Rob Cobb

Legibility for who (conversation with Tara Baumgarten)

Updated Jun 10, 2022

Conversation from twitter dms with Tara Baumgarten about legibility.

  • hey! question for you…I finally found a moment where I’m motivated to dig into the ribbon farm legibility argument 🎉

May 27, 2022, 11:49 AM

[Ed: this ribbonfarm post]

  1. okay yeah!

  2. what do you think?

May 27, 2022, 11:50 AM

  • I’m thinking about policies for things like late work, resubmissions, etc and the tradeoffs of keeping it at the individual faculty level to decide vs more global decision for the whole school. I’m now hyper aware of the “best for all” mentality creating a bunch of policies that in practice work for no one

May 27, 2022, 11:57 AM

  • I guess my q is…which is more legible? having faculty make their own decision feels more autonomous and students may gravitate to faculty who favor their preference…or global school wide policies that can ensure we’re all speaking the same language?
  • Am I understanding the dichotomy correctly?

May 27, 2022, 12:01 PM

  1. yeah! I think that’s a really good way to think about the issue, and you’re 100% that that’s the trade off

  2. I have a long-unwritten blog post “legibility for who” — everyone has a stake in what the assessments / submissions / grading / etc policies are

  3. Students need clarity, faculty need clarity, planners-at-the-center need clarity

  4. The natural way of things is that the center gets to make the rules, but students and teachers have agency to follow or not follow the rules to different degrees, mostly depending on their identification with and alignment with the rules set by the center

  5. if you’re able to think about the different stakeholders in the system, and make sure they are each able to get what they want / need from the system, then it’s a lot easier to get that alignment (and, ya know, make the experience not super frustrating for everyone)

May 27, 2022, 1:04 PM

  1. re: “more legible” - you just need to be very choosy about how the legibility demands actually impose constraints / obligations on teachers and students. If there are none, you probably aren’t running a school! And… how do you know that there’s quality (and consistency, as much as that’s a goal)? How do you make improvements?

May 27, 2022, 1:06 PM

  1. in a perfect world, you could have perfect visibility from the center into the learning of every student at every moment, without imposing any costs on the student or instructor experience - they don’t have to sit for an exam, but you know exactly how well they learned whatever it is you wanted them to learn, and you had perfect information to make decisions / improvements

May 27, 2022, 1:07 PM

  1. but since we’re not in that world, you have to choose what information you want, and what costs you are willing to impose to get it - and whether students and faculty will be willing to bear those costs

May 27, 2022, 1:09 PM

  1. that’s all pretty abstract, and it glosses over some of the intra-level differences and frictions (e.g. it can give students more freedom and clarity to have a school-wide policy instead of having to learn the distinct policy for every teacher)

May 27, 2022, 1:10 PM

  1. in practical terms: listing and (collaboratively) thinking through lots of concrete situations can help reach a shared consensus on both what the rule should be, and what the rule is

May 27, 2022, 1:12 PM

  1. - in Ms Jones’s 8th Grade English class, Tara submitted her homework a week late, but also had a doctors note about being sick.
  2. - in Mr Rahman’s 9th grade Algebra class, Rob is asking for permission to miss / retake the final exam, because his family is traveling to visit his grandma that week
  3. - in Ms Murphy’s Science class, Kevin didn’t bring in a project for the science fair, and asked to submit an alternative assignment to make up the wor
  4. Having teachers (and maybe students!) work through what they think the right policies ought to be for situations can help establish both what the concrete decision should be in these situations, learn your own org-wide principles, and also teach people the policies, which can help improve consistency + compliance.
  5. (sorry for the essay!)

May 27, 2022, 1:17 PM

  • ahhh I’m so grateful! 🙏I love the idea of opening up the examples to talk about them as a school community—gives me some thoughts May 27, 2022, 2:46 PM


  • another interesting point for legibility across cohorts and building the policies as a community

  • also—you should totally write that blog post!! more than happy to read a draft + give feedback

May 27, 2022, 4:06 PM

  1. Maybe I’ll copy out from here and present it as a conversation… I have such a crappy perfectionism when it comes to online writing, and it’s a lot easier in chat… maybe just a lower pressure / the ephemerality makes it easier to just type

May 27, 2022, 4:14 PM

Big thanks to Tara for the conversation, the encouragement, and for letting me repost on the blog. It’s worth checking out what she’s building at Sora and chatting with her if you’re into thinking about how schools are designed!

Also, I borrowed the idea of this (conversation ux blog post) from a tweet that I liked but cannot find. If you remember it or it was you and you see this, DM me!!

It was, thanks @tylerangert!

🤓😽 Rob Cobb
🐦 twitter