What are the principles that underpin IB Theory of Knowledge?

The IB learner profile lists 10 attributes which students are expected to acquire and develop throughout their study of the IB Diploma. Theory of Knowledge, a course in critical thinking, promotes the development of ‘reflective’, ‘inquirers’, and ‘thinkers’. The course encourages students to reflect on the subject specific knowledge claims and arguments that they will encounter in their six IB subjects. Furthermore, the course assumes that there’s a value to a deeper critical enquiry into knowledge questions and exploration of abstract concepts which underpin subject areas, including justification, certainty, evidence, value, or truth.

Students are encouraged to reflect on the interplay between shared knowledge claims (what ‘we know’) and personal knowledge claims (what ‘I know’). It requires an approach that avoids a lazy relativism that claims ‘anything goes’ or a scepticism that claims that ‘there’s no point because there are no better or worse answers’ or an absolutism that claims ‘there’s only one answer’.

Students are encouraged to rise to the intellectual challenge of asking and answering the questions, ‘what is it to know something?’ or ‘how do I know?’ When we claim to know something, we mean more than we simply believe it to be true; we mean that we have some justification beyond our own personal belief or wishful thinking.

There are different types and levels of justification which vary, depending on the subject area. For example in history knowledge claims might be justified on the basis of sound interpretation of the evidence whereas in the sciences, claims might be justified on the basis that they are the best fit with experimental data within the current paradigm that is consistent with other known facts.

In both assessed tasks, the essay and the presentation, students are expected to identify and then analyse answers to knowledge questions. Knowledge questions are explicitly about knowledge, open ended, and are phrased in TOK vocabulary. For example, ‘To what extent does science and history use a reliable method to gain knowledge? Or ‘How far might models and maps represent the truth in two areas of knowledge?’ In the presentation, students generate their own knowledge question from a real life situation. For the essay, students answer one knowledge question from a choice of 6 prescribed titles.

The emphasis in both assessed tasks is on analysis of knowledge questions, over description. Students might weigh up and evaluate the ways of knowing or so-called knowledge tools (reason, emotion, language, sense perception, memory, intuition, faith, imagination). The knowledge framework is a tool for analysis that enables students to compare two or more areas of knowledge. For example history and science could be compared in terms of 1) scope and applications, 2) key concepts, 3) methodology, 4) historical development, 5) links with personal knowledge.


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