Faculty COMMIT-ed to Inquiry: A Network of Communities transforming mathematics instruction

Nina White
Lecturer IV and Assistant Research Scientist
University of Michigan

Need: For decades, college mathematics courses have acted as “gatekeeper courses” and have discouraged students from pursuing or attaining STEM majors; thereby also limiting their access to career opportunities and workforce demands. One strategy for increasing success, including for students from historically under-representd groups, has been to use evidence-based teaching methods, such as active learning (Freeman et al, 2014; Theobald et al, 2020). However, despite strong empirical and practical evidence, traditional lecture-style teaching is still the predominant method of instruction in high school and college mathematics courses (Jaworski & Gellert, 2011; Laursen et al., 2019; Nolan, 2006, 2010). Using networks and communities of practices to initiate, promote, and sustain change is one method shown to overcome these barriers to instructional change (Austin, 2011; Gehrke & Kezar, 2017.) The COMMIT (COMmunities for Mathematics Inquiry in Teaching) Network provides a flexible structure to support regional communities of practice, called COMMITs, in their mission to influence instructional change, address faculty isolation, and ultimately, improve student learning outcomes. The COMMIT Network consists of a dozen regional COMMITS, that collectively span over half of the United States, with over 800 educators actively involved. Each regional COMMIT brings high quality professional development to their local members, focused on infusing active learning, equity, and inquiry into college mathematics classrooms.

Guiding Questions: (1) To what extent do regional COMMITS create value for participating faculty by supporting and sustaining their teaching with inquiry? (2) To what extent does the COMMIT Network create value for the regional COMMITS? What factors of the COMMIT model are most valuable to individual faculty participants, leaders of COMMITs, and the broader network?

Outcomes: Through two years of participant and leadership surveys and interviews, we have found that individual members identify unique layers of value in their participation in the COMMIT Network. Immediate and potential value have been most prominent for faculty interactions in the sharing of resources (e.g., technology) and ideas about transforming their instructional practices (e.g., assessment strategies), and networking with like-minded peers as they integrate active learning practices in their own settings. COMMIT leaders, like individual members, find immediate value in building connections among members and other COMMITs. They also value being able to network with faculty in both similar and different career stages and institution types. Further, regional leaders identified value in being a part of not only their regional COMMIT, but also value in the collective sense of identity cultivated by the larger Network.

Broader Impacts: Workshops with ongoing community support are an effective way to help faculty change their teaching (Hayward et al., 2016). The regional COMMITs expand on this model by hosting workshops on inquiry, and creating a rich structure of community support, including email listservs, class visits, coaching, book groups, and less formal regular lunch or tea discussions. The value that our participants cite from these kinds of events point to effective national capacity-building for college mathematics teaching with inquiry, which concretely improves students’ experiences in college mathematics across the country.

References available upon request.


Kelly Gomez-Johnson, University of Nebraska Omaha; Paula Jakopovic, University of Nebraska Omaha; Patrick Rault, University of Nebraska Omaha; Amy Ksir, Anne Arundel Community College; Christine Von Renesse, Westfield State University