Nine Tips on good Theory of Knowledge presentations
From online curriculum (Nicholas Alchin)
There is no general method or formula which is ‘correct’. You can probably ignore some of this advice and still do a good presentation… but following it may well help.
1 Familiarize yourself with the assessment criteria; notice, for example that whatever your topic, the focus must be on knowledge issues and that you should choose a contemporary issue.
2 Choose a concrete topic which interests you and find the TOK in it. TOK can be found almost anywhere, so use the opportunity to do something which you will enjoy doing. Do not just choose, say, the death penalty just because you have a book on it. Your presentation will come across much better if you choose something which means something to you personally; your own school, recent events in the news, cartoons, books and films are often fertile ground for presentation topics. Some of the most effective presentations start with an everyday story and go on to draw out the TOK aspects.
3 You should be exploring an issue; this means that you should present different points of view – even if they contradict each other and even if you disagree with them. You can try to reconcile different points of view or explain precisely why they are incompatible. You do not have to choose one point of view as ‘correct’, but you should avoid the rather vacuous ‘so there are different points of view all of which are equally valid’ approach. Do not be afraid of giving your own opinion; you can point out that there are problems with your opinion, but be honest and say what you really think!
4 Try to cover the facts quickly and get on to the abstract TOK principles. If you have chosen a topic where there are important facts that the audience needs to know then you should get through these quickly – there are no marks for dissemination of information. The focus of the presentation must be analysis, not description. If you can’t summarize the facts in a couple of minutes then you should give a summary to read beforehand.
5 Once you have drawn out the abstract TOK principles you should try to see what the implications of these principles are, and perhaps use these implications to reflect on the validity of the principles. For example, if you are considering the argument for the death penalty which states that murderers lose the right to life, the principle seems to be ‘an eye for an eye’. But you could ask ‘what do we do with a thief? Or a rapist?’ The answers to these questions may or may not lead to a reformulation of the principle.
6 Consider carefully how you communicate the structure your presentation. It may be clear in your mind, but the audience may not find it so easy. It can help to have one or two overheads with the main points in bullet form, using a large font.
7 Try to state explicitly the problems of knowledge that you are looking at. This will help you retain clarity and make it easier for an examiner to give you high marks in criterion A. If you use an overhead then this is an obvious place to list the problems.
8 If appropriate use a film clip, slides, photos, newspaper cutting or any other prop. Your presentation will probably be far more interesting if you can use something other than your voice!
9 In your conclusion try to summarize (very briefly – one or two sentences) what you have said, and try to end with a forward-looking view. This might be a summary of the main principles you have identified or some issues which have arisen and which have not been answered. Do not just reiterate your arguments. The end should ‘feel’ like a conclusion and not just be a ‘well that’s it’
Examples of Presentation Topics
The following examples, which have been found to be effective, offer ideas on the types of topics which would be appropriate for the oral presentation and illustrate ways that contemporary issues or events may be linked with knowledge issues.
- What is the relationship between the natural sciences and social responsibility? Choose a single recent scientific and/or technological development as a focus and consider its ethical implications. Who bears the moral responsibility for directing or limiting development of such knowledge, and on what basis can that responsibility be justified?
- How do the human sciences help us to understand many of the misunderstandings and frictions that frequently arise between groups of people? Identify a contemporary problem involving the interaction of groups (for example, ethnic, racial, socioeconomic, or religious groups) and consider the knowledge given by psychology, anthropology and economics. In what ways can these disciplines illuminate the causes and the characteristic of the problem? In what ways might they also be relevant to possible solutions? Are there other disciplines that would increase our understanding of the particular issue?
- Does history tell us the truth? Choose any single historical incident and use it to explore the nature and complexities of historical truth. In what ways is this exploration of the past relevant to an understanding of the present? Is there any contemporary incident it illuminates?
- How do we know whether we are acting in a “good” or “moral” way? Select any ethical issue and examine it from two or more possible ethical viewpoints. The purpose is to seek the differing grounds on which claims to justifying moral behavior may be made, not to prove that one way is the “right” way.
- On what bases do spiritual beliefs rest? Choose an example of a particular belief (for example, about the creation of the world or the nature of a life after death) and consider it from the point of view of atheism, and at least two major religions, presenting in each case the justifications that persuade the believers. Your goal is not to establish any religion as right or wrong, but to explore belief and justification. To what extent can spiritual belief be classified as knowledge.? Would denying a belief the status of knowledge decrease its value or significance?
- Identify an issue of interest in your local area (for example, genetically modified food in Germany, native land claims in Canada, construction of hydroelectric dams in Chile, the destruction of the Amazon forest in Brazil, or drug policy in The Netherlands) that introduces a conflict of concepts and values. Examine the facts, language, statistics, and images used by at least two sides in the conflict in their representation of the issue. In the process, identify assumptions, justifications, values, and emotions that diverge. To what extent can you find valid arguments?
- Identify an issue of global significance (for example, AIDS, genocide, refugees, abuses of human rights, desertification, pollution and global warming, and uneven distribution of world resources) that introduces a conflict of concepts and values. Examine the facts, language, statistics, and images used by at least two sides in the conflict in their representation of the issue. In the process, identify assumptions, justifications, values and emotions that diverge. To what extent can you find the truth of the issue?
- Select one new development in knowledge, and consider its effect on the discipline within which it has developed, and its challenge to ethics or other Areas of Knowledge. In science and technology, for example, you might focus on the human genome project, cloning, nuclear power, or the IT revolution. In the arts, you might focus on computer generated art or electronic music.
- Can purposely misleading the public be justified, as sometimes occurs in politics or advertising? Consider cases of intentional misinformation, or cases of the use of fallacious arguments, in these and other Areas of Knowledge such as science, the arts, or history.