The Theory of Knowledge course within the IB will help you to develop new ways of thinking and powers of critical analysis, providing an invaluable foundation for life beyond the Sixth Form.
The programme is highly prized by university admissions tutors, who believe it equips students for the rigorous academic enquiry of undergraduate courses.
If you think that sounds a bit dry, think again. Using logic and intuition to piece together a murder investigation is just one of the ways previous students have learned about the process of acquiring knowledge.
To give you a better idea of what you’ll be in for, here are a few of the questions and ideas you might find yourself considering:
- Is mathematics discovered or invented?
- Can a lack of emotion be an advantage or a disadvantage in decision-making?
- Why are some areas of scientific research considered unethical?
- Is it possible to study other cultures objectively?
- Why do some cultures have many words for sorry and others none at all?
- Can machines think?
- Is morality a fact or an opinion?
"My university interview was pretty much like aToK lesson – a really good argument (discussion)!"“
Theory of Knowledge is one of the three core elements at the heart of the IB Diploma. Essentially, it asks the central question ‘How do we know?’ in a variety of different contexts.
TOK therefore develops higher order critical thinking skills, asking students to step outside their academic subjects and consider them from a metacognitive perspective, coming to an understanding of their scope, underlying methodology, limitations and wider ethical dimension.
Underpinning TOK is the knowledge framework, which has four elements:
Scope, Perspectives, Methods and Tools and Ethics
TOK may be viewed as a ‘toolkit’ for enabling students to approach their existing knowledge from a TOK perspective.
“The main focus of TOK is not on students acquiring new knowledge but on helping students to reflect on, and put into perspective, what they already know” [TOK Subject Guide]
A core theme: Knowledge and the Knower
Two optional themes: Knowledge and Technology and Knowledge and Language
Five areas of knowledge: Natural Sciences, Human Sciences, History, Mathematics, The Arts
Knowledge questions provide ways into these themes and areas of knowledge.
For example, the following are knowledge questions relating to the optional theme of Knowledge and Technology:
- What is the difference between “data”, “information” and “knowledge”?
- To what extent is the internet changing what it means to know something?
- In what sense, if any, can a machine be said to know something?
- Does technology allow knowledge to reside outside of human knowers?
In addition, 12 key concepts have particular prominence within, and thread throughout, the TOK course: evidence, certainty, truth, interpretation, power, justification, explanation, objectivity, perspective, culture, values and responsibility. Exploration of the relationship between knowledge and these concepts helps students to deepen their understanding, as well as facilitating the transfer of their learning to new and different contexts.
Year 12 TOK culminates in the exhibition.
The TOK exhibition focuses on exploring how TOK manifests in the world around us. Students are required to select one prompt from the list of 35 internal assessment prompts provided in the TOK subject guide. They then curate an exhibition of three objects connected to their chosen prompt.
An extremely wide variety of different types of objects are suitable for use in a TOK exhibition. Students are encouraged to select objects that have personal relevance or that link to areas of personal interest. For example, a student with an interest in fantasy football might select an object such as a set of fantasy football rankings or a set of football statistics, or a student might choose to include a personal item such as a photograph of a grandparent.
However, what is really important for this task is that the students select objects that have a specific real-world context—objects that exist in a particular time and place, including virtual spaces. For example, a photograph of a student’s childhood teddy bear is an example of an object that has a specific real-world context, whereas a generic image of “a teddy bear” from an internet search is not.
Examples of three physical objects used in a TOK exhibition.
Year 13 TOK is assessed through an essay. Students choose one of six prescribed titles released by the IB and work with their teacher to complete this before Christmas of Year 13.
This year’s titles are as follows:
- Can there be knowledge that is independent of culture? Discuss with reference to mathematics and one other area of knowledge.
- To what extent do you agree with the claim that “there’s a world of difference between truth and facts” (Maya Angelou)? Answer with reference to two areas of knowledge.
- Is there solid justification for regarding knowledge in the natural sciences more highly than knowledge in another area of knowledge? Discuss with reference to the natural sciences and one other area of knowledge.
- How do historians and human scientists give knowledge meaning through the telling of stories? Discuss with reference to history and the human sciences.
- How can we distinguish between good and bad interpretations? Discuss with reference to the arts and one other area of knowledge.
- If we conclude that there is some knowledge we should not pursue on ethical grounds, how can we determine the boundaries of acceptable investigation within an area of knowledge? Discuss with reference to two areas of knowledge.
How would you approach these questions?