AskMe homework help March 15, 2008 5:36 PM   Subscribe

It's that time of the semester: the "help me write my paper" AskMe's are starting up again.

Here's today's example. I'm pretty sure they are "legal" questions, by AskMe rules, but they leave a really bad taste in my mouth. I love it when students ask each other for help, when they come to a professor's office hours, when they go to the library and ask the reference librarian. And yes, when they figure out how to use the resources of the internet (including AskMe) to discover new directions and approaches. But in those cases, the student is asking "how can I learn about X" -- these AskMe's tend to be more like the one I linked: "do my work for me, which I will then turn in as my own."

I mean, in this case, it's as if the asker didn't even google "globalization urban Ethiopia," never mind ask a librarian or a professor how to find out some appropriate topics.

So yeah, sort of like "don't feed the trolls," I wish MeFi had a "don't promote laziness by doing people's homework for them" ethos. At the very least, they should have to jump through the minimal hoop of acknowledging their flawed approach by having to claim to be "researching a book" or any other reasonable excuse for asking the question.
posted by Forktine to Etiquette/Policy at 5:36 PM (51 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

Amusingly, if you do google Globalization in urban Ethiopia you get, er, that askme.
posted by shothotbot at 5:41 PM on March 15, 2008


Yeah, I'm always amazed at how fast AskMe's show up on google. But even a cursory scan down the first few results (I didn't follow any of the links) brings up urban agriculture, state terrorism, remittances, and urban design, all of which have connections with globalization and are more recent than 30 years.
posted by Forktine at 5:50 PM on March 15, 2008


but they leave a really bad taste in my mouth

Have you tried adding the salt AFTER the sugar? It tends to bring out the flavor more and gets rid of that bitter aftertaste.

I wish MeFi had a "don't promote laziness by doing people's homework for them" ethos.

It does. However that doesn't mean you and Mefi will agree on the issue at all times.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:53 PM on March 15, 2008


As a college professor, I don't see anything wrong with this. In the referenced thread, the question is open ended and honest about needing help with a paper. No one is offering to write a paper for the poster. The poster isn't asking anyone to write the paper. S/he is just looking for information.

OK, s/he should have googled it. But how many AskMes could be answered if the poster simply googled the question?

And Google information is not filtered through any sort of expertise, whereas there's at least a chance of that happening on AskMe.

If I see questions like this in my academic wheelhouse, I'm happy to supply references and basic information, just as I would be if a student in my class came to my office hours. No one is being forced to answer, or deceived into answering.

Sorry, just don't see the problem.
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:55 PM on March 15, 2008 [3 favorites]


Not sure what the answer to this is, but as a practice that really IS shitty and annoying: yeah, I agree with you. It would disappoint me deeply to find one of my students doing this (okay, I'm sure they ARE doing it but so long as I don't see it I can at least pretend otherwise and try to encourage them not to) ... again, I'm really not sure this is anything that an officially-enforced policy can DO anything about - the best policy WOULD be more universal acceptance of that "don't feed the trolls/don't do students' work for them" ethos (I can't BELIEVE people are so hasty to respond to questions like that, it does feel a little too "look how eager I am to show what I know no matter what the circumstances!" imo) - but a little venting about it does feel good, so thanks for offering us that opportunity =)
posted by zeph at 5:56 PM on March 15, 2008


I"m always a little confused by those questions. Are professors not giving students any guidance at all about how to go about doing their assignments? When I've assigned research papers to undergrads, we've talked about how to find secondary sources, how to judge the quality of a secondary source, etc. It just strikes me as odd that someone would assign a research paper on a reasonably obscure topic and not talk to the students at all about how to accomplish that task.
posted by craichead at 5:58 PM on March 15, 2008


FourCheeseMac, I don't think the issue is whether this is a problem for the college. The issue is whether this is a problem for us. Irrespective of whether it might be considered OK for there to be "help me with my homework" websites, the question before us is whether we want AskMe to become such a website.

I vote "no".
posted by Class Goat at 6:02 PM on March 15, 2008


(Whether I'm entitled to a vote is another question, of course.)
posted by Class Goat at 6:02 PM on March 15, 2008


I find that AskMe does have sort of a built in "don't do people's homework" ethos, it's just that in a site of 5,000 people regularly posting, just a few answers IS the eqiuvalent of an "I refuse to do your homework" response, to me. All the people that answered gave short simple answers and the OP is still clearly going to have to dig to do his homework with them. If people aren't resourceful, they're just not. I have mixed feelings about whether going to AskMe for sources is any worse that going to Wikipedia.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:03 PM on March 15, 2008


It is a little lazy, but it isn't as if anyone can turn an AskMe question into a paper. A student is a bit lazy and goes to AskMe to get a good start on a project, so what? More often than not, the answers will lead the student to resources and then the student will then have to read and evaluate.

Remember, they aren't asking you to write a paper and send it to them; they are asking for advice and resources on how to go about writing their own paper.
posted by boubelium at 6:06 PM on March 15, 2008


I wouldn't always assume that the answers provided are the crux of the research paper. For example, I recently asked this question. Without explaining that I was planning on strictly transcribing several hours of documentary, newsreel and film, for painstaking analysis to study how sociolinguistic tendencies help support identity construction in a community of practice, you would simply assume I was some dumb kid asking for strangers on the internet to do my homework for me.

Why exactly do these questions bother you so badly that you feel the need to publicly call them out?

Furthermore, I'm glad questions like this are posted. The links people provide are generally interesting and I learn something new. (I had no idea about Coca-Cola and the USAID partnership. It's a great thing, especially since all I usually hear about Coca-Cola is how much they spend on advertising.)

Then again, thank you for calling this out, because I came to the grey first, and may have missed the thread on the green otherwise.
posted by iamkimiam at 6:06 PM on March 15, 2008


Google information is not filtered through any sort of expertise, whereas there's at least a chance of that happening on AskMe.

I think this is the reason that I don't mind seeing it continue. I believe the usefulness of AskMe lies not simply in its utility for the OP, but in the fact that the question is archived and is then available for others; it's available here, and it's available...to Google. Each question creates an excellent compendium on the topic, and people besides panicking students might one day want it.

That, and then because the AskMe will show on future Google queries, maybe, in the long, long run, it will result in fewer AskMes on paper topics. I don't really think so but just maybe.
posted by Miko at 6:09 PM on March 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


Are professors not giving students any guidance at all about how to go about doing their assignments?

It's entirely possible that the instructor for that course gave extensive guidance about doing research, finding secondary sources, using unciteable sources like wikipedia to find better sources, rules for citation, structuring an argument, and so on, at length and with examples. And that the student didn't show up that day, or didn't pay any attention, or didn't take any notes, or can't be bothered to read all of the relevant handout. I don't want to think about how much time I spend in an upper-undergrad course talking about the mechanics of doing a paper on Congress, and I bet I still get several papers doing exactly the things I used as examples of what not to do.

And it's easy to imagine relatively new instructors who don't understand that their students aren't like them -- aren't professional dorks who research for fun and who've always found this sort of thing obvious and easy. I'm often surprised at the things I have to explain to students that seem as plain as the sun to me.

Or, it's easy to imagine someone who imagines that they're upholding standards or something by just giving them the assignment and letting the failing students fail.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:25 PM on March 15, 2008 [3 favorites]


This example question isn't like checking Wikipedia. It's like using AskMe as a first resort, even before checking Google. Using AskMe for insight & wisdom & expertise is well & good, but this rubs me the wrong way.

For comparison: I liked iamkimiam's question. Duuude. Maybe it's just the context?
posted by Pronoiac at 6:27 PM on March 15, 2008


"I wish MeFi had a 'don't promote laziness by doing people's homework for them' ethos."

I don't really see a problem with these questions, it's not like we don't help people do their jobs and that's for money. Anyone who is put out is still welcome to withhold their expertise.

Class Goat writes "I don't think the issue is whether this is a problem for the college. The issue is whether this is a problem for us."

I don't think it is a problem perse as long as the questions remain non repetative. AskMe is often like going to cocktail party or conference with articulate well rounded people all talking about interesting things (and their SOs, pets, and kids). Or just wandering around a massive university campus taking in random lectures. It's very mind expanding.
posted by Mitheral at 6:36 PM on March 15, 2008


As someone who is being exploited by globalization in urban Ethiopia, I can only applaud the posters efforts to learn more about our daily struggle. If the price of that knowledge is having to summarize it in essay form of not more than 1500 words, I encourage his efforts!
posted by blue_beetle at 6:38 PM on March 15, 2008 [2 favorites]


I don't think there would be a boo-hoo on the gray if the poster had not phrased his or her request as a "Give me...." If they had instead said, "Please help me with this complex problem I'm unfamiliar with...," then this conversation would not be taking place.
posted by mrmojoflying at 6:48 PM on March 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


I was going to reply differently, but since the poster of the question in question has marked mrmojoflying's response as a best answer, and since mrmojoflying's response is of the "here are some pointers to help YOU do the research effectively" variety, I feel that things are mostly ok in this little patch of the world.

If things were otherwise I would be less sanguine about kids these days. For now I will save the sterner words for greater lawn-based incursions in the future.
posted by folgers crystals at 7:01 PM on March 15, 2008


The really objectionable homework questions are the ones like "What's the object in this sentence?" or "How do I solve this math problem?" or "How would I write a program to do this task in Java?" — ones where the student can take a good answer, turn right around, and hand it in as his or her own work. That's clearly cheating.

This is asking for resources, and I agree that that's a different thing entirely. I don't see any reason not to help.
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:42 PM on March 15, 2008


I wish MeFi had a "don't promote laziness by doing people's homework for them" ethos.

I wish MeFi had a flag system we could use so we could just flag things and MOVE ON!
posted by nola at 7:43 PM on March 15, 2008


Hey nola I have some news I think you're going to like....
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:51 PM on March 15, 2008


I wish MeFi had a "don't promote laziness by doing people's homework for them" ethos.

Then don't, use the damn flag, and let mod sort 'em out.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 7:52 PM on March 15, 2008


I recommend that you post an answer that plagiarizes from a text that the professor is bound to be familiar with. If the asker is honest they'll follow up and do their own research based on your lead. If the asker uses your response verbatim the prof will nail them, deservedly.
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:00 PM on March 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


Kind of like how we allow chatfilter as long as the asker is "writing a book," we should allow this as long as the asker "did the homework himself originally, but the dog ate that copy."
posted by Krrrlson at 8:03 PM on March 15, 2008


Forktine, the Ethiopian government may have posed this askme. It might be more economical to simply drop an askme than to commission costly research.
posted by mattoxic at 8:09 PM on March 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


use the damn flag, and let mod sort 'em out.

I'd really like to believe that MetaFilter is still a self-policing community, and that threads like these still have a useful place in discussing community policy.

Because that's not what I'm hearing from some people. What I'm hearing is that "mods" are the be-all end-all of policy, which simply isn't in the spirit of this site. I'd like to think that the "mods" are still the active police(wo)men who enforce community-created guidelines.

I believe that Jess and cortex have lived up to Matt's hands-off approach, but it makes me sad when I see people thinking that mods are somehow the only ones with any authority here.
posted by SeizeTheDay at 8:21 PM on March 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'd really like to believe that MetaFilter is still a self-policing community

We should be allowed to insult the AskMe posters. This I believe.
posted by 1 at 8:25 PM on March 15, 2008


I think the AskMe post linked here is a good use of the Internets, as is going to Wikipedia to discover potential sources for a research project.

The problem I had as a history undergrad writing, say, a paper on Hindenburg and Ludendorff's Eastern Front strategy and the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was a) finding somewhat contemporary (ie, not dated) texts, or actual journal articles (this was in the early 90s, just when computerized catalogues had been introduced).

I basically worked like hell to find a few shitty references. Often, books would be checked out, or journal articles dated, etc.

At least with teh Internets, undergrads have access to loads more source material, and can also compare and contrast said source material - it's easier to do.

I would suspect that teachers these days would expect more critical thinking and more knowledge from the undergrads about how there are different approaches to any given subject.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:27 PM on March 15, 2008


I will write properly researched and referenced papers of any length for any student of any major for free.

I will not make any promises to not cleverly hide improbably obscene suggestions or scenarios inside said papers.
posted by loquacious at 8:52 PM on March 15, 2008


This is time better spent helping me track down obscure Sci-Fi and/or healing my sick cat.
posted by Artw at 9:05 PM on March 15, 2008


What I'm hearing is that "mods" are the be-all end-all of policy, which simply isn't in the spirit of this site. I'd like to think that the "mods" are still the active police(wo)men who enforce community-created guidelines.

I can see how you could get that impression, but my admittedly brusque response was more along the lines of hey, there've been several other MeTas about this issue - has there been a dramatic shift in how these things are handled since the last time? Is this such a unique situation that it warrants a call-out, or are there established guidelines and enough precedents that flagging is sufficient and more constructive than a redundant MeTa?

IANAWebCommunityExpert or privy to any applicable data, but I suspect the flagging system has become a far more effective community/self-policing tool than MeTa call-outs.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 9:08 PM on March 15, 2008


I agree with mrmojoflying.

This thread would not have been posted if the Questioner had not phrased his question in a "Give Me" sort of way.

also, it helps when you know that the OP at least tried to do a little bit of leg work himself before coming to AskMe. Not saying that he didn't, but it would've been a good idea to have included that in the post if he did.
posted by hadjiboy at 9:33 PM on March 15, 2008


I'd really like to believe that MetaFilter is still a self-policing community

We should be allowed to insult the AskMe posters. This I believe.


Self policers, meet your new deputy.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:45 PM on March 15, 2008


I'm with the Meta-complainer on this one. This student is asking people to do his research for him. I don't think that kind of question should be answered.
posted by Malor at 10:00 PM on March 15, 2008


If you think this is bad, you should see Yahoo Answers. I run across verbatim questions from my 1st year chemistry and biology textbook every day.
posted by 517 at 10:53 PM on March 15, 2008


As a matter of courtesy, when calling out post or comment, please try to add a link to your MetaTalk thread in the referenced post.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:38 PM on March 15, 2008


Man, the problem is that he's failed the basic algorithm of undergrad papers—he wants to know about "globalization in urban Ethiopia," which I can almost guarantee is NOT the assignment. The trick is to find something that is a niche within whatever topic is assigned, and mine the hell out of that. What niche you choose should always be determined by the abundance of other papers and books on it, because then you just narrow down to the five or so that touch on your micro-topic, and you can write something focused and with a fair amount of support for whatever point the research seems to point to.

This is often best done by finding one paper that you find really interesting, and then just reading everything they cite and also noting the citations of those papers.

I will note that this doesn't necessarily lead to novel or groundbreaking papers, but is a lot faster than trying to find every citation possible on globalization in urban Ethiopia.
posted by klangklangston at 11:48 PM on March 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


Wouldn't a top student try all the angles? Isn't mefi a reasonable angle?
posted by bystander at 4:10 AM on March 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


What mrmojoflying said. The problem wasn't so much the question as the rudeness with which it was asked. "Give me examples of Globalization in urban Ethiopia" indeed. My immediate response is "what happened to your manners? Didn't your mom teach you the magic word?" Combine that with the fairly obvious "do my homework" vibe and it just rubs me the wrong way.

It would have been dead easy to phrase it in a better way.
posted by litlnemo at 6:30 AM on March 16, 2008


The really objectionable homework questions are the ones like "What's the object in this sentence?" [...] — ones where the student can take a good answer, turn right around, and hand it in as his or her own work. That's clearly cheating.
This is asking for resources, and I agree that that's a different thing entirely. I don't see any reason not to help.


I agree with this. And you people complaining about "rudeness": I didn't realize AskMe was a subsidiary of Miss Manners. If the poster asks a question in a way that offends you, feel free to ignore it; me, I tend to assume that everybody has a different set of online behaviors, one person may say "Tell me X" with just as much politeness as another may say "Pretty please," and the only important thing is whether you 1) feel like answering and 2) know the answer.

I personally am far more bothered by people who give incorrect answers than by people who don't ask nicely.
posted by languagehat at 7:01 AM on March 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


I love it when students ask each other for help, when they come to a professor's office hours, when they go to the library and ask the reference librarian. And yes, when they figure out how to use the resources of the internet (including AskMe) to discover new directions and approaches. But in those cases, the student is asking "how can I learn about X" -- these AskMe's tend to be more like the one I linked: "do my work for me, which I will then turn in as my own."

I think you may be overestimating the ingenuousness of the on-deadline student who shows up at office hours or harangues the librarian. Just because it takes place in meatspace doesn't make it any less a self-interested dash down the path of least resistance to the finish line.
posted by scarabic at 8:19 AM on March 16, 2008


'If the poster asks a question in a way that offends you, feel free to ignore it; me, I tend to assume that everybody has a different set of online behaviors, one person may say "Tell me X" with just as much politeness as another may say "Pretty please," and the only important thing is whether you 1) feel like answering and 2) know the answer.'

The thing is, if the tone puts people off, the asker is a lot less likely to get a useful answer. A question like the one mentioned here probably requires a bit of effort from the answerer, and it sure doesn't help to act so, well, entitled when requesting people to put in effort for you.
posted by litlnemo at 8:54 PM on March 16, 2008


Heh. There was this really lucrative Goldman Sachs summer job posted on my University's career posting board, complete with information on how to apply and who to direct the cover letter to. The contact name was a bit vague as to the gender of the owner, so I decided to google. The first or second result that popped up was a Yahoo! Answers query asking "Is [xyz] a male or a female name?" with xyz being exactly the name from the posting. It might have been a coincidence, but I was amused nonetheless.

"I"m always a little confused by those questions. Are professors not giving students any guidance at all about how to go about doing their assignments?"
posted by craichead at 8:58 PM on March 15

Actually, yeah. At least at my place, it's a very hands-off approach, and they still mark the papers insanely hard. Past assignments include: "Read this book. Set yourself a topic. Write an essay." - which was the first time they'd done that in that particular course, so we couldn't even go to upper years for help. Or "Select failing business. Create marketing plan and advertising to reinvigorate this business" with little to no criteria on what angles they want us to address. Or "Why does the wage gap exist/why don't teenagers like voting? Use resources from XYZ library, this assignment is meant to teach you how to use online journals and portals."

Incredibly frustrating, to say the least.

My University is supposed to be prestigious, so I'm sincerely hoping that this is an indication of encouraging independent thinking and weeding out the lazy, rather than evidence of a crappy faculty. At any rate.
posted by Phire at 9:27 PM on March 16, 2008


Though total sidenote: In a few of my past assignments my starting point has been to look through the appropriate tags on the blue, and read through all the links (from comments as well as posts) and to get a good idea of the different facets of the issue. Definitely saved me as far as the gender wage gap is concerned. I heart MeFi.
posted by Phire at 9:41 PM on March 16, 2008


The tone of the question annoyed me. "Give me examples ..." and "I have to create a paper ..."

In future I propose to answer such questions with a very detailed and impressive-sounding (but utterly inaccurate and fanciful) response. I suggest we all do likewise.
posted by essexjan at 5:50 AM on March 17, 2008


Your tone annoys me*, and that you're willing to sabotage AskMe because someone doesn't preface their question with "Mother may I..." is bad and wrong.

* Not really, but tone can be a very subjective thing.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 8:29 AM on March 17, 2008


I just noticed that question ended up on metatalk, so I thought I would clear a few things up. The first is that askme was not the first place I asked for help. I had spent a solid day at my college library and my community library only to end up a book from 1978, anyone who understands the continent of africa would know that something like globalization and trade change with the weather. I also have spoken with my instructor who was of no help even though she was one who assigned this narrow field to write a paper about. I offer no apology for asking my question, since I didn't wish for anyone to write a paper for me, I merely wanted to have a few examples of Globalization in Ethiopia post Eritrea becoming its own nation.
posted by carefulmonkey at 9:52 AM on March 17, 2008


Good for you carefulmonkey. You don't need to offer an apology. Best of luck on your paper.
posted by folgers crystals at 12:11 PM on March 17, 2008


Yes, carefulmonkey...good for you.

Next time though, definitely begin your question with "Mother may I..." otherwise you will have few answers and much asshattery for your efforts.
posted by mrmojoflying at 12:38 PM on March 17, 2008


But that advice about the reference librarians is priceless...they are starved for opportunities to help motivated students like yourself.
posted by mrmojoflying at 12:39 PM on March 17, 2008


No one expects "mother may I". But there is a difference between "Does anyone know of any sources for..."and "Give me sources for..." It's not even a bit surprising that the latter would put people off, and I don't think it's being Miss Manners to say so.
posted by litlnemo at 12:46 AM on March 18, 2008


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