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Guest Post: Commentary On New Theory of Knowledge Guide

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As regular readers know, in addition to sharing my thoughts on the new International Baccalaureate Theory of Knowledge Guide, I’ve been publishing guest posts from TOK textbook authors and educators from around the world. You can see them all at The Best Commentaries On The New IB Theory Of Knowledge Teaching Guide.

Today’s post is by Michael Dunn, creator of theoryofknowledge.net.

Michael Dunn is the creator of theoryofknowledge.net, and CEO of Kuvu Tutors. theoryofknowledge.net is also now offering PD courses for new TOK teachers. He can be contacted at [email protected].

In with the new, out with the old: thoughts on the 2015 TOK curriculum

by Michael Dunn

Charles Kettering observed that ‘people are very open-minded about new things – as long as they’re exactly like the old things’. I have had this on my mind as I have been mulling over the new TOK curriculum for 2015 exam takers, updating my theoryofknowledge.net site to cater for the changes, and helping both teachers and students acclimatize to the new additions. I have tried to remain positive, and on the whole, have succeeded.

I have to admit, though, my initial feelings were not so warm. Although the ‘old’ course had its problems, such as the nebulously worded assessment criteria for the essay, the terminology over the role of knowledge issues and knowledge claims, and the amount of content to be covered in so short a time, I have always been enthusiastic about the way the course worked. So it was with dismay that I read through the new guide to discover that the weaknesses of TOK seemed to have been compounded, and the strengths compromised. For example, it seemed crazy to add four new ways of knowing, two of which (intuition and imagination) looked desperately hard to get a handle on. One of the new AOKs, indigenous knowledge systems, whilst admirable in terms of political correctness, just seemed unmanageable. Nor could I see how reducing the marks (and criteria) on offer for both the essay and presentation could add to the accuracy of marking. Finally, I was very worried indeed about the addition of the ‘knowledge framework’. The new knowledge journey that this imposed on the AOKs seemed clunky at best, and hopelessly convoluted at worst.

However, having begun to make notes on the new course, collect quotes from appropriate thinkers on the new WOKs and WOKs, and update my mentoring course for new TOK teachers, I have begun to like many of the additions. Obviously, you don’t have to cover the new ways of knowing, and you can instead stick with the four old ones if you want. But I warmly welcome the addition of faith, and I’m very keen to explore memory, so I will definitely be updating what I teach. I’ve always included something on religion, so that will also be formally added to the repertoire of my students. IKS, too, is incredibly engaging after you have researched it a little, although I’m still not sure that it is fully accessible due to its massive breadth. And – this was my biggest surprise – the clunky knowledge framework doesn’t have to be clunky at all. I think it provides a handy way to explore the areas of knowledge, and a great way of constructing a comparative framework that can be applied to them. I think changing ‘knowledge issues’ to ‘knowledge questions’ is also a big step forward, and clarifies things for students (which is, after all, what we should be trying to do as much as possible).

I’m not convinced about the new criteria for the essay and presentation; we’ll see how they work as students begin writing them. But overall, even the aspects of the new course that aren’t exactly like the old one, work well for me, and breathe new life into what I believe is the most exciting element of the IB Diploma.

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Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.

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