There have been multiple postings, including some recent ones, where problems that (according to their posters) are "practice problems" for a class, or from an exam preparation sheet are tagged by other users as [homework]. This means that if the posters of the problems are students, their grades are independent of how much or how little answer they receive for the questions posted to math.SE, because no reward or punishment is associated with submitting solutions of the problems.

In some education systems this is, especially at university level, the default meaning of "homework": grades are based on examinations, and homework is a suggested list of problems, not the basis of any marking of pupils. In some places not only is the homework optional, but students would be considered fortunate to have anyone read or evaluate their solutions to any of the suggested problems; it is not a feature provided by enrollment in a class or school.

I think the tagging as [homework] and the concern over the "problem" of homework is largely based on assumptions that the posters of questions stand to derive direct personal benefit (elevated grades) from a solution and might cynically solicit such benefit at the expense of users who answer the questions.

Given this, it should be clarified by those who consider [homework] an important matter for the site, whether the [homework] tag is intended for any problems in any way associated with schoolwork, or only for questions that are gradable.

Of course, the intention could be ambiguous or lacking in consensus. If so, it points to the need for more specific information than a question being [homework] or [not-homework], such as what level of answer is sought, whether it is a hint-request or solution-request, and the poster's background level. These are poster-dependent metadata that have a life of their own separate from the mathematical Q&A.


1 Answer 1


My primary concern with homework questions is not so much that the user might derive personal benefit in the form of grades. It's that they may miss an opportunity to learn something. In that case, it doesn't matter if the problem was assigned or not. It dosen't mater what level the problem is at either. What matters is that we interact with each other and share and build ideas together rather than just having some people asking and others telling.

The former is more conducive to a vibrant mathematics community.

I think for some users the "homework" tag can feel like a subtle way of saying "you don't belong here" --at times that is how it can seem to me. As if some questions are just too stupid.

As they say "KNow question is 2 dum."

(The joke here being that no question is too dumb... except for those that clearly are. Though, seriously, since this website is for math of all levels ANY questions should be fair game as long as the person asking takes time to interact, respond and hold up their end of the conversation.)

  • $\begingroup$ The "missed learning opportunity" argument seems to apply equally to homework and non-homework. In fact, others here have made that argument for not answering anything completely. This would gut the value of a Q&A site in my opinion, but it is a logically consistent (and correct) analysis of homework as not being a fundamentally different category that should be singled out. $\endgroup$
    – T..
    Nov 11, 2010 at 2:42
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    $\begingroup$ I don't see how it "guts the value" -- you seem to be saying that treating all things as homework means never giving full answers. Yet, I think full answers are fine if they grow naturally out of the question and the work of the person who asked it. $\endgroup$
    – futurebird
    Nov 11, 2010 at 2:58
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    $\begingroup$ Treating homework and non-homework equally may or may not mean limited answers, depending on what other principles are involved. (I prefer unrestricted Q & A, other users recommend restricting all answers, your suggestion is intermediate.) What appears true in all analyses is that nobody can produce a specific reason why homework differs in principle from non-homework in (e.g.) its potential for missed learning opportunities, for exploitation of free labor from answerers, distortion of scholastic or professional evaluations, or any other problem imputed to homework as a category. $\endgroup$
    – T..
    Nov 12, 2010 at 3:26

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