The IB wrote a good guide to Knowledge Questions in 2009 linked here (they called KQ’s Knowledge Issues at that time). – this guide is well worth a read.
The current ToK Guide section on Knowledge Questions is also very good – linked here.
If you don’t want to read, then you could watch Wendy Heydorn’s YouTube video here (thanks Wendy !).
A Knowledge Question is, simply, a question about knowledge. It’s an enquiry about a problem with knowledge. A good Knowledge Question has 3 main features:
- Focusses on Knowledge, not on the specific content.
- Open Ended – there are a number of possible answers to the question
- General rather than specific – it looks at wider knowledge production rather than a specific case.
Start with the KQ ! Get the KQ right before you write !
The identification of the KQ should be the starting point for writing your ToK Essay, or when formulating your ToK Presentation.
The 2015 ToK Guide gives us an example of how you move from specific content to a good Knowledge Question:
Example 1: Future population growth in Africa
- Not a knowledge question: “How can we predict future population growth in Africa?” This is not a knowledge question because it is a technical question within the discipline of population studies.
- Good knowledge question: “How can a mathematical model give us knowledge even if it does not yield accurate predictions?” This is now sufficiently general and explores the purpose and nature of mathematical modelling.
Let’s look at some possible examples from the May 2015 Essay Titles:
Essay Title #1 : There is no such thing as a neutral question. Evaluate this statement with reference to two areas of knowledge.
A weak knowledge question: Are creationist scientists biased by faith ?
A stronger KQ : How can we measure bias in knowledge production in natural sciences ?
A weak knowledge question: is it possible to be a genius artist without much practice ?
A stronger KQ: To what extent is prior learning required for subsequent learning in The Arts ?
A weak KQ: How does culture prejudice the work of a Psychologist ?
A stronger KQ: How can we decontextualise the process of knowledge acquisition in the Human Sciences ?
Essay No. 2: There are only two ways that humankind can produce knowledge: through passive observation or or through active experiment” To what extent do you agree with this statement ?”
- A weak KQ: Why don’t all Physicists agree if they’re all using the same method of investigation ?
A stronger KQ: Does the framework of an identified ‘Area of Knowledge’ presuppose a varying degree of unified knowledge specific to that AoK ?
- A weak KQ: Are Eureka moments passive observation or active experimentation ?
A stronger KQ: Are there forms of knowledge production in addition to passive observation and active experimentation ?
Essay No.3: “There is no reason why we cannot link facts and theories across disciplines and create a common groundwork of explanation.” To what extent do you agree with this statement?
- Weak KQ: Can scientists be religious ?
Stronger KQ: Are disciplines essentially paradigmatic and, therefore, exclusive ?
- Weak KQ: Do scientific methods change participants behaviour when used in Psychological research ?
Stronger KQ: Does the process of knowledge production within any specific Area of Knowledge change that knowledge when interpreted in another Area of Knowledge ?
Essay No.4: “With reference to two areas of knowledge discuss the way in which shared knowledge can shape personal knowledge.”
Weak KQ: Could Einstein’s Eureka moment (the discovery of theory of relativity) really be considered personal knowledge when he had been taught maths and physics by others ?
Stronger KQ: How do we situate the ‘breakthrough’ moments of innovators within a shared knowledge system ?
Weak KQ: was the shift from Newtonian to Einsteinian Physics caused by personal or shared knowledge ?
Stronger KQ: How do we establish whether paradigm shifts are more likely in a loose shared knowledge system ?
Essay #5: “Ways of knowing are a check on our instinctive judgments.” To what extent do you agree with this statement?”
Weak KQ: Is intuition actually a combination of memory and perception when making decisions ?
Stronger KQ: How do we know whether judgments are a combination of various WoKs ?
Weak KQ: Does Lamarck’s theory of Epigenetics mean that instinctive judgments operate independently of the environment ?
Stronger KQ: How can we establish that an instinctive judgment operates as a response to the environment when that judgment may have been inherited from a response to an earlier, different, environment ?
Essay No. 6 : “The whole point of knowledge is to produce meaning and purpose in our personal lives. To what extent do you agree with this statement ?”
Weak KQ: Do religious people have more meaning in their lives than atheists ?
Stronger KQ: Are apparently internal ways of knowing (such as intuition, faith or emotion) more meaningful than apparently externally experienced ways of knowing (such as reason, sense perception or language) ?
Weak KQ: Why do some people seek out meaningless knowledge ?
Stronger KQ: Are meaning and purpose consonant concepts in relation to the acquisition of knowledge ?
These are just starting points for KQ’s for the 2015 essays. If you are writing a May 2015 you should work out themes for your essay in order to write your own Knowledge Questions.
Watch out for the Really Easy Guide to Knowledge Claims, coming soon !
Theory of knowledge is a required subject in the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme. It is similar to epistemology courses offered at many universities.
Unlike standard academic disciplines, the Theory of Knowledge course uses a process of discovering and sharing students' views on "knowledge questions" (an umbrella term for "everything that can be approached from a TOK point of view"), so "there is no end to the valid questions that may arise", "there are many different ways to approach TOK," "the sheer scope of the TOK course is daunting" and "teachers and students need the confidence to go too far outside their traditional comfort zones." Teachers have freedom to select a teaching methodology and course material that will convey the theoretical foundation of essential concepts and may provide an environment in which these concepts can be discussed and debated. The focus of the discussion should not be the differentiation between "right" and "wrong" ideas but on the quality of justification and a balanced approach to the knowledge claim in question.
The TOK course uses a combination, in no particular order ("many entry points and sequences are possible"):
- Ways of knowing: (sense perception, reason, emotion, faith, imagination, intuition, memory, and language). How do we gain knowledge of the world, and what are the advantages and disadvantages of each way in which we learn of the world and our place in it. Until the fall of 2014, there were only four ways of knowing (sense perception, reason, emotion, and language, but the IB curriculum then changed to include four other ways of knowing: intuition, imagination, faith, and memory).
- Areas of knowledge (mathematics, natural sciences, human sciences, history, religious knowledge systems, indigenous knowledge systems, the arts and ethics): their distinct natures and methods of gaining knowledge, the types of claim each makes and the issues to consider (e.g., "How do you know that the scientific method is a valid method of gaining knowledge?", "What is the reason for having historical knowledge, and how is it applied in life?"). The IB originally had six areas of knowledge: mathematics, natural sciences, human sciences, history, the arts and ethics. In the fall of 2014, the IB curriculum changed to include two more areas of knowledge: religious knowledge systems and indigenous knowledge systems.
- Factors that transcend individual ways of knowing and areas of knowledge:
- Nature of knowing: what are the differences between information, data, belief, faith, opinion, knowledge and wisdom?
- Knowledge communities: what is taken for granted in a community? How can we decide which beliefs we ought to check further?
- Knowers' perspective and applications of knowledge: how do age, education, culture and experience influence selection of sources and formation of knowledge claims? If you know something, or how to do something, do you have a responsibility to use your knowledge?
- Justifications of knowledge claims: why should claims be assessed critically? Are logic, sensory perception, revelation, faith, memory, consensus, intuition, and self-awareness equally reliable justifications? Use of coherence, correspondence, pragmatism, and consensus as criteria of truth.
The TOK course is expected to involve 100 teaching hours over the two years of the Diploma Programme. Having followed the course, students should be competent to analyse knowledge claims and respond to knowledge issues in the context of different areas of knowledge and ways of knowing, expressing ideas accurately and honestly, using examples from their own experiences as learners and in outside life.
Theory of knowledge is assessed in two parts: an externally examined 1,200–1,600 word essay and an internally assessed presentation. Each part is scored using assessment criteria (four criteria for the essay and four for the presentation) that describe levels of achievement (e.g., "The inquiry explores knowledge issues. Most points are justified; most arguments are coherent. Some counterclaims are considered." describes level 5–6 in one of the essay criteria). The total score is converted into a grade from A to E. A similar system is used for the extended essay and students can gain up to 3 points for the diploma based on the grades achieved for TOK and EE. No diploma is awarded if a candidate fails to submit either the TOK essay or TOK presentation, or receives grade E for either the extended essay or theory of knowledge.
|Theory of Knowledge|
|Source: The diploma points matrix. May 2015 onwards|
For each exam session the IB prescribes 6 essay titles from which students must choose, e.g., "All knowledge claims should be open to rational criticism. On what grounds and to what extent would you agree with this assertion?" Each title raises generic cross-disciplinary questions about knowledge, and the student is expected to consider the issues raised in the title and reach conclusions about them. The essay should put forward claims and counterclaims, linking knowledge issues to areas of knowledge and ways of knowing, and show evidence of original thinking by the student. Essays over the maximum word count of 1,600 are penalised with a one mark reduction, and any content beyond the 1600th word of the essay is not read by the examiner.
During the Theory of Knowledge course, students must plan and deliver at least one (in individual or small group, maximum three students) presentation to the class. The topic should be based on a real-life situation of interest to the student, e.g. "Reliability of media reporting of science", "What makes something a work of art?" and the presentation is expected to show why the topic is significant, linking it to a relevant main knowledge question (KQ), and discussing those issues and examining the implications of approaching the question from different perspectives, given by WOKs (ways of knowing), taken through one or two of the AOKs (Areas of knowledge). Teachers have wide latitude to help with topic selection and identifying suitable approaches. About ten minutes should be allowed for each presenter, and almost any form is permitted (e.g. debates, games, skits, interviews etc.) except reading an essay aloud. If a candidate reads an essay, they are very likely to fail. Your interaction with the audience should not in any way distract its attention from your TOK inquiry. It's better to avoid conditionals defining and announcing your statement as a danger of falling into a philosophical reasoning and sidetracking a real life situation appears right away. Don't forget: you are reporting your personal opinion not what you have found out exploring RLS.