How to pick your TOK presentation title
RIGHT this post is being made because there's an almost endless supply of people who pick very bad TOK presentation titles and it's always for the same reason: they don't really understand what the TOK presentation is about! SO listen up everybody and pay close attention to my attempts to dispel the TOK myths and stop people putting loads of effort into a presentation which is doomed from the start!
1. What do they mean when they say to pick a Knowledge Issue?
The answer is frankly that the phrase 'knowledge issue' is very misleading, in my opinion. I certainly didn't have any idea what one was for most of the time I did TOK. Just think of 'knowledge issue' as a complicated way of saying 'a topic which can be analysed using the TOK pentagram thingy'. What is the TOK pentagram thingy? Well by that I mean the Ways of Knowing (emotion/reason/sense-perception/language) which in the IB diagram is surrounded by the Areas of Knowledge (Humanities, Human Sciences etc). If you've never been forced to draw the TOK pentagram in a lesson, you can view it in all its rubbish glory by clicking here. So a 'knowledge issue' is any topic which can be discussed or analysed in the context of the Ways of Knowing (and the Areas of Knowledge).
You may well be. Keep reading! Or just skip the next heading and go to no. 3.
2. Do they mean to pick an ethical dilemma?
No, no and NO. Thousands of IB students misunderstanding TOK up and down the land seem to have a thought process which (understandably but also wrongly) goes along the lines of:
TOK = Philosophy = ...ethics = are things right or wrong??
This is not good. TOK is supposedly a branch of Philosophy but that's as far as it goes. A knowledge issue is not "is _____* right or wrong?"
* = abortion, nuclear war, creationism... and so on.
Don't write about ethics, don't touch ethics, don't go near ethics. Ethics and TOK are like oil and water. They do not mix. An area of knowledge may well be ethics but I guarantee you that almost anybody trying to put ethics into their TOK presentation will fail to write about the TOK aspects and just start writing about ethics. So take Kant, Utilitarianism, Relativism and anything else you may have proudly learnt the rudiments of, and stuff them in a bag for later. Or if you take IB Philosophy, they'll go down well there
3. Okay so what DO they want from me??
This is the best question because it's not about what they MEAN by knowledge issue etc. that is going to help you do well, but rather what they want from you which is the key to success and being able to pick a good TOK presentation title. Always think of it in these terms and you'll be able to tell whether you're on the right lines or drifting dangerously off course.
Effectively they want you to answer the following question: How do we know what we know? specifically using their method of the Ways of Knowing/Areas of Knowledge in your explanation.
4. So... what do they mean by how do we know what we know?
How do we know what we know about X? = using the 4 ways of knowing (reason, sense-perception, emotion, language), how do these 4 things interact and come together to form the knowledge that we have about subject X.
For instance, how do we know that this pen is yellow?
This isn't an endlessly deep philosophical question (in this instance) because this is a TOK lesson so they want you to copy/paste from the TOK pentagram. So think to yourself: what are the 4 ways of knowing and how do we use those to know the pen is yellow? Well, maybe somebody told you it was yellow (language), maybe you were told that it was the third colour of the rainbow (reason), maybe you were just shown it (sense-perception). I'm not sure how you'd emotionally find out it was yellow, but you get my gist - basically you are applying the 4 ways of knowing to something and then claiming that those ways of knowing form the "How" of the question "How do we know what we know?".
5. I get it now, but how is "this pen is yellow" a knowledge issue?
Yeah, it's not a knowledge issue. Or rather, technically it is, but it's such a simple one that you couldn't do a presentation on it. Now that you've got the hang of the fact we're looking for SOMETHING to which to apply the 4 ways of knowing, we can look for a proper issue to get your teeth into. My advice is to think of something which is either an assumption or a decision that we make relatively unthinkingly. For instance, "How do we know which charity to donate to?" or "How do we know whether literature is 'good'?".
THEN think your way through the 4 ways of knowing to see whether you can apply them (in which case, congratulations, you're going down the right lines!). Can you think of a way in which we use that way of knowing to come to a conclusion about your new 'knowledge issue'?
6. How does it become an 'issue' exactly? I seem to just be narrating things...
In many ways this is the crux of the presentation and the whole point of TOK (to get you to consider this). This is the point at which you say "Well, I know about whether literature is good or not via reason because I assume that anything which has sold 10,000 copies MUST be good..." and then go "actually wait, reason requires things to follow logically - but actually, does this logically follow?".
Well that's what you have to discuss! Your argument as it stands is:
1. People only buy books if they're good
2. 10,000 people have bought this book
3. Therefore the book is good.
...but does number 1 really make sense? What about advertising? 10,000 people might buy a really bad book if they see loads of adverts for it. Was the book a set text for the national curriculum? Plenty of people would have to buy it then And so on. Basically it's looking at the knowledge we have and checking it for mistakes and THAT is why it's an 'issue' and why TOK is meant to be helpful. If you're the kind of person who never questions why they think things, or thinks "hang on a sec, maybe I'm just assuming something which might not be true..." then TOK may be a revelation to you.
This is where you go crazy with stuff like appeals to emotion, bias, censorship etc etc. and start looking into how the way in which we have come about the knowledge might fail to give us a complete picture of the 'truthful' version of that knowledge. Reason, emotion, sense/perception and language have a lot of issues in terms of ways in which they can help and hinder you, and it is now your job to suss these out and make them into a presentation! Essentially: How do they help you/let you down in terms of finding the 'truth' for the knowledge you've chosen as knowledge issue?
BUT make sure you talk about the 4 ways of knowing (or however many apply, you might not need/be able to use all 4) and not just about bias/censorship/any key words other than the ways of knowing if you want to get your marks!
7. So do all TOK titles have to be in the format "How do we know what we know about X?"
Nope, have free rein and go wild. Just make sure you can apply the 4 ways of knowing and that you're examining HOW we come to know about the issue.
8. Link it to a real-life scenario/example wherever possible.
Okay, this isn't a suggestion, this is a command. Find an example, invent an imaginary example, whatever. You get bonus points for this, so do it 'cause it's easy. For the "How do we know what literature is good?" scenario, I might look at the real-life scenario of literature picked to be taught in schools or literature put in the 'Classics' section of a bookshop, or perhaps literary prizes. All scenarios where we have to ask about good literature, and all real-life examples which you can theme your presentation around. The TOK examiners get very sad when they realise that TOK is essentially just another random overlay of bull**** onto real life, so they are made VERY happy indeed by seeing you give a real-life example to prove that TOK is indeed relevant to reality. Even if it isn't. If you fail to link the TOK pentagram to a real-life issue, you can wave goodbye to a hefty chunk of marks. Bonus points if it's a personal example of an issue or uses personal experiences (even if you make them up) because if there's anything the examiners love more than pretending TOK is relevant to real life, it's pretending that TOK is relevant to YOUR life in particular. You definitely need to do this in the essay - for the presentation, you don't have to use a personal example necessarily, but every little helps.
9. Did I mention... DON'T TOUCH ETHICS!!!!
Because honestly this is the hardest one for people to accept. TOK teachers might ask you ethical questions in lessons because they're trying to engage you and make you interested (and let's face it, once you stop pretending it's relevant to ethical dilemmas it becomes about 110% less interesting...), but they WILL NOT AWARD YOU MARKS for talking about ethics rather than TOK - no matter how insightful and interesting your presentation on ethics may or may not be.
In summary, the answer to the question "Is this a good TOK presentation title?" can be solved via a simple litmus test.
- Can you attach it to a real-life example?
- Can you discuss it in the context of the 4 Ways of Knowing? (Or if not all 4, in the context of a few of them).
If yes: Excellent work!
If no: Think again, find a new topic. Go to jail, do not pass GO, do not collect £200 etc. and give up on this idea with immediate effect.
MOST IMPORTANTLY: Do not select an ethical dilemma! ...or if you do, can't say I didn't warn you and work your little socks off to make sure you definitely talk about TOK and not ethics.
Hopefully this helps. TOK is quite a big and ill-defined subject so if anybody has any other ideas or techniques to get good TOK presentations, please do contribute them and I'll add it in. This is just my version. I apologise that the format of this is perhaps not so useful, but if you DO read all the way through it in order, then it does make sense. I promise. Oh and remember ALWAYS READ THE MARKING CRITERIA!
Now please kindly read this thread which has loads of helpful tips for getting on with your TOK Presentation after you've come up with a title! - TOK PRESENTATION GUIDE http://www.ibsurviva...entation-guide/
Oh and one final thing - if you send me a PM asking me how you'd approach this great TOK title you came up with "How do we know whether literature is 'good'?" or for any other examples you've nicked off this thread, you should expect in advance to receive no reply. For obvious reasons! Do a bit of your own work, chum, or at least don't insult me by asking for my feedback on my own ideas. This has happened - I am not amused.