Help cure "Do My Homework Syndrome"

Chris Dean's picture

I initiate this discussion in an effort develop solutions for what I like to call “Do My Homework Syndrome.”

The primary purpose of this discussion is to help Typophile, as a community, continue to exist as a valuable knowledge resource, without doing students the disservice of stunting their problem solving skills.

Simplified for the sake of discussion, the situation I have identified as follows: Students ask Typophiles for help with their homework, and we end up doing it for them. The harm, as previously mentioned, is that we end up stunting the problem solving skills of students, ultimately doing them a disservice.

It’s not quite so black and white, but I am confidant that we are all aware of the phenomenon. It is futile to point fingers at students, Typophiles, or educators in particular as we are all equal participants. Myself included. Rather than argue about what is, we should take it upon ourselves to acknowledge the reality of the situation, clearly identify the problem and implement practical solutions.

I strongly encourage the participation of students and educators in this discussion. I see Typophile as a community committed to contributing. Helping you helps our profession, which ultimately helps us all.

We all recognize the value of the Internet as an information resource. An example I often use is doctors using drug databases, instead of memorization, to help them keep track of medications, their interactions and their side effects. It is faster, more accurate and less prone to human error. The result is an efficient healthcare system, fewer tax dollars spent, and human lives saved. We also understand the philosophy behind the proverb “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” I dub this dichotomy “search versus solve.”

Proposed solutions

1. Valid student accounts: Have students self identify. This will most certainly have to rely on the honour system to a large degree. Real names, proper profile photos and links to their respective academic institutions would help.

2. Teacher directory: A way of letting teachers monitor the activity of their students. This could be as simple as letting them know Typophile exists and asking them to keep an eye out for people having their homework done for them. Perhaps they could register accounts marked by their institution which would then give them access to a list of all student accounts marked with the same institution.

3. Professional profiles: Those with the greatest experience and value to offer should have full CV’s, history, portfolios &c so students and teachers know who the help is coming from.

4. How to ask: Students should be encouraged to explain the problem, what they have done and the reasoning behind their design decisions as opposed to simply asking “What do you think?” In conducting research, I find I have far greater success when requesting information if I begin with “I have spent time looking here, here and here and have been unable to find what I am looking for. Could you please point me in the right direction?”

5. How to help: A very difficult one. Typophiles should help students help themselves, and be mindful when helping turns into doing. An example could be suggesting resources to identify typefaces before simply doing it for them. The ability to rapidly recall and identify typefaces on the fly is a useful skill that can only be developed with practice.

These last two points involve exploring the ethics of education, which is not my area of expertise. I am not an educator, but I do believe a good teacher produces a student capable of thinking for themselves and does not need to constantly rely on others to get the job done, while simultaneously recognizing the value of collaboration.

In closing, I believe Typophile has tremendous value to offer and sincerely hope it will continue to do so for years to come. This is an important issue that needs to be calmly and carefully considered by all so that our community can continue to contribute in positive and meaningful ways.

I look forward to a fruitful discussion and thank you for your time.

Chris Dean's picture

Interesting. A year later and situation remains the same. Perhaps we should re-evaluate our tactics.

Frode Bo Helland's picture

Professional profiles sounds like a lot of hazzle. A like/dislike widget on comments that is reflected in a rating on each profile would give a simpler, more accurate indication of quality.

William Berkson's picture

What's the problem? If you want to help a student, do, if you don't, don't.

Chris Dean's picture

The problem is clear: “The harm, as previously mentioned, is that we end up stunting the problem solving skills of students, ultimately doing them a disservice.”

And it is something our community should recognize as a whole. Quoting dezcom from another thread:

Christopher, It seems as though Typophile has become the hot place to go for kids wanting to get quick help with their homework. They don't seem to care if it has anything to do with typography or not. We are well known suckers :-)”

I would rather Typophile help more than harm our community, and certainly don’t want to see Typophile develop a reputation as being a room full of “suckers.” This portion of the discussion should be a non-issue.

It is my hope that this discussion can propose solutions to a situation that we are clearly already aware of.

.00's picture

FWIW I always advise my students not to post anything to Typophile. I tell them that given their limited experience they cannot tell whether the person offering them advice is an expert or a moron.

Miss Tiffany's picture

I think James makes a good point. :)

I'd also like to add that if a student posts, asking for more than guidance, the correct thing to do is make your own choice. Either ignore the thread or help them. Being rude and telling them to take a hike is not the answer. I've said it before, and I'll say it again. If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all. It is one thing to politely offer a little guidance and constructive criticism. But another thing entirely to say something that might not be needed to be said.

dezcom's picture

To me, I first look for due diligence on the part of the student. Have they made a sincere effort to solve their problem on their own? Saying, "I looked everywhere" is not a good sign. If I feel the student is really making an effort, I might post back some leading questions in a sort of attempt at a socratic dialogue. I hope that my questions will give them a new way to LOOK at the problem instead of just giving them a solution. I respond back again only if the student has put forth some thought and made a real attempt. I am trying to make them "Design an Enquiring System" for themselves as opposed to handing them a canned answer--teach them to fish.

Sometimes they become fisherman--sometime they just keep trolling for a free can of Tuna (Sorry Charlie).


hrant's picture

> given their limited experience they cannot tell whether
> the person offering them advice is an expert or a moron.

Sounds like good advice at first, but when you think about it,
it doesn't make sense. And nothing is worse than listening to
only one person's advice.


.00's picture

After they pass the "Identify the Moron on Typophile Test" I let them do what they want.

JamesT's picture

I'd like to add to the problem, if I may.

I'm a student and I've posted a thread regarding the critique of my typeface. This typeface, however, has no role in my academic life (it's something I've taken on completely outside the realm of my classes).

My purpose in posting my typeface here is not to get easy answers but a: because my professors don't have the time or the knowledge of type design to help me; and b: because posting it here allows those that do have either the time or the ability (except for the "morons", I suppose), to offer advice in areas I wouldn't otherwise think to look.

While I could go and contact professionals outside of the typophile community, I certainly wouldn't want to bother anyone with my requests. Typophile allows for those people to respond (if they care to), at their own time and without any badgering from me.

There is also only so much I can figure out on my own without either trying to reinvent the wheel or completely overlooking a major problem.

How would these kinds of situations be handled?

hrant's picture

> Identify the Moron

Only glyphs are so black & white.


DrDoc's picture

I haven't posted here in a while, so I'm not really sure I qualify as a contributing member of this community, but as a student I feel the need to offer my opinion.

I joined Typophile in January 2008, when I was a sophomore in college with a minor interest in type and design. I was at a point in my college career where I didn't have any clear career aspirations; I had started college wanting to be a journalist, but I had quit the school newspaper after one semester and decided that it wasn't for me. I figured that I would get through college majoring in something I enjoy (English and political science) and that something would be waiting for me when I got out. The only thing I knew was that I really enjoyed the act of creation involved in newspaper layout, and I had started reading type blogs in 2007.

Now I'm a third-quarter design student at the Creative Circus, well on my way toward entering the industry as a kick-ass designer with killer type skills. And I have Typophile to thank for that. I have learned so much about type from these forums over the past three years that even in design school I'm known as a type guru.

And the way I learned so much was not by asking questions and having them answered, but by listening to the conversations between the experts who inhabit these forums. And when I did have a question, it would be answered.

The thing is, there's really no way that we can "do students' homework" for them. If they're using this forum as a primary source for research, then it will show through in their presentation. I agree with William that it should be up to the individual members — if you want to help students, then help them; if you don't, then don't.

Because what this forum ultimately provides, more than anything else, is a community. The really amazing thing about this forum is that it is inhabited by everyone from overexuberant students like myself all the way up to type demigods like Erik Spiekermann. And to impose some sort of rules to curb "do my homework" syndrome would be to necessarily exclude students from this community. While I imagine that some of this forum's veterans like to regard themselves as the "true typophiles" and would like to preserve the purity of the community, we have to remember that part of Typophile's purpose is to spread knowledge and enthusiasm about type, and "otherizing" people who genuinely want to be a part of this community runs counter to that purpose.

hrant's picture

Eric, well put.

Christopher, everybody who wants to learn* will do so. Anybody who wants others
to do their work will end up paying for that eventually. We cannot administer
psychotherapy. We can, and should give advice, technical or otherwise. Can all
of it be good, even from somebody like Spiekermann? Absolutely not - that would
be inhuman. Which is what things become when you vie for too much control.

* Including people who are in a position to teach - the best teacher
is an eternal student. In fact there's no magic threshold that entitles
one group of people to teach and the rest to learn.


.00's picture

While I agree that a teacher must continue to learn, this statement of yours:

In fact there's no magic threshold that entitles
one group of people to teach and the rest to learn.

Is an illusion.

Miss Tiffany's picture

JamesT: It sounds to me like you have something valid to ask. I'd post the typeface in the critique section and see what happens.

JamesT's picture

Miss Tiffany,

I did and got a lot of help. This forum has been extremely enlightening for me (due to my present lack of "off-line" resources).

I think James is right regarding the illusion. While one is never truly done learning, there is a point, when one knows enough about a subject, that they can then educate others.

hrant's picture

That doesn't make sense, because:
- I teach stuff (well, I've been told I do).
- I learn stuff from even the most novice participant.


JamesT's picture

The two aren't mutually exclusive (at least in my experience).

.00's picture

That doesn't make sense...

To you.

And there you have it!

William Berkson's picture

Some wisdom on teaching and learning from an ancient source: "Choose for yourself a mentor, acquire for yourself a friend, and be judging every person in a favorable light."

This says both that who you choose as a mentor matters, and that there is a difference between a "rav," a master or mentor, and a pupil, even though the teacher is also supposed to learn from his or her pupils.

hrant's picture

There is a difference between everything.


Chris Dean's picture

The teacher/student definition is a simple circular debate. We are all learning and we all have the ability to educate others.

For this thread, I operationalize the term “student” as someone taking a course and being given assignments which are graded. In most instances they are paying for this.

I operationalize “teacher” as someone who organizes the course, gives assignments and evaluates the work. In most instances they are being paid for their services.

hrant's picture

I'm sorry, but those definitions are moot in the context of Typophile.
This is especially true of your "teacher"; do you think non-"teacher"s
cannot help people be parasitic?


Chris Dean's picture

I’m not quite sure I understand, perhaps I miscommunicated. If people having a conversation are using the same words, but to each they have different meanings, there will a breakdown in the communication process. Basic semiotics.

In the scientific writing, one of the most important things the authour does when writing is to “operationalize their definitions” so the reader knows what the authour means. It is not an attempt by authour to dictate the meaning of a word for all contexts, but simply saying “for this paper, when I use the term X, I mean this” in order to ensure accurate communication.

And I do not understand how they can be moot when there have been thousands of posts where people self identify exactly as previously described. There are design students and teachers on this site.

Can you clarify your statement “…do you think non-"teacher"s
cannot help people be parasitic?

I am hoping to have a conversation rather than a debate over semantics.

JamesT's picture


I think we all know what you mean when you write about "teachers" and "students" and the role of the typophile community in either aiding or hindering one's problem solving abilities.

In the end, I think it's up to the individual to choose whether or not the want to help a student. If the student's question is legitimate, I don't see the problem.

The role of typophile, I think, should not be to solve everyone's typographic problems (otherwise, over time, everything would become too homogenized due to the influence of a few people), but to help people understand discrepancies in their own designs and to provide direction and education.

hrant's picture

> If people having a conversation are using the same words, but to each they
> have different meanings, there will a breakdown in the communication process.

If I didn't agree with that I wouldn't have complained about your definition(s).

> There are design students and teachers on this site.

And most of those "teachers" don't fit your definition, but they might (and do) help students "[stunt] their problem solving skills" anyway. But FWIW like I said I personally don't mind, because I love separating the wheat from the chaff.

Your definition of "teacher" (and to a lesser extend "student") will impede any potential resolution that you seek, here on Typophile.

You guys want to talk about "illusion"? Here's the biggest one: Control.


dezcom's picture

Perhaps all that Christopher is doing by posting his operational definitions of teacher and student is trying to limit the scope of the discussion to just that narrower view for the sake of simplicity. It seems he is just clarifying that the problem he sees and wants to address in this thread is with "students" [as he has defined them] seeking help with formal school assignments as opposed to general information seeking on the web. It seems he is trying to place a boundary on what would be considered proper "help" by us here on Typophile, without "aiding and abetting" a perhaps lazy student who wants an easy way out of doing his own work. I don't know if I understand him correctly or not.

If that is correct, there is still not a way to absolve either student or teacher from their real responsibilities in the formal education arena. There will always be both lazy teachers and students to be found. I doubt if we here can find an easy way to separate the wheat from the chaff. As others here have said. The poster and responder in every case ultimately will get whatever value he gets from the discussion. The "Good" student will benefit much more than the lazy one but we have no real assurance that what we have said will be what he is searching for. I prefer that we make no attempt to systematically evaluate or censor a request as a group and just let individuals post whatever they deem appropriate. It may be Russian Roulette but at least not harmful or a means of censorship.

.00's picture

Ah, control!

Yes you are right, control.

I've seen the damage done by no control, so yes, control, just a little bit.

Not an illusion. Clearly you have very little experience teaching.

hrant's picture

Yet again: it depends on the definition of "teacher"! :-)
In the context of this thread and Christoper's quest,
the conventional definition sucks lead.


Chris Dean's picture

When I composed this thread, I refrained from including the following phrase because I did not want to begin it with a negative tone:

I sincerely hope this thread does not spiral downward into in-infighting and name-calling as this would be unproductive, reflect poorly on our community and set a bad example for younger typographers.”


hrant's picture

On the other hand name-calling (which I have not done here) is not the
reason this can't work (especially for somebody like me with titanium skin).


Té Rowan's picture

@jmontalbano - Hrant is right. There is no magic threshold beyond which the transfer of knowledge becomes strictly one-way.

@dezcom - I certainly think you grokked Mr. Dean's meaning and intention.

Chris Dean's picture

Something I find telling is to check out the Track on someone’s profile to see what the bulk of their posts are. It’s not too hard to find a pattern.

Chris Dean's picture

Wow. What started off as “Do My Homework Syndrome” has actually devolved into “Develop My Coursework Syndrome.”

Perhaps the cure is for Typophiles to simply assign themselves homework?

emspace's picture

Christopher : Since it's the 2nd time tonight that I run into a comment of yours that bashes my thread (i.e. on Twitter and your previous comment on this thread), I will give you some context on my situation.

I teach classes every week night and freelance in the daytime. Out of my 5 classes, 4 of them are different. I give an introductory graphic design class, an InDesign and page layout class (x2), a pre-press class and the last type conception class of the program.

In my type class last week, when I announced to my students the next project that we are about to do and which is already planned in the curriculum. They then let me know that they already did a similar project last semester, which was not supposed to happen. I don't think giving the same exercise twice would benefit their portfolio or their education so I whip up a new project last minute. I feel the need for a second opinion because I don't really have time to let it simmer as much as I would like to before giving them the actual deal so I turn to Typophile to explain my project and get some global opinions in case someone would spot a blatant mistake in my assignment that I didn't think of or would think of a better way to do things.

I don't expect anyone to do my coursework for me and I would gladly share the results of the project I've given my students in the Typographic Education section which I think could benefit other teachers out there. Even if it's not perfect, they could still benefit from my mistakes.

I think the way you've implied in the other thread that my students would come on the Typophile forum to get their homework done and now and on Twitter that I posted on the forum to get my coursework done by others is way disrespectful and completely undeserved. I realize that you don't speak for the whole but I find this kind of attitude very disappointing coming from a regular member of Typophile and I will definitely think twice before posting on Typophile again if it is to be treated in this manner.

hrant's picture

Émilie, you're right. But don't pout. Since you're clearly
willing and able to defend yourself in public there's no
good reason to avoid trying to get help in public.


Chris Dean's picture

Awesome. Two people asking for help on the same homework assignment at the same time.

Chris Dean's picture

For now, I’ve simply resigned myself to the fact that educators don’t care, students are lazy, and instead of thinking for themselves, they ask the internet. And us. They do it to the detriment of developing their own problem solving skills, and we do it to the detriment of our profession. If you’re going to ask someone to do your homework for you here, the least you can do is cite it properly to avoid being accused for plagiarism. APA 6.0 states:

Dean, C. (2012, October 25). Re: Thread title (Online forum comment). Retrieved from http://url of the thread

In this case, replace my name and date with the time and person who answered your question.

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