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We had a question that was recently given a bounty with the following reason:

Gys [sic], I really need a good answer. It's for part of my school project. Thanks in advance.

In other words, Derfder is claiming that this is a homework question. I thought we had already decided what to do with homework, but surprisingly, the only place that the issue has even been touched upon is here.

Christianity.SE hit a seminal moment yesterday: homework questions! Ok, they are a pain to deal with and I feel like I wasted time on someone who just wanted to pass a class without learning anything, but it means that someone out there thinks we provide good answers.

As this site keeps growing, we will continue to encounter homework questions. I know Meta.Math.SE already has a great number of questions dealing with their homework policy, and I'm sure multiple other sites do as well. Perhaps our homework policy will be like theirs, perhaps it'll be like no other, but either way, we need one, and preferably sooner rather than later.

So, what should we do about homework questions?


I have posted three answers with three different suggestions. Upvote them if you agree, downvote if you disagree, and post an answer of your own if you have a better/different solution.

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    Homework questions...on C.SE. Congratulations, guys! – Monica Cellio Mar 28 '13 at 1:00
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I am making this suggestion as a non-mod.

In contrast to both of my other answers, the best course of action may very well be to answer them as if they were normal questions. After all, one of the stated goals of the whole StackExchange network is to make the internet a better place. Person A may be asking the question out of bad faith (er, that is, for a poor reason), so to give them the full answer would be helping them violate the academic policies of their institution. However, another person B that comes along later may have the same question for a different reason, so a full and good answer would benefit them.

We've had rather few homework questions on this site so far. We've had problems with questions being asked seemingly without a genuine curiosity in the answer, but we don't have a problem with homework questions being asked to mooch off the knowledge (and "free" time!) of a community of Christians.

Thus, it may be worth indirectly helping one person cheat if the Internet as a whole is benefited if we do answer homework questions normally. Especially considering that a great many of our questions are ones that other people have as well.

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    I agree with this approach. StakOverflow is a site where homework questions should be discouraged because the person asking them is (presumably) considering a career in software development. It would be bad for the industry as a whole to help people get passing grades without being sure they understand the concepts. Helping them "cheat" is just bad for the field as a whole. This site, however, is another story. Our typical visitor just has questions. They're not looking to use our answers as Pastors or Evangelists. We're not helping them "cheat" by giving them a full answer. – David Stratton Mar 25 '13 at 2:13
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    When I was at school these many moons ago, we had occasional homework tasks of the form "Ask a member of denomination X about issue Y". We should definitely fully answer homework questions where this is the motivation (assuming they are otherwise well-scoped, etc.). But I don't think we should do anything that the student is meant to be doing. We can give hints, as in the other answer. – James T Mar 25 '13 at 13:48
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    @JamesT For us the problem with that is we don't have questions where the numbers change, or where a person has to work through a "type" of problem. You can't ask "can people in heaven hear us?" using different numbers, and if we leave that question half-answered, that's a disservice to people who find the question using Google. Obviously we shouldn't have to put our answers into the form of an essay, but we should definitely not restrict full answers only to "ask someone of a denomination" questions. – Alypius Mar 25 '13 at 17:54
  • @Alypius - OK, you have convinced me. – James T Mar 25 '13 at 19:44
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If the question and it's answers are of a caliber and flavor that will benefit the community as a whole, I think it makes perfect sense to answer the questions.

However, I also think it makes sense to edit the questions to ensure that the wording helps the questions to fit the intended format of this site.

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I am making this suggestion as a non-mod.

Personally, I think we could (and perhaps should) take a course of action similar to what seems to be the most common one on Math.SE, which is to give some, but not all. On Math.SE, this means that if the asker wanted to know how to show that one trig expression equaled another, the answerer might give part of the solution, or hints, or particular trig identities.

Here on C.SE, suppose we have a question about the practices of baptism across denominations. An answer that gives some, but not all might be one that links to various catechisms and briefly summarizes the positions in each, letting the asker do the work of gathering the information they need.

This solution of providing some, but not all information allows us to be useful to the asker and to others who have the same question, but avoids doing all of someone's homework for them, which would be a serious breach of academic policy for any institution.

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I am making this suggestion as a non-mod.

I've posted several questions for homework on different sites, since I know about SE and I'll keep doing so till I've finished school. The SE sites have learned me so increadibly much, it would be too bad to not answer those questions.

We should look for the intentions of the questioner. How is the question formulated? What is asked? What did the questioner do himself?

I think the accepted answer on the meta.StackOverflow on this topic can be rewritten to formulate an acceptable solution here.

In short it says, how is the question? Is it the complete assignment, asking for the complete answer? Or is the student showing the question, what he or she tried, and asks whether this is correct, complete or needs some corrections. Or perhaps the student is unable to figure it out, but has shown research, which would mean the question can be answered.

Answers should probably focus on leading the student in the right directions. This will help the student in learning more I think.

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I am making this suggestion as a non-mod.

In contrast to my other answer, such a question wouldn't be a good fit for our site. Besides that, I believe one of our goals here is to provide good answers, and good answers tend to be complete. We try to have answers that don't rely on links to external sources, and we also encourage longer answers for a few reasons, which are covered elsewhere. Thus, a summary answer with links to external content would not be a good answer by the standards of this site. So, perhaps it would be better to not answer homework questions.

Of course, we can't possibly hope to avoid answering every single homework question. Some of them may be very good questions on their own, and especially if the asker has shown that they've done a significant amount of research, then we would be remiss to not answer the question. In such an instance, our site would effectively be part of their research, not a substitute for it.

Hence, I suggest that we do not answer homework questions unless it is a good and non-trivial question. This is indeed rather subjective, so community feedback and action will be needed on such questions.

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