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Often I see comments like this:

This is not a forum for solving homework questions. VTC.

A meta post from 5 years ago seems to suggest otherwise: Should we answer exam or test questions?

If nothing has changed (locally or network-wide), is it something the community wishes to revisit?


Such questions, for example, How to calculate this true altitude?, show lack of research, which if someone is inclined to, they can certainly down vote. But should it be closed? Initially I voted to close from the review page, but retracted my vote when I recalled the linked meta post.

On a related note, the tag was created, but I deleted it, as it is an orphan tag, and I don't see what value it adds to the question, whether it's on or off-topic (feel free to discuss this point as well).

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    $\begingroup$ Just a quick note that there is no network-wide policy on homework questions: Stack Overflow, Maths, Physics, Chemistry, English, History, and similar/different policies on other SE sites. So this community has to decide their own homework policy! $\endgroup$ – Andrew T. Dec 16 '19 at 14:31
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AV.SE, and SE in general, exists primarily to answer difficult questions, ones that haven't been answered in your basic textbook. Or, if they have, to answer specialist-grade questions in a way that a layman can understand. Or to give a broad perspective on open-ended, controversial, or simply interesting questions.

Most homework questions are none of that.

The answers to them are well-known, unambiguous, and rarely of interest to a wide audience. The people asking them aren't looking for perspectives or insight, but to circle the right letter or skip a lengthy calculation.

Some exceptions are bound to exist somewhere, but they would be the exceptions that prove the rule! The few homework questions that are genuinely interesting often won't be identified as a homework question, and will receive all the attention such a question normally would. If they're clearly revealed as homework, that can be fixed by editing out the homework bit.

It's when a question is so uninspired and uninteresting, that it's hard to think of any reason anyone would ask it, other than homework, that it gets and should get close votes for that.

Downvoting is not a replacement for closing. Downvoting works well on answers, as a way for the community to mark wrong answers. For questions, downvoting is much less effective at removing their effects on the site, not to mention the negative externalities.

Bad questions actively harm the site. They are useless for everyone except for the asker (or someone else with the same piece of homework). They still show up in search results, so people trying to find knowledge on the site will find A, B, C or D instead.

Such questions are noise that reduces the site's usability and quality. These are decisive today - there's no shortage of information on the internet, the challenge is sorting the good from the bad, getting the best signal to noise ratio.

In conclusion: We should close such questions, but without prejudice.
Open-ended, on-topic questions that invite interesting answers should stay regardless of their origin (and edited to abstract them from homework if needed). Questions that have no value aside from cheating on a test should be removed.

Heavy downvoting can hide them, but that is worse for the user than a swift closure with explanation on how to ask a proper question. We're closing questions, not users - the best outcome is for them to identify their gap in knowledge and ask a better question that helps them understand the topic they're studying.

Edit:
Recently there's been a practical case in question: How many smoke detectors does the A340 cargo deck have, and how are they wired?

This is what I feel is an example of a decent homework question. The question is not the actual assignment, it's knowledge to be used as an input for one. In such cases, it's probably not even necessary to remove the homework context - as the student's faculty member, I'd be inclined to answer it or at least suggest a book.

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  • $\begingroup$ Minor nit pick, downvoting questions is a possible solution as questions with a score below a certain value are penalised in search and below another value they don’t show up at all. $\endgroup$ – Notts90 supports Monica Dec 20 '19 at 4:31
  • $\begingroup$ @Notts90 Good point. However, I think having a question closed with comments about how to ask an appropriate one might be better even for the asker - it's less demoralizing than having it voted down into oblivion and left unanswered. $\endgroup$ – Therac Dec 21 '19 at 10:16
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    $\begingroup$ that’s a good point about the demoralising effect on new users. $\endgroup$ – Notts90 supports Monica Dec 21 '19 at 10:21
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I believe the problem is when the question appears copy pasted with no effort made by the OP to explain their current understanding of the question or explain where they're struggling. To me it feels like they're expecting me to do all the work for them so they don't have to think.

I'd suggest such questions should be downvoted with a comment but not closed if they have the potential to help others as per the SO stance. If its really niche, then I'd suggest close as off-topic, which I believe is how History.SE deals with such questions, though they do specifically state in their on topic page that.

Questions answered by a simple Google search or to be found in a Wikipedia page

are off topic, which we don't.

If a question is closed as off-topic for this reason there's nothing stopping a user editing it to make it more general/interesting and then voting to re-open.

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    $\begingroup$ I appreciate turning it into an answer. I've submitted an answer as well, to give more options to the voters. $\endgroup$ – ymb1 Dec 16 '19 at 13:07
  • $\begingroup$ @ymb1 Just seen it and +1, that seems like good clear criteria for closing the question. $\endgroup$ – Notts90 supports Monica Dec 16 '19 at 13:08
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If nothing has changed (locally or network-wide), is it something the community wishes to revisit?

I don't read that answer the same way you do. It says:

Yes - if it's a valid question, then why not answer the question.

copy-pasting a test question is not really a valid question on SE. We want to be able to help the widest possible amount of people, solving test questions is not the way to go.

If the user explains what's the issue with the question, and why it is not possible to answer that question, i.e. what steps are unclear, it is a much better SE question, and thus not deserving of the comment you reported.

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  • $\begingroup$ Personally I don't like "gimme answer" questions. What is confusing me though, is that research is typically not required, so why is it the case for homework questions? Is there a network-wide policy that we can refer to perhaps? $\endgroup$ – ymb1 Dec 15 '19 at 16:22
  • $\begingroup$ @ymb1 If you hover the mouse cursor over the down vote button on questions all over SE you see the text "This question does not show any research effort; it is unclear or not useful" which implies that at least some research is expected from the asker. $\endgroup$ – DeepSpace Dec 16 '19 at 13:28
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    $\begingroup$ @DeepSpace Yes, that is a valid reason for down-voting, but not necessarily for closing a question. $\endgroup$ – Bianfable Dec 16 '19 at 13:30
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There's no network-wide policy here (as far as I know) and as I said in my answer to the question you referenced, I think we should answer questions that are useful, regardless of how they're asked. That's always going to be subjective but if a copy/paste question is an opportunity to share knowledge and improve on other sources then does it really matter how the OP expressed it?

I'm not a fan of "give me the answer" questions and I'm sure no one else here is. I also think this is a great time to revisit this topic given the growth of the site and everything we've learned, I just don't want to us automatically downvote homework questions if we could do something useful with them.

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Getting back to stack basics

I will suggest that the answer to your question here is already covered in the help center's "How do I ask a good question" summary.

There is a never ending stream of users who do not avail themselves of that fine bit of guidance; I see this in other stacks as well. I have begun to more often add that specific link (based on the stack I am on at the time) in a comment when I feel that a new user ought to review that basic premise.

Search, and research

This is what is most frequently not done.

Have you thoroughly searched for an answer before asking your question?

Most question askers have not.

For some really thorny "extra credit" kinds of homework questions, where someone has exhausted what's in the text book and has hit the wall, they will need to show what they have tried and explain why they can't get any further. That kind of homework question will tend to fit into the guidance at the link, and as @Therac pointed out, can probably fit in.

Most others do not. And for that matter, as I drop by the review queue and the active questions list to have a look, I find that more questions that not, "homework" or otherwise, suffer from the same lack of effort.

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I'll split the difference.

  • Federico says it's not a valid question, but when I asked for clarification regarding a guideline to fall back on, since research is not required, I did not get an answer, at least yet.
  • Notts90 says that downvoting is valid for lack of research, but voting to close is not.
  • The community has been closing such questions, which may indicate a shift from the 5-year old meta post.

I think the topic needs revisiting, with clear guidelines. I propose:

If the question lists possible answers (multiple choice), and does not state the steps that were taken, it should be closed as needs more focus (the new lingo that replaced unclear what you're asking).

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    $\begingroup$ I would argue that a shift from 5-year-old policies is very justified. The users on a beta site will usually just want it to grow, any way it can. Once you get the critical mass to sustain the site, quality begins to win over quantity. $\endgroup$ – Therac Dec 17 '19 at 22:29

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