Why the Name Change?

September, 2020

Our network was originally called the Network of IBL Communities, until a unanimous vote by leadership representatives of each of our regional communities on September 11, 2020. The name of our network is now the COMmunities for Mathematics Inquiry in Teaching Network (COMMIT Network). In this document we aim to clarify why this name change was made.

We will begin with some background. The term “IBL” (inquiry-based learning) has been used since the late 1990’s to describe a set of practices of teaching with inquiry. However, using this term has had the effect of excluding many from our communities for at least two different reasons we describe below. The IBL Communities initiative, begun in 2014 with the Upstate New York IBL Consortium, has always had a goal of bringing together instructors from all different backgrounds so that we can all benefit from our collective experience and expertise. If some populations of instructors feel marginalized in the community for any reason, then we all suffer from that loss of participation.

With this in mind, we had two major reasons for the change of the name of our network of communities.

Reason 1: R. L. Moore

R. L. Moore was a topologist, and a professor at the University of Texas from 1920-1969. His method of teaching was distinctive, and had some features of inquiry teaching -- students did serious mathematical work, and Moore crafted hints for each student based on his understanding of their thinking. In the late 1990’s, a group of his former students began hosting annual conferences in his honor and spreading the word about “Moore method” or “modified Moore method” teaching. These conferences drew many mathematicians into a community that shared inquiry-based teaching practices, and by the mid 2000’s were using the (then) new acronym IBL to describe this method of teaching [reference].

Moore was also notoriously racist [reference]. He was in favor of segregation, and refused outright to teach Black students. He was also known for misogynist and antisemitic views. His power and influence at the University of Texas, and in the point-set topology community, created an environment that was deeply harmful to students and colleagues. This legacy has rightly kept many mathematicians from wanting to have anything to do with Moore or his methods. [reference1, reference2]

As the IBL community grew, it was recognized that its continued ties to R.L. Moore were compounding the harms he had caused. In 2017, the IBL SIGMAA made an official statement that R.L. Moore’s actions “run counter to the central value of inclusivity in this community.” [reference] At the same time, it became clear that the features of inquiry teaching most valued by the community were not, in fact, consistent with Moore’s original practice. The Academy of Inquiry Based Learning explicitly states that “the Moore Method is not IBL.” [reference]

Despite strident efforts to distance the IBL name from the name of R.L. Moore, the association persists. While many in the IBL community both recognize and disavow Moore’s racist, sexist, and misogynistic legacy, there are others in the community who have long resisted any public, explicit separation from R. L. Moore’s legacy. This underlying association between R. L. Moore and IBL---while not as explicit as in earlier decades---continues to be a barrier to making the community fully inclusive. In order to unequivocally cut ties with the Moore tradition---and lower barriers to participation in what we hope can grow into a network of vibrant, inclusive, and welcoming communities of practitioners who are passionate about equitable, student-centered mathematics teaching in colleges and universities---our project has decided to step away from the focus on the name ``IBL.’’ IBL is now just one of many approaches to teaching and learning that our membership employs, as is described in more detail in the next section.

Reason 2: Teaching practice

Descriptions of IBL in the early 2000s tended to emphasize rules of how to do it “correctly”. These included centering the course on student presentations, not allowing students to use any resources other than the class notes, and a strong emphasis on mathematical formalism and proof. As the research on IBL developed, particularly the massive study by Laursen et al [reference], a better picture became available of what actually matters. The Academy of Inquiry Based Learning, the IBL SIGMAA, and others came to embrace a “big tent” view of IBL, centered on what have come to be called the “four pillars” [reference]. Attendees of IBL workshops often express surprise to find that there are many varieties of IBL, and that often they have already been teaching with IBL, just not by that name!

However, the more narrow view of what IBL is persists in the mathematics community, and we still hear people say, “I’m not really doing IBL.” This sense that there is some kind of litmus test for joining our community is the opposite of what we hope to achieve. We hope that by removing the name “IBL,” we will remove that barrier and promote a sense of belonging for those who use, or want to use, many varieties of inquiry.

In addition, there have been some concerns that such a "big tent" philosophy of IBL can come across as colonizing other approaches to teaching and learning, and tends to erase the important work done by the IOI (Inquiry-Oriented Instruction) community, the Culturally Responsive Teaching movement, K-12 teachers, and others. A new term, Inquiry-Based Mathematics Education, has been proposed which those from both the IBL and IOI approaches have found to be acceptable as an overarching philosophy [reference]. However, in our communities we often have participants from other, related, backgrounds (e.g., problem-based learning, student-centered teaching, active learning, ambitious teaching, discovery learning, process-oriented guided inquiry learning, and complex instruction), for whom even the term IBME may not feel like it fits. The Network of IBL Communities, therefore, voted unanimously to adopt this name change to best reflect the population of instructors who find value in our communities.

What about the names of individual communities?

Name and branding recognition are important to the survival of any organization. Changing a name or website address requires ample messaging (a document like this, for starters), and the timing is important. Indeed, for regional communities that are brand new, changing their name this year could mean the loss of the majority of momentum made in getting out the word about the community. Thus, though the network as a whole has changed its name, existing regional communities may take longer to make that change.