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I think something should be done with the homework questions: there are too many of them now. I suggest that one reason for closing should be "homework". If at least 3 people vote for that reason to close, the question should be deleted immediately. I suggest to have also a visible sign on the front page for newcomers (right before they register) that this site is not for homework questions.

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  • $\begingroup$ We can add custom off-topic reasons for closing. Do you (or anyone) have a suggestion for wording? $\endgroup$ – François G. Dorais Sep 24 '13 at 14:25
  • $\begingroup$ Perhaps "Homework questions are not appropriate for Mathoverflow". I am sure that somebody (say, @quid) will have a better formulation. $\endgroup$ – Mark Sapir Sep 24 '13 at 14:30
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    $\begingroup$ I added an new off-topic reason to close. It will go live as soon as another mod approves it. We can adjust the wording later. $\endgroup$ – François G. Dorais Sep 24 '13 at 14:35
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    $\begingroup$ @FrançoisG.Dorais, I suppose that the remainder of Mark's suggestion (e.g., the 3 vote minimum and immediate deletion) would still have to remain open as a feature request? $\endgroup$ – Benjamin Steinberg Sep 24 '13 at 17:07
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    $\begingroup$ I oppose any immediate-deletion proposal. I've seen too many votes-to-close on quite interesting questions, which do not deserve closure. A recent example is mathoverflow.net/questions/143024/…. $\endgroup$ – Joel David Hamkins Sep 24 '13 at 21:59
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    $\begingroup$ @François, "Questions at the level of undergraduate textbooks or assignments are typically off-topic on MathOverflow. For more information about our scope, please see help center. Your question might be suitable for Mathematics which has a broader scope." ps: I think you cannot edit them after approval. $\endgroup$ – Kaveh Sep 24 '13 at 23:21
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    $\begingroup$ @Kaveh, many of the questions that are unwelcome here are unwelcome at m.se as well, namely, those that show no sign of effort on the part of the author. I don't want to see people encouraged to post such questions to m.se. $\endgroup$ – Gerry Myerson Sep 25 '13 at 0:09
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    $\begingroup$ @Gerry, the comment just mentions that it might be suitable for Mathematics. The idea is to direct people asking undergraduate level questions to the appropriate site not that the question, as it is, is suitable for Mathematics. $\endgroup$ – Kaveh Sep 25 '13 at 0:18
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    $\begingroup$ @MarkSapir, I didn't miss that part. I don't agree that there is special problem with "homework" questions, and I think we can treat those questions like all the others---close the badly written, too-elementary or uninteresting ones; and keep the interesting ones. I don't see the need for urgent deletion, and because I have often seen questions closed on MO by people who didn't even understand the question or see that it was much more interesting than they had expected, I'd rather that we are more relaxed about it, so that good questions can be reopened. $\endgroup$ – Joel David Hamkins Sep 25 '13 at 0:18
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    $\begingroup$ @JoelDavidHamkins: Posting homework question is cheating. That is illegal in all decent Universities. Answering a homework question means helping cheating. So there are no "interesting" homework questions. $\endgroup$ – Mark Sapir Sep 25 '13 at 0:36
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    $\begingroup$ Well, I've specifically told all my students to make posts on MO and math.SE about whatever they find confusing mathematically, including in their homework, so that they can work to understand it more deeply. So at least in the case of my students (and in the cases of students of other professors who follow a similar procedure), this is not cheating at all. Rather, it is making use of a mathematical resource. You don't encourage your students to work on their mathematics together? This is a very effective way to learn. $\endgroup$ – Joel David Hamkins Sep 25 '13 at 0:41
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    $\begingroup$ That was discussed before (I think with @quid). If it is approved by the instructor, a student can post a homework question. That should be mentioned in the question (preferably together with the name of the instructor). $\endgroup$ – Mark Sapir Sep 25 '13 at 0:49
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    $\begingroup$ It's there now, @Mark. $\endgroup$ – François G. Dorais Sep 25 '13 at 1:16
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    $\begingroup$ I agree with Mark on this, if you are posting homework questions and hiding the fact that it's homeowork, it's reasonable to assume the person is cheating. On an MO question there's a strong onus on the poster to make it clear what one's motivation is. $\endgroup$ – Ryan Budney Sep 25 '13 at 4:17
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    $\begingroup$ @MarkSapir, I'm going to mark this as status-completed, as the first request, a custom close reason, has been implemented. If you want to, could you post the other parts separately? $\endgroup$ – Scott Morrison Sep 25 '13 at 9:41
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Let me make a suggestion which seems obvious to me: You should only vote to close a question as homework if you can solve it. By this I mean you have actually thought through most of a solution, not that you think "oh yeah, I could probably do that." Both here and on math.SE, I frequently see questions attract closed votes because they are formatted like homework questions, but they are actually substantially harder.

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    $\begingroup$ This has nothing to do with my request. Homework questions may be hard but asking them on MO (without explicit approval of the instructor) is cheating. Answering such questions should be discouraged in strongest possible terms. $\endgroup$ – Mark Sapir Sep 25 '13 at 15:43
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    $\begingroup$ @MarkSapir I completely agree. I am saying that, if a question is formatted like a homework question, but too hard for you, it is probably not a homework question. We're both professors; the fact that we don't quickly see how to do something is a strong sign it isn't homework. $\endgroup$ – David E Speyer Sep 25 '13 at 16:21
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    $\begingroup$ Although I agree with Mark Sapir in principle, I'm afraid that in practice there is no way to distinguish between a hard homework question and a good question that occurred spontaneously in some student's mind. So, in my opinion the best thing to do is to immediately close "obvious" homework questions (i.e. trivial questions without any context or explaination) and to give the others the benefit of the doubt, redirecting them to math.SE. $\endgroup$ – Francesco Polizzi Sep 26 '13 at 8:14
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There's now a custom close reason saying that homework is off-topic.

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Something half-way to what Mark proposes for the automatic deletion would be to waive the "wait period" between closure and when people can vote to delete for questions closed as homework. I'm not sure if that's possible to implement but it's something to consider.

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