I thought we had agreed not to give complete solutions to homework problems, but apparently some people didn't get the message. If this is not explicitly in the FAQ, it should be. Once that happens, how do we make existing math.SE users aware that this policy exists, and what is a reasonable way to enforce it?

(There is an unreasonable way to enforce it, namely for a 2k+ user to edit the complete solution out. I would prefer not to do this if possible.)

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    $\begingroup$ Definitely agree not to start editing peoples posts, it presupposes that you're right about a subjective judgement and provokes edit wars like when Kaestar started editing peoples posts. $\endgroup$ – anon Nov 8 '10 at 14:28
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    $\begingroup$ I would prefer that in most cases, homework or not, people did not give complete solutions. Making a good guess about the level of the asker and giving sufficient hints or directions would be ideal. Otherwise this becomes the exact opposite of a site useful for learning. $\endgroup$ – Mariano Suárez-Álvarez Nov 8 '10 at 14:35
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    $\begingroup$ @Mariano: I agree, but that would only work if everyone agreed to post only hints and/or mods enforced such. Otherwise once a complete solution is posted it gets raised far above the hints by voting. At least that's my experience posting lots of hints (even big hints). There is a tension between use of the site for teaching vs. a database of complete answers. To be both requires more structure/policy than we currently have. $\endgroup$ – Bill Dubuque Nov 8 '10 at 14:57
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    $\begingroup$ Yes it should be two different sites. $\endgroup$ – anon Nov 8 '10 at 15:00
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    $\begingroup$ @Bill, well, I avoid giving complete solutions, and others could do as much. Downvoting to express discomfort when others provide complete answers (preferably with a comment explaining this) is a way to propagate the notion... $\endgroup$ – Mariano Suárez-Álvarez Nov 8 '10 at 15:08
  • $\begingroup$ @muad, I don't see what the incentive is for setting up a site with negative learning value... $\endgroup$ – Mariano Suárez-Álvarez Nov 8 '10 at 15:09
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    $\begingroup$ @Mariano Suárez-Alvarez, I don't know what you mean here - is that part of the discussion in the other thread? $\endgroup$ – anon Nov 8 '10 at 15:13
  • $\begingroup$ @muad: you said "it should be two different sites", presumably meaning that one of the two sites would be a database of complete answers. I observed that I don't see what the incentive is in setting up such a database of complete answers, given that it would be have negative learning value. $\endgroup$ – Mariano Suárez-Álvarez Nov 8 '10 at 15:19
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    $\begingroup$ One site for "homework" which I will not visit, and this site can stop worrying about whether a problem is homework or not. $\endgroup$ – anon Nov 8 '10 at 15:21
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    $\begingroup$ @muad: that the complete solutions to homework (and non-homework probems) be given somewhere else in some other site does not in any way alleviate the problem here! In fact, I am pretty sure there are sites where complete solutions are posted already. That simply does not change anything here. $\endgroup$ – Mariano Suárez-Álvarez Nov 8 '10 at 15:23
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    $\begingroup$ I think this is the question that math.SE needs to discuss and try to answer. (Will it sound churlish if I say that I had this question in mind from the day I heard about the site?) There is a strong inherent tension between a Q&A site and a HW help site. They serve different clienteles: the former group need the questions answered for their own sake, whereas the latter group need to engage with the questions themselves in order to learn. $\endgroup$ – Pete L. Clark Nov 9 '10 at 21:53
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    $\begingroup$ I think that homework problems, especially copy-pasted ones, are polluting the site. $\endgroup$ – Alexey Feb 16 '14 at 0:56

Proposals to restrict or delete on-topic mathematical communication from a math Q&A site are likely to be (1) doomed, (2) unpopular, (3) worse than alternatives that create more or better communication.

If homework questions are boring, solutions include:

  • not reading questions tagged [homework]. The current software makes this easy (though it filters out advanced homework questions which are often more interesting).

  • having tags for the objective features that make homework (and many non-homework) posts boring. e.g., the question is a [task] phrased in the [imperative]; it is [numerical]; it requires a [specified-method]; it demands attainment of a [specific-objective] rather than information on how to get from somewhere-near-A to somewhere-near-B. (The last item could be another definition of a "task").

  • handling volume growth by adding sites for existing popular categories of material including algebra, calculus, probability, topology, logic, mathematical competitions/problemsolving, number theory, and math-homework. Statistics and theoretical computer science are up and running. Specialization would, among other benefits, promote a higher number and quality of non-homework postings.

  • adding more rating dimensions to capture and filter (in- or exclusively) features of homework more specific than "someone didn't like something about the question".

  • $\begingroup$ This third one is a great idea, disallow homework on mathematics site and have a new one called "math-homework" for it. $\endgroup$ – anon Nov 8 '10 at 21:21
  • $\begingroup$ It doesn't require forbidding homework. Just redirecting it. Fewer people will post or answer homework when there is a specialized site for that purpose. There a big problem with the SE model in that it is difficult to add specialized groups -- they want 1500 users in beta! -- and, at the same time, impossible to crosspost one message to overlapping groups. If the users could edit the (currently nonexistent or hidden) "headers" of the kind that existed on USENET there could be a seamless migration of homework to the homework site, statistics to the statistics site and so on. $\endgroup$ – T.. Nov 8 '10 at 21:24

How about not giving reputation points for answering or asking questions tagged [homework]? (Kind of like Wiki.)

  • $\begingroup$ My guess is this would be technically difficult to implement, even if it was desirable, which I think it isn't. One technical problem is: what should the system do if a question has attracted many answers, with upvotes, and the [homework] tag is added after? One reason the idea is a bad one is that it would tend to promote edit warring over whether a question carried the [homework] tag. $\endgroup$ – MJD Feb 15 '14 at 19:23
  • $\begingroup$ Well, i do not think that it would be so much different from turning a question into Wiki. If i remember correctly, this may even happen automatically after 8 edits, and from that point on reputation points are not attributed. $\endgroup$ – Alexey Feb 15 '14 at 19:27
  • $\begingroup$ I imaging that to avoid warring it would be enough to allow moderators to "lock" this tag. This would allow homework questions (mostly copy-pasted ones) to have a status in between of normal questions and off-topic ones, that need to be deleted. $\endgroup$ – Alexey Feb 15 '14 at 19:39

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