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Thread: Homework Help

  1. #1 Homework Help 
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    From time to time, threads are started which are either explicitly or obviously requests for help with homework problems. Responses in the past have ranged from "we don't do your homework for you" to "here's the answer you seek".

    I would be interested to hear the views of potential responders to such requests, with the possible intent of posting guidelines for potential supplicants.

    For what little it's worth, and being an on-the-fence kind of guy, I think I favour the middle way. Specifically :

    insist that all attempts to date must be shown, with the implied promise they will not be ridiculed;

    request that all definitions/theorems known to the poster should be given, and why (s)he thinks they may be relevant;

    supply, if needed, additional or more appropriate thms/defns;

    point out flaws in any follow up, or at least encourage posters to find them, following reasonable hints;

    be encouraging and positive as far as possible in the circumstances;

    if you start to help, see it through

    These are my highly personal opinions. What do you-all think, O ye potential helpers ?


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  3. #2 Re: Homework Help 
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    Quote Originally Posted by Guitarist
    From time to time, threads are started which are either explicitly or obviously requests for help with homework problems. Responses in the past have ranged from "we don't do your homework for you" to "here's the answer you seek".

    I would be interested to hear the views of potential responders to such requests, with the possible intent of posting guidelines for potential supplicants.

    For what little it's worth, and being an on-the-fence kind of guy, I think I favour the middle way. Specifically :

    insist that all attempts to date must be shown, with the implied promise they will not be ridiculed;

    request that all definitions/theorems known to the poster should be given, and why (s)he thinks they may be relevant;

    supply, if needed, additional or more appropriate thms/defns;

    point out flaws in any follow up, or at least encourage posters to find them, following reasonable hints;

    be encouraging and positive as far as possible in the circumstances;

    if you start to help, see it through

    These are my highly personal opinions. What do you-all think, O ye potential helpers ?
    Let me speak as someone who long ago might have been the instructor for the class relative to which homework help is sought.

    If the questions regarded problems that the student is working for the purpose of learning the material, then homework help is beneficial. But for those problems I would also expect that the student could ask questions in class and receive an explanation and "help" directly from the instructor.

    For questions such as those posted recently regarding functional analysis, the student stated that he was working problems that he had not been able to solve himself and that were not a part of the class per se. I take him at his word on that. Those problems were fun (for me). I think the help may have provided benefit to the student. If they were part of the class, then perhaps not, but it would have been a high level class and the damage would eventually acrue to the student himself -- graduate level mathematics eventually comes down to the capabilities of the individual, if not in the classes themselves then eventually in the examinations administered by the department on the way to a degree (qualifiers, generals, thesis or dissertation defense) so cheating won't work in the long run.

    But for questions at an undergraduate level, I am very very suspicious of questions that appear to be "homework". They are at least as likely to really be questions from a take-home test or assignment to be graded. Doing the work for the questioner for a relatively challenging problem carries a real and significant potential of doing damage to other, uninvolved, students who might be in the class. Asking for help on such problems in a forum such as this is, pure and simple, cheating. I think it goes on rather a lot. But I will not knowingly participate in such goings on. It doesn't really help the student. It may harm others. And the questions from undergraduates who are not capable of doing their own work are not interesting anyway.

    So, here is my approach. If the problem is at an undergraduate level and seems to be coming from a class, I will not provide a solution or even a solution disguised as a question. I might provide a leading question, but not anything that immediately translates to a solution. I will ask directly or state my impression that the question is a class assignment and require the questioner to respond before I procede further. I may or may not believe the questioner and will formulate my response based on what I believe, and not just on what he says.

    If the problem is challenging and the question is poorly formulated, showing lack of comprehension of the fundamentals of the subject, that to me is indicative of a student who is completely lost and is trying to get someone else to do his classwork for him. If the problem statement has been clearly formulated by a professional (i.e. the problem is a ver batim rendition of what was assigned in a class) and if the student seems pretty clueless that is another indication, unless another credible explanation is provided. I have seen many attempts by students to cheat, and I am pretty suspicious. On the other hand if the question is a bit more open-ended (requesting insight into some principle for instance) rather than "solve this problem" or if the source of the problem comes with a credible explanation of origin, then things are probably on the up-and-up.

    I will not aid and abet a cheater, or a suspected cheater.

    When William McCormick steps in I will probably cry "bullshit". This is because I don't want to see lurkers harmed either. And there is zero likelihood that his solution will have any validity at all.

    I think there is quite a bit of merit in the approach that you suggest. It delays meaningful responses long enough that it is unlikely that a solution from the forum could be submitted as the solution in time to receive class credit. If the questioner is put off by the delay, that in itself shows that the interest is not in the solution itself but in receiving some sort of credit for the work -- credit that is not deserved.
    This is pretty much assured, if the solution is delayed at least a day or two beyond the initial post. If the questiner disappears in the meantime that is a good indication of what was afoot.

    Added in edit: There is another case, see for instance the thread "Maths fraction question". In that thread the student posed a question so simple that it was probably a homework problem, but not a problem on which the student was being directly graded. It was a question that revealed that the student did not understand the notion of a function or why he was being asked to do the problem and what he was expected to learn. In that case one can provide and answer, along with a detailed explanation of the relevant concept and perhaps help the student to learn and understand the material.

    The mathematics involved in this case is very simple. But it is also material that, given the dismal state of mathematics teaching in the U.S. and perhaps elsewhere, might not be very well understood by the teacher. In that case one can provide an explanation that might make the material more clear to the student than what he would receive in class -- or not.


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  4. #3  
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    Can't you make this sticky Guitarist? Now that your mod? It'd stop people making homework threads illy willy nilly.
    "If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe". - Carl Sagan
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  5. #4  
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    Quote Originally Posted by 425 Chaotic Requisition
    Can't you make this sticky Guitarist? Now that your mod? It'd stop people making homework threads illy willy nilly.
    Great idea.

    Flex your mod muscles, Guitarist. Please.
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  6. #5  
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    Chaotic: I would rather not, if it's all the same to you. But if there is sufficient input into this thread, then I might, just might sticky some guidelines regarding homework. This will depend on a general consensus, however.

    DrRocket: As far as I understood your point, I would tend to agree (in the ideal case) that asking for help with an assignment is tantamount to cheating. Nevertheless, for better or worse, it cannot be denied that, when faced with a problem, students run to the internet before engaging their brain.

    I call this a sad state of affairs, but there it is. A diligent instructor, I would hope, would know what is "out there" before setting the assignment. Boards like this, however, are a bit of a loop-hole; students, under a nom de plume often ask for "cheating" help, and I would like to get a consensus on how we deal with this.

    I do not mean to suggest that in any sense we discourage questions; for example, I asked for clarification of a coupla finer points of gauge theory on other boards. This was not an assignment, it was merely a reflection of the fact that, being a bit dim, I couldn't understand what I was being told by my texts.

    Indeed, I think we should encourage questions in general, it's the life-blood of the forum, after all. I was more concerned to get a consensus on the way to deal with what you call "cheats", and what I might call requests for help with homework
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  7. #6  
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    If I may suggest, a homework help policy is probably something that should be implemented on a site wide basis.

    There sort of is a policy for homework help in a posting on the Science Forum Guideline thread which was started by the former administrator and added to by the former moderator.

    I suspect the new admin (I make no assumptions about who that will be) will want to update those guidelines at some point.
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  8. #7  
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    Quote Originally Posted by Harold14370
    If I may suggest, a homework help policy is probably something that should be implemented on a site wide basis.

    There sort of is a policy for homework help in a posting on the Science Forum Guideline thread which was started by the former administrator and added to by the former moderator.

    I suspect the new admin (I make no assumptions about who that will be) will want to update those guidelines at some point.
    I don't know how such a policy could be implemented. It has to rely on the perception and ethics of responders. No one who wants to cheat will state that the request applies to work for credit in a class. So only through the perception of a responder and the personal ethics of that responder can any effective action be taken. Peer pressure might have some beneficial effect. An attempt at an enforcable policy from the forum itself would probably be counter-productive and likely generate resentment. I am going to follow the path that I outlined above. Period.
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  9. #8 Re: Homework Help 
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    Quote Originally Posted by Guitarist
    From time to time, threads are started which are either explicitly or obviously requests for help with homework problems. Responses in the past have ranged from "we don't do your homework for you" to "here's the answer you seek".

    I would be interested to hear the views of potential responders to such requests, with the possible intent of posting guidelines for potential supplicants.
    Your intentions are good, but I doubt they will have much effect, unless you personally police requests and delete those that are inappropriate.

    If someone is posting a request with the intent of cheating, forum guidelines are not likely to make much of an impression. There is simply nothing of value to lose.

    Cheaters do not cheat unintentionally. Telling the rules and relying on their honor, might be noble, but it is futile. They don't care.

    Your only implementable course of action is to rely on the ethics of the responders. The good news is that I think that responders who are likely to be able to answer the questions are also perceptive enough to recognize what is going on. Those who would supply an answer to someone who is probably cheating are quite likely to supply an incorrect answer -- and that is probably a just outcome.

    How about this. If there is a clear request from a cheater, we will all stay silent and let William McCormick respond.
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