Why the Name Change?

October, 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 considerations when deciding to change the name of our network of communities.

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 our communities we have participants who practice (or have an interest in learning about) inquiry-based learning, inquiry-oriented instruction, problem-based learning, student-centered teaching, culturally responsive teaching, active learning, ambitious teaching, discovery learning, process-oriented guided inquiry learning, and complex instruction. We all gather to share our expertise and learn from each other.

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] We are honored to continue to partner with the IBL SIGMAA and the AIBL, and we join them in stating that Moore is not part of our community.

Even so, a few individual conversations with members of the math community have led us to realize that the term “IBL,” for some, is still associated with R.L. Moore. We have chosen to remove “IBL” from our name, to avoid triggering that unfortunate association. Our hope is to grow a network of vibrant, inclusive, and welcoming communities of practitioners who are passionate about equitable, student-centered mathematics teaching in colleges and universities, regardless of the name they associate with their particular practice.