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I have noticed an increased number of questions that seem to be verbatim copies of essay questions from fairly basic networking courses. The most recent was a request fora discussion of the difference between L2 and L3 MPLS VPN's and goes as far as requesting citations and the like. I am wondering the following:

1.) Is there an ethical issue with providing apparently complete answers to what are obviously questions directly from coursework? On the one hand I know that we are providing knowledge that can be used in a number of ways (including plagiarism) and that its use is not our responsibility. On the other hand the questions are often blatant and are generally going to yield very generic answers whose ongoing value may be questionable.

2.) Since homework questions tend to fall outside the day-to-day of server/network admins would it make sense for there to be a separate SE site for folks seeking this sort of help?

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In my opinion no forum is the place for homework questions. The goal of going to school is to learn, and having someone on a forum simply post the answer defeats the purpose. If I wanted to answer the questions on the homework I'd have gone to school and taken the classes.

Now if the student is willing to reword the question so that I don't know that it's a homework question, so be it. At least they are willing to put some thought into it and they probably will learn at least something.

If they aren't willing to do the work, they will be the worthless co-workers that we have to deal with in the future, and then have to deal with cleaning up after their mess.

  • I agree this is the case for a lot of homework questions we see here, but I believe there are execeptions to the rule (which I've outlined in my answer below) – Mark Henderson Jun 5 '12 at 20:41
  • @mrdenny, despite what you say you've provided some very good answers to some very obvious homework questions, as indeed most high rep members have. :) – John Gardeniers Jun 6 '12 at 0:05
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I've had to lecture my opinion on this many, many times and I believe my opinion is also SE's official opinion (I'm short on time so the link will have to wait).

I don't mind homework questions on a few provisos:

  1. It must be a real question. None of this bullshit stuff that some lecturers like to make up that just doesn't really happen in real life
  2. They must show some prior learning. You can't just copy and paste the question. It's really, really obvious when you do.
  3. They should tell us where they are stuck. Tell us what you do and don't understand. Give us something specific to help you on.
  4. They should post what they think is the correct answer and again, explain what they're not sure about or why they're not sure.

So just judge it by that. I would hate to see a really good MPLS infrastructure question get shitcanned just because it's being asked by a student (fwiw I didn't see the question you're referencing but it does not sound like a good question). There's not enough MPLS questions on the site!

tl;dr: Is the student actually trying, and is the question valuable in the long term (i.e. a "real" question). If so, let it stay.

  • Fair call Mark. When those rules are applied it's really no different to issues we face at work when we start with some previously unused technology. Of course without those rules they're just a waste of space. – John Gardeniers Jun 6 '12 at 0:09
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Keep it simple and judge the question on its own value.

The second part you mentioned is ethics, I believe it is best just to leave the up to the person who wants or does not want to answer the question. Same thing with your vote, you can use it how you like.

My reasoning behind this approach is that this can get complicated and its better to judge everything on a case-by-case basis rather than just establish a rule for all questions that look like homework.

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This came up recently in the context of a question that many (including me) thought was an acceptable homework/learning question.

Despite what it says in the FAQ, I think the consensus is that if it's a good question, and one that a working sysadmin might come up with, then no one minds if it's actually a homework question.

By contrast, I don't recall the question you mention about L2/L3 MPLS, but it doesn't sound like a good question - it sounds way too broad. An open-ended homework question has two strikes against it: open-ended questions are usually bad and homework questions usually fail the "in a professional setting requirement."

I don't think we can or should try to define what we consider ethical or not and then use that as a basis for closing question. Other close reasons are sufficient. (I think this applies to questions about circumventing access restrictions - they can be closed because they almost always aren't things professional sysadmins will do, we don't have to worry about whether it's ethical or not.)

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