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While we're on the topic of getting rid of tags, I would like to bring this up as a first step towards making a new closure policy.

This has actually been discussed before. See: (1) Should we have a homework tag? (2) Should we stop using the homework tag? Apparently, at the time, it was thought to be helpful, despite an SE employee explicitly warning against the use of a meta tag. Fast forward four years, and this tag has proliferated (2,797 uses: a whopping 13.6% of questions, as of the time of writing).

My question is simple: Do we really need the homework tag?

If you have read some of my ramblings on the homework policy before, you will know where I stand on this. There are multiple reasons why I really dislike this tag. However, this post isn't meant to be another of my rants. Instead, I'd like to hear from the other side - if you have a good reason why we should have the homework tag, or if you think there is a purpose it serves that cannot be accomplished via other means, please do share it in an answer.

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    $\begingroup$ When I was new to this stuff, I felt it added something to the questions, and indicated something that otherwise wouldn't have been possible to point out; which is why most of my earlier edits involve inclusion of this tag. But as time passed, the usage has become more inconsistent, and more people have shown reluctance to use the tag, where, by definition, its usage was valid, in a way that I could confidently say it no longer classifies the 2797 questions it's on right now adequately. Therefore, it seems not to add anything to questions now and it should go. $\endgroup$ – M.A.R. Mar 23 '17 at 9:21
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    $\begingroup$ Oh what fun this will/would be cleaning up those questions. If we're deciding to do that, we need to finalise our stand on the bad question/not so helpful answers first, as I think there are many of these gems hidden there. $\endgroup$ – Martin - マーチン Mar 23 '17 at 11:11
  • $\begingroup$ @Martin-マーチン If you choose to burninate the tag, it can probably be done silently, automatically, and without bumping stuff. You just need to make sure that there are no questions with no other tags (which would be a big red flag to begin with). $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Mar 23 '17 at 11:40
  • $\begingroup$ @M.A.R. Cleanup could possibly run roughly in tandem with that from this question. $\endgroup$ – hBy2Py Mar 23 '17 at 13:36
  • $\begingroup$ @E.P. that's what I'm concerned about. The reaction tag had 40 odd single tags, this one will probably be tougher. $\endgroup$ – Martin - マーチン Mar 23 '17 at 14:03
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    $\begingroup$ Well, we can talk that this is a bad tag as long as we want, but if we wanted to remove it completely, new tags would be needed - telling how exactly it is homework, including sth like "dumb homework calculation of this and that". I'm afraid that these questions aren't worth the effort of this. $\endgroup$ – Mithoron Mar 25 '17 at 17:35
  • $\begingroup$ @Mithoron Rest assured, I hate homework as much as you do. However, do you really use the tag to tell whether a question is homework or not? (I personally don't.) $\endgroup$ – orthocresol Mar 25 '17 at 17:37
  • $\begingroup$ Well, I do sometimes add homework tag, for example when everyday-chemistry (!) was put instead by OP. $\endgroup$ – Mithoron Mar 25 '17 at 21:56
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    $\begingroup$ @Martin-マーチン Actually, at this moment there are only 24 questions tagged only with the single tag homework. I also worked up this query, which lets one search for things tagged homework, along with one specific other tag out of an adjustable total number of tags. $\endgroup$ – hBy2Py Mar 26 '17 at 1:47
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    $\begingroup$ That's partly because most of them were cleaned up in TRE 1. (Hooray!) $\endgroup$ – orthocresol Mar 26 '17 at 11:47
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    $\begingroup$ Dedicated Chat Room: Spring Cleaning $\endgroup$ – Martin - マーチン Mar 28 '17 at 12:22
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We should let it die after a rewrite of the homework policy

As is, I think the biggest problem with deleting is our mediocre homework policy that somehow asks for some kind of a bookkeeping tool of what is homework, what isn’t, what is allowed homework and what should be nuked from orbit. I have previously given my input of when I consider questions of the homework type a good (enough) fit for the site and I think that once a proper policy is finally decided upon will have served its use.

However, I also think that we’re not quite there yet. Removing from all its current questions will require manual editing and reviewing anyway. Even if it is hardly useful now, we should hold back on that work until we are at a point whence we can decide what we actually want to keep and how we want to keep it.

In the meantime, if you really want you can blacklist the tag so it won’t be applied (or applyable) to any new questions.

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  • $\begingroup$ Blacklist won't just prevent new uses -- it'll also clear the tag from all questions it's currently used on. Blacklist has to happen after cleanup. $\endgroup$ – hBy2Py Mar 29 '17 at 0:57
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    $\begingroup$ @hBy2Py Blacklists can happen independently of tag removal, see german.meta.stackexchange.com/a/1216/24934 $\endgroup$ – orthocresol Mar 29 '17 at 9:08
  • $\begingroup$ @orthocresol But if a tag is blacklisted, does that automatically result in complete tag removal? $\endgroup$ – hBy2Py Mar 29 '17 at 11:06
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    $\begingroup$ @hBy2Py Blacklisting a tag does not remove it immediately. See the feature request on Anime.SE which had to explicitly ask for blacklisted tags to not appear in the list of tags. Blacklisting just means it cannot be added to additional questions. $\endgroup$ – Jan Mar 29 '17 at 14:06
  • $\begingroup$ Anyway, regarding the post, I think you are right. That, however, brings us back to square one... $\endgroup$ – orthocresol Mar 29 '17 at 18:36
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I would like to see it gone.

There was a time, where we were still struggling with the scope of the site and where the community was small and where we were not sure in which way we would like to steer the ship. At that time it was useful to tackle the "homework" questions in a way that they do create bias. I'm quoting a very old stance of Manish:

The point of the homework tag is to create "bias". Well, not really, but close enough. It tells the answerers :"this question is of the homework type, DO NOT give a full solution, instead give some hints or a partial solution".

Also, it may be applied to questions that are not HW but are of the HW type (numerical problems, etc).

I think we since have moved away from the stand that we do not provide full answers to homework questions. (At least I have, and as a consequence I do down-vote partial answers or hints.)

I personally find it hard to judge whether the tag applies or not. Oftentimes I see questions that are based on an assignment, but actually ask for a deeper understanding of the concept. Tagging those questions I think creates bias, and in some way implies the question is of a lower standard. However, the quality of a question should be based on its own merit and its value to the site should be determined by voting.

The use of the tag is just too widespread and inconsistent at the same time. It doesn't even have any value as a book-keeping tool anymore.


While I think we should get rid of the tag, I would recommend taking a different approach than simply deleting the tag. We should review the questions that have the tag and improve, or delete them accordingly. I think we need to weed out questions that are not really helpful.

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    $\begingroup$ Maybe the homework policy itself should be tightened to just reject questions that are a problem statement, possibly with just a request for assistance? Everything else could really just be handled with the intrinsic up/down vote system for indicating post quality? $\endgroup$ – hBy2Py Mar 28 '17 at 12:03
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    $\begingroup$ Also, I'm in complete agreement as to all of this -- the tag no longer provides a useful filtering mechanism, and it probably is worth churning through all the questions currently tagged to try to keep the wheat and only scrub the chaff. $\endgroup$ – hBy2Py Mar 28 '17 at 12:04
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    $\begingroup$ @hBy2Py I haven't been shy about wanting to change the policy. Or rather repeal and replace (lol). We have on multiple occasions found out, that this is a very slow process and we need to take it one step at the time. Discontinuing the use of the tag might be the first actual step into changing our whole thinking about the problem itself. There are lots of things to consider and many discussions to be held, we're just getting the stone rolling now. $\endgroup$ – Martin - マーチン Mar 28 '17 at 12:11
  • $\begingroup$ ^ Couldn't have put it better myself. $\endgroup$ – orthocresol Mar 28 '17 at 12:35
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I do believe that it is useful. I think it may be helpful in searching for answers and questions.

For example, I would not want to make a search for a concept in physical chemistry and have to go through hundreds (if not thousands) of questions/answers that are homework questions.

The same goes for homework questions. If I want to learn how to solve a homework problem, I wouldn't want to go through several questions that are not homework questions because the tag isn't there anymore.

Sorry for the late reply. I wasn't aware that the homework tag was deprecated until now.

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  • $\begingroup$ I politely disagree. If you are looking for a concept in * -chemistry then it should not matter whether the question was initially asked on the basis of an exercise. The concept should be explained in a good answer and not just give away the number (I am downvoting these kinds of posts); therefore I do believe that an homework-type question is probably better suited for this job in the first place. And once you understand the conceptual aspects of the subject you are looking for, you are probably able to solve your question or narrow your search. The tag accomplishes nothing helpful. $\endgroup$ – Martin - マーチン May 23 '17 at 10:34
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    $\begingroup$ In fact, I don't disagree. However, I think that this shows exactly why our current outlook on homework is so poor. I agree with you that right now, most homework questions are essentially substandard questions that people would not want to read if they wanted to learn a concept. If we turned all homework questions into something conceptual, then there would no longer be such a problem. Instead of a homework question, it would be a conceptual question with a concrete example. Isn't that much better? $\endgroup$ – orthocresol May 23 '17 at 13:18
  • $\begingroup$ @Martin-マーチン I disagree - perhaps with your expertise an existing answer provides the necessary info, but many of the questions that land among the site's new questions are posted by people who are not as well versed, and need a lot of guidance just understanding what they are asked. Which is why on SE often you have questions where it is not clear what is being asked irrespective of poor english etc. Some people come to SE for interactivity, not existing variants. I think any good chem textbook or the chem literature will answer most of the questions on SE, if you are sufficiently versed. $\endgroup$ – Buck Thorn Nov 17 '18 at 20:02
  • $\begingroup$ @TryHard I have absolutely no idea where you are heading with this. Obviously chemistry.se is neither designed to nor capable of substituting an educational book. Also the discussion here is neither about new users, nor about new questions; it is not even about answers; it simply is about whether the homework tag will add anything of value to any kind of question. Quality control within the network is maintained by voting and closing, which are (partially) subjective measures, but with crowd intelligence may still lead to a valuable conclusion. $\endgroup$ – Martin - マーチン Nov 19 '18 at 16:30
  • $\begingroup$ @Martin-マーチン Specific to the answer above, I think as far as didactics it is accurate, having available step by step answers is not a bad way to learn numeric problem solving. Regarding the tag, RIP I guess. Anyway, I am wading into the murky question of what it takes to keep people reviewing and answering posts, what posts deserve replies, whether the design of this site makes 100% sense (in terms of physical design and rules users are asked to follow), what the site design constraints are, and am not sure of the answer. $\endgroup$ – Buck Thorn Nov 19 '18 at 20:17
  • $\begingroup$ @Martin-マーチン PS As far as crowd intelligence is concerned, isn't that an oxymoron? IMHO the up/downvote aspect can be useful but is a bit primitive, eg encourages groupthink and is not transparent (you are more likely to be a second up/downvoter than the first, votes do not require justification), and answering is discouraged. I understand that voting and flags alert to good/bad problems. Will hang around and chew on the thoughts. $\endgroup$ – Buck Thorn Nov 19 '18 at 20:20
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Short Answer: Yes. Yes, we do.

Long answer :

No, we don't need it. We are in no way obligated to help anyone in any way with any of their homework assignments. But, a lot of people require it from our community. Helping someone with their homework is a tricky thing to do. You don't always give out the entire answer but we put them on the right path through a bunch of hints. It's only when hints are useless, do we give them the full solution and answers to elementary topics that are asked, are very useful content to have on this site.

Hope that makes sense.

This tag probably exists on the math SE and physics SE as well in the same way. In all fairness, chem students need the same break too.

Consider that and think about it well. Thank you for reading :)

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    $\begingroup$ I am not proposing to ban homework questions. I am asking just about the tag. Do we really need to tag homework questions with the homework tag? $\endgroup$ – orthocresol Mar 26 '17 at 9:02
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    $\begingroup$ Homework questions aren't being banned here, Nick. We're just removing the tag, whose existence wouldn't matter to most of those chemistry students. $\endgroup$ – M.A.R. Mar 26 '17 at 9:28
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    $\begingroup$ Yeah, any time you see a word in square brackets in a Meta discussion, it's almost always going to be about that tag, not the concept in general. $\endgroup$ – hBy2Py Mar 26 '17 at 11:53
  • $\begingroup$ The tag is important for students and teachers. It segments the hw questions from the rest. $\endgroup$ – Nick Mar 26 '17 at 14:12
  • $\begingroup$ Why is the distinction needed? $\endgroup$ – orthocresol Mar 26 '17 at 15:53
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    $\begingroup$ I have to disagree with that Nick. The tag is wrongly applied to some questions, and isn't in a lot of places it should be. That's bad usage, and that makes an already bad tag worse. $\endgroup$ – M.A.R. Mar 26 '17 at 15:55
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    $\begingroup$ Agree with @M.A.R. In theory the tag would be a sorting mechanism of this type; in reality, it's not reliable for the purpose--too much inaccurate application. $\endgroup$ – hBy2Py Mar 27 '17 at 18:56
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    $\begingroup$ Fun fact: Physics is a lot stricter about homework than we. One could say they don't allow it anymore. $\endgroup$ – Martin - マーチン Mar 28 '17 at 9:07
  • $\begingroup$ I think what people in this comment thread would agree on is, to put it another way, that the addition of the homework tag is another place where the human interpretation of what is/isn't homework is error-prone and isn't always fair. $\endgroup$ – pentavalentcarbon Mar 28 '17 at 19:53
  • $\begingroup$ @pentavalentcarbon More that the term 'homework' has been stretched to cover a lot of things that a common understanding of the term would have little or nothing to do with. Jan makes a good point, that revising/updating the homework policy (~completely apart from [homework]) is an integral part of all of this. $\endgroup$ – hBy2Py Mar 29 '17 at 0:58
  • $\begingroup$ For your information, the tag was removed from math.SE over two years ago: math.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/14981/… $\endgroup$ – wythagoras Jul 3 '17 at 7:42

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