Shared Principles of The COMMIT Network
A regional COMmunity for Mathematics Inquiry in Teaching (COMMIT) is a local group of college math instructors interested in practicing and disseminating teaching and learning techniques centered on student inquiry. These communities aim to provide evidence-based support mechanisms, through professional development, mentoring, and collaborations, to help members sustainably transform their teaching. COMMIT communities provide ongoing access to professional development without the need of a plane ticket to a national conference or workshop. Each community is in a better position to understand the needs of instructors of the local region than a national organization can be, thus allowing for a grassroots route to bringing an inquiry experience to every student. Our local communities of practitioners develop trusting relationships, forming a community of transformation in which participants are comfortable sharing not only their successes in teaching but also their challenges.
There are many terms used to describe approaches to the teaching and learning of mathematics that are based on student inquiry. Two of the major strands that informed the first IBL Communities in our network are the practice-focused tradition of Inquiry-Based Learning (IBL), and the theory-focused tradition of Inquiry-Oriented Instruction (IOI), both of which are represented in our communities. Their common goals are often summarized by the four pillars: instructors foster equity in their design and facilitation choices; students have opportunities to engage deeply with rich mathematics; students have opportunities to collaborate in making sense of that mathematics; and instructors inquire into student thinking. (For more, see Laursen, S.L., Rasmussen, C. I on the Prize: Inquiry Approaches in Undergraduate Mathematics. Int. J. Res. Undergrad. Math. Ed. 5, 129–146 (2019)). There are many other names for mathematics instruction with approaches that are aligned with these principles; and thus there are instructors with a variety of backgrounds and starting points who have found value in membership and participation in these communities. Some of these approaches include problem-based learning, student-centered teaching, active learning, ambitious teaching, discovery learning, process-oriented guided inquiry learning, complex instruction, and culturally responsive teaching.
While each COMMIT community varies in size, scope, and mission, depending on the needs of the particular region, every entity that uses the COMMIT name (or the older term, IBL Community or IBLC) has agreed to adhere to the following core features.
Shared Purpose: Each COMMIT community exists to provide and support professional development and collaborative experiences involving student-centered learning through inquiry to the community of mathematics educators in higher education. Communities may choose to broaden this focus, and individuals outside of higher education or outside of mathematics should be welcome to join if they find value in the community.
A Community of Trust: Each COMMIT aims to build a sense of community between mathematics educators in the region interested in using inquiry practices in their courses, where members feel comfortable opening up about challenges in their courses and are receptive to constructive feedback.
Focus area: Each COMMIT community has a stated focus on a particular subset of the greater community of math educators using inquiry approaches, usually a geographic region. Events from a regional COMMIT are held almost exclusively in their stated region, and the community focuses on those in the target region. While community events are usually targeted at college-level educators of mathematics who share the stated common focus, this focus area is not meant to be exclusive: all are welcome to COMMIT events, without regard to geography, expertise with inquiry teaching, etc. For example, city-wide, statewide, or broader COMMIT communities are created not to exclude those from neighboring regions, but to provide a community focus; events occurring on the boundary between two regions are generally advertised to both regions. K-12 educators and others interested in college education are also welcome to participate in community events. It is expected that some regions may overlap, and that a city-wide community may co-exist within a multi-state community.
Events, Mentoring, and Leadership: Each COMMIT community holds regular in-person or virtual events for practitioners in the region, at least once per year. These events help us to foster a sense of community. When organizing events, each community strives to be inclusive and welcoming.
Each community also has some kind of coaching or mentoring program (e.g. one-on-one mentoring, group mentoring, or some other form of peer coaching), for those wishing to expand their experience in teaching with inquiry. In addition, the leadership team of each COMMIT inquires regularly into community needs (such as through surveys, focus groups, or other conversations), to ensure that programming matches community needs.
Each COMMIT community strives for shared leadership power and responsibilities, and to foster the leadership growth of its members. There may be a period during the initial years of a community where its founders are in charge. During these initial formative years, the founders should consider ways to make the community sustainable by over time incrementally and smoothly transitioning power from the founders to the community. After these initial formative years, each community tries to have a transparent process for choosing new members of the leadership team, such as by putting out a call for nominations and/or volunteers, widely advertised, each year. In addition, each community strives for a diverse leadership team, as outlined in the section below on Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion.
COMMIT Network: Each COMMIT community is part of the COMMIT Network. In addition to being a venue for leaders of individual communities to discuss relevant successes, challenges, and opportunities, this network provides an organizational structure to identify and pursue common goals within the greater COMMIT movement. COMMIT Network meetings are held 2-4 times each year, usually as a videoconference. Each COMMIT community sends at least one representative to these meetings; representatives share their communities’ successes and challenges, and report back findings to their community leadership.
The leadership team of each COMMIT community is aware that they are each representatives of a larger COMMIT Network. When one community decides to collaborate with a national entity or make an announcement about their individual community on a national email list, they are encouraged to check in with the network to gauge whether other communities want to join in the effort.
Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion: Each COMMIT community works to support diversity, equity, and inclusion in college mathematics teaching. This includes both
making the community itself diverse and inclusive, and
including a focus on equitable and inclusive teaching in workshops, discussions, and projects sponsored by the community.
In particular, each COMMIT community is working to create and publish a diversity and anti-discrimination statement (see examples below). Each community commits to dedicating some portion of leadership meetings to creating a more-detailed, and geographically relevant, diversity and inclusion plan.
R. L. Moore: The COMMIT Network joins the Inquiry-Based Learning Special Interest Group of the Mathematical Association of America (IBL SIGMAA) in noting the presence of racism in the roots of IBL. In particular, the COMMIT movement understands and laments the role that R. L. Moore played in excluding people from his classrooms and institutions, as well as the lasting effect that his legacy has had in excluding people of color from the IBL community. As one strategy for being more inclusive, each community is considering publishing statements that acknowledge and denounce Moore’s racist and antisemitic legacy (see Haberler, Z., Laursen, S. L., & Hayward, C. N. (2018). What's in a name? Framing struggles of a mathematics education reform community. International Journal of Research in Undergraduate Mathematics Education, https://doi.org/10.1007/s40753-018-0079-4. [Author Accepted Manuscript]).
Institutional diversity: In addition to attending to diversity along the axis of participant and leadership team social identities—for example race and gender—COMMIT communities aim to consider institutional diversity in the way events are organized and the way the leadership team is recruited. The leadership teams seek to have members from each type of institution in the region (doctoral granting, master’s granting, bachelor’s granting, two-year college, etc.) to best understand and meet the needs of regional participants across the institutional spectrum. When particular institution types are not represented on a leadership team, programming that meets the needs of the full institutional spectrum should be developed. Additionally, COMMIT communities aim to organize regional events that are as accessible as possible to these various institution types by considering location, timing, cost, etc. Leadership teams are mindful that particular attention should be paid to including faculty from two-year colleges and minority-serving institutions both on the leadership team and in the wider regional community, as these institutions reach a large number of students of color, and thereby play an integral role in supporting these students while they pursue degrees in STEM fields, and mathematics in particular.
Communications: Each COMMIT community has most of the following common communication structures in place.
A website, linked to from www.COMathInquiry.org.
All events are shared with firstname.lastname@example.org, either through a shared community calendar or by adding individual events, including a location or regional acronym.
An email address for information requests.
An online communication tool for members, such as an email listserv or Slack channel.
We show pride in our Network by using the COMMIT Network logo and color scheme (see our branding guide here https://www.COMathInquiry.org/resources).
In addition, some communities have established a social media presence (e.g. on twitter, facebook, linkedin), using #COMathInquiry for events.
Conclusion. Through the COMMIT Network, we are able to expand on and build from the successes of past communities, and share the growing body of knowledge about effective community-building practices.
The COMMIT Network unanimously approved this document on September 11, 2020, and will vote to approve subsequent revisions. A quorum for voting is ⅔ of existing communities, and each community has one vote in meetings. The current list of voting communities is as follows.
Alliance for Michigan IBL (AMIIBL)
Four Corners COMMIT
IBL Iowa-Nebraska Community (IBLINC)
MD-DC-VA IBL Consortium
New England IBL in Mathematics Consortium (NE-IBLM)
San Antonio COMMIT
Southern Arizona COMMIT
The Greater Upstate New York IBL Consortium (UNY IBL)
Approved unanimously, September 11, 2020.
Updated January 12, 2021.