In this answer to another meta thread, Bill Dubuque raises the following point:
We should strive not only to give solutions to problems but also to teach how to solve problems. One of the important things to stress in that regard is that to succeed in mathematics requires sustained effort attacking problems. If students don't spend enough time chewing on problems before they post them here then they will not learn essential problem solving skills that are crucial to succeed as a mathematican.
Matt E comments:
Another comment: the question you raise could sensibly stand as the topic of its own thread, where it could be discussed more fully. It is related to, but not the same as, the older threads on homework. I think (but might be wrong) that there could be some tension between those who view this site purely in Q&A terms and those who have a more academic view of things, in which there are teachers and students, who stand in a particular relationship to one another. For this reason, I'm not sure that discussing this issue will be conclusive; but it may well be productive.
I think this is an interesting topic worth discussing. It seems to me that question askers on this site can roughly be divided into two categories:
- A student (say an undergraduate) asking about a topic which confuses her.
- A professional outside of mathematics asking about a topic which has come up in her work.
It is fairly easy to tell the two types of askers apart, and this particular discussion is about the first type of asker. In the long run, it is not necessarily a great idea just to answer all questions by an asker of the first type for precisely the reasons stated above. (Admittedly I have been somewhat guilty of this.) What should our policy be with respect to such askers? Should something go into the FAQ?
(Askers of the second type should, of course, be directed to appropriate resources as much as to a solution to their problem.)