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October 26, 2011 2:47 AM   Subscribe

Is helping with homework allowed on askme?

Thread in question.
posted by hal_c_on to Etiquette/Policy at 2:47 AM (89 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

I'm sort of going back and forth on that one. The question actually asks for help with scientific terms that will enable him to search for articles, as opposed to an all-out do-my-homework. I'd be interested to hear what people think.
posted by taz (staff) at 2:49 AM on October 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


That question isn't even borderline. The speech is "how to apply grip tape". The asker doesn't ask anything about that, but wants to know the physics of what happens after it is on.
posted by DU at 2:51 AM on October 26, 2011 [4 favorites]


You probably know how I feel:

1. The other students in the class don't have this advantage.
2. The OP isn't even the student...its the parent of the student.


I'm wondering what would happen if I went to a university librarian and asked her this exact question. Anybody?
posted by hal_c_on at 2:52 AM on October 26, 2011


My understanding was that it's not, but I also think that this kind of MeTa question might be better for flagging and/or contact form.

That said, I think it's framed in a border-line way. If it were a 'help my kid with a math problem' question I'd have steam coming out of my ears.

Since it's the mom asking, it does make my blood boil.
posted by bilabial at 2:52 AM on October 26, 2011


The asker doesn't ask anything about that, but wants to know the physics of what happens after it is on.

Which is part of the coursework he will be graded on.
posted by hal_c_on at 2:53 AM on October 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


At a guess I'd say there's a distinction: "write my homework/give me the answer" = not OK. "How can I find information on this particular topic?" = OK. Suggestions of search terms, appropriate places to look, that sort of thing - to my mind, that's the sort of thing that AskMe should be doing.

On preview, seeing hal_c_on's first reply:

I used to be an academic reference librarian. The answer that taz gave in thread is exactly the sort of answer that I would give to a student. I would not dig out five articles that answered the exact question for them, but I would give them suggestions about where to look, and how to look, for the information that they needed. That said, some of the lecturers would tell us not to help the students even to that extent, which was an interesting moral dilemma seeing as helping them was what we were being paid for.

Just my experience, interested to hear other opinions.
posted by Infinite Jest at 2:57 AM on October 26, 2011 [19 favorites]


I think that helping people find themselves an answer is OK. I think that giving them a ready-wrapped answer isn't. I guess it just seems that using the methods you have available to you to find help is a good thing. Wanting someone to put words into your mouth is another thing.
posted by Solomon at 3:01 AM on October 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Which is part of the coursework he will be graded on.

I always thought that the policy against homework questions was to prevent AskMe being flooded by them, not to protect the integrity of graded homework.
posted by atrazine at 3:03 AM on October 26, 2011 [21 favorites]


That said, some of the lecturers would tell us not to help the students even to that extent, which was an interesting moral dilemma seeing as helping them was what we were being paid for.

No. You're being paid to be the keepers of information allowing people to access whatever they want. Not to do other people's work. Also I'm putting significance on the "lecturers would tell us not to help the students even to that extent".

Can some university faculty chime in on this?


Another thing that bothers me is that looking up something as simple as "griptape physics" comes up with a LOT of stuff...including an essay from a cheatsite.

Did the OP not even do that for her son?
posted by hal_c_on at 3:03 AM on October 26, 2011


I always thought that the policy against homework questions was to prevent AskMe being flooded by them, not to protect the integrity of graded homework.

Oh...thats cool. I'm out then.
posted by hal_c_on at 3:04 AM on October 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


No. You're being paid to be the keepers of information allowing people to access whatever they want. Not to do other people's work. Also I'm putting significance on the "lecturers would tell us not to help the students even to that extent".

[Apologies if I'm derailing here] I'm pretty sure I know what I was being paid for, dude. I mean, I read the job description and everything. "Allowing people to access whatever they want" was the job of the acquisitions and cataloguing librarians, making sure that the library had the books and databases that people needed, and that it was described correctly, so that they could find it. My job, as I said, was helping students find things. Not to do their work, but to teach them research methods. Doing their work would be doing the searches myself, then handing them the best articles and saying 'here, write your essay from this'. Helping them search was suggesting search terms (as taz did) and suggesting useful places to look. That's what a reference librarian does. (It was a small minority of faculty who didn't want us to do even that, and I probably shouldn't have mentioned them).
posted by Infinite Jest at 3:16 AM on October 26, 2011 [54 favorites]


apology accepted, infinite jest.
posted by hal_c_on at 3:19 AM on October 26, 2011


I'm fine with it. I'd be fine with it even if it asked us for the answers to the asker's son's homework. I'd probably be fine with it even if the son was made up to encourage answers. It's an answerable question.
posted by doublehappy at 4:02 AM on October 26, 2011


hal_c_on:apology accepted, infinite jest

ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED: DICKMOVE.
posted by coriolisdave at 4:04 AM on October 26, 2011 [138 favorites]


Most homework help questions are just so much noise and deserve prompt deletion. However, a blanket ban would seems too rigid. One of AskMe's greatest qualities is the knowledge base left behind from all the questions. That is what turns it from Matt's little convenience into Matt's genius. Let the group pique its curiosity, let the group seek solution to vexing problems not easily researched etc. and the result is a knowledge base filled with information targeted well to what is really useful and interesting. The basic homework question of how to find the area of a circle etc. adds little to this knowledge base and is just being a lazy student. What makes tape grippy is a little bit better, but ultimately still kind of lazy. Search for "how does adhesive work" etc. "Adhesive" is not exactly the kind of obscure search term that could not be identified without outside help. On the other hand, what makes tape grippy is just the kind of curiosity piquing question that many people never gave much thought but might find the answer interesting. It is totally borderline but I would probably delete it just because it looks too much like a lazy student not doing the work to solve his homework, even if that may not be what really happened.
posted by caddis at 4:05 AM on October 26, 2011


Speaking of homework. Infinite Jest, if you're in any way responsible for or even tenuously connected with the course content and assessment for the Legal Research part of LAWS 297 at Victoria University, I need to buy you a beer and then accidentally spill it all over you.
posted by doublehappy at 4:09 AM on October 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm kind of blown away that this "kid" is a freshman in college. I was expecting some mom asking for help for her ten year old.
posted by 6550 at 4:21 AM on October 26, 2011 [10 favorites]


Can some university faculty chime in on this?

Not exactly what you're asking for comment on, but as faculty, it makes me very angry that the mom is doing a college student's homework. This kind of parental involvement is common, at least in the US, and frustrating.
posted by vincele at 4:23 AM on October 26, 2011 [5 favorites]


This reminds me of the time I wrote my brother's paper for him.
posted by allkindsoftime at 4:26 AM on October 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


I thought the question was OK, but when I was in college 20 plus years ago I would have been embarrassed to have my mom helping with my assignment, especially in such a public sphere. On the other hand, I did occasionally discuss med school work with my father (who was on the faculty of said med school with a PhD in physiology), so some parental involvement in their kids life, including school, is reasonable to me.

This is just a variant of the "asking for a friend without and account" questions that we see, its just that the friend happens to be the poster's son. He will still have to process the information and present it to the class, which is the bulk of the work.

The bigger problem I see with the question is that it was unclear; does the poster want to know the physics of how the tape sticks to the board (which seems to be the subject of the talk) or why the tape makes feet stay on the board better (which is kind of how the question is worded to me)?
posted by TedW at 4:37 AM on October 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


Which is part of the coursework he will be graded on.

It's a communications class, not a physics class. You're overreacting.
posted by Gator at 5:03 AM on October 26, 2011 [8 favorites]


hal_c_on: Oh...thats cool. I'm out then.

Oh man, you can't fuck with my emotions like that. I took your comment to mean something totally different. Still, I'm wondering if we can work something out here. I'll Paypal you $500 to quit this site for a year. Two-fifty now and two-fifty at the end of the year. Or, alternatively, $500 now to either you, or (preferably) the charity of your choice in your name, if the mods would be willing to block you from signing back up for a year under a new name. I'm a man of my word.
posted by gman at 5:06 AM on October 26, 2011 [8 favorites]


In the real world you do what it takes to get the job done. This kid is using the resources available to him. In my experience, the only people that care how you got there are those that had to work harder than you to get to the same place. Sucks for them.
posted by doublehappy at 5:07 AM on October 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


The Wikipedia Reference Desk policy on homework is "If your question is homework, show that you have attempted an answer first, and we will try to help you past the stuck point. If you don't show an effort, you probably won't get help. The reference desk will not do your homework for you." Answerers there will typically try to nudge the querent in the right direction, but not give the full answer.

Not that our guideline has to be the same as WP:RD, but in this case I think it's a good intermediate between "we'll do the entire assignment for you" and "no homework-related questions ever."

I'm fine with the case at hand. OK, maybe just a tad uncomfortable with mom asking for the son, but as TedW points out, that's not that different from other "asking for a friend" questions.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 5:09 AM on October 26, 2011


Which is part of the coursework he will be graded on.

I don't think the communications professor will be grading based on the accuracy of the physics.
posted by DU at 5:11 AM on October 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


apology accepted, infinite jest.

Why are you so (overly) invested in this issue, and why are you acting like such a jerk?
posted by OmieWise at 5:25 AM on October 26, 2011 [13 favorites]


That said, some of the lecturers would tell us not to help the students even to that extent, which was an interesting moral dilemma seeing as helping them was what we were being paid for.

No. You're being paid to be the keepers of information allowing people to access whatever they want. Not to do other people's work. Also I'm putting significance on the "lecturers would tell us not to help the students even to that extent".

Can some university faculty chime in on this?


I have taught at the university level, and wouldn't have a problem with someone who asked a librarian for help finding articles for the kind of presentation described in the OP. It sounds like the kid is planning to consult the articles and will learn something from them. It's not like, I don't know, asking the librarian to write a few sentences to stick in the paper.

I would be concerned about the kid getting this sort of help from his mother. He needs to learn how to go about finding information, including by going to professionals. If you have a close enough relationship with your parents to ask for stylistic help with a paper or to discuss ideas with, fine I guess. But if I did this with any kids of mine I would try to make sure they weren't dependent on me to get their homework done.

I have to say I hesitated to answer your question as quoted, because the lack of respect for librarians blew me away. Would an answer from any ding-dong on a university faculty automatically mean more to you than an answer from a research librarian? That's weird.
posted by BibiRose at 5:25 AM on October 26, 2011 [7 favorites]


Looking at the question, it's asking for the right things--not the answer but (in essence) the right question to ask. That's a perfecty acceptable use of AskMe for homework help.

The fact that a parent is helping a child with their college homework is completely appalling, but obviously any response along those lines would and should be deleted.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 5:27 AM on October 26, 2011



This reminds me of the time I wrote my brother's paper for him.


I looked and you never came back to that thread to tell us how that worked out. So what were the results?
posted by TedW at 5:49 AM on October 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


The fact that a parent is helping a child with their college homework is completely appalling

If the parent is just passing along a query for a kid who has no account, I don't see a problem.
posted by pracowity at 5:58 AM on October 26, 2011 [8 favorites]


I think the question is iffy but I do think it's very weird and not optimal that he went to his mom (who I guess luckily for him has a MeFi account) and did not go to his friendly local college or public librarian or didn't AskMe himself.
posted by pointystick at 6:04 AM on October 26, 2011


Not exactly what you're asking for comment on, but as faculty, it makes me very angry that the mom is doing a college student's homework. This kind of parental involvement is common, at least in the US, and frustrating.

I'm not faculty (though I taught in grad school), and the parental involvement is definitely the part that made me cringe here. I think there's an ok way for the kid to ask MeFi this question -- people ask for information all the time that they will use at school or at work. But why the fuck is a parent doing homework for a college student? That's seriously cheesy, even if it has nothing to do with the guidelines here.
posted by Forktine at 6:21 AM on October 26, 2011


If the parent is just passing along a query for a kid who has no account, I don't see a problem.

That was my assumption.

It would not have occurred to me to be outraged by this question if it hadn't been brought up here, and I have a fairly low threshold for "do my homework for me" requests on Stack Overflow etc.
posted by dfan at 6:21 AM on October 26, 2011


1. The other students in the class don't have this advantage.

How do you know this? They could certainly read the resultant ask question if they hade the wherewithal.

2. The OP isn't even the student...its the parent of the student.

A parent should be able to teach a child things that a child needs to learn. That's part of parenthood. We know nothing of how the parent is going to interact with the kid vis. what happens with the dispensed information, and your post here is an uncharitable reading of the parent's intentions. When my kid doesn't know the answer to something and I do, I guide him towards that knowledge mostly, but sometimes, I straight up tell him. If it's a problem that needs solving, I teach him how to solve it, but if it's just a simple fact, I can't imagine the harm in imparting that fact, unless the specific assignment is research, and that research precludes asking a parent, in which case I'll demur and tell him to look where he's supposed to be looking. There's nothing in the question to even imply such strictures are being circumvented.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:28 AM on October 26, 2011 [5 favorites]


I am a university instructor (sometimes) and I would not feel my student was out of bounds at all having his mom post this question to ask.me. Sure, he could get his own account, but when I was in college I had my mom pick up some stuff at the Library of Congress for me because it was faster than interlibrary loan. I wouldn't have a problem with him asking a research librarian or even a physics professor this question. I don't teach speech, but the student's assignment (as I read the question) appears to be: prepare a demonstrative speech on a topic you are familiar with. The questions asks nothing about preparing his speech; it seeks an explanation for something that is outside the subject matter of the course which will make his demonstrative speech more interesting or provide depth to his demonstration.

In fact, if one of my students researched something tangential to the assignment, I would be thrilled.
posted by crush-onastick at 6:50 AM on October 26, 2011 [10 favorites]


But why the fuck is a parent doing homework for a college student?

I'm not seeing it that way at all. If a college student has a hard time with their physics homework and they call their Uncle the Physicist to help explain some stuff they didn't really get in class, is that some sort of horrible violation of higher education mores? Not really. It beats trying to work one's schedule around a professor or trying to study with equally clueless fellow students.

This student is interested in something and doesn't know where to get started. Their parent the adult has a better idea of how to research. What's the big deal?
posted by griphus at 6:53 AM on October 26, 2011 [8 favorites]


Since taz asked "I'd be interested to hear what people think", I think the OP's question is completely unobjectionable. Asking to be pointed to sources and to be provided with key buzzwords or lingo to facilitate an independent search by the OP is, in fact, exactly what I would advise someone to do in order to ethically advance their project. In fact if you wanted to point future, less ethical and more lazy homework-question-askers to an example of the right kind of homework question to ask, this would be it.
posted by facetious at 6:56 AM on October 26, 2011


Fucking grip tape. How does it work?
posted by Horselover Phattie at 6:59 AM on October 26, 2011 [7 favorites]


What difference does it make that it's his mom? Most people who ask for help are going to ask people they think are smart or informed enough to do so. Maybe a roommate who's a year ahead in the same program, or a friend who had the same professor. In this case a mom who knows this site where she can ask questions and get smart answers.
posted by tyllwin at 7:02 AM on October 26, 2011


hal_c_on: " Is helping with homework allowed on askme? "

In the FAQ, under Why was my Ask MetaFilter post/comment removed? it says: "Please do not Ask MetaFilter to do your homework for you."

That hasn't happened here.

"Please help my son research" is not a request that AskMe write the speech for him. It's a request for an explanation that will help them do their own work.
posted by zarq at 7:07 AM on October 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Infinite Jest: "Doing their work would be doing the searches myself, then handing them the best articles and saying 'here, write your essay from this'. Helping them search was suggesting search terms (as taz did) and suggesting useful places to look."

To be fair, there were a handful of awesome reference librarians at my college who did (almost) exactly that for me on a handful of occasions.

However, because I consider myself to be reasonably library-savvy, these requests usually pertained to devilishly obscure topics that wouldn't normally be under my (liberal arts) college's purview. Whenever I'd enlist the help of one of the librarians, I'd simply phrase my question as:
I'm looking for a critical analysis of X, and have tried searching for A, B, and C in databases D, E, and F, and have come up completely blank apart from a single copy of a book in WorldCat at a library in Nunavit that's been checked out for 6 months (this actually happened to me once), and an IEEE article that costs $800 per copy.
They'd usually respond, either by suggesting an additional obscure database to search, or usually more along the lines of:
Shit. You're right. Can I research this, and get back to you in a day or two?
And, being awesome (and having been convinced that I wasn't simply demanding that they do my work for me), within 2 days the research librarian would usually have a pile of faxed/photocopied articles (and in one case, a scanned PDF copy of that book in Nunavit) that the researcher had gotten by calling in favors with some other university, each of which was spot-on for the topic I was researching. One time, he managed to find me a draft copy of an in-progress PhD thesis that covered my exact topic. I couldn't directly cite it, but the methodology and list of references was invaluable. I still have no idea how on earth the librarian managed to track that down, given that it hadn't actually been published. There must be some kind of research librarian bat-signal somewhere...

So, yeah. I wrote a very angry letter to my university and pulled my donations when I found out that research librarians were the first thing to be cut during a recent round of budget reductions. Good librarians are absolutely vital to the academic process, and apparently many others agreed with me, and funding was shortly restored to the department.

Oh, and that book from Nunavit was a lifesaver. If anybody ever needs a kickass ethnography of the workers who built the Alaska Railroad, MeMail me, and I'll hook you up.
posted by schmod at 7:10 AM on October 26, 2011 [38 favorites]


If a college student has a hard time with their physics homework and they call their Uncle the Physicist to help explain some stuff they didn't really get in class, is that some sort of horrible violation of higher education mores?Not really. It beats trying to work one's schedule around a professor or trying to study with equally clueless fellow students.

Of course asking someone you know is an expert for help is perfectly natural (Hell I only passed calculus because my ex bf tutored me every day.) But this isn't the case here. The mother in this question clearly isn't an expert, and if that's the case, why not visit the prof or TA for help? I'm a prof, and I'm REQUIRED to have office hours specifically so I can give more personalized attention to students struggling with the course or particular assignments. I have no problem with the AskMe question itself, but I certainly wouldn't discourage a student who needs help from using office hours.
posted by miss-lapin at 7:16 AM on October 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


The line we try to walk on these is that "answer my homework/test question" is not so good, "help me try to understand how to do my own homework" is generally fine. We don't want people using the site as a plug-and-chug homework shortcut service, but trying to get themselves oriented on a topic is pretty much okay.

1. The other students in the class don't have this advantage.

It is not and cannot be Ask Metafilter's job to enforce informational equality in the classrooms of everyone who is or knows a mefite. Life is full of all kinds of little advantages and disadvantages and we'd be nuts to pretend to be able to avoid somehow being part of that at times. The whole reason people like askme is because it's a handy information resource. That's the same reason people like the internet in general, and books, and libraries, and expensive private tutors. That last one is the odd duck in that mix, though, since internet access and books and libraries are all pretty accessible even to people who don't have a lot of cash on hand, which is kind of the idea.

2. The OP isn't even the student...its the parent of the student.

This doesn't make it a worse question for Ask Metafilter; if there are ethical or social ramifications for this for student or parent, that's totally a valid thing to feel and in some narrow, narrow ways to possibly bring up in the context of a helpful answer but that's about it. Not answering a question because you feel like it's a problematic ethical situation is fine, but it's not the basis of policy on whether a question can be asked here.
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:22 AM on October 26, 2011 [7 favorites]


The questioner is straightforward about it being for homework, and the question is specific and answerable. MeFites should answer the question - what search terms should I use? and not write the homework. It's like going to a tutor - you have to show that you've started the work, and have an answerable question.

The students in the class all have the Internet available to them, and it's full of information that helps students with homework. Faculty should understand this, and assign work that makes the student demonstrate their grasp of the material.

If I were answering it, I'd probably tell Mom that her son will be better off learning how to research his homework, but it's not an answer to the question posed.

hal_c_on, why are you so distressed about this? Your responses are pretty strong, and I don't see the question as that big a deal.
posted by theora55 at 7:29 AM on October 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


If the parent is just passing along a query for a kid who has no account, I don't see a problem.

I agree. It's unclear from the question whether that's what is happening or if the parent is actually helping with the homework, so why not afford the more charitable reading. On a related note, I find it gently annoying when people add "Asking for a friend!" to their AskMe posts and I'd hate to see that become a social requirement.

within 2 days the research librarian would usually have a pile of faxed/photocopied articles...that the researcher had gotten by calling in favors with some other university, each of which was spot-on for the topic I was researching.

That's really cool to hear. Like you, I have enough research savvy that I don't bother librarians with obvious questions, but from there my experience has been the opposite of yours: I bring my non-obvious question to a librarian and the librarian says, "Hmm...you're right, there doesn't appear to be any [answer/resource/etc.] available." I attended a good law school but it's still weird to feel like my research skills encompass the full scope of a professional librarian's.
posted by cribcage at 7:35 AM on October 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


a scanned PDF copy of that book in Nunavit

I like this story.

it's still weird to feel like my research skills encompass the full scope of a professional librarian's.

I do not like this one.

One of the real divides in the profession is the extent to which saying "I don't know" is an acceptable answer. And this can depend both in the mission of the particlar library but also the character of the particular person getting the question. I have sometimes given the "I don't know but I can find out but it might take a day or two" response and sometimes gotten the "Oh no, just wondering, no big deal..." response, or the "Okay, yeah would you look into it?" reply. Sometimes people don't judge the situation correctly and sometimes they're just lazy and/or lack job pride.

This question didn't even really seem borderline to me except that it used the word "homework" as the other mods have said, the AskMe homework proscription is really more about AskMe becoming a "do my homework" channel than a moral compunction against helping people out. Generally offering sources is fine, solutions less so. It's definitely in mod judgment call territory [i.e. I could think about a version of this question that would be totally NOT okay, but other versions that would be totally 100% okay] but I think it's okay.

And, for future reference, we'd love people to email us or go to MetaTalk instead of making fighty comments in threads they have questions about, not in addition to. Makes our jobs a bit easier.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:11 AM on October 26, 2011 [5 favorites]


About the parent helping their college age offspring..

How do you know this young man doesn't have a learning disability? Perhaps he needs help. Perhaps he just isn't smart enough to do it on his own. Should he not go to college, because he has to ask his resourceful parent for help?

Also, just because you are officially a college student does not mean that you weren't a high school student three months ago. You are not all grown up just because you entered into higher education.

Give the kid and the mom/dad a break.
posted by royalsong at 8:17 AM on October 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'll Paypal you $500 to quit this site for a year.

Please don't do this sort of thing.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:20 AM on October 26, 2011 [4 favorites]


(annnd upon rereading what I said, it is evident education is a trigger to bring out snarky royalsong. I apologize! I didn't mean to come off so short.)
posted by royalsong at 8:22 AM on October 26, 2011


Wait, isn't every question essentially "helping with homework".

Some people couldn't get homework done, or even get started, without the advice given in questions about being a student with a learning disability, some couldn't get homework done without advice about their spice, or partner, or familial dependent, some couldn't get home to do homework without car advice, some need advice on a computer to do homework on. Some need advice on how to find information to help a family member. If we start demanding that people offer suitable supplication, and recognition that they are bad people for asking... That sounds like a huge new job for flags, mods, and answer givers.

Share your learned wisdom or hoard it... But why all the judging of people with differing ideas of the role of education?

'college' without specifics can include a pretty diverse set of institutions, and people come from alot of backgrounds, so it isn' automatically like, this is a harvard law student, who got accepted because of their parents going there. There are just too many good faith readings of the question for me to get why such a question could be unacceptable. It was an answerable question, answered quickly, and well. Personally, I get frustrated by the school of education theory that you seem to be suggesting as 'universal', or otherwise promoting Hal.

One thing I wish more higher Ed professionals would remember is that there just isn't the sort of optimal exposure (I mean, basically, funding for programs that reach students before college starts, and the assumptions start flowing that people ought to know how to find information, and that it 'says something' if they do not. If the skills and promotion of the ideas, and skills that are involved in academic researching are not taught, one can get through quite a bit of stuff, without the really deep digging that librarians can teach us to do. It is cool that there are crash courses offered many places, and many professors are seeing this, catching on, and creating special learning sessions in class time, but, really, it would serve and help everyone to introduce some of those ideas in high school, or elementary, rather than the 'secreting knowledge away' only for those few who get to attend higher Ed.
posted by infinite intimation at 8:36 AM on October 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Librarians would also teach us to close brackets after we open them.
posted by infinite intimation at 8:37 AM on October 26, 2011


You can lead a child to < but you can't make him >.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:53 AM on October 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


As a college instructor, I see no ethical problems here. The OMG homework ethics stuff is silly. This MeTa thread is unnecessary.
posted by spitbull at 10:17 AM on October 26, 2011 [4 favorites]


I like Stack Overflow's homework norms:
Questions regarding homework assignments are more than welcome, provided that they:
  1. Briefly explain the problem you are trying to solve — do not post your entire assignment verbatim.
  2. Explain what you have tried thus far, and where you are stuck (preferably with code examples)
  3. Don't ask for 'complete' solutions to the problem — we're not here to do your homework for you.
More information in their Meta site. Obviously, replace code with whatever is appropriate in the problem domain.
posted by grouse at 10:29 AM on October 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


If I went to a library and read a book someone had written on the physics of grip tape, I would be doing research, and it wouldn't be problematic.

If I went to lunch with the author of the book and we talked about the physics of grip tape, I would be doing research, and it wouldn't be problematic.

If I initiated an email conversation with the author of the book and we talked about the physics of grip tape, I would be doing research, and it wouldn't be problematic.

If I went to lunch with someone who was intimately familiar with the book's subject matter, though was not the author, and we talked about the physics of grip tape, I would be doing research, and it wouldn't be problematic.

If I initiated an email conversation with someone who was intimately familiar with the book's subject matter, though was not the author, and we talked about the physics of grip tape, I would be doing research, and it wouldn't be problematic.

If I contacted the book's author, to ask where I could find their book on the physics of grip tape, I wouldn't even be doing research yet; I would be identifying potential sources for my research, and it wouldn't be problematic.

If I contacted someone familiar with the book's subject matter, who was not the author themselves, and I asked where I could find a book on the physics of grip tape, I wouldn't even be doing research yet; I would be identifying potential sources for my research.

If I contacted a research librarian and asked where I could find books on the physics of grip tape, I wouldn't even be doing research yet; I would be identifying potential sources for my research.

If I used google to search for books on the physics of grip tape, I wouldn't even be doing research yet; I would be identifying potential sources for my research.

So why in the world would it be a problem to ask, generically, in a forum, if there was anyone who knew how to use google more effectively to locate information on the physics of grip tape?
posted by davejay at 10:59 AM on October 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


Oh, and I don't see anything out of line regarding his mother asking. It costs $5 to join, his mother had an account, he didn't, and so he asked her to ask using her account. What could possibly be wrong with that? Should she have said "no, I will not do this for you; sign up for your own account"? That would be unsupportive and silly.
posted by davejay at 11:01 AM on October 26, 2011


Yesterday, I told my students that they should avail themselves of all available resources to do their homework, including Google. (It's insanely unlikely they'd manage to find an exact solution on google.) I'd be thrilled if one of them turned up on AskMe and said "I have no idea how to do [some sort of problem], can you have a go at explaining it or suggest places that explain calculus?" I'd be annoyed if they showed up on AskMe asking how to do a specific problem off the homework, but I also don't think we'd solve it. We'd tell them off and give them answers to the right question to ask.
posted by hoyland at 11:23 AM on October 26, 2011


No. You're being paid to be the keepers of information allowing people to access whatever they want. Not to do other people's work. Also I'm putting significance on the "lecturers would tell us not to help the students even to that extent".

Can some university faculty chime in on this?


I'm university faculty, and I think that this is a really strange view of what librarians are for, and more generally of the role of access to information in education. If a student doing an assignment for one of my classes didn't know or understand something and went to a librarian to ask for help finding sources enabling this knowledge/understanding, this would be a good thing, not a bad thing. (Coming to me or my TA would also be a good thing.) Making an assignment more difficult / harder to get a good grade on by imposing artificial barriers to getting hold of information has nothing to do with the point of any of my classes, I can tell you that much.

(Also, as BibiRose implies, I'm not sure why an answer from a teacher necessarily should carry more weight. At many/most universities librarians _are_ faculty, not to mention that they have most likely spent some time during their education directly thinking about these issues, whereas most faculty learned to teach by being thrown in the deep end. Libraries actually often run mini-courses for new faculty teaching them how to integrate the library into their classes.)

The issue of parents being too involved in their child's work at the university level is independently problematic, not because it is ethically wrong to ask people for help, but because it leads to a lack of independence that isn't good for the student's education. But this is a complicated issue and not one I think should be fought via rules on ask.mefi.
posted by advil at 11:30 AM on October 26, 2011 [11 favorites]


And, for future reference, we'd love people to email us or go to MetaTalk instead of making fighty comments in threads they have questions about, not in addition to. Makes our jobs a bit easier.
posted by jessamyn


I see.

So hal_c_on made a comment in that thread which got deleted, but chooses to withhold that information for his MetaTalk post-- which makes his actual motives here highly questionable.

An abuse of the site all around, I'd say.
posted by jamjam at 12:11 PM on October 26, 2011


jamjam: " So hal_c_on made a comment in that thread which got deleted, but chooses to withhold that information for his MetaTalk post-- which makes his actual motives here highly questionable."

Why? What motives are you ascribing to him?
posted by zarq at 12:24 PM on October 26, 2011


From the instruction side, I would much prefer students engaging alternative sources of learning how to do basic searches. On the AskMe side, I'm fine as long as there's disclosure of where you are and what you're doing. AskMe isn't going to help with rampant cheating, but might clear up a conceptual problem or misinterpretation.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 12:26 PM on October 26, 2011


That he was mainly miffed about the deletion but chose to present himself as a disinterested defender of the purity of AskMe instead, zarq (though I can't know the relative timing of any deletion and this Meta, of course).

I'm glad you asked, because it gives me a better opportunity to disclose that he irritated me with an AskMe comment recently, which was certainly part of my motivation here.
posted by jamjam at 12:37 PM on October 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


jamjam: "That he was mainly miffed about the deletion but chose to present himself as a disinterested defender of the purity of AskMe instead, zarq (though I can't know the relative timing of any deletion and this Meta, of course)."

Yeah, there's the timing issue, and that he may have objected to the question in his deleted comment on the same grounds as those raised in this post. For example if he'd said, "Tell your son to do his own homework, don't ask us to do it for him," in a deleted comment.

I'm glad you asked, because it gives me a better opportunity to disclose that he irritated me with an AskMe comment recently, which was certainly part of my motivation here.

Not that it matters, but my impression of him is that he gives consistently decent, helpful no-nonsense answers in AskMe.
posted by zarq at 12:46 PM on October 26, 2011


1. The other students in the class don't have this advantage.

One of the realities of under-graduate education is that every student has advantages/disadvantages. Some have more friends than others. Some are better able to study in noisy environments. Some are related to experts in the field they are studying. Some grew up using the internet. Some live next door to a library.

I think the only fair solution is to handicap all students equally: wipe their pre-academic memories and paralyse them for the duration of their course of study.
posted by doublehappy at 12:55 PM on October 26, 2011 [8 favorites]


Around here, we are the products of editing as much as authorship, zarq.
posted by jamjam at 1:05 PM on October 26, 2011


I think the only fair solution is to handicap all students equally: wipe their pre-academic memories and paralyse them for the duration of their course of study.

Isn't that the whole point of beer pong?
posted by miss-lapin at 1:07 PM on October 26, 2011 [6 favorites]


I'm late to the party here, but I wanted to throw in my two cents. I've always kind of figured that about 20% of AskMeFi posts were students looking for help on assignments...the vast majority of them (or their mothers) don't just come out and declare it in the question.
posted by Elly Vortex at 1:24 PM on October 26, 2011


I've always kind of figured that about 20% of AskMeFi posts were students looking for help on assignments

Really? One out of every five posts are homework? That seems like an incredibly large overestimation. Let's look at the most recent ten posts:
  1. Travel suggestions.
  2. Practical question about appraisals for buying a new house.
  3. Time-saving when watching YouTube videos.
  4. Practical question about reducing humidity in a house.
  5. Specific web programming problem.
  6. Practical question about reducing amount of incorrectly addressed e-mail received.
  7. Where to go on Halloween in San Francisco?
  8. What music should I listen to?
  9. Personal mental health question.
  10. Want a web site with reviews and plot synopses for Broadway shows.
I find it unlikely that any of these are related to help on homework.
posted by grouse at 1:33 PM on October 26, 2011


1- Geography 101
2- Finance 203
3- Social Media 104
4- Material Properties 204
5- Web Programming 304
6- Business 205
7- Contemporary Ethnography Symposium
8- Ethnomusicology 103
9- Psychology 405
10- Music Appreciation 105
posted by griphus at 1:38 PM on October 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


Worse than that. It's the same person using ten separate accounts to cover all the bases for a short fiction assignment in Creative Writing 202.
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:53 PM on October 26, 2011 [6 favorites]


I'm with zarq, I think hal_c_on is a good contributor in AskMe, notwithstanding my disagreement with him on this issue.

doublehappy: if you're in any way responsible for or even tenuously connected with the course content and assessment for the Legal Research part of LAWS 297 at Victoria University, I need to buy you a beer and then accidentally spill it all over you.

Heh, I taught that course about 3 times, and helped create the content - if you're doing online self-paced learning for the electronic resources, that was probably me. Haven't been there for four years though, and I know its changed since I was there - we used to have four or five sessions, now it's down to 2-3 as far as I know. What's your problem with it? (MeMail me if you like...)
posted by Infinite Jest at 2:43 PM on October 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think the only fair solution is to handicap all students equally

Harrison Bergeron University welcomes the Class of 2015!
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 3:08 PM on October 26, 2011 [4 favorites]


One out of every five posts are homework? That seems like an incredibly large overestimation. Let's look at the most recent ten posts:

Here's a homework-like problem for you: Given the hypothesis that a randomly-selected AskMe has a 1/5 probability of being homework; and a sample of 10 AskMes, of which none are homework, can we reject the hypothesis with p<0.05?
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 3:14 PM on October 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm a little reluctant to say this out loud, for fear of triggering a bunch of "I'm writing a novel about a guy who has to write a five-paragraph essay with three citations" bullshit, but: when an AskMe question is more homeworky than I'd prefer, I just don't answer it.
posted by box at 3:54 PM on October 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


"offensive/sexism/racism" doesn't really cover it ... I want to be able to flag as "dickmove"
posted by secretseasons at 4:11 PM on October 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you're going to stick this in a frequentist paradigm, I think we should use a one-tailed test. The null hypothesis should be that the true mean is ≥ 0.2. Really I think a Bayesian approach would be better though.
posted by grouse at 4:29 PM on October 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


doublehappy: if you're in any way responsible for or even tenuously connected with the course content and assessment for the Legal Research part of LAWS 297 at Victoria University

Infinite Jest: Heh, I taught that course about 3 times, and helped create the content

God, I love MetaFilter.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 4:53 PM on October 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


^^

doublehappy: if you're in any way responsible for or even tenuously connected with the course content and assessment for the Legal Research part of LAWS 297 at Victoria University

Infinite Jest: Heh, I taught that course about 3 times, and helped create the content


Ummm...wow.

I just did LAW299-Legal Research at Auckland (as a student). I'm guessing its the same as what you are doing...

Do you need any of my publicly available course materials? Maybe a different perspective will get you through a course focusing on minutiae. If so, memail me with your email addy.
posted by hal_c_on at 5:05 PM on October 26, 2011


If you're talking homework help, I personally get a lot more aggravated by the unanswerable, difficult, and needlessly-bizarre questions in November which amount to, "help me fix the Nanowrimo corner I've written myself into, because I am a helpless dumbass," but that's just my personal baggage.
posted by ErikaB at 6:03 PM on October 26, 2011


ErikaB: "79If you're talking homework help, I personally get a lot more aggravated by the unanswerable, difficult, and needlessly-bizarre questions in November which amount to, "help me fix the Nanowrimo corner I've written myself into, because I am a helpless dumbass," but that's just my personal baggage."

Just give them a link to TV Tropes. They'll disappear into that sinkhole forever.
posted by zarq at 6:49 PM on October 26, 2011 [5 favorites]


Just a small note from a more-or-less professional tutor--between a third and half my income, the past 5 years, has come from tutoring.

There was a talk post a month ago suggesting a special translation wiki or thread or subsite or what have you. A lot of translators responded by saying, politely, "F you, that's my job, that'll be $25 if you want the translation."

As a quasi-professional tutor, this particular post didn't set me off, but this other one sure did. (Note: I am not complaining about either OP personally.)

I am also thinking of this comment in re: cooking being the JOB of a housewife/househusband.

So here I kind of feel the same. Part "you have GOT to be kidding me, you want this for free?" and other part "if some other commenter wants to give this away for free, how is it my problem?"

Probably the various academics/teachers/professors onsite might have less of this "trigger" (heh) because no one presumes to ask them to put up a whole loathsome webinar for free.

Just ignore it if you can't be bothered, is my thought.
posted by skbw at 9:35 PM on October 26, 2011


I looked and you never came back to that thread to tell us how that worked out. So what were the results?

Teacher had no sense of humor - refused to grade it and forced him to re-write it. Sorry for the let-down ending.
posted by allkindsoftime at 11:56 PM on October 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


Heh, I taught that course about 3 times, and helped create the content - if you're doing online self-paced learning for the electronic resources, that was probably me. Haven't been there for four years though, and I know its changed since I was there - we used to have four or five sessions, now it's down to 2-3 as far as I know. What's your problem with it? (MeMail me if you like...)

Yeah, I think you mentioned it obliquely once in a thread a year or two ago (i.e. it's not a crazy coincidence and I'm not just being a creepy stalker guy!).

There was nothing really wrong with it - in fact it was my best paper last year, it was just a lot of hard work, and I'm really not a fan of hard work. Also, they turned the self paced tutorials into compulsory classes, which is fine for the people that can't use a computer or read, I guess. I understand that it has completely changed since you were there: there are more assessments, and it is now a paper in its own right.
posted by doublehappy at 3:14 AM on October 27, 2011


Probably the various academics/teachers/professors onsite might have less of this "trigger" (heh) because no one presumes to ask them to put up a whole loathsome webinar for free.

Putting lectures in a video archive is getting really popular. A lot of people I've talked to love it because they dislike giving the same lecture again and again. It frees their class time up to do socratic stuff, and provides reference for all the bad note-takers. Remember the path to being a teaching academic goes through a PhD, which is about research. Most people you see teaching in college would much rather be doing research, although there are a few who just love instruction.

This may mean fewer college teaching jobs per student in the future, but more and more of those lecturing jobs were getting funneled to low-paid temp workers (adjuncts) anyway.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 6:29 AM on October 27, 2011


If/when I am ever a professor, all the assignments I give will be open book / open notes / open mobiles / open internet / open friends because that's, like, the real world.

The rest of all y'all need to buck up and start assigning stuff that requires synthesizing and applying knowledge in a way that can't just be looked up online instead of giving tests and assignments that allow you to turn over the chore of grading to a machine.

Best you get a head start now, before the first crop of kids with neural internet implants show up in your classrooms!
posted by Jacqueline at 6:21 PM on October 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


If/when I am ever a professor, all the assignments I give will be open book / open notes / open mobiles / open internet / open friends because that's, like, the real world.


I do that.
posted by spitbull at 4:28 AM on October 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


The rest of all y'all need to buck up and start assigning stuff that requires synthesizing and applying knowledge in a way that can't just be looked up online instead of giving tests and assignments that allow you to turn over the chore of grading to a machine.

No assignment is resistant to getting someone else to do it.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 7:39 AM on October 28, 2011


Your assignment: create an assignment that is resistant to outsourced solutions.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:22 AM on October 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm going to pull a random item out of a hat and flip a coin. Heads, you pretend it's an animate object and then kick some freestyle battle rhymes about it. Tails, you use it in a performance art piece.
posted by box at 9:55 AM on October 28, 2011


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