I am a professor of Chemical Engineering, teaching topics ranging from mass and energy balance, to thermodynamics, to transport phenomena. I have been thinking of ways in which to incorporate contributions to the EngineeringSE site in my courses. I was wondering if anyone actively using the site has used it in the teaching process? A few specific questions:

  1. How exactly is the site used? Are the students asked to submit questions or only answers?
  2. How are the student's contributions to the site evaluated? Do you use actual reputation scores to accomplish this? Or do you use an independent measure? My guess is this would be very informal and a low part of the overall grade.
  3. If anyone has attempted this, did you find it valuable? What about your students?
  • $\begingroup$ I understand you're a professor of chemical engineering, but this question seems more adequate for academia.SE (or maybe it's meta). $\endgroup$
    – Wasabi Mod
    Commented Jun 6, 2016 at 16:38
  • $\begingroup$ Remotely related question on meta.EE.SE (Electrical Engineering): Appropriate to send high school students from a robotics competition here? $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 10, 2016 at 21:50
  • $\begingroup$ This isn't anything to do with you, is it? The asker has commented: "I just needed to ask a question for a class." $\endgroup$
    – 410 gone
    Commented Aug 29, 2016 at 10:59
  • $\begingroup$ @EnergyNumbers: I know I linked to this post, but now I doubt it. We've now had a second such question. The teacher seems to be an electrical engineer, not a Chemical like Salomon here. Take a look at the chat where I've raised this problem for discussion. $\endgroup$
    – Wasabi Mod
    Commented Aug 30, 2016 at 2:40
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Wasabi nothing to do with me. I decided not to pursue this any further. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 30, 2016 at 13:45

2 Answers 2


I'm happy to see this question on our Meta site and I like the idea of incorporating the site into classroom activities. I'm not an educator but I would like to give a bit of a reaction from the perspective of what the site is looking for, in terms of what types of activities might be more productive vs. more annoying for our users.

I would not generally recommend any activity that imposes a pressure on students to ask any number of questions on the site. The bulk of our community moderation work is tied up in reading, assessing, responding to and sometimes closing questions from new users. Figuring out exactly what sort of question works best on Stack Exchange can be a very trying experience, both for the user who's figuring it out and for the experienced users who are interacting with that user along the way.

So, for example, "ask a question on Engineering SE during the term and I'll give you some number of extra credit points" is something I would recommend against. Assigning "ask a question" as required homework would be even less productive from our perspective; probably most of those questions would not be well-received.

Encouraging students to answer questions, on the other hand, seems fine because the workload involved for us in maintaining answers is much lighter. Mainly because we don't close answers, but also because everyone has their own expertise and can't evaluate every single answer.

You could also set up a scenario for your students that puts them in the role of a professional who comes across Stack Exchange for the first time when trying to solve a problem. I'm imagining something like this:

You are a junior employee at ABC Chemical and you are assigned a task by your supervisor. (Description of task here.)

You searched the internet and found a page on Engineering SE that might offer some important information to help complete this task, or maybe even a full solution. (Link to Q&A here.)

Read the question and its answers. Assess whether you think you can solve the problem using the information on the page. Write an email/memo to your supervisor explaining what information you found and how you're using it to complete the task you were assigned (if at all).

This would likely involve some additional research on the student's part, whether it's following links directly from an answer, trying to verify an answer that sounds good but has no citations, or deciding that the answers there are all crap and they just need to figure it out for themselves. If in the process, the student decides they can submit a productive edit, wants to sign up and vote on the posts, or even finds they can write their own useful answer, those would be welcome extras.

Definitely an interesting application to think about in any case, and I'll be very interested to read the thoughts and experiences of other educators in response to your question.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ This is fantastic @Air. I was thinking an approach close to what you suggest I avoid. So I'm glad for your answer, since the last thing I want is for my students to be a burden in lieu of an asset to the community. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 7, 2016 at 0:22
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Honestly, I think asking a question can be one of the most frustrating experiences on SE because we have so many rules that are not obvious until you get your sea legs, as it were. While this answer is from the perspective of what's good for the site, I think avoiding that frustration is also good for the student. I feel like I've retained much more from the parts of my education that I enjoyed than I have from the parts I hated. $\endgroup$
    – Air
    Commented Jun 7, 2016 at 15:09

I am going to answer in a version of @Air's answer. I will agree with the statement of "Don't force students to ask questions". It could be an interesting exercise to have a student find a question that hasn't been answered (the older the better) and do enough research and put together enough information to provide an upvoted or accepted answer.

The reasoning behind this is that some old questions are left unanswered because they require a lot of research or are very specific. That is the perfect area for a student to write an answer after more than a casual google search.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Depending on the level of the students, many of the questions (especially the unanswered ones) might not be reasonably within their ability to be really answered here. However, something like "find an unanswered question and use it as an inspiration for a research project" could be interesting. They don't necessarily have to learn enough to give an authoritative answer on the subject (but it'd be great if they can!), but they'll at least have a primer to learn something they otherwise might not. $\endgroup$
    – Wasabi Mod
    Commented Jun 7, 2016 at 2:37
  • $\begingroup$ @Wasabi, exactly, and maybe if professor believe the result is valuable, can be publish as an answer in the site ;) $\endgroup$
    – HEDMON
    Commented Jun 15, 2016 at 10:40

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