Category Archives: IB Theory of Knowledge

Facts and feelings: knowing better by knowing ourselves

(Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) FACTS and FEELINGS: from what I read in today’s paper, there seems to be little public will to distinguish between these two when firmly asserting knowledge claims.  And from what I hear in science-based podcasts, our biased brains make it hard to do so even when we try.  As Theory of Knowledge teachers, aiming for thinking critically and appreciating what it takes to know, we’re tackling no lightweight project!  We might seriously welcome resources that give us support.  So today I’m recommending two I consider to be entertaining and helpful – a totally delightful book named Factfulness and a short video on why we can be so convinced we’re right.

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TOK Book Review: The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe: How to Know What’s Really Real in a World Increasingly Full of Fake.

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(Eileen Dombrowski from OUP blog) Published just last month, this book stands out as an excellent resource on critical thinking for teachers of Theory of Knowledge.  Do you already know neurologist and science educator Steven Novella? You may, like me, already be a fan of his keen analysis, clarity, and skill of combining vast knowledge with a light touch.  He’s now pulled together threads of critical commentary into a book I recommend most highly: The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe: How to Know What’s Really Real in a World Increasingly Full of Fake. Continue reading

Engaging TOK with the world…but softly

(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) This week, I want to add a couple of ideas, just lightly, to what I said last week. I was presenting an argument back then, feeling the urgency of TOK’s goal to engage critically with the world. In a more mellow mood today, I’m recommending much “softer” class materials, with a gentler touch that leaves educational goals implied.

After all, students surely learn more than we teach. Along with our explicit messages – the focused questions, the concepts we’re developing, the analytical tools we’re practising – we’re also communicating attitudes and values. We don’t have to spell out everything. By choosing materials and focusing examples with a bit of resonance, we can teach indirectly, giving support to both TOK and the broader IB. Continue reading

TOK double vision: lofty overview but critical engagement in the world

(Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) Remote or engaged? Can Theory of Knowledge have it both ways? In taking a meta-cognitive overview of knowledge, the course may appear to be cerebral and remote. But in teaching skills of thinking critically and evaluating perspectives, it is clearly engaged in life on the ground. How do we manage in TOK to maintain this double vision?

As an experienced teacher and blogger soon to retire, I’m writing today primarily to new TOK teachers, to offer some central ideas on our course before I go. Other experienced teachers who are also committed to applying the thinking skills of TOK to the world may have ideas of their own to add. Continue reading

Retraction of major research on eating: a failure in scientific methodology, or a corrective in the process?

(by Eileen Dombrowski from OUP blog) Shock waves in the human sciences! Six more of Brian Wansink’s published papers are being retracted, Cornell University announced September 20, bringing the total to 13, and the professor has resigned in disgrace.  It is not just scientific peers who are affected as Brian Wansink’s flawed methodology is exposed and his papers are withdrawn from journals. Millions of ordinary people have also been influenced by his research on “mindless eating.”  Nutritionists and marketers alike have also based decisions on his findings.  But – what do these retractions mean for the methodology of the sciences?  And – why should we seize on this example in Theory of Knowledge?

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“Crisis of authentication”: true art, false art, and the science of detection

Dombrowski forger detailCunning criminality is nothing new.  But the “faithful duplicity” of some recent forgeries has stunned art experts and shaken the markets and social organizations that envelop this area of knowledge.  Stories of stolen fortunes and international detective work however, can kick-start student interest as we use fake art to raise questions about real art. The TOK questions scream to be asked:  What is a “real” work of art if a forgery is indistinguishable?  What gives works of art their value?

Stories:  truth, fakery, and stupendous fraud

When we start in TOK with a Real Life Situation (RLS) – as our course evaluation puts it – we often get the advantage of the appeal of stories.  An excellent article in a recent Guardian Weekly gives us background for narration of modern fakes and provides an account of processes of authentication: The master detective.

In our contemporary context of electronic fakery of all kinds – including the “deep fakes” on which I recently blogged – it’s not surprising that the arms race between criminality and attempts at detection should escalate in the art world.  Continue reading

TOK Ethics: balancing detachment and engagement

(Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) It’s easy to spark discussion in TOK when the topic is Ethics.  This area of knowledge offers its own tinder, and a spark can quickly flame.  But what then?  How much should we fuel student engagement with the case studies or issues, and how much should we instead encourage them to take a giant step back?  In treating Ethics in Theory of Knowledge, we walk the line between two extremes, excessive engagement and excessive detachment.

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“Deepfakes” and TOK: more trouble ahead for critical thinking? 

(Eileen Dombrowski from OUP blog) Could the development in artificial intelligence dubbed “deepfakes” really “trigger social unrest, political controversy, international tensions” and “even lead to war”? Have our previous methods of telling fact from fiction been irremediably undermined? As teachers, we’re careening down new paths in evaluation of knowledge claims, trying to learn to steer in time to teach our students to drive!

Technology just got even more amazing, and our everyday critical thinking just got even more challenging. “Deepfakes” are not merely a mini-advance in digital adjustment of images and videos. Instead, they are developments in machine learning, as artificial intelligence learns and applies the algorithms to enable users to replace elements of a video with other ones not part of the original.  It is now possible for users to swap one person’s face with another’s, such as (in its early applications) replacing a porn performer’s face with a celebrity’s. It is now possible to create convincing videos of world leaders firmly saying things they did not say – in fact. In fact. Continue reading

“Stay cool. TOK teachers can handle this.” Astrology & belief.

180813 horoscope(Eileen Dombrowski from OUP blog) Are we on “the path back into darkness, tribalism, feudalism, superstition, and belief in magic”?  The apparent upsurge of belief in astrology has sent one of my favourite bloggers and podcasters, neurologist and skeptic Steven Novella, into a paroxysm of sheer frustration. How can anything so thoroughly debunked as astrology make inroads back into public belief?  But – stay cool, Steven! This is a job for Theory of Knowledge teachers!  It seems to me we’re in a perfect spot to raise questions about astrology – not with earnest annoyance but with humour and a light heart. Continue reading

“Art is dialogue about difficult subjects”

(Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) “Only art has the power to build bridges between communities,” asserts an art historian in response to a current exhibit in Srinigar, Kashmir.  One of the hosts of the exhibition similarly affirms, “Art is dialogue and conversation about difficult subjects.”  As TOK teachers, we have a world of examples to bring to class on art as an area of knowledge.  However, this current one, treated in the following article with brief interviews and backstories, is powerful in prompting thought and discussion on the role of art in communicating and creating knowledge:  The Kashmiri art bringing Hindus and Muslims together. Continue reading