Some questions are now being answered by students who have no particular teaching experience or expertise.

  • We could argue that these answers provide a valuable additional perspective to help answer questions.
  • I would instead argue that these answers do not add anything to the site and should not be welcome.

However, I don't dislike the answerer! Only the answer. I'd like to refer to The Pee-Wee Herman Rule as a possible way to decide what to do, but I'm not sure whether this method is applicable.

Here are some example answers from students, that I am talking about: ( Notation Conflict between Teachers and Textbooks / Should I design my exams to have time-pressure or not? )

How do we handle such well-meaning, not-spammy, but nevertheless not really useful comments?

  • Downvotes?
  • Flags?
  • Friendly comments that say "sorry, this doesn't belong here?"
  • Let the answers languish at approximately zero score and ignore them?

Discussion welcome, of course.

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    $\begingroup$ Related: Self-Learner Considerations. $\endgroup$
    – Wrzlprmft
    Commented Mar 28, 2014 at 21:09
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    $\begingroup$ That someone is a student does not exclude some experience in teaching since he/she could have been TA for some time, or have experience with tutoring high school students, etc. - But I see your problem and share your need to clarify. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 28, 2014 at 21:12
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    $\begingroup$ Markus -- yes, good point. Of course graduate students with some teaching experience should be welcome to post from their experience. I'll change around the text bolding a bit to be more clear. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 28, 2014 at 21:13

2 Answers 2


I believe each answer should be judged on its own merits. For instance, if a student cites a research study, then of course they should answer. If they have a convincing argument that is well thought out, they should answer.

But the answers you link would be low-quality even if a teacher had posted something similar. So I think we should treat such answers as we would an educator's similar answer, by downvoting or not upvoting.

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    $\begingroup$ I think that a student's point of view on the situation can help to understand the given situation in depth, especially if it's a well-worded and thoughful response. For example, the student's answer in the time pressure question shows one of the key problems of tight time limits: You don't test the ability to solve the problems, but the ability to operate under stress. $\endgroup$
    – Roland
    Commented Mar 28, 2014 at 21:24
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    $\begingroup$ Agreed. I think we can adapt that "Pee Wee Herman" rule on an answer basis, as opposed to to a user basis. "Will leaving this answer be a positive contribution to this thread and this site?" If yes, keep it. Otherwise, downvote or flag. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 28, 2014 at 21:49

I am one such former student. I have answered four questions:

  • One where my answer is possibly not useful but has 8 upvotes anyway: that same question about time pressure in exams. It was a relief you didn't pick on my answer as your example :-) I gave a clear disclaimer that I'm not an educator. If that had attracted a bunch of comments and downvotes then I'd have deleted the answer and been more wary in future.
  • Two soliciting suggestions for the questioner to select from or synthesize. One about a syllabus (and which entrapped me by saying, "I'd like to hear from a professional computer programmer's viewpoint"), one about homework. Arguably the questions in those cases are bad for the SE format since no definitive answer is possible for future reference, and the one about the syllabus calls for experience outside mathematics education and hence is arguably off-topic. As long as such questions are supported, you may as well support answers, and answers to such questions don't need a rigorous basis since the questioner will pick and choose whatever inspires them.
  • One question that IMO is not really specific to teaching, it asks about the language used to present proofs and I think the answer is more or less the same whether teaching or not even though it is of course more important to get it right when teaching.

Personally I would avoid answering questions that explicitly call for answers from experience about what is actually proven to work in practice. But it seems that (perhaps because the site is young) people are still asking questions where they seek multiple views and experience and then use it to form their own solution to their problem, rather than only asking questions where they're expecting to be told the certain "correct" answer by an expert who already knows it. If you stamp out those questions then I think you'll stamp out a certain class of non-expert answer, the question then is whether you want that. It still won't stop students telling teachers what they think of them, of course, as in that notation question, since it is natural for students to think that a student's perspective is useful to teachers. It is useful in general, but perhaps not useful here.

It may be that the site implicitly always requires expert, definitive answers regardless of what the questioner actually says, in which case I should never answer any question under any circumstances. So there's no point me seeing them, and you should maybe look for a way to exclude yourself from the cross-SE advertising in "hot network questions". The same can probably be said for any SE site that believes there does not exist a well-formed, on-topic question for which a non-practitioner can possibly possess a scrap of knowledge sufficient to provide a useful answer :-)

Personally I would describe certain answers, probably including the second of the two you link, as "works for me" answers. They purely describe one person's experience, with no real attempt to justify why that specific experience extends to the general problem. I think it's reasonable to prod such answers with comments, otherwise the answerer may never realise that the site is not designed for survey questions, and questions should not be taken as a call to merely relate personal preference/experience.

  • $\begingroup$ Hi Steve! I hope you appreciate both the question and the answer that I accepted -- I think it is correct to judge answers on their own merits, and not on the poster themselves. Your answer in the "math for programmers" question is pretty clearly in the 99th percentile of quality for things on the internet in general, so this is a good policy to keep; that way we can see more of your answers! $\endgroup$ Commented May 7, 2014 at 18:38

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