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I can't find an appropriate definition of what the homework tag should cover. Is it homework if it is not to be handed in? Is it homework if it is an exercise from a book during self-study? Is it homework if it is a question which has come up while preparing for a test?

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    $\begingroup$ Ask your professor if s/he would call it "homework". If so, tag it as such. $\endgroup$ – Alex Becker Aug 30 '12 at 0:39
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    $\begingroup$ One reason I brought this up, is because a lot of questions are very homework-like in their wording. When I asked in a comment some days ago whether it was homework, the answer was something like "No, it is not homework, I am studying for my exams". $\endgroup$ – utdiscant Aug 30 '12 at 1:25
  • $\begingroup$ One extreme case of the "homework" question is the kind where the poster copies the question without understanding and without having attempted to understand what it says. ${}\qquad{}$ $\endgroup$ – Michael Hardy Oct 26 '15 at 0:13
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I'll bite. It's homework if

  1. You're a student, and

  2. Your teacher told you to do it, and

  3. You're expected to do it on your own, or report any help you got on it.

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  • $\begingroup$ You are right. However a person learning mathematics(he/she may be a school teacher or a mathematics professor) can be his own teacher(that's why the word self-teaching was invented). In this sense, if a person asks a mathematical question to himself to learn something, it can be seen as sort of homework. $\endgroup$ – Makoto Kato Aug 29 '12 at 6:33
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    $\begingroup$ @MakotoKato: That situation will not meet Gerry's third condition, which requires that the teacher has limited information about the student's actual progress and methods of solution. $\endgroup$ – Henning Makholm Aug 29 '12 at 11:43
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    $\begingroup$ @HenningMakholm I agree that the teacher has limited information about the student's actual progress and methods of solution while the self-learner knows how he solved the problem because he is both the teacher and the student. How do you think this difference between a homework question and a self-teaching question should affect our treatments to their questions in this site? $\endgroup$ – Makoto Kato Aug 29 '12 at 12:38
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    $\begingroup$ Point 3 implies assessed homework, no? We were positively encouraged to think about our homework in groups! (Not that anyone ever did though...) $\endgroup$ – user1729 Aug 29 '12 at 14:12
  • $\begingroup$ I think group work is covered by "report any help you got on it". I tell my students it's fine if people work together but they should write the work up on their own, without the notes they made while working together, so that what's got their signature at the bottom represents what they can actually do. $\endgroup$ – Gerry Myerson Aug 29 '12 at 23:12
  • $\begingroup$ @GerryMyerson: So homework is to be handed in? As in, one can set `homework' questions which are expected to be done, but not necessarily handed in, but these do not come under your definition? $\endgroup$ – user1729 Aug 30 '12 at 19:25
  • $\begingroup$ (I should say that during my undergrad we very rarely had to hand work in, but courses had `homework' every week which we were expected to complete.) $\endgroup$ – user1729 Aug 30 '12 at 19:28
  • $\begingroup$ @user, it was not my intention to write an all-encompassing definition that would cover every conceivable situation, just a first shot at some guidelines. If the situation you describe arises, I'd encourage the students involved to consult the teacher as to the correct course of action. $\endgroup$ – Gerry Myerson Aug 31 '12 at 5:54
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There should be a situation like this (although MSE seems unable to make it work...):

You have a problem you want to solve yourself, you state it here and show what you did so far and where you got stuck. You want us here to provide you merely with a small hint to help you proceed. You do not want us here to write the complete solution within 10 minutes.

That is a "homework" or "homework-type" question.

The burden is on our users here. When they see the "homework" tag they should restrain themselves and not post a complete solution. That is the part that doesn't work here. Even if 99 percent of us do it, there is often that one guy who goes ahead with the solution.

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  • $\begingroup$ The following is my comment to the Gerry Myerson's answer. "However a person learning mathematics(he/she may be a school teacher or a mathematics professor) can be his own teacher(that's why the word self-teaching was invented). In this sense, if a person asks a mathematical question to himself to learn something, it can be seen as sort of homework." So if the both of our opinions are right, we should not write the complete solution to almost every question within 10 minutes. $\endgroup$ – Makoto Kato Aug 29 '12 at 19:37
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    $\begingroup$ @GEdgar, I think we need a (radically different) tag for self-assigned tasks, versus externally-assigned. There is usually a world of difference... although, in an ideal universe, there wouldn't be, I agree. $\endgroup$ – paul garrett Aug 29 '12 at 23:56
  • $\begingroup$ They didn't exactly like it when I raised the issue of full answers to homework questions. $\endgroup$ – user2468 Sep 1 '12 at 16:24
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Without meaning to take anything away from any other comments or answers, I would (reiterate that) an exogenously-assigned homework, with a due date, with "judgement" coming due, is essentially infinitely different from any sort of self-assigned task. I had always presumed that "homework" meant that the questioner had limited idea of the context of the question, also, and, in any case, might have limited motivation to understand any larger context, but "needed" to come up with an answer ... e.g., to avoid a bad grade. That is, ... apart from any apparent intellectual/scientific/aesthetic motivations.

I have no serious objection to motivation-by-coursework, but, yes, cliche'd questions thus arising have a different, and somewhat delicate, status, in contrast to questions arising outside of such an environment.

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  • $\begingroup$ "I had always presumed that "homework" meant that the questioner had limited idea of the context of the question, also, and, in any case, might have limited motivation to understand any larger context, but "needed" to come up with an answer ... e.g., to avoid a bad grade." Now that you tell us what you think homework means. How do you think we should treat a homework question as opposed to a self-assigned task? $\endgroup$ – Makoto Kato Aug 30 '12 at 7:26
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Semantics aside, homework is a problem assigned to you by your course instructor and the due date hasn't passed yet. If the due date has already passed then it's no longer a homework.

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    $\begingroup$ Yes, this sense of "homework" may be the statistically most frequent, and most operationally relevant. The other conceivable sense, of self-assigned exercise-to-understanding, is soooo different from this that I think we should strive to distinguish them. $\endgroup$ – paul garrett Aug 29 '12 at 23:57

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