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There have been a few users that have continually posted answers to homework questions. This has been discussed here. I think the best course of action is to allow the community to downvote these types of answers. What should we do with users that repeatedly post answers to homework questions?

I don't feel it best to delete the answers (or any answers but answers that are not answers), but is this the type of behavior acceptable on this community?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Very, very related: homework close reason \$\endgroup\$ – Marcus Müller Mar 14 at 0:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ Just to differentiate, this post applies to answers and those who answer HW questions \$\endgroup\$ – Voltage Spike Mar 18 at 17:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ There are, to me, two types of HW question, in general. There is the 'I want to know the answer to X' and my response is usually to comment something like 'what have you already done / tried' and then there is the type of question where someone really is having a problem that they cannot figure out, but they can show they have tried. In those, I will try to explain where they may have taken a misstep. For the first type, if no change is made within a reasonable time, I will vote to close. Where an answer was given I might comment that an answer is not appropriate. \$\endgroup\$ – Peter Smith Mar 19 at 13:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ After thinking about this some more, one way to coordinate downvotes would perhaps be to create a chat room dedicated to homework questions, somewhat similar to Stack Overflow's SO Close Vote Reviewers or Math.SE's CURED. A group of dedicated users could link to undesirable homework answers to coordinate downvotes (you could also add a feed for all questions tagged [homework] to help close such questions and/or downvote answers, if necessary). \$\endgroup\$ – Null Mar 23 at 13:02
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I don't have a concrete solution but below are some thoughts about possibilities.

I think the best course of action is to allow the community to downvote these types of answers.

Strictly speaking, users with the appropriate privileges are able to downvote (or even upvote) these types of answers as they wish -- they don't need to be allowed to do so. I certainly wouldn't upvote such an answer, but I'm also not convinced that it's effective to downvote such posts. A single upvote will cancel the effect of 5 downvotes, and the downvoters suffer a small reputation loss. Furthermore, the other purpose of downvotes (aside from the small reputation penalty for the user who posted the answer) is to give them lower visibility compared to better answers; however, for homework questions we don't really want any answers (except maybe one that merely provides hints) so downvoting doesn't really reduce the visibility in this case.

One thing we could do as a policy is allow users to flag for a moderator to lock the undesirable answer (or even the question itself). This would prevent users from upvoting the answer (or the question, if the question is locked), though it would also prevent users from downvoting it. I'm not sure this would improve the situation much (the question and/or answer may have already acquired some upvotes by the time a moderator locks the post), but a lock would tend to prevent such questions and answers from gaining (additional) reputation for the users involved since upvotes are more common than downvotes.

I don't feel it best to delete the answers (or any answers but answers that are not answers), but is this the type of behavior acceptable on this community?

I agree that we should generally keep the answer as long as it attempts to answer the question -- there's no point in deleting useful information. Such an answer is probably harmful to the user who asked the homework question so users should be discouraged from posting such answers, but they could in theory be useful to someone who isn't doing homework but is browsing the site to learn how to do something without having any idea how to do it. Furthermore, there's some room for judgment as to whether or not an answer provides too many hints so I'd err on the side of keeping such an answer.

I would be fine with deleting answers in some cases if (a) the question is so specific that it would not be useful to anyone who is not taking the same class as the user who asked the question and (b) the answer has managed to attract some upvotes. I would also be fine with deleting an answer if someone else has posted an answer that only provides hints.

What should we do with users that repeatedly post answers to homework questions?

As a community we should downvote such answers as well as the questions they answer. That's really the only proper tool we have to discourage such posts. We could also have a moderator lock or delete such posts if that seems to be useful / effective. I'm also fine with a moderator sending a mod message and even briefly suspending a user who blatantly and repeatedly disregards our policy to close (i.e. not answer) homework questions with no attempt at a solution. I'd leave that to the discretion of individual moderators, though -- it doesn't need to be a matter of policy to mod message and/or suspend such users.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I think downvoting is the answer, if you see such answers downvote them. \$\endgroup\$ – Voltage Spike Mar 14 at 3:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ @VoltageSpike, but downvotes reduce the objecting user's reputation just to highlight poor effort in the user. That can't be the answer. It makes some users quite reasonably reluctant to do it (not something I share with them but I sympathise). \$\endgroup\$ – TonyM Mar 22 at 21:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ @TonyM How does downvoting the answer reduce anybodies rep but the person who shouldn't be answering the question? The voting system was put there for a reason, the moderation team in some cases see's people not using it enough. If the answer is bad, downvote it (do this always when flagging bad answers). If people edit their answers, upvote it. \$\endgroup\$ – Voltage Spike Mar 22 at 22:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ @VoltageSpike, you downvoting an answer reduces your own reputation by 1. Try it. It shows up as '-1'. And they add up over time. \$\endgroup\$ – TonyM Mar 22 at 22:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ I don't even think about that. There has to be some downside otherwise people would downvote indiscriminately. If the question is edited you can upvote and get your rep back also if the question gets enough downvotes, it gets autodeleted. \$\endgroup\$ – Voltage Spike Mar 22 at 22:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ @VoltageSpike, yes, well that all sounds wonderful but that's not what happens in a lot of cases. These answers are sitting there now by the ton. When you asked your question, I imagine it was to find out how users see it, rather than how you see it. My point stands: downvotes reduce the objecting user's reputation just to highlight poor effort in the user. That can't be the answer. It makes some users quite reasonably reluctant to do it. \$\endgroup\$ – TonyM Mar 22 at 23:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ @tonyM Downvoting used in the right way shows that your willing to support the community rather than your own rep meta.stackoverflow.com/questions/251610/… \$\endgroup\$ – Voltage Spike Mar 23 at 2:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ @VoltageSpike, as I made very clear, it's not me we're talking about so please don't aim it at me. Meanwhile you can take all the idealistic views you want - we're talking after the event and the site shows that downvoting empirically didn't work. No-one's seen fifty such answers with -20 or more votes last six months. Going from that evidence, I'm interested in why those real people clearly choose not to and won't in future. I thought your question was, too, but you seem to have decided the only answer you'll accept. As it's not a constructive discussion, I lost interest some time back. \$\endgroup\$ – TonyM Mar 23 at 10:04
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Personally, I don't feel we should encourage users turning up at the door who are only interested in getting their homework completed but, are not interested in learning how to solve problems.

If you just blindly deliver a solution then this means you are helping the great unwashed pass their exams and potentially, you actually might be helping them during the process of sitting a particular exam.

So, we should discourage those who just deliver solutions. I'm by no means squeaky clean in this respect so, I know what the temptations are to rattle off an answer, hence I should discourage myself sometimes more strongly.

Hey this isn't me taking a confessional; there are far worse culprits than me.

But, on the other hand, if we deliver solutions on demand to those who don't care much about learning, then they won't be very good at engineering either so, in the bigger scheme of things, those that are good at engineering will rise higher amongst the great unwashed and, quite possibly, earn better wages in the longer run.

So, handing out answers on a plate might be seen as a good thing because it will weed out the incapable a little bit earlier in the process and improve the general quality of engineering and wages.

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As a young apprentice, it used to irritate me or stress me out when I'd left my homework until the last minute and the senior engineers around me wouldn't serve up the answers. Surely they were being obstructive - difficult - delighting my downfall, because I'd done nothing all week then started an hour before the deadline.

They always patiently gave the same reply: "If we just tell you the answer, you won't learn".

What I slowly but surely saw through practical experience was that they were absolutely right, spot on. Since then, I've had a great deal of time with more inexperienced engineers than myself, some younger some not. And plenty of cleverer ones than me :-)

I've found that advancing people through possible directions, steering them gently to sounding out the solution for themselves has turned into skills, capabilities, enjoyment and satisfaction far more often than not. It's very rewarding and I enjoy taking the time for others that others put in for me. It's not 'my' knowledge - others gave it to me and now I'm passing it one to more people. All these people were us once.

So I genuinely believe that just serving up answers does not directly produce OPs skills, capabilities, enjoyment and satisfaction.

I do understand clearly that sometimes decent OPs really don't know where to start and will really benefit from being walked through something. We all do and that's perfectly normal in these potentially great engineers. But you can very often tell such a good 'un in their responses in comment exchanges.

Serving up answers would make the site appealing to the lazy, those not bothering, and I can't see how that would benefit the site. A few users enjoy pouring scorn, derision and shouty bold text on such people, so fuelling their rage won't benefit them or the site either.

It's good to see OPs encouraged to explain their question, put all their thought and effort into what they understand so far. I notice that a few just fade away but many really pour their effort into a good post or a good revision of it and that's admirable to see. That attitude breeds good engineering.

Onto your actual question...

I've long thought about a VTC 'homework' option. I think it'll get badly misused. And some of our harsher members just firing off 'lazy homeworker', without looking into if help is needed, will alienate many users who may feel patronised or belittled.

Meanwhile, there are users who'll post an answer to a homework question out of a genuine desire to help or to get easy upvotes.

So:

(a) FOR QUESTIONS: I'd stick with having to VTC with a comment, to make it harder to write that reply.

(b) FOR ANSWERS: I would like to see a flag for answers for a nicer phrased version of 'rewards lazy question'.

However, the mods would then have to follow through and really crack down on (b)-flagged answers and some mods understandably have a different policy on deleting answers. And the OP could still read and benefit from the answer before the mods get the chance to respond to the flags.

What is really needed for (b) is a way of sending discouragement to the answer posters. At the moment, that's by comments and downvotes. The latter reduce the objecting user's reputation and so some users are reluctant to do it.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Its the answers that are the problem, there is not a lot from a moderation perspective that we can do about it other than down vote. I don't believe in deleting answers I don't think SE does either, the only posts that we do delete are those that are explicitly not answers. What we need is people to actually use the voting system in these cases. \$\endgroup\$ – Voltage Spike Mar 18 at 17:36
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It doesn't seem like the close/vote system really adequately can deal with this situation, and the delete queue is next to worthless.

Perhaps the most effective workaround would be to flag such posts as spam??

By way of explanation, my understanding (correct me if I'm wrong), is that repeated spam flags lock and hide the posts without moderator intervention, which is perhaps the desired outcome here.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I suppose this will result in "not useful" moderator responses, and all the penalties that such repeated not useful flags would cause. Perhaps we can generate a user consensus that such posts be defined as spam here and moderate accordingly. \$\endgroup\$ – Scott Seidman Mar 19 at 15:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ No, I don't think SE is geared to deleting answers, and the moderation team doesn't think so either. The only answers that should be deleted are those that are not answers, spam is not an answer. Homework answers are answers and some of them are useful. I think the best course of action is to use the voting system, so it will need to be a community effort \$\endgroup\$ – Voltage Spike Mar 19 at 16:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think any approach will require a community effort. Any closed question can apparently be deleted by the community: stackoverflow.com/help/deleted-questions. We kept a meta post going tracking suspected sock puppet upvotes. I suggest this is way worse for the site than that, and worth keeping a meta post high on the list to help focus attention to dealing with hw posts. \$\endgroup\$ – Scott Seidman Mar 19 at 16:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ScottSeidman - Hi, Creating the related new "homework question without any effort" question closure reason, is a significant (and ongoing) effort. I am working on some necessary steps along the long path today, following a very late-night online conversation. It will (IMHO) happen, but it's a long process. However, I don't think it will happen that SE would allow valid homework answers to be flagged as spam. I'm not allowed to quote from mod-only documents, but there are quite strict rules on what is & what isn't, classed as spam. IMHO whatever the solution will be, spam marking isn't it :-( \$\endgroup\$ – SamGibson Mar 19 at 16:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ [Continued] Just to add a little more: Spam flags cause various "sanctions" to be automatically applied to the person being flagged. Even if we ignore what SE (the company) allows for spam flag use, if the EE.SE community here didn't think it was reasonable for all those sanctions to be applied to someone who correctly answered a question, then that immediately prevents using the spam flag for this purpose. Then we would have to ask SE (company) to add a custom flag, requiring developers, project managers etc. Could it be justified? IMHO unlikely. I agree with you: Community effort needed. \$\endgroup\$ – SamGibson Mar 19 at 17:57

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