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Perhaps to a lesser degree than STEM fields, the academic study of economics- especially at an undergraduate level- consists of a lot of problem sets and papers (a.k.a., "homework"). Students will probably come to this site to ask for help on certain problems. How should we plan our homework helping policy?

I'll start: I personally believe the asker should acknowledge that the problem is from a homework set, and that the asker should discuss what he or she has already done to figure out the answer. Posts blatantly asking other users to do homework questions for the OP should be marked "off-topic."

What do you think?

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    $\begingroup$ +1 for a crucial question. When answering your own question (on meta or on main), it's really most useful if you can post the answer as an answer, rather than in the body of a question. It provides a motivation for discipline, to make the question as self-contained as possible. And it allows people to vote separately on your question and your answer. $\endgroup$ – 410 gone Nov 29 '14 at 8:58
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    $\begingroup$ Have we reached a consensus? I'm wondering because I want to know how we should deal with this question: economics.stackexchange.com/questions/1915/… $\endgroup$ – jmbejara Jan 5 '15 at 23:52
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    $\begingroup$ @jmbejara: If this question is on topic, I predict this site will not survive, at least in any form that's of interest to professional economists. $\endgroup$ – Steven Landsburg Jan 6 '15 at 14:05
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    $\begingroup$ I think you're right. I like @Ubiquitous' edit below. I think others will agree too. As soon as possible we should formulate a policy and put it here: meta.economics.stackexchange.com/questions/1252/… $\endgroup$ – jmbejara Jan 6 '15 at 14:42
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    $\begingroup$ @StevenLandsburg, I agree. An economics site is inevitably threatened by other forms of clutter (ideological or amateurish viewpoints on economics) anyway, to the point where many people doubt that econ.se can even be viable; when viability is threatened in this way, it seems suicidal to accept a torrent of low-value-added homework questions that will turn off serious contributors. Maybe when the site has grown to an expert user base 10x or 100x its current size this policy could be reexamined, but not now. $\endgroup$ – nominally rigid Jan 7 '15 at 0:31
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I think a sensible requirement on homework questions (or questions that look like homework questions) is that the asker show what they have tried and demonstrates some minimal level of effort to figure out the answer on their own.

That way we

  1. avoid the most egregious cases of people using our site to cheat on their homework,
  2. encourage people to learn and think about problems, rather than just taking the easy option,
  3. ensure a minimum level of respect for question answerers, who shouldn't have to put up with questions of the form "please do my homework, I can't be bothered".

Edit: I should add that my perspective on this issue is hardening based on observation of questions coming onto the site. I now think we should be closing pure homework-style questions that do not have anything individually interesting to contribute (e.g. calculate demand for this Cobb-Douglas utility function, etc.) because they are in danger of crowding out the better content that is likely to attract and retain expert users.

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    $\begingroup$ Especially as we are too reputable a network; so we can't punish them with false ("clouds are cow gas") answers so they get a F-. $\endgroup$ – LateralFractal Nov 19 '14 at 10:03
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    $\begingroup$ @LateralFractal too bad, I could have a lot of fun coming up with such answers :) $\endgroup$ – Ubiquitous Nov 19 '14 at 10:11
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    $\begingroup$ Shouldn't this be a requirement for any question? I frequent StackOverflow for help with my R and (god-awful) Python skills, and I am quickly called out if I don't either demonstrate my logic that led me to need help, or provide a very convincing case for why I know nothing. It keeps me (and, I believe, others)intellectually honest- you must show effort before receiving explicit guidance. $\endgroup$ – datahappy Nov 20 '14 at 3:52
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    $\begingroup$ +1000 for "2. Encourage people to learn and think about problems". I am a little conflicted on the issue of homework question. On the one hand, I see the danger of Economics.SE becoming a homework solving website. But at the same time my TA-DNA makes me want to help OP who show significant effort in trying to solve the problem and frame their question clearly. This being said, if anyone ever ventures into helping OP with homework-like questions, I think it is essential NEVER to give the OP the final answer right away. $\endgroup$ – Martin Van der Linden Dec 2 '14 at 16:04
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    $\begingroup$ +1000 for your edit. $\endgroup$ – Steven Landsburg Jan 6 '15 at 14:04
  • $\begingroup$ Could we add more detail to this question to describe when homework questions are allowed? Strictly speaking, it sounds like homework questions are allowed when they are expert level (say you're a grad student with a question that might be interesting on the expert level). It seems like basic undergraduate level questions are out (which is as it should be in my opinion). $\endgroup$ – jmbejara Jan 6 '15 at 17:30
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During the private beta, we need to be ruthless: close and delete them on sight.

Later, we can form a policy, as the site takes shape when it moves into public beta. Personally, I prefer the physics.SE policy rather than the maths.SE one: homework questions must be about specific concepts (rather than particular calculations), and show some attempt at making progress with it.

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  • $\begingroup$ +1 "homework questions must be about specific concepts (rather than particular calculations)" $\endgroup$ – rnrneverdies Nov 22 '14 at 17:29
  • $\begingroup$ I answered this question without referring to the actual numbers, but introducing some real world concepts. I even think my answer could be improved upon. Is this the right way to approach it? economics.stackexchange.com/questions/253/… $\endgroup$ – Alex Nov 23 '14 at 14:01
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I suggest the mathoverflow policy: no obvious homework questions, ever.

I clarify: the question must always be formulated or refer to something that is not already answered in an undergraduate or first year graduate level textbook.* A suggestion on how to generalize even an undergraduate result is fine; the undergraduate result itself, in general, is not fine, but clutter in a very harmful way.

Consider this: if obvious homework questions are allowed, most of the site will be homework.

The problem is that first year macro- or microeconomics (like first semester calculus) are general education curriculum courses all over the world. Every student takes them. Later they take their phone, search, and post questions that bore them here, so that we too can be bored.

Which working scientist or any individual at all, who gave serious thought to a question and already looked at the literature, would spend time to post interesting questions and discuss answers in a place where these questions and answers would be typically bumped down off the front page, within half an hour, by a dozen homework questions?

*TO CLARIFY: What I am thinking of by "anything in an undergraduate textbook" is any "question" (since that is what we are talking about allowing or removing) found in it. Because this is generally an object from the homework questions section inevitably supplied by each textbook author.

I certainly don't mean to suggest any concepts mentioned in a textbook are therefore subjects of inquiry excluded from discussion on the site.

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  • $\begingroup$ Persuasive answer. $\endgroup$ – Ubiquitous Nov 23 '14 at 18:41
  • $\begingroup$ "homework questions" are not equivalent to "anything in an undergraduate textbook". The first are bad, the second are essential to a healthy balanced site. $\endgroup$ – curiousdannii Nov 23 '14 at 23:38
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    $\begingroup$ curiousdannii, good catch, actually. My phrasing was ambiguous and I'm correcting it. $\endgroup$ – user218 Nov 23 '14 at 23:54
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That sounds good. Perhaps we should also keep an eye on duplicates so we can hoard a collection of common answers to homework questions.

Growing the community I think is more vital than specific content, so students we help might become active users because we were helpful.

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  • $\begingroup$ This would require that we keep specific numbers out of the problems. $\endgroup$ – Alex Nov 23 '14 at 14:03
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Often, Homework questions have low quality in general. So it should be detected when the question have low quality then it would be deleted. We must be care about misundrastandings. Every question may be a part of any homework too, particularly in Ph.D. stage. So marking any question as homework will guid us to wrong way. Also please note to this point that homeworks solution often could be found on internet and many sites have their solutions. So simple questions will be eliminated here where it has low quality and can not satistify standards of QA.

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  • $\begingroup$ Why was this answer down voted? $\endgroup$ – Ubiquitous Nov 29 '14 at 18:55
  • $\begingroup$ @Ubiquitous unfortunatly some users dont like me and have offensive behaviour. I thinks it is about my bad English. $\endgroup$ – Huseyin Nov 29 '14 at 18:57
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To some degree, what we're doing is ranking classes of arguments (e.g. ethics, question usefulness, membership composition).

Editorial: moderating obvious homework questions helps with all of the above, unless we want to put this in the FAQ. While it's probably only helpful to struggle individually for a certain amount of time before asking for help, relative anonymity doesn't always incentivize actual learning, and even online education programs have reasonable options for students with questions.

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Today 5 awful questions emerged (all but the second, below) which are likely to be closed as off-topic):

enter image description here

What about a warning to any new user writing a question? This could happen in the form of a pop-up when clicking the answering box. Or maybe, a compulsory introduction to SE. That would help reducing bad questions.

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In terms of developing a method to deal with homework questions I suggest that we should answer a few of them, and then when we see the same or similar question come up again we simply redirect the questioner to the previously answered questions.

This way we can reduce the volume of homework questions asked on this site, simply because the resources are there.

Maybe this can work?

Note: https://stats.meta.stackexchange.com/a/19/155650

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Just answer them. People have questions, you can answer them. As long as they are not hilariously badly written it's fine. We aren't their teachers, we haven't the responsibility to foster critical thinking.

The dangers of crowding out better visitors are, frankly, overblown. This website gets 160 visitors a day. It'll get deleted like the previous one before experts even bother knowing it exists. If we get 15,000 visitors a day then sure get selective.

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    $\begingroup$ It sounds a reasonable strategy to game the .SE system in order to force it to let this site survive (because answering questions like the one you did recently is equivalent to gaming the .SE approach -the infrastructure and reputation of which we are using). But by the time we may have achieved this, reaching say, 2K visitors and 20 "do my econ algebra for me" questions per day, in what way will we be able to become "selective" then? "Select out" who, in order to "Select in" who? And who is going to be "we" by then? I am asking, not telling. This is clearly saddle-path stable at best. $\endgroup$ – Alecos Papadopoulos Dec 3 '14 at 5:26
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    $\begingroup$ Most people access the stack exchanges through google when looking for an answer to their question. Having one or a million homework questions answered doesn't really stop experts from finding or not finding what they are looking for. Is there really any proof to the idea that experts wouldn't ask questions in this website simply because easy questions also get asked? And is it cheating to answer an easy question? Why? Questions and answers get rated by how many people find it useful. Is that such a bad metric? Would you rather close this SE than it being not eyebrow enough ? $\endgroup$ – CarrKnight Dec 3 '14 at 7:18
  • $\begingroup$ I wouldn't close any site, irrespective of content, or number of visitors. SE will, and this is why I am discussing the issue, because we cannot have a site with only high-level questions and 10 visitors a day. It would be fine for me, but it would be closed down by the company. What is "highbrow" for some people is just "interesting" to others -and we are trying to find this possibly unique mix. As is eventually always the case with Economics, it is about how many and how many of the various levels of questions. And of course no-one has an exact or certain answer. $\endgroup$ – Alecos Papadopoulos Dec 3 '14 at 10:09
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    $\begingroup$ sure, but that's my point too. But the answers here make the opposite case. That there is a level we find too low, even if useful, and we want to ban it. That to me sounds catastrophic. It will kill the SE. $\endgroup$ – CarrKnight Dec 3 '14 at 11:42
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    $\begingroup$ No, the issue is the incentive structure. I don;t care if the site survives for the sake of it. I care about acommunity of carefully thinkers. Ifwe have lots of homework qustions, then the incentives are for contributors to spend their time helping college kids cheat. Youa ccumulate reputation that way, you rise to the top... But the site becomes a big homework answer repository. No. I think if it fails because of lack of interestng debate, questions, asnwers, so be it. Nothing lost because there was nothign to loose... $\endgroup$ – Fix.B. Apr 29 '16 at 3:54

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