I will be teaching a class in image processing in fall 2013, and will be using Mathematica as the primary computational tool. Hence I will be introducing 40-50 students to Mathematica, most of whom have extensive computer experience (in C, java, Matlab, python, etc.) but not in Mathematica. I have taught the class several times: the first few used Matlab (in 2007, 2008, and 2009) and the more recent used Mathematica (in 2010 and 2011). When I taught this in the past, this StackExchange site did not exist (or at least I didn't know about it).

My question to the community is this: how can I best use this site as a resource for the students (consistent with being a good StackExchange citizen)?

I can envision several strategies. At one extreme I could ask (or even require) students to come onto the site and try to ask/answer a question. At the other extreme I could forbid students from coming here. In the middle would be to say nothing.

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    I personally do not like it if students use this site without studying things first by themselves. If young people need to do everything on-line, why not tell them to use [this student-forum] (forums.wolfram.com/student-support/list) ? Mar 28, 2013 at 8:41
  • Seconding @cormullion's wish (and somewhat reverting your question): would it be possible to share some of your class material online? I am definitely interested in it! Mar 28, 2013 at 9:06
  • I am happy to post the course materials on line (they already go to a local University site that is password protected, but I can easily make them available openly). Is there a preferred method for announcing something like this? (Meaning that the materials will go up in weekly installments starting in late August).
    – bill s
    Mar 28, 2013 at 9:32
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    possible duplicate of Is it appropriate to direct college students to this site
    – Yves Klett
    Mar 28, 2013 at 13:47

4 Answers 4


I asked roughly the same question last Fall and you can see the responses here: Is it appropriate to direct college students to this site.

The answers there and the few comments you have here already make clear that there is some concern students might post a lot of low level questions. I think it's fairly clear from your phrasing, though, that you don't intend to just let 40 or 50 students loose on the site. I'd suggest to the community that this kind of "guided introduction" to the site is largely a good thing because the typically new, young users in the class will have assistance in accessing the site.

In my class, I introduced the site and recommended that students might use it, if they had a reasonable question. I certainly didn't force it. To my knowledge, exactly one student asked exactly one question. It was a good, well thought out question with effort: Data interpolation and ListContourPlot. I think it will be interesting to hear how your students use the site as well.

  • Thanks Mark -- I missed your earlier question -- indeed, there is a lot of good discussion there. And I like your idea of stressing that they should have reasonable input.
    – bill s
    Mar 28, 2013 at 13:00
  • The linked question is quite good. I wonder whether more good questions can come out should the teacher issue a simple "I'll be watching you" disclaimer Apr 1, 2013 at 4:46
  • @belisarius perhaps coupled with an appropriate threat. eg, downvotes on their questions count against their course result (I'm joking, obviously you can't and shouldn't do that!)
    – acl
    Apr 5, 2013 at 13:24

The middle way is probably to mention it as a resource, but not require or discourage its use. You will find it interesting to see who and what questions end up here. Homework-style questions usually end up being answered in full (despite some initial attempts at hint-giving), but you'll spot those too!

Wish I could attend the course!


I am a student and I do research. First, I think it is naive to think that your students don't know about this site already. Second, I think knowing how to appropriately use and improve a resource like stackexchange is invaluable. This world we live in has made information so plentiful that we should all use it.

What makes stackexchange amazing is the amount of quality free advice. It allows anyone in the world to learn programming from any level. I certainly don't think its a bad thing at all.

I say set the students loose on the site. Make answering questions part of the homework and post a leaderboard for upvotes or something. Make it fun, like a game. Thats what this generation likes.

  • Thanks for the input! One question, though - whoever said we think that students don't know about the site? I encourage students to read the textbook, even though I'm fairly sure they already know about it. :) Apr 5, 2013 at 5:51
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    @MarkMcClure I felt it was implied that student's don't know aobut the site. You are right, that I assumed this incorrectly. Thank you all for contributing your expertise to the community.
    – olliepower
    Apr 5, 2013 at 5:54

It depends on the attitude of the students and the quality of the interaction.

I think the good use of the site should be encouraged among your students, and the bad use actively discouraged. Probably you could evaluate their questions on the site as part of their assignments marking i.e bad questions imply bad marks, good questions imply good marks.


On one extreme of the spectrum, prohibit improper academic behaviour, including posting bad questions.

Obviously one should consider carelessly dumping an assignment question and submitting verbatim copies of any answer as their own as cheating.

Furthermore, bad questions are also bad academic practice. Explicitly explain what is a bad question and warn that bad questions will be evaluated poorly.


On the oposite extreme of the spectrum, encourage and reward carefully crafted, well focused question that reveals due-diligence, offer good context and ticks all the other checklist-points that define a good question.

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