# Community discussion: what makes an answer great on Socratic?

Oct 9, 2015

Hi community! I'm hoping to get your thoughts and insights about an important topic: what makes an answer great on Socratic.

The reason: having accurate, best-in-class answers on Socratic is a priority—but one that isn't reflected very well in how the Socratic system is built. We are thinking about ways to surface and celebrate great answers around the site, which we think will raise the bar for answers overall.

You're the experts here: what makes an answer great? Are the features of a great answer in Chemistry different than those of a great answer in Algebra? As a community, what standards should we hold our answers to?

Can't wait to hear what you think :)

Oct 9, 2015

I think we need to do more than just answer the question

#### Explanation:

In many cases, the questions posted seem like they're directly copy-pasted from a homework assignment, and for many they could be answered with a single sentence (e.g. "The x-intercept is -1.33 and the y-intercept is 8"). While this makes it easy for a student to just get the homework answered without actually learning anything,

I think it behooves us to try and explain the answer and the theory behind it, and put the actual answer at the very end. That might at least accidentally teach someone to fish, rather than handing them a fish so they can go play kick-the-can or listen to those long-haired Beatles, or whatever it is kids do these days.

Oct 9, 2015

Part 1: There are (to my mind) several different types of question:answer combinations and it is likely that each needs a different evaluation methodology.

#### Explanation:

Descriptive versus Analytic Question:Answers
Answer that need to describe what is or the effects of something would seem to need a different type of structure than purely analytic answers.
e.g. "How does an increase in ozone effect tropical rain forests?" vs. "What is the value of x if 3x+1=27?"

The Level of the Questioner
Here is where I find the most difficulty. A good answer for an introductory level is likely to be quite different from a good answer for an advanced level. Different things need to be included or omitted at different levels.

The Problem of Completeness
To be considered "good" should an "Answer" give the complete solution or just outline the methodology for finding the solution?

Oct 9, 2015

Part 2: Here are some desirable characteristics of a "good answer". By themselves, these do not make an answer "good", but the lack of them would prevent such consideration.

#### Explanation:

Layout
The answer should be presented in easily digestible blocks.

Further. the use of highlighting (colors, etc.) to link components over an extended argument is useful.

Complete
The answer should contain all information needed to understand the answer.

Compact
The answer should not include extraneous information.

Complete and Compact are in obvious conflict where a judgement needs to be made concerning the level of the person asking the question.

Use of Images and Graphs
While not always applicable or desirable, in many cases a picture or a graph can greatly increase the ease of comprehension.

Oct 9, 2015

I believe that what makes a great answer should do/have most if not all of the following:

• Answer the question in as concise and/or direct a way as possible (e.g. don't add too much extraneous detail leading up to the main point)

• Be considerate of the level of education the asker might have, and if necessary, define key terminology that may or may not be familiar to a person who reads the question (e.g. what "exergonic" means in the context of thermodynamics and Gibbs' Free Energy, etc.), or key terminology that is crucial to understanding the answer

• Personal commentary or broken-down/methodical steps to clarify parts of the answer that might be difficult for the asker or reader to understand (e.g. for very numerical or calculative questions, it helps to delineate the steps and reasoning)

• Clean formatting to make the answer readable (e.g. meaningful tabbing, formatted MathJAX, etc.)

• A nice balance of images and text---along with credit to the image if it was not one you made yourself---especially whenever it would help far more to have an image than to not (e.g. drawing a reaction mechanism out for the Organic Chemistry questions really helps more than writing out reactions the old-fashioned textual way)

• If a video is used, it would be nice to actually explain the video rather than just say, "watch this video."

• Important words emphasized with either bold or italicization to draw the reader to crucial details that he or she should remember; just because someone reads the answer doesn't mean it will stick---the answerer should try to make it stick for the reader!

Oct 9, 2015

My opinion will be as short as the answers that I usually try to write.

I always keep in mind that if a student has asked a question that is simple as if he/she were to read the corresponding section in his/her textbook or his/her teacher's notes he/she could find the answer himself/herself; how could I make him/her understand the topic by just me simply giving him/her the answer right away.

That is why I try to explain the topic while staying focused on the question for not distracting the student.

Some students are visual, therefore using images and graphs helps them understand better the topic so they can answer similar questions later on.

I am a professional teacher and this is my daily practice. I use lots of videos in the class but this was never alone enough for the students to fully understand the topic. However, after watching the video I found that they can learn faster. Students that ask questions on Socratic have been in a classroom with a teacher that walked them through the topic they are inquiring about, and in this case a video could be of a great help.

I make videos for my YouTube channel and I consider my videos complementary to the work that has been done in the classroom. There is no need to explain the video because this would be repeating the work that has been done already at school.

To my understanding, and correct me if I am wrong, Socratic is not here to replace the school, however it is here to help the students to walk the final steps of their journey.

Probably my answer is longer than I expected, but yeah, I hope this helps.

Oct 11, 2015

To my mind the best answers are ones that challenge the student.

#### Explanation:

It is relatively easy for us as chemistry and teaching professionals to provide answers that categorically address all the implications of a challenging problem in physics, chemistry, and mathematics. Whether this is good for learning is moot.

Sometimes, we go too far, inasmuch as we don't really know how the answer will be utilized. Will it be copied verbatim into students' homework assignments? (And this scenario is clearly undesirable.) Or will it be considered rationally and analytically, and used to inform student understanding? I do feel that the student should be asked to do some of the work. Should a problem or a misconception arise, the student could always be asked (or self-obliged) to report back.

Oct 12, 2015

I think that the Socratic structure of "Answer first, Explanation second" is fine in most cases.

#### Explanation:

I agree with almost all of the comments made in previous answers.

But I'm not sure that the structure should vary across disciplines.

The basic idea of "This is the answer" and "This how to get it" should work equally well in Chemistry, Mathematics, Economics, or Philosophy.

One advantage of putting the answer first is that a student who clicks on the question will see that there is an answer and will read further instead of clicking the "Back" arrow and trying another link on Google or Bing.

Of course, there are two types of questions. One is A "What is the answer to …?" and the other is B "How do I …"?

Type A Questions

For Type A questions, the answer could be first, with the explanation later (as now).

Of course. many of these are Homework questions, and we don't want to do the students' homework for them.

How about constructing a model answer for a particular type of question,?

We could either include that in the body of the explanation or create it as a Socratic question/answer and simply include the link in the explanation.

Then the answer would be of the form, "Here's the answer, here's how to get the answer for a similar problem, now go and do thou likewise".

Type B Questions

The "How do I …" tend to require more unique answers.

Often the only solution is to say "See below" or something similar. because the answer is too long.

But the "How do I use X to get the answer Y?" might in many cases use the "Answer First" structure.

I'm rambling. It's time to stop …

Oct 13, 2015

It seems to me that a great answer is one that opens a door of understanding for the student and inspires them to learn more.

#### Explanation:

Perhaps that sounds good, but we wonder how to achieve it.

Perhaps there are some subtle things we can do like speaking of the problem being addressed as one that we are sharing with the student: "In our example...", "We find that...", etc.

Encourage the student to share the journey and enjoy the process.

Pictures, diagrams and graphs are often helpful for both communicating ideas more effectively and helping the student to remember.

Inspiration can come from curious observations, glimpses of more advanced ideas or simply the slickness of a presentation. If we can convey some of the fun of a particular topic, so much the better.