Teaching basic lab skills
for research computing

Stack Underflow?

Circling back to an earlier post, one of the challenges free-range learners face is where to get help after their workshop or short course is over. Google isn't much help, since they don't yet know enough to know what to look for, and Q&A sites like Stack Overflow can be pretty intimidating: most novices don't want to bother people and/or don't want to look clueless in public (and getting "That's a stupid thing to ask, newbie" doesn't help).

One possible solution would be to to set up an area on Stack Overflow specifically for novices. Anyone could ask a question there, but only people with a reasonably high score would be allowed to respond, since their score would be evidence that they're both knowledgeable and civil (it's hard to build up karma on SO if you're aren't both). As well as giving novices a place to turn for help, this would help them transition into the larger community; while it's possible that questions would simply go unanswered, we think it's more likely that at least some of the "hardcore helpful" on SO would dive in (particularly if there were bonus points for answering questions in this area). It would also help ore experienced users by improving the signal-to-noise ratio in the regular areas. Finally, it would make it easier for us to figure out what problems novices are having most often, and what sorts of explanations they find most useful.

What do you think? Is "Stack Underflow" worth trying?

Later: in response to some comments by email and on Twitter, this "novices area" would not be specific to Software Carpentry (any more than a question like "what's standard input?" is). It could be implemented within Stack Overflow using a reserved tag such as "novice", but by itself, that wouldn't provide the safety that would come from restricting who could answer novices' questions. It also wouldn't provide the fringe benefit of improving the general signal-to-noise ratio...

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