We've had recent discussions here on meta regarding how to handle homework questions, but I would like to turn the discussion around a bit.

Instead of discussing how to handle these kinds of questions, I'd like to discuss if Programmers.SE can be a viable option for students seeking help. Robert Harvey brought this question up on Meta.SO and I'd like to put it in the context of P.SE:

Can Programmers.SE be used by students to get help with their class assignments, and if so, how can it be done in a way that respects the P.SE community? What rules and regulations would the students need to follow?

How well would P.SE accomodate the influx of students, each having questions about the same homework assignment?

Note: Please feel free to edit the wording or formatting as needed.

  • I honestly don't see the point to this. Stack Overflow is experiencing an influx of students, not Programmers. Let's deal with the issue when (if) it arises and we have some actual data (example questions) to base the discussion around. Arguing hypotheticals & rhetoricals may be interesting, but what's the point? – yannis Jan 23 '12 at 5:05
  • @YannisRizos Okay, that addresses the influx point, how about the first question? – Marvin Pinto Jan 23 '12 at 5:12
  • Well, to be honest, I don't think there's need for any special treatment... Homework questions should adhere to the usual quality standards, and dealt with accordingly. Again the problem with Stack Overflow is that they get many duplicates, because most textbooks recycle the same exercises. That's not really a problem for us, for questions that are on topic. Conceptual questions have a great degree of variation, even if we experience an influx of students, I don't think we will ever have the same amount of trouble as Stack Overflow. – yannis Jan 23 '12 at 5:25
  • @YannisRizos What trouble are you referring to on SO (just out of curiosity)? – Marvin Pinto Jan 23 '12 at 5:29
  • Oh the ones I described in my previous comments. A steady rise on trivial homework type questions (actual homeworks, online certificate questions etc), that have already been asked a thousand times before... – yannis Jan 23 '12 at 5:32
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    @YannisRizos Would you ever see a problem with P.SE becoming a free-market for plagiarism? e.g. I need my homework done, I couldn't be bothered thinking about it, provided the question is within scope (not code, think algorithms) and clearly worded - I'm good to go. – Marvin Pinto Jan 23 '12 at 5:32
  • @YannisRizos I've seen very few of the questions you're referring to on SO and they're not that big of a deal because they get closed almost immediately. In that sense, it's no problem at all. – Marvin Pinto Jan 23 '12 at 5:33
  • Yeap they are closed almost immediately. But every time one is closed, two new ones pop up... At least from what I've seen. Anyways, you could rewrite your question to be a bit more relevant to Programmers. As for plagiarism, we hunt down questions that don't show some effort rather effectively, I don't think it will become a serious concern. But that's a very good meta question in itself. – yannis Jan 23 '12 at 5:38
  • They should be redirected to Students.SE and Homework.SE, and problem solved – prusswan Jan 23 '12 at 18:18
  • I think students should come to the programmers site to see if they even want to get into this profession. Needing help with your homework is a sign you may need to chance majors or accept the fact you're not perfect. – JeffO Jan 25 '12 at 19:49

We recently had a discussion about the usage of the word "expert" in the FAQ: the consensus being that this site, while not necessarily only for experts, is for professionals. Aaronaught's excellent answer to whether we need a "General Reference" close reason also discusses the importance of this site being both "advanced" and "disciplined".

That's not to say if you're not a classically-identified "professional" (i.e., you're a hobbyist or someone who does programming as a tangential job duty) your questions aren't welcome here, but that the site doesn't cater to non-professional-level questions.

So, for the most part, people using Programmers for homework help or class supplements are probably in the wrong place: stuff like "can you explain to me when I would need an array?" or "What's a good language to learn as a teenager?" are routinely closed as being either too broad or not constructive, and I have a hard time imagining questions that would be class assignments and on-topic here.

At the same time, we shouldn't be calling people out with the scarlet tag, adjusting the level of content in answers, or closing questions for something that happens to be part of a class assignment. If someone's asking a question that's similar in scope and expertise as other questions on the site, they're fine, even if they happen to be homework: treat them as you would any other question.

And for educators, I think it's important to realize we can't know if a question is homework or not, and given the intended audience of the site and the goals of the network, it'd be untenable for us to accommodate special homework-only rules (like not providing full and complete answers, or using the Socratic method). If a student happens to ask a question here and it meets the site's quality guidelines, it'll definitely be answered.

  • What are your thoughts on P.SE's potential to become a come-on-over-and-get-your-homework-done and how that would be viewed by educators? – Marvin Pinto Jan 23 '12 at 5:44
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    @MarvinPinto I'm having a hard time seeing why an educator would recommend Programmers: our questions are different in scope from SO's quick-answers-to-quick-questions baseline. But in the chance that educators did recommend us, I don't see us adapting the site to accommodate that: either the questions being asked meet our quality guidelines or they don't. – user8 Jan 23 '12 at 5:46
  • I was by no means implying educators would sanction P.SE, my point was quite the opposite - assuming P.SE became a come-on-over-and-get-your-hw-done free for all. In any case, if your main criteria for this site is quality guidelines, then that's all she wrote. I can't argue with that. My goal behind this was to try and introduce some sort of a community responsibility angle so you wouldn't be doing a potential student the disservice of giving them the answer, as opposed to helping them reach it themselves. But I get it, that's not what P.SE is about. – Marvin Pinto Jan 23 '12 at 6:08
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    @MarvinPinto I think we have to cross that bridge when we come to it. Right now, I'd say the community's reflexes are pretty sharp when it comes to questions that don't show minimal effort, and spoonfeeding answers... If a student posts a homework question, that's on topic, and shows a fair amount of effort, why not help? But until we identify a real problem, no point in taking measures. – yannis Jan 23 '12 at 6:14
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    @MarvinPinto I think I understand now: yeah, I don't think we have any obligation to not give answers (or to give vague/half/etc. answers) just because the person asking is doing so to "cheat" on their assignments. I would think most educators have adapted to the post-Wikipedia world by now. – user8 Jan 23 '12 at 6:16

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