# Should the homework tag be deprecated?

Apparently the use of the homework tag was deprecated on SO. This is actually mentioned in the same meta that our FAQ points to in describing how to ask/answer homework questions. However, elsewhere in the FAQ (and in the comments it seems) we tell them to tag their question as homework. I propose that we should either deprecate the homework tag on CV (for the reasons discussed on SO) or update the FAQ such that we point to a uniquely CV discussion of how to ask homework questions (we already have a good one on the answer side). What shall it be, or is there an option behind door #3?

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I'm going to dispute some of the "facts" as presented in the SO version of this argument, which I think either don't apply here, or are just a little bit wrong. Generally speaking, I favor retaining the homework tag.

• "homework is a meta-tag". I don't necessarily think meta-tags are bad. It helps put the question in context - this is homework, or an assignment, and so the relevant issue (at least should be) the OP understanding their answer, and being able to take it and apply it. While someone just asking "What does this output mean?" might be well served by an up and down explanation of the output, homework questions prompt me at least to try and convey some sense of how to avoid needing to come back to CV in the future with a similar, but slightly different, problem.
• "homework might be factually incorrect". This is an argument against people tagging something they feel like is homework for being "lesser" as homework, not an argument against the tag itself. This is true for any tag - if someone errantly labels a thread with a tag, that tag might be factually incorrect.
• "Copied assignments (verbatim) with no attempt at solving the problem are not real questions and should be closed anyway." These are only a subset of questions that could be, and should be, tagged as homework.
• "Someone, somewhere, will feel the need to say "is this homework? is it? is it homework? Really?" then somebody else will "USE THE HOMEWORK TAG11!!11" This is at best mildly irksome.
• "In spite of this tag, people do not treat the question differently (in my experience)." I do.
• "homework on occasion attracts some poor quality stuff." These questions will not go away because the homework tag is missing. That's like saying the "Python" tag in SO sometimes attracts some poor quality stuff.
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Just for the record, although I agree with you, the official stance of SE is that meta-tags are to be discouraged: blog.stackoverflow.com/2010/08/the-death-of-meta-tags –  rpierce Feb 24 '13 at 15:51
@drknexus It wouldn't be the first time I've disagreed with official SE stances on things. And for CV, I think Homework is less a "meta-tag" and more a "context-tag". –  Fomite Feb 25 '13 at 4:28

I'm against the homework tag simply because it seems to raise more problems than it solves, since answers should in theory act differently for 'homework' questions than other questions, but in practice do so inconsistently which causes conflict between users. I don't think we'll ever hit the utopia of all users being on the same page on this issue. Someone is going to jump in and just answer the easy question it to gain the rep, so hey it may as well be me.

I also have issues with the need to selectively judge exactly what 'homework' is, unless the OP tags it as such themselves. Some things are obvious but often not.

What do we actually gain even if we do treat homework questions 'properly'? Answers on CV almost always provide more than is asked for. For a silly example, if the homework question is

Find the mean of [1,2,3,4]


answers would typically explain what the mean is, how to compute it and maybe some links to more detailed explanations. No one answers with simply 2.5. The OP has learned something which is the point of the site.

Homework questions are often poor, but if that is the case the deficiencies need to be treated the same way as any other question (typically asking multiple questions in one and not stating what it is about the question they do not understand). A well formulated question that someone is asking in order to complete some kind of homework probably wouldn't even be detected as a homework questions, which ends up making 'homework' a proxy tag for 'bad question' which may help prolong the life of bad questions that should simply be closed.

I see too few upsides to negate the many downsides of the homework tag.

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I think your point about typical CV answers going beyond the minimum is a really good one. Certainly when answering I always feel like "Yes" or "2.5" are insufficient, & I ought to try to provide the OP w/ some understanding as well as an answer ('teach them to fish... ' & all that). I agree w/ @EpiGrad & I'm for keeping the tag, but that's the 1st argument that I've seen that I find compelling for removing the tag. –  gung Feb 25 '13 at 4:19

My sense (purely anecdotal) is that the very existence of a "homework" tag tends to promote less-than-congenial responses to perfunctory questions. Instead of providing a welcome and some hints--which should be our first reaction--some community members seem to prefer writing comments like "if this is homework, it should be tagged as homework!"

We could be friendlier.

I have therefore changed how I personally respond to questions that smell like homework: I still treat them as such in my comments and answers, but I don't demand that they be tagged.

(In the interests of full disclosure, I do become decidedly less friendly towards questions that appear to abuse the site or the goodwill of the community: but that's not a matter of whether the questions are related to homework or not.)

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(+1) I think I am stealing this idea from someone else here on meta, but I can't seem to locate it at the moment: I think we should suggest remapping homework to a "friendlier" synonym like "self-study" or "exercise" and editors should feel free to add it whenever it looks like it fits. I think the current tag wiki for homework is great and personally see no problem with editors adding it without needing to comment. Remapping it so that it appears in the "softer" form also should reduce the instances of responses of the form "but it's not my homework!". –  cardinal Mar 7 '13 at 2:31
I believe that this retagging without commenting already happens on many occasions, that it should be encouraged, and I even mentioned it recently here. –  cardinal Mar 7 '13 at 2:31
I'm more inclined to be helpful with a homework-level question if the person asking has taken the trouble to tag it as homework. –  Douglas Zare Mar 7 '13 at 8:18
@whuber: Oh! I stole it from you! Ah, the irony... –  cardinal Mar 7 '13 at 14:30
To be honest, I detest the change of making homework a synonym of self-study. Not only does it incorrectly describe what is under discussion, but the mapping of homework to self study has lost the useful description of how to avoid ruining the value of assigned homework. As an educator I find this quite disturbing and as a regular answerer I find it annoying. I think much of value has been lost. Questions that were plainly homework I could happily answer when tagged - if more briefly, while downvoting and ignoring homework not so tagged. I think untagged homework has no place here. –  Glen_b Mar 11 '13 at 5:19
At the very least, please restore the bulk of the tag wiki information that has been lost. I'd do it myself if I could see how. –  Glen_b Mar 11 '13 at 7:51
@Glen_b, you can actually still get to the homework tag wiki (albeit in a slightly fortuitous manner). If you type in a search for "homework" on the tags page, and then hit edit for the tag you can get to the previous wiki. I would be ok with a copy-paste of it all, it only needs slight editing to make sense for the new self-study tag (e.g. Don't edit a question to add the homework tag.). –  Andy W Mar 11 '13 at 12:36
@Glen_b: I don't quite understand your argument in the first comment. I think the intent of the tag, whether it is called homework or self-study is the same: To provide hints and guidance without ruining the value of assigned homework. In fact, that was the intent of the original homework tag and it was used much more broadly than a strict interpretation of homework. I found that a good thing! For one thing, it has insulated us from an outlandish amount of potential drama (see the math site if you want to see what can result) and also from being overrun by such questions. –  cardinal Mar 11 '13 at 13:02
@Glen_b: I completely agree that the tag wiki for homework should be moved to self-study (sans the part about editing to the add the tag, as Andy mentions). I'm sure that was the intent; it was likely just an oversight. :) –  cardinal Mar 11 '13 at 13:03
@Glen I added the self-study tag provisionally and it currently is a synonym for homework. Nothing has been lost. I appreciate everyone's comments about the change. But please note Cardinal's response: he is correct in that the homework tag has always included self-study situations. But I have read a different intent behind it: it is not our duty, nor can it ever be, to distinguish homework problems assigned in courses from all other questions. The issue for us is that homework-like questions have a different nature than other questions and need different kinds of answers. –  whuber Mar 11 '13 at 15:07
@whuber: I think our interpretations of the intent of the tag are more similar than may have appeared in my comment, due to poor wording on my part. I intended something more along the lines of: To provide hints and guidance on questions of this type without ruining the value of assigned homework for those questions that actually do come from such assignments. That is still quite clunky wording; you've stated how I generally view this matter better than I've managed to myself. :-) –  cardinal Mar 11 '13 at 16:42
@whuber Perhaps I misinterpreted what was happening in discussing a question yesterday. I'll investigate to see whether it's my understanding that was the problem. Short version - I wanted to explain to someone why I wasn't just 'answering the question' they had (and was giving hints to try to lead them there instead) by putting the homework tag on their question (in part so they could read it; their discussion made it clear it was homework), but couldn't (because self-study was there). When I tried to just find the homework tag, I couldn't seem to do that either. Maybe I screwed up. –  Glen_b Mar 11 '13 at 21:15
I don't think it's necessarily you, @Glen_b: the synonym mechanism does not work very well on SE, IMHO. But I just checked and had no problem finding the homework tag through the search control at stats.stackexchange.com/tags and (as a test) when I started to ask a new question on the site and started to type "homew..." in the Tags control, the homework tag popped right up. –  whuber Mar 11 '13 at 21:18
Yeah, I found it just now myself, and came back to say so - but something has definitely been 'lost', in a pretty obvious sense. If I post a homework question, I literally cannot add the tag even if I want to, and the self-study tag says nothing. Much of the exhortation and advice in the homework tag is especially useful guidance and I'd like to edit a lot of that in to the self-study tag. To what extent is that appropriate? Hang on, I'll post it as a question. edit - on second thought clearly several comments indicate that's the intent, so I will do it. –  Glen_b Mar 11 '13 at 21:44
Okay, I've now adapted the homework tag information into the self-study tag, mostly by tweaking the wording (it won't show up until its approved). In a couple of places the word 'homework' remains, because those parts explicitly refer to it being okay to post homework. I took the opportunity to clean it up a little as well (it needed a couple of edits). Please check it's okay! –  Glen_b Mar 11 '13 at 22:05

I'm strongly in favor of retaining the homework tag, in pretty much the way we have it now (though I can see some point to making all the links to things stay within CV so they stay relevant).

Edit: on the charge that SO deprecates it, I'd point out that math.SE does not; math.SE is a much closer model for the kind of activity we undertake than SO itself, so I don't think any claim of consistency carries weight.

I think there can be some inconsistency, but that's more a reason to more clearly promote the kind of behavior that's expected - to point out what the tag means for both askers and answerers.

Removing the tag is not doing the students a service!

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