Theory of Knowledge -Presentations

Last week the DP 2 students made their final Theory of Knowledge presentations before an audience of their peers and teachers.

The Theory of Knowledge course, one of the core components of the Diploma Programme, gives students the opportunity to critically reflect on their own learning in different Areas of Knowledge. They explore how Ways of Knowing (such as reason, language, emotion, memory and sense perception) interact in order to produce knowledge and examine the ways in which knowledge claims are justified across the subject disciplines.

The presentation requires students to showcase their TOK skills by identifying a real-life situation and extracting a knowledge question related to this real-life situation. They then conduct a TOK-style analysis by developing the knowledge question and relating their findings back to their real-life situation as well as to other real-life situations.

The presentation topics selected by the students were impressively diverse.

They included the following:

  • The “fearless girl” statue on Wall Street and the importance of context in how we define and value art.
  • Recent advances in robotics technology and the question of whether artificial intelligence can emulate or surpass human intelligence.
  • The Aylan Kurdi photograph and the global response to the Syrian refugee crisis: the role of emotion versus reason in influencing our moral and ethical decisions.
  • Crazy geniuses like Van Gogh and St. Paul: the role played by Ways of Knowing in shaping our ever-changing notions of intelligence and insanity.
  • The recent controversy surrounding a Harvey Weinstein joke: political correctness and the importance of language in moulding our ideas and societies.
  • The Innocence Project and the question of whether knowledge derived from eye-witness testimony and evidence based on memory can ever be considered reliable.
  • Picasso and the bombing of Guernica: can art “tell the truth” more effectively than history?

On the whole the students made well-planned presentations that were typically thoughtful, often controversial, and occasionally provocative. TOK is unusual (difficult even) in that it urges us to think again, to re-examine our basic values and assumptions about the nature of things. In short, it is a course in intellectual risk-taking. As a teacher, I like to think of the TOK presentations not only as a celebration of student achievement, but also as an essential part of my own growth as a lifelong learner. This year the students did not let me down: their presentations were full of novel perspectives and original and challenging insights.

On a final note, it takes great courage for a young person to make a ten minute-long presentation – on the subject of knowledge itself, no less – to a large group of peers and teachers. Our students proved themselves more than equal to this challenge. They can be rightly proud of their efforts.

Peter Clinton

Student Reflections

Yash Kshirsagar: The TOK presentation gave us a chance to explore a topic beyond the academics we normally study in school. For example, my presentation was about the impact of a photograph on the international response to the Syrian refugee crisis. I was already familiar with this subject but through Theory of Knowledge I was able to question why a photograph caused such an impressive worldwide response when simple reasoning was pointing in that direction all along. A common assumption is that ethical decision-making is primarily a product of rational thinking. However, I concluded that emotion plays a causal role in its interaction with reason and subsequently in ethical decision-making. The Theory of Knowledge presentations were an extravagant learning experience. They involved not only the formulation of the presentation and the ideas behind that, but also observing how our peers interpreted the role that Theory of Knowledge plays in our daily lives.

Patrycja Stanislawa Skiba: The Innocence Project is an organization which provides assistance to wrongly convicted persons to overturn their convictions on the basis of DNA evidence. This organization helped 350 individuals prove their innocence. What is important is that 75% of these wrong convictions were established on the basis of mistaken eyewitness testimony. My presentation explored the questionable reliability of observation and memory. It allowed me to challenge the reliance on observation by different methodologies in various Areas of Knowledge. I found it very depressing that despite the overwhelming evidence for the inaccuracy of observation, it is often used as a central means of knowledge acquisition. Applying this to the real life situation lead me to question how the criminal justice system can rely so heavily on something which can be so easily skewed and fabricated (especially in the context of highly emotional situations, like crimes) for deciding convictions. Relying on “evidence” that is clearly prone to bias and prejudice for life-changing decisions is definitely something that should be reevaluated by authorities.

Akirno: My presentation looked at our modern-day knowledge of mental illnesses and the way in which our understanding of madness has changed over time. It explored the fine line between genius and madness and in two Areas of Knowledge, art and religion, through the lens of Ways of Knowing such as sense perception and imagination. Over several days I read many articles on the subject, about troubled artists and mad prophets. I struggled with condensing a swirling morass of thoughts into the linear structure of a TOK presentation, but I think my strategy of minimalistic slides, coupled with several-minute-long explanations from my own understanding, led to an interesting and certainly memorable experience for the audience.

Adwait: The Theory of Knowledge presentation is one of the most exciting part of the DP core. It allows us to explore and question knowledge itself and to relate our conclusions to different real-life situations. In our presentation we explored the factors that make humans unique/different from artificial intelligence. This topic is very relevant to our lives as we often use virtual “assistants” such as Google Assistant and Siri. We concluded that humans are different to AI as we have consciousness and can express emotions. We also integrate several WOKs in order to reach conclusions, whereas AI relies on just use one or two WOKs – most notably reason.

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