# Trying to keep students from using MSE to do their homework

I'm working as a counselor at a summer math camp, and have been tasked with giving challenge problems for the campers outside of their classes (see this post at MESE) for more details. I am almost certain that at least one of the students would know to look at MSE for help on the question, and would not be shocked if one of them thought to make an account and ask MSE for help with the question. I intend to make the problems distinctive enough that if somebody were to ask about it, especially during the appropriate time, it'd probably be recognizable. The problems are meant to be puzzle-type questions, i.e. they do not require any particular background to solve, but just some elbow grease and critical thought; as such, I think it reasonable that they work among themselves to solve the problem instead of resorting to the Inbterwebz for help.

What I would like to do is inform the MSE community what problems I am assigning, and politely ask that they not answer these questions outright for the duration of the camp (three weeks). I figure I can't be the first person to try and do this, so there would either be a mechanism for it, or a rule against it (on or off the books). So which is it? Thanks in advance for your help.

• This seems similar to some past meta requests not to answer questions from specific contests, like meta.math.stackexchange.com/questions/18745/… and meta.math.stackexchange.com/questions/17328/… and meta.math.stackexchange.com/questions/11034/… Jul 3, 2015 at 19:34
• @JonasMeyer - Would a request like this still qualify as "contest problems"? I mean, it's a contest within the camp, but I don't know if it would be a "contest" by MSE standards.
– AJY
Jul 3, 2015 at 19:36
• AJY, I don't know. Jul 3, 2015 at 19:42
• I don't think you'll have much luck preventing students from posting questions here - and, to be perfectly sure, the community at large is not wholly effective at stopping bad questions from getting answers. If your questions are distinctive, you can probably find out if a student does post a question here, though, for what that's worth. Jul 3, 2015 at 21:24
• Thanks, Meelo. Is there any way to freeze a question (as with contest questions)?
– AJY
Jul 3, 2015 at 21:25
• @AJY Well, you can leave a comment no matter what - and that might, if nothing else, deter the student from posting more and would likely dissuade some people from answering. If the question is posted in accordance to site standards (which would at least entail the the student put effort into solving it), there's not much more you could do - but, in the more likely case that they do not, you can flag the post for closure and it will likely end up closed quickly. Moderators usually lock contest questions, but they're slower and less likely to act in such a case than community review is. Jul 3, 2015 at 21:38
• Possible duplicate of A Consolidated Homework Policy
– user223391
Nov 16, 2017 at 16:59

In short, we do not have a consolidated homework policy. It is fair to say that we act as though each question is asked in good faith. Other than that, it is up to each answerer to decide their own criteria for when to or not to answer a question.

You could, if you really wanted, put up a list of questions on meta. But I doubt many would read it, and fewer would heed it. It's unrealistic to expect others to look out for lists of questions and to monitor their own answering.

What you can do is flag for moderator attention. Without seeing the questions, I can't say that we'll do anything. But flag the ones you see for mod attention with the other flag, explain what's going on, and we'll see what happens from there.

Understanding how to make homework work when answers are available online is a rising challenge.

• We do appear to have a “Contest problem” policy. I think the problems of the sort described here may qualify: they are written specifically for a time-limited event.
– user147263
Jul 3, 2015 at 22:57
• Yes. Contests are very different than homework, most notably in the originality of the question. For instance, if someone were to recycle an old contest problem (say from the 1980 IMO or something) on a current contest, we would not remove old questions that answer the current one. This is why I mention that I cannot say how we will react here until we see the questions. Other than that, the way we handle contest problems is the exact same as I suggest: someone flags it for moderator attention, and then we proceed from there. It's one of the tasks we mods handle ourselves (except detection)
– davidlowryduda Mod
Jul 3, 2015 at 23:03
• Thanks for the link regarding difficulty of "making homework work" +1.
– Paramanand Singh Mod
Jul 5, 2015 at 4:37
• +1 because I think this answer reflects the current state of the site, not because I think that this should be the current state of the site. :) Jul 5, 2015 at 16:34

We should adapt to a world where sites such as MSE exist. Encourage students to effectively use it. By doing so we can significantly raise the bar for them. Expect that students are working together and use the internet as a resource. Grading their solution should be based on a verbal presentation of the solution.

• When you have a class of 200, grading based on verbal presentation is a non-starter. Jul 7, 2015 at 12:13
• I agree, maybe split the exam in two parts, one part do anything you like, get insight in the problem and then a second part in class only with your notes and then solve very similar problems. It would at least encourage retaining of the solution :) , it would at least show copying solutions won't do here Jul 7, 2015 at 12:34
• Nothing wrong with the idea, it's just impractical to implement. Jul 7, 2015 at 17:18
• @GerryMyerson In a class of 200 you can make problem solving groups of 4 or 5 students reducing the work to grade to 50 or 40. Then you randomly select several to present their work. If their work is not original or can't defend it, then consider it an act of plagiarism. - Students do cooperate and they do use the internet every day. We can make them better at it. Jul 7, 2015 at 17:59
• You have no idea how impractical your suggestion is, ndr, at least where I teach. Jul 8, 2015 at 0:35
• @GerryMyerson - Oh, I do understand. You are overwhelmed by class hours, grading work and so on. No time to do anything else. - If you want to shape the clay you have to use force and you can't avoid getting dirty hands. Just make sure the end result is worth it. Think out of the box. Jul 8, 2015 at 5:19
• "Adapting to a world where sites such as MSE exists" isn't a burden exclusive to teachers and contest organizers: it is also a burden for users people who use sites such as MSE.
– user14972
Jul 8, 2015 at 6:50
• @ndroock1 - I fully expect they will collaborate on the problems, but I would like to see more how well they can think through how to attack the problem. I want to see what they can do, and help personally give them advice, because I know what I want them to get out of it. If they were to go to MSE, they would most likely have some faculty member give or come close to giving them the answer.
– AJY
Jul 9, 2015 at 19:05
• I agree @AJY, if the problems are more or less standard textbook type of problems. - I am thinking about a new type of education that fully utilizes the resources available on the internet. Perhaps you have to prepare students for a graded exam, that makes it more difficult. Not all countries have graded exams, raising the bar would mean dropping graded exams anyway. - Just thinking aloud worth 0,02c. Jul 9, 2015 at 19:34
• Also, while students will learn something from a verbal presentation or from asking on math.SE, it is not the same thing they will learn from working on a problem on their own. This suggestion is like proposing that athletic coaches should adapt to a world where cars exist by never having their students run laps. Jul 13, 2015 at 14:03
• Personally, I assign homework but assign it very little weight towards a grade. I allow students to use sites like this because, in my view, the point of homework is to understand... if you go through a process and end up understanding, then I'm happy. Tests are all on your own... no notes, friends, or devices that connect to the internet, no phones, usually (but not always) no calculators. The test is the opportunity to demonstrate that YOU know how to solve a problem. Jul 16, 2015 at 19:54