Homework Policy September 9, 2015 5:14 AM   Subscribe

Can we clarify the policy on homework questions in AskMe?

This was deleted today because, "Hey, sorry, totally understandable to want help with this, but site guidelines include "Please do not Ask MetaFilter to do your homework"" Yet it was explicit in the question that it was asked by a father who was helping his daughter with her homework (and given who the poster is, I see no reason to doubt that).

The homework tag seems to have many examples where this was okay in the past (examples: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5).

Can we clarify the homework policy? Do we no longer draw the line between a student asking for homework help, and a parent asking for help in supporting their child with their homework?
posted by NotMyselfRightNow to Etiquette/Policy at 5:14 AM (34 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

eep, it didn't even occur to me that it might sound like I didn't believe the OP was helping their kid. I definitely didn't mean to suggest that!

My deletion reason currently reads: "Hey, sorry, totally understandable to want help with this, but site guidelines include 'Please do not Ask MetaFilter to do your homework'" – and I will go edit that so it doesn't sound like I'm accusing the poster of lying.

I view that part of the FAQ as inclusive: your/your child's/your friend's, but we should probably make it clearer. I'll be back to give my take on the other examples.
posted by taz (staff) at 5:15 AM on September 9, 2015


Of the other examples you mention, the only one that was flagged, and the only one that I would have deleted myself is the fourth one. Questions that ask hypothetical problems that are similar to real problems are okay, and questions that ask for advice on how/where to look for information in order to solve the problem, research information, or understand methodology are okay. Folks can definitely discuss thoughts about this, though.
posted by taz (staff) at 5:23 AM on September 9, 2015


I didn't mean to say that I thought you thought the poster was actually a student - I was just trying to make clear for anyone who hadn't seen the question that it obviously wasn't!

I'd be interested in seeing how others feel about this. I guess I draw a clear line between help with your own homework (not allowed) and a parent/tutor/mentor/etc. trying to get an answer to be able to help someone else (which I think should be allowed).
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 5:40 AM on September 9, 2015 [4 favorites]


I saw that question pre-deletion and actually clicked through because it seemed like an interesting puzzle. At the same time, it wouldn't be so interesting if there were fifty homework questions a day. So I say keep the rules the way they are, and we can take our homework to Quora and Stackexchange like everyone else.
posted by Literaryhero at 5:42 AM on September 9, 2015


I don't see what the issue. Clearly someone was being helped with their homework and AskMe don't play that, at all.

Doesn't matter if it's the poster or the poster's mother asking for her daughter's brother who is trying to help his friend's sister.

No help means no help and that's a good policy.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:50 AM on September 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


I feel like there should be a good bit of wiggle room as long as it's clear that it's "help me to understand this myself, so that I can help teach my child/friend, etc. how to solve or approach this," rather than "we need the answer to X homework question."
posted by taz (staff) at 5:56 AM on September 9, 2015 [15 favorites]


as long as it's clear that it's "help me to understand this myself, so that I can help teach my child/friend, etc. how to solve or approach this," rather than "we need the answer to X homework question."

Agreed. Would this question have flown if it had given the example, and requested resources for understanding this type of problem?
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:58 AM on September 9, 2015


I feel like there should be a good bit of wiggle room as long as it's clear that it's "help me to understand this myself, so that I can help teach my child/friend, etc. how to solve or approach this," rather than "we need the answer to X homework question."

That sounds fine, but it wasn't how the question was phrased at all.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:02 AM on September 9, 2015


Yeah, MonkeyToes, to me, that would be fine.
posted by taz (staff) at 6:11 AM on September 9, 2015


Agreeing with Taz. If the question had asked, "how should I approach this?" or "I don't understand this. Help me explain it to my daughter," it would have been okay. But it didn't ask that. It just said "give me the answer". Big difference.
posted by alms at 6:45 AM on September 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


alms: "But it didn't ask that. It just said "give me the answer"."

Well, no it didn't. The full text of the question, minus the example problems, was "Help me with my 6th grade daughter's Math home work. I am stumped[.] Each letter in each question stands for a 1-digit number. In each question no two letters may stand for the same number. Find a value for each letter ILL + CUP = EACH Using Numbers 8,9,4,1,5,0,6,2[.] She had two other questions which we figured out." It seems needlessly harsh to assume that the asker is demanding an answer rather than assistance with finding the answer. I feel like an in-thread mod note could have reminded answerers to focus on the "Help me" part of the question. Given the recent discussions about making The Blue less intimidating to new posters, this seems like a pretty unfriendly approach to a borderline question asked by a MeFite who appears to use the site pretty rarely.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:11 AM on September 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


That said, it was a borderline question, and I don't fault taz for coming down on the deletion side of the line, I just would have gone the other way.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:13 AM on September 9, 2015


I feel like an in-thread mod note could have reminded answerers to focus on the "Help me" part of the question.

That would probably have been a better way, Rock Steady. It was fairly busy with mod stuff on the site at that moment, but I would feel better about having done that instead.
posted by taz (staff) at 10:03 AM on September 9, 2015


... by which I mean, it was fairly busy so I didn't spend as long as I would have liked evaluating what to do, but I could have put it off a bit, and made a better decision. It wasn't like it was essential to take action *at that moment,* other than just trying to deal with things as they come up so I don't end up forgetting to go back to something.
posted by taz (staff) at 10:09 AM on September 9, 2015


I think that if it had been presented as some kind of riddle or puzzle, the question would have been fine. I also think that the poster asked the question in good faith; it came off to me like he was interested in figuring out the "puzzle" of how these HW problems worked, rather than that he was interested in doing some unethical grade-grubbing on his daughter's behalf.

But crowdsourcing your (or your kid's) homework is still cheating imo. So I think that it was a good deletion.
posted by rue72 at 10:10 AM on September 9, 2015


taz: "trying to deal with things as they come up so I don't end up forgetting to go back to something"

it's like you are in my head
posted by Rock Steady at 10:14 AM on September 9, 2015


I agree with the deletion, though I wrote my own horrifying but possibly (?) accurate brute force solver for the puzzle last night, because that seemed like a fun question to consider.
#!/usr/bin/env perl -w

use strict;
use 5.012;
use Algorithm::Combinatorics qw(permutations);

solve("ILL + CUP == EACH", qw(8 9 4 1 5 0 6 2));
solve("TOO + JET == HAND", qw(1 0 3 6 2 7 5 4));
solve("NET + DAD == GIRL", qw(8 9 1 3 7 6 0 5 2));

sub solve {
    my $eq = shift;
    my $iter = permutations(\@_);
    my %letters_unique = map { $_ => 1 } grep /[A-Z]/, split '', $eq;
    my @letters = keys %letters_unique;

    say "\n", $eq;
    while (my $numbers = $iter->next) {
        my $tmp_eq = $eq;
        my %lookup = map { $_ => shift @$numbers } @letters;
        $tmp_eq =~ s/([A-Z])/$lookup{$1}/g;
        my $non_octal_eq = $tmp_eq;
        $non_octal_eq =~ s/(^0)|(\s0)//g;
        eval $non_octal_eq && say $tmp_eq;
    }
}
posted by Monsieur Caution at 11:04 AM on September 9, 2015 [5 favorites]


I think it would be appropriate for us to take the approach to questions that any good teacher would. If a question is asked regarding the homework problem, it would be against policy to do the work or provide a direct answer, but it could appropriate to use it as a "teaching" moment to help people figure out the steps to doing the work themselves. So asking for help is okay, asking for direction to figure it out is okay; providing a response designed to simply answer the problem or circumvent work that is part of the assignment would not be. Asking for inappropriate answers is probably a deal-breaker, but I think the community could be effective in providing a corrective to inappropriate questions by prompting the questioner with details that would encourage them to actually do the work. That part might be tricky, as we are trained to answer the question as-is (and I believe those questions violate the guidelines anyway). But any time in life that I've been asked just to give answers for an assignment, the teacher in me comes out and I enjoy helping the person help themselves, generally by way of asking the right questions, which is much more satisfying at the end for everyone involved.
posted by SpacemanStix at 11:23 AM on September 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


Monsieur Caution, you might like Mark Dominus's elegant brute force solutions for this problem in Haskell, Python, and Perl.
posted by mbrubeck at 1:22 PM on September 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


I don't think ask should ban homework questions in the first place.
posted by Drinky Die at 2:56 PM on September 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


I agree with Drinky Die with the caveat that there's a vast difference between:

OK, I have a liter of gas at 27° C and 1 bar of pressure and I heat it up to 100° C. What is the pressure then?
- and -
In school we're talking about gas laws, but they don't make any sense to me at all. Can anyone help me out here?

JGMTFAA [Just Give Me The Fucking Answer Already] is not a business we should get into. But facilitating understanding? That seems at least as noble a pursuit as telling someone, that their skeevy love interest is really fucking skeevy and that they should get the hell out.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 3:39 PM on September 9, 2015 [4 favorites]


Nah, just give them the answer. A question is a question, and homework questions have the benefit of actually having answers. It's not like you can do all your work with Ask considering the posting limitations, one here or there is not really a big deal.
posted by Drinky Die at 3:43 PM on September 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


If AskMeta won't help me when my kids have head scratchers like that, I can't be the only one who is in big trouble.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 4:12 PM on September 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


Just start a MetaTalk issue with the actual problem as an example.
posted by sammyo at 5:08 PM on September 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


Or leave out the 'my 6th grader' part and phrase the question as a fun puzzle that's been stumping you. Mefi might hate homework but Mefi loves fun puzzles.

I'm with Drinky Die here and don't see the problem in an occasional homework question.
posted by item at 5:19 PM on September 9, 2015 [6 favorites]


Why does the "no homework help" rule exist in the first place?
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 10:41 PM on September 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


I guess because its abolition would open up a huge category of problems with solutions completely useless to anyone but the original poster.
posted by hat_eater at 5:49 AM on September 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


Presumably because we don't want to become another shitty essay-mill site for plagiarizers because the internet already has plenty of those.
posted by hydropsyche at 6:08 AM on September 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


Well, also, it's cheating, and I don't think Ask wants to be thought of as a site that facilitates cheating on homework. HELPING UNDERSTAND homework is different than just providing answers.
posted by leesh at 6:09 AM on September 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


That was determined before my time as a mod, but I feel like it goes along with other guidelines aimed at directing the utility of the site as members helping other members with advice, rather than a service thing. So, in other words, "can anyone translate the writing on the bottom of this vase" is okay, while "please translate my article / marketing copy into X language" isn't; "how can I find someone who will hand deliver X in Orlando" is okay, but "Orlando mefites, can you hand deliver this X for me?" is not; "I'm starting a new business selling tiddlywinks and need ideas for how I might market this" is okay, but "Please write me some ad copy for my new business selling tiddlywinks" isn't, and so on.

Likewise, people cannot use Ask Metafilter as a survey or demographic-gathering source. "I have two ideas for new products I'd like to retail, but can only afford to produce one, and am curious what mefites think of X vs Y," would be okay, but "I'm deciding between two products, please indicate which you'd prefer and state your age, education level, and household income" would not.

So this is fairly similar: providing help to figure out a homework problem is okay, but asking for the answers, or asking for more tutoring-level or essay-writing or copy-editing level work is not good. For questions like the one we are discussing, I think saying something like, "I need to try to help my child learn how to do a problem like this, but I don't understand this one myself – can you help me to get a grasp on it so I can help my kid?" is totally fine.
posted by taz (staff) at 6:16 AM on September 10, 2015 [4 favorites]


Likewise, people cannot use Ask Metafilter as a survey or demographic-gathering source. "I have two ideas for new products I'd like to retail, but can only afford to produce one, and am curious what mefites think of X vs Y," would be okay

Funny, I'da classified that as chatfilter.
posted by phearlez at 11:46 AM on September 11, 2015


Well, "what do you prefer, chocolate or vanilla?" is chatfilter, but "I can produce either the chocolate or vanilla product, but not both; which [do mefites think] should I go with?" isn't.

The FAQ includes as a chatfilter example, "Questions where everyone's answer is equally valid along the lines of "What's your favorite X?". Maybe there is a reason you want to know? Super, just put it in your question," and we try to look at it as "is OP trying to solve a problem?"
posted by taz (staff) at 11:10 PM on September 11, 2015


What about posts that don't explicitly mention homework but are phrased in such a way that it sure seems like the OP is repeatedly seeking to crowdsource research for either work or school? There's a post on the Green right now that is the latest in a string of such questions (which have been going on for over a year -- making me wonder if AskMe has been helping someone get through film school despite the no homework help rule).
posted by Hermione Granger at 11:20 AM on September 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


That's just Brilliant.
posted by grouse at 11:47 AM on September 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


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