I know many StackExchange sites are prone to people outsourcing their homework to the community. I know it won't come up as often as, say, math homework, but I think we need an official policy on homework as soon as we come out of private beta, to avoid "conflicts". Personally, I think we should not allow it, but i am interested for community input.


4 Answers 4


I don't know how many homework-relevant puzzles there will be, to be honest.

Additionally, in order for us to understand the problem, someone actually has to write about it. I'd suggest, especially for the first while, we let homework questions be. If they really do become poor-quality, then we can do something about it.


I think homework should not be allowed here, for two reasons.

First and most important, getting PSE to do your homework is cheating and we want to discourage cheating.

Second, homework questions are often bad questions. This is a less important reason because bad homework questions are usually closeable on other grounds.

I see two downsides to a no-homework policy. The first is that we're effectively penalizing honesty. (Two students get the same homework. One complies with our policy and has to do the work; the other posts the question here, hiding the fact that it's homework, and gets the PSE community to do the work.) The second is that occasionally a homework question is a pretty good puzzle in its own right, and a no-homework policy will lose us those.

To the first objection, I say that (a) the unscrupulous student inevitably has an advantage in avoiding work, whatever our policies; (b) a no-homework policy here will at least put off some cheaters; and (c) avoiding doing your homework isn't really to your advantage (you'll learn less...).

To the second, I say that it will lose us more bad questions than good, and that's a tradeoff I'm happy making.

(There are at least two other tenable positions -- freely allow homework questions, at least as long as their posters admit what they are; and allow homework questions but have an official policy that answers should be no more than hints. I think both of those are worse positions, but I will post answers for them alongside this one for voting purposes.)


(This is not my actual opinion, but it's a tenable position. I'm posting this to give people something to vote for or against. If you think you can make a better case for this position, feel free to edit.)

We should not try to stop people posting their homework as a puzzle.

When they do, it will usually be a bad puzzle (duplicate, maths question rather than maths puzzle, etc.) and will get closed or downvoted-to-oblivion, and that's about as good an outcome as closing it for being homework.

On those occasions when it isn't a bad puzzle on other grounds, we should be happy to have it here.

Yes, this means that when someone gets interestingly puzzle-y homework and posts it here in a way that catches people's attention then they can take credit for someone else's work. But, empirically, this is really rare compared with the total amount of cheating that happens (we don't get homework questions here very often, and the world is full of schools and universities setting homework, and lots of people cheat) and someone determined to cheat will be able to do so anyway, just by taking a little trouble to conceal the fact that that's what they're doing.

  • $\begingroup$ I think that this should be left open :) Also, not solving the question fully and only giving hints would be fine. Your views please. $\endgroup$
    – ABcDexter
    Nov 9, 2017 at 4:28

(This is not my actual opinion, but it's a tenable position. I'm posting this to give people something to vote for or against. If you think you can make a better case for this position, feel free to edit.)

We should not forbid homework questions. But there should be a clear policy that we don't give answers to homework questions. That is: things posted as answers to such questions should at most be hints intended to help the questioner find their own way to a solution.

Then, if you see a question you suspect is homework, you should comment on it (if no one else has done so) asking whether it is and linking to the place where our policy is stated.

Advantages: this isn't dependent on moderator intervention or concerted action by lots of members of the PSE community. (Well, maybe it is: what if a question is obviously homework and someone does post an answer that answers it?) It allows people to get hints, which seems like a reasonable thing for us to be providing. It allows the world's schools and universities to provide us with occasional interesting things to think about.

(Disadvantages: may end up needing more intervention, zapping individual answers rather than the original questions; multiple hints may amount to giving away the answer; it's not clear even whether providing hints is a service we should be offering to the world's lazy students.)

  • $\begingroup$ I think another downside to this position is that we would be essentially repurposing the Q&A format to encourage partial and non-answers. As it is, we let these slide for multi-step, large-scale, and ultimately community wiki-answered puzzles since answers can still have relevant, useful, and substantial information to merit their own space. With mere hints, we end up with what would otherwise be low-quality answers due to content and length. These sorts of "answers" belong in the comments. I can't see it being sustainable to have 2 differing models for the site at once. $\endgroup$ Oct 31, 2017 at 20:31
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, that seems like a good point. $\endgroup$
    – Gareth McCaughan Mod
    Nov 1, 2017 at 0:39

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