree with some of what you say - some questions are overly-enthusiastically closed as homework questions just because they have some math in them (or at least, I've seen it happen). I don't think the tag is very useful, either. I also find the homework policy a bit confusing in scope, and I hope that the endeavors to find a better structure for the policy soon come to fruition.

On the other hand, I think AccidentalFourierTransform is right - the strict moderation and the focus on intuitive questions rather than problems is what makes this site so good. I don't think the lack of homework questions is killing the site - in fact, I think this site is thriving. Not only that, but I think allowing homework questions would kill the site. I certainly wouldn't be too happy if the five newest questions were all "gimme teh answer" just like Stack Overflow users wouldn't be happy if their newest questions were all "gimme teh codez".

TL;DR: the homework policy needs some work, yes. But overall, the idea behind it, of blocking the low quality questions that no expert wants to answer, is an excellent idea indeed.

• This is the type of things I was thinking when I did the question. People shouldn't use the cite never as a 'do-my-homework' type, but, usually searching for answers that may help in my doubts on certain field closed questions help me allot and I think that the question will be deleted and wouldn't be usefull for future users; and this is one of the main reasons we try to ask and answer questions in my opinion. – user78217 Mar 16 '17 at 17:50
• I also think that there is a difference between overflow and SE. The questions in one plataform usually are not permissible in the other. But there is not an physics overflow. – user78217 Mar 16 '17 at 17:56
• @RafaelWagner That last comment is pretty out of touch. Did you try googling? It would have led you to PhysicsOverflow. (That said, "overflow" is a term so vague it is useless; do you mean Stack Overflow or Math Overflow? They are vastly different in their scope.) On an even more homework-permissive line, Physics Problems Q&A is a very recent effort by people from this site with many of your concerns, which you don't seem to be giving proper consideration. – Emilio Pisanty Mar 16 '17 at 18:11
• @EmilioPisanty I was thinking that the links you putted was of a different platafform than that. Problems I think will be a very interesting site with proper attention in the future and I really didn't knowed this physics overflow. – user78217 Mar 16 '17 at 18:26
• @EmilioPisanty, thanks for the Physics Problems Q&A mention - I should point out it's pretty quiet over there, not quite what I'd hoped out of it. – heather Mar 16 '17 at 21:53

I agree that the Homework Policy should be changed.

Shortly after I became a user here (April 2016) the policy was under an ongoing review, which has been a long-term project on this site. The need for change is recognised. The plan was in 4 stages. The last progress (stage 1b) was at the end of August 2016. As far as I am aware there has been no progress since then. See :

Mathematics SE abolished its homework tag in 2014, and does not appear to have regretted that decision. It has not "killed the site".

I don't think the homework policy is about banning low-level questions. Many difficult thoughtful questions are rejected, while many easy low-effort ones are kept. The easy ones are often tackled by expert users, so the charge that 'bad' questions will drive away the experts is not justified. It is not necessary to trawl the Newest Questions to find a suitable challenge. There are plenty of other options : Featured, Unanswered, etc. It is entirely possible to ignore the homework questions if you don't approve of them, and leave them to those who do approve.

Other than it being an issue of making rules to enforce the personal preferences of the active decision-makers against certain types of question, I still fail to see what the problem is with homework questions.

I am still confused about what exactly the policy is - as are many other users, I think. Some new eager reviewers use the "homework" reason to close questions simply because they "show no effort". Possibly a "homework" question is any problem-solving question. But all questions are fundamentally problem-solving. That is the nature of questions.

The definition confuses me :

A "homework question" is any question whose value lies in helping you understand the method by which the question can be solved, rather than getting the answer itself.

This seems to imply that giving you the answer is OK but helping you understand how to find the answer yourself is not OK. Exactly the opposite of discouraging "do my homework for me" questions. If you are trying to learn "the method" as an exercise, during your "education", this is not OK. But if you are trying to find out how to solve some interesting non-educational project, this is OK - especially if you avoid putting in numbers.

If we deplore being asked to do someone's homework, why don't we also deplore being asked to do someone's research or their thinking? I doubt that homework questions are fundamentally any different from other kinds of question. Ultimately all questions are of the "do my work (calculating/thinking/research) for me" variety, to a greater or lesser degree. There is no inherent dividing line. Which I think explains why after years of discussion, defining and re-formulating the homework policy, this issue never gets anywhere.

• While not fully on point, I should mention that the math.se's decision to do away with the (homework) tag was more to get rid of a mostly useless meta-tag than about a homework policy (see here for the discussion). On math.se there is still debate about "homework" questions, but we've moved mostly towards questions which are a bare statement of a problem without any further "context". – user29205 Apr 18 '17 at 7:29

In my opinion, allowing blatant homework-like questions which essentially simply pose a problem and ask for the answer would lead to a decline in the populous and quality of the site.

I have been to websites where one can pose virtually any question without restriction, and expect to receive direct answers, and the community is - in my opinion - usually not as qualified and useful as the Physics SE. Moreover I find contributing difficult due to the swamp of unappealing questions.

Allowing homework-like questions not in line with our policies would also make it difficult to use the website as a resource; we would go from high quality questions about say quantum mechanics to having to search through hundreds of textbook quantum mechanics questions.

In my opinion, the best solution would be if we would bind it to reputation. For example, 1 homework question can be asked after every 100 reputation.

It could be easily tested by

• the stackexchange api
• using the data.stackexchange.com
• or by direct queries.

It wouldn't be an essential change - most of the homework questions are asked from rep1 users.

Although it probably wouldn't be implemented by the SE team, we could use it as a house rule.

It could be very easily implemented as a voting script.

• This would also lead users to try to answer questions. Or just edit questions but getting 100 rep is a very difficult thing for new users. And we would still have to ban bad questions because not every homework question is a good question for the site as the other answers pointed out. But this is not a bad idea in my opinion. – user78217 Mar 16 '17 at 17:58
• This goes directly against the basic Stack Exchange ethos that anybody can ask a question. As such, I give it exactly zero percent chances of being implemented by the Stack Exchange team. – Emilio Pisanty Mar 16 '17 at 18:03
• @EmilioPisanty It could be also a house rule. I inserted it into the post. – peterh Mar 16 '17 at 18:11
• @peterh What on Earth does "house rule" mean? You want to close questions based on the reputation of the OP and their question history? That's also completely against the basic ethos, this time on the fact that we (should) judge questions exclusively on their content, not their poster. – Emilio Pisanty Mar 16 '17 at 18:13
• @RafaelWagner "This would also lead users to try to answer questions." <- I don't understand, why would it be a problem, I think it is exactly what you want. "Or just edit questions but getting 100 rep is a very difficult thing for new users." <- Editing questions to get 100 rep is very hard, this is what I do on the networkengineering.stackexchange.com since weeks and I am far from being ready. Anyways, also editing questions improves the site, this is why they get rep for that. "And we would still have to ban bad questions..." <- Yes, of course having the 100 rep wouldn't mean that – peterh Mar 16 '17 at 18:14
• Either way, it's unclear what you mean by "it could easily be tested". How do any of those tools tell you how the community would behave under a rule which has never even closely been implemented? – Emilio Pisanty Mar 16 '17 at 18:15
• @RafaelWagner the question wouldn't be closed, it would only mean that it wouldn't be closed on the homework rule. It is totally independent from the other relevant rules. – peterh Mar 16 '17 at 18:15
• @EmilioPisanty I could write a firefox extension for that in 2 hours. It would simply check the reputation of the OP, and the number of his questions tagged with "homework-and-exercises" (for example, my list is here). – peterh Mar 16 '17 at 18:17
• @peterh Yes, you could implement it, but: so what? Do you want to make it compulsory? What good is an extension that stops you from asking questions if you can just turn it off? The only thing that saves this proposal from being fundamentally misguided is how meaningless, unenforceable, and ill-thought-out it is. – Emilio Pisanty Mar 16 '17 at 18:51
• @EmilioPisanty No, it was only a theoretical possibility. Around 95% of the hw questions is coming from rep1 (or <100) users, in their case nothing would be needed. In the few remaining cases, anybody could check this without any browser extensions. After the check, a "hw-repcheck-passed" or "hw-repcheck-failed" tag could show, how to vote in the vtc queue. – peterh Mar 17 '17 at 7:58
• @peterh So, just to be clear: you're proposing to write an extension that will tell you more information about the poster when you're deciding whether to close a question or not? If that is the case, you really are breaking the cardinal rule here: we close questions based exclusively on the merit of the question itself, and not based on any consideration of the poster, and particularly not based on any consideration of the poster's asking history. – Emilio Pisanty Mar 17 '17 at 11:27
• @EmilioPisanty Well, you are right. But I have a new idea then: homework questions are allowed only and only if they have a bounty as well. This would be essentially the same requirement (min. 75 rep, 1 allowed homework question / 50 rep). – peterh Mar 17 '17 at 12:07
• @peterh That's again completely against both the 'anyone can ask' and the 'we judge content not people' ethos. Please think these proposals through even a little bit before shooting from the hip. – Emilio Pisanty Mar 17 '17 at 12:16