A new version of the theory of knowledge (TOK) course was launched in 2020 with first assessment in 2022. It includes a number of exciting features, including three highlighted here.
TOK is a core element of the Diploma Programme (DP) and provides students with an opportunity to explore and reflect on the nature of knowledge and the process of knowing. The course centres on the exploration of knowledge questions such as “What counts as good evidence for a claim?”, “Are some types of knowledge less open to interpretation than others?”, or “What constraints should there be on the pursuit of knowledge?”.
New TOK themes
The new TOK course includes a core theme called “knowledge and the knower”. This theme encourages students to reflect on themselves as knowers and thinkers, and to consider the different communities of knowers to which they belong.
The course also gives students the opportunity to focus on themes such as “knowledge and technology”, “knowledge and politics”, and “knowledge and indigenous societies”. These themes explore issues that play a key role in shaping people’s perspectives and identities, as well as shaping the world around us.
New emphasis on ethics
Another feature of the new TOK course is that there is a strong emphasis on ethics throughout all parts of the course. Rather than having ethics as a dedicated topic within the course, ethics is now one of four headings that are explored within every theme and within every area of knowledge (along with other headings such as “methods and tools”.)
So. whether a student is exploring a theme such as “knowledge and technology” or an area of knowledge such as the arts, they will be engaging with ethics. They will be considering the importance of values, responsibilities and ethical concerns relating to the production, acquisition, application and communication of knowledge.
For example, when considering “knowledge and technology” students might consider how technology may exacerbate or mitigate unequal access to knowledge, or whether we should hold people responsible for the application of technologies they develop. When exploring the arts, students might consider the role of the arts in the development of our personal value systems, or ways in which the arts can challenge established moral values.
New TOK exhibition
The assessment of the TOK course consists of two tasks. The first is a 1600-word essay on a prescribed title, chosen from a list of six titles set by the IB for each assessment session.
The second assessment task is a “TOK exhibition”. This task explores how TOK manifests in the world around us. Students are required to create an exhibition of three objects that all link to a TOK prompt. For each object they also produce a short, written commentary that identifies each object and its specific real-world context, and justifies its inclusion in the exhibition.
This task really allows students to pick objects that are of personal interest and to see how TOK connects to their lives and to the world around them. This is strongly linked to one of the aims of TOK, which is to help equip students to effectively navigate and make sense of the world, and help prepare them to encounter novel and complex situations in their lives beyond school.