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					Theory of knowledge presen tation exemplar materials


These support materials focus on teaching issues rather than on assessment. The technical quality of the
recordings is not ideal but there are still many lessons that can be learnt from them. Outlines of the
presentations are included in these notes to help viewers follow the recordings.

The three presentations show different approaches to theory of knowledge (TOK) presentations. Although some
were staged specifically for use in these exemplar materials, all the students and teachers involved were
accustomed to working with the ―old‖ presentation guidelines and assessment criteria (from the Theory of
knowledge guide published in 1999). More experience of working with the new guide (published in 2006) is
needed before participants and senior examiners will be fully confident about all its practical implications.

Two extracts and one complete presentation are included. It is suggested that they are viewed in the order in
which they are presented here. The second extract is the most difficult to follow but raises some of the most
interesting questions.

An inescapable problem is the difficulty of determining, on the evidence of video-recordings alone, exactly what
took place. For example, were the students nervous or inhibited because they were being filmed? Would there
have been a different kind of interaction between presenters and audience if the camera had not been there?
What kind of pre-existing knowledge of the issues discussed did the presenters rightly attribute to the audience?
Nevertheless, it is quite easy to identify some strengths and weaknesses in each of these exemplars. Following
on from this, and thinking of these as ―practice‖ presentations, it is useful to consider what advice could be
given to students to improve future performance.

The emphasis in these materials is, therefore, qualitative rather than quantitative, although an indication of
possible marks is given for the one complete presentation.

As local circumstances can be an important influence in many ways, including the selection of topic, the context
has been given for each of these presentations.

General points

There are two clear tasks for the presentation.

•    Firstly, it must describe a substantive real-life situation and link it clearly to a knowledge issue.

•    Secondly, it must explore the knowledge issue raised and arrive at an appropriate response using the
     skills and knowledge gained from the TOK course.

The teacher may assist students in completing the presentation planning document (PPD) by encouraging the
identification of knowledge issues relevant to their presentation, such as the links to ways of knowing and areas
of knowledge, the examination of different perspectives and counter-arguments, and the relevance of
―knowledge at work‖ (reaching towards a synthesis or resolution of issues).

While the real-life situation may lend itself naturally to a description via a dramatization, role-play or skit, the
knowledge issue embedded in it may often require the student(s) to step out of the role-play and provide some
sort of parallel commentary or analysis. This can be resolved by presentational ingenuity, for example, using a
projector to make the knowledge issue clear on a screen, or having a third student commentate on issues
raised. What is essential is an analytical, rather than merely descriptive, approach. Technological aids such as
MS PowerPoint® presentations or videos can be useful tools, but the most important presentational skill is
active engagement with the audience. This is one reason why extensive reading during the presentation is not

In some of the presentations included here, a weakness is that knowledge issues, once identified, are not
treated in any depth. The change in terminology from ―problems of knowledge‖ to ―knowledge issues‖ in the new
guide is not merely cosmetic. The reason for the change is that the presentation (and also the essay) is not
merely an exercise in identifying problems of knowledge. It is not sufficient to take an unreflect ive sceptical or
relativist position—what might be called ―lazy scepticism‖ or ―easy relativism‖. A knowledge issue that clearly
relates to a real-life situation is one that demands to be resolved in some way, however difficult this may be. At
the end of the presentation we should be further advanced in our thinking than at the start, even if it is not
possible to come to specific or definitive conclusions.

Hence the major question that follows from the identification of knowledge issues is:

•    how can we make progress regarding these knowledge issues?
Presentation 1: Plastic surgery

This extract is from a state school in central Sweden. Both students (Swedish and Peruvian) are presenting in a
second language. They are both hoping to pursue a career in medicine. The father of one student is a plastic
surgeon, hence the link with the topic under discussion.

Outline of the presentation
In the early part of the extract, the presenters established a number of distinctions that established the scope of
the topic, culminating in the construction of a Venn diagram, which offered a visual summary. The principal
distinction between types of plastic surgery was presented as the difference between reconstructive and
cosmetic procedures—an apparently watertight division upon which decisions concerning operation and funding
could reliably be made. Consequently, a stronger case could be made for medically prioritizing and publicly
funding the former than the latter.

Subsequently, with the help of two examples, the existence of a troublesome ―grey area‖ was established.
These examples illustrate two situations where surgery is a possibility that seem to be objectively
interchangeable but morally distinguishable. There seems to be no obvious categorical distinction between cleft
lip surgery and breast reconstruction inasmuch as they are both beneficial to the patient in achieving social and
psychological ―normality‖. However, it would seem that the former example has a stronger moral imperative
than the latter. It was not clear whether this can be resolved (or indeed the distinction blurred further) by a
closer inspection of what might be understood by ―normality‖. This could be taken to mean what is socially and
psychologically acceptable or what is ―natural‖ (that is, has arisen without external interference). Moreover,
opinions about ―normality‖ will vary from place to place. It is here that the excerpt ends.

Strengths and weaknesses of the presentation
The presenters chose a topic that is likely to be inherently interesting to a wide range of students. Of particular
merit is the fact that the topic relates directly to dilemmas faced by doctors in their professional work—decisions
that cannot be shirked and have life-altering consequences for patients. Thus the topic can be considered to be
highly significant.

The manner in which the presenters succeeded in making conceptual distinctions constituted one of the main
strengths of the presentation. This enabled the students to proceed with a very clear analysis of the topic, with
each distinction building on the previous ones. Good presentation skills were demonstrated through the
judicious use of MS PowerPoint® slides, with simple layout and few bullet points, which supported the
presentation but were never allowed to dominate it. Good technique was also shown by the presenters in
anticipating potential questions from the audience by articulating them and flagging them for later discussion.

Despite the sustained conceptual clarity of the presentation, the audience was required to make a substantial
effort to clarify the central knowledge issue, which seemed to concern the ―grey area‖ previously mentioned. If
the issue had been made more explicit at an earlier stage, it is likely that the rest of the sophisti cated analysis
would have fallen neatly into place around it.
Comments by criterion
A: Identification of knowledge issue
The real-life situation in this presentation concerns medical decision-making in the field of surgery. The central
knowledge issue is implicit throughout, but never made explicit for all to inspect. Indeed, it takes a concentrated
effort in order to identify it precisely. Perhaps it could be articulated as follows: on what basis can we know how
to treat situations that are objectively similar but morally distinguishable?

B: Treatment of knowledge issues
There is a clear sense of progression throughout the presentation. Although a central knowledge issue is only
implicitly identified, the clear presentational style and appropriate use of resources indicate a good
understanding of a cluster of related knowledge issues. The use of a Venn diagram is an instance of classical
critical thinking, exploring the validity of a distinction.

C: Knower’s perspective
The analytical approach that is employed serves the arguments well, rendering them both effective and easy to
follow and appraise. The two examples chosen are highly appropriate, rendering both the dilemma itself, and
the significance of the topic as a whole, more immediate. They are also striking and call attention to themselves
and the surrounding debate.

D: Connections
The presentation provides the opportunity to consider different perspectives, such as physical and
psychological pain, different notions of normality, binary logic and fuzzy alternatives. The implications of these
various perspectives were scarcely treated in this excerpt—perhaps the broader field of medical ethics and
doctor training could have been explored.

Hints for future presentations
While the significance of the topic was made clear, it would have been worthwhile to say something reflexively
about the broader significance of the analytical procedure itself for clarifying concepts and reaching conclusions
about knowledge. It could have been mentioned that the deployment of the Venn diagram represented the
transfer of a technique from one area of knowledge into another.

The knowledge issue should be signposted clearly at an early stage of the presentation. This need not be done
right at the start if the issue requires a short preamble in order to clarify it, but a relatively early statement helps
the audience to focus.
Presentation 2: Culture and identity

This presentation, a representative extract from a much longer presentation, is from a private school in southern
Ghana. The participating students in this group are all Ghanaian. The school has a clear pan-African mission
and the topic chosen for this presentation has great resonance for the students as it relates to their experiences
of living in a community of Africans from around the continent, as well as to their links with western countries
such as the United Kingdom and the United States of America.

Outline of the presentation
The presenters chose a topic concerning the influence of multiple cultures, and how this may shape the identity
of individual knowers. They chose to develop the topic through a dual approach: a series of role-playing skits,
supported by a section of analysis and reflection on the issues raised. Beginning with some useful definitions of
culture, including ―the work of invisible influences‖, the first skit explored the differences between a mother and
daughter in their attitudes to dress. The ―daughter‖ pointedly referred to dress styles and fashion imported from
outside (such as dress in Britain), as opposed to the more traditional African dress style of the ―mother‖. The
differences between the daughter and mother were linked to different assumptions, seen as ―the mother of all
misconceptions‖. In the commentary, viewers were asked to look beyond emotion to the deeper cultural factor
of ―paternalism‖ (the internalization of traditional norms) versus ―autonomy‖, and a series of questions were
raised on the implications of belonging to more than one culture.

The second skit dramatized the attempt by some black Americans to reclaim their ―African‖ heritage, and the
difficulties they faced in achieving acceptance while still belonging to another culture. Apart from the language
barrier, the skit also highlighted the cultural dynamic of change in African societies, and the ―American’s‖ out-
dated knowledge from history books. The commentary raised questions on the difficulties of adopting a new
culture and trying to reclaim a historical cultural identity.

Strengths and weaknesses of the presentation
This overarching knowledge issue is of particular relevance in societies undergoing rapid transition from
―tradition‖ to ―modernity‖ (like many African and Asian nations), but is equally meaningful for multicultural
industrialized societies. The specific situations examined in the presentation related directly to the students’ life
experiences. In this sense, the choice of topic was excellent. The presentation was engaging and entertaining,
particularly in the skits, and provided ample evidence of meticulous prior planning and rehearsal. The
simultaneous use of a simple MS PowerPoint® presentation helped to clarify the structure and focus that was
intended by the group.

Despite these strengths, the presentation failed to develop a clear knowledge purpose. While the presenters
raised several important questions on cultural change, adaptation, and identity, they did not link them
specifically to knowledge issues, or to how an understanding of these issues would enable one to make choices
or to see how knowledge works in the world. While it may have been difficult to fully or finally resolve a single
significant knowledge issue, particularly in a dynamic issue like cultural change, the desired sense of
progression was not strongly apparent. The presentation highlighted some of the drawbacks of working in a
large group (in this case, five students). For example, the connections between different role-playing situations
were not clearly established.
Comments by criterion
A: Identification of knowledge issue
The presentation did not identify a precise knowledge issue relevant to the real -life situation under
consideration. Knowledge issues may relate to the ways of knowing relevant to cultural change, adaptation, and
identity, and to how these may be balanced in making choices. A precise identification would have enabled the
whole presentation to succeed.

B: Treatment of knowledge issues
This was a good example of a different kind of treatment of a knowledge issue—approaching an understanding
through exploring diverse ideas in the group/community—but the presentation did not carry it forward towards a
synthesis. There was no evaluation of the claims and their relative weight, and no connections made between
the different segments of the presentation.

C: Knower’s perspective
Personal involvement was evident in the links to the local situation and the clear range of examples used. The
significance of the topic could have been demonstrated better with a more precise understanding and
exposition of knowledge issues.

D: Connections
The presentation included different perspectives, and explored them to some extent. However, the quantity of
questions raised was not matched by the quality of the connections (more breadth than depth was evident), and
implications in related areas were not considered since there was no evaluation of knowledge issues.

Hints for future presentations
The presenters should be encouraged to reflect on the implications of possible answers to the many questions
they raised during the presentation, both in general and for themselves as knowers. This is what is meant by
the sense of progression, or intellectual journey, and it could perhaps take the form of the exclusion of some of
these possible answers, or perhaps a personal statement from the presenters on how they deal with questions
of cultural change and identity.

Students should be encouraged to think about the potential effect of group size on the nature of their
presentation. While the scope for deep and extended treatment of knowledge issues is enhanced in proportion
to the number of contributors, larger groups need to put a lot of effort into the coordination of the whole, and
perhaps pay particular attention to holding the attention of their audience and maintaining the presentation’s
focus. Each member of such a group must be prepared to make their own worthwhile contribution.
Presentation 3: Banning video games

This complete presentation comes from a private school in Peru. Neither student is presenting in his first

Outline of the presentation
The presentation treats the topic "Should video games be banned?" It is set up as a television interview
between a journalist and a politician. The politician is presented as being in favour of the banning of video
games while the interviewer puts forward counter-arguments.

On one hand, playing video games distracts students from their school work (graphically illustrated using video
footage of two classrooms with and without the offending video games). Moreover, video games can result in
violent behaviour and are killing simulators. The game Bully is asserted as portraying the Columbine massacre.
On the other hand, the counter-arguments centre on the idea that video games can act as a release for
potential violent urges.

The role of empirical evidence is briefly discussed. Statistical data cannot conclusively prove a causal
connection, it is argued, but does that mean that the link suggested by such evidence has no validity?

In a further stage of the argument, it is stated that video games are making children anti-social, in the sense that
they remove human contact. However, playing these games interactively on the Internet could be argued to be
a form of social interaction, and may be beneficial for children who are ―unpopular‖.

The politician suggests that video games reduce the language abilities of the players, prevent formulation of
ethical thinking, and cause deviation from the ―normal‖. There is a discussion about what constitutes the
―normal‖, and it is claimed that language is evolving continuously.

Finally the politician talks about freedom of the individual needing to be limited, in this case to ―protect the
freedom of others‖.

Strengths and weaknesses of the presentation
The ―talk show‖ format works well in illustrating the real-life situation. It is engaging and allows the presentation
of opposing points of view with maximum clarity. The choice of format, the examples chosen, and the form of
the arguments all show personal involvement on the part of the presenters. The topic is clearly relevant to the
students and they have a thorough knowledge of the examples they use. The argument –counter-argument
pairing shows sophistication and critical thinking in places, for example, in the recognition that c orrelation might
not reflect causation, or that the uncertainty of statistical evidence does not necessarily mean that nothing can
be concluded at all. The link between impoverishment of language and the ability to think ethical thoughts, while
not developed, is interesting and shows a certain depth of thinking. Ways of knowing and areas of knowledge,
for example, language, perception, history and ethics, are mentioned, though they are not developed

The format of the interview leads to a number of weaknesses in this presentation. It is difficult for the knowledge
issues to be addressed explicitly, since this might mean stepping out of the role-play. The discussion is limited
to a claim–counter-claim pairing and there is no evaluation of relative strengths of the arguments on either side.
This is reflected in the weak conclusion, ―We shall have to agree to disagree‖. The presentation does not link or
connect the different threads making up the discussion and there is no consideration of any implications in
related areas, such as censorship in the media. Some of the issues are treated superficially. Freedom of choice
of the individual is given priority in the later discussions without any justification given. The criticism of value
judgments and what is ―normal‖ could have been taken further. Ethical judgments are not linked to underlying
principles or frameworks. The opposing views of the video game as a ―killing simulator'‖ or as a ―release
mechanism‖ are not developed, nor is there an exploration of the sort of evidence that would be sufficient to
support one position or the other.

Comments by criterion
A: Identification of knowledge issue
A number of knowledge issues, such as the following, are touched upon but not highlighted. How do we know
the connection between a stimulus (in this case playing video games) and behaviour? How do we know where
to draw the line between individual freedoms and the interests of the community? Does playing video games
reduce our language ability? If so, does this affect our ability to think or act ethically? Is there such a thing as a
behavioural norm? If so, does it carry a moral obligation to conform? (3–4 points)

B: Treatment of knowledge issues
There is no real treatment of these issues once they have been identified. There is no evaluation of claims and
counter-claims, nor an assessment of the validity of the arguments presented. (1–2 points)

C: Knower’s perspective
The topic is motivated at the beginning and there is a clear personal involvement in t he method of presenting
the arguments and the examples chosen. The links with the local situation (for example, the school)
demonstrate the significance of the knowledge issues discussed. The significance of these arguments as a
model for other issues is not realized, as highlighted by the stated weaknesses in criteria A and B. (3–4 points)

D: Connections
There are tenuous links to history and ethics. There is an interesting link to language and its role in ethics that is
not fully explored. There is a good connection to reason and the direction of causality, acknowledging that ―all
killers played video games‖ is not the same as ―all video gamers killed‖. The uncertainty of statistics and a link
to the certainty or otherwise of knowledge is not taken further. There are no implications drawn in related areas,
just as there is no adequate evaluation or conclusion. (3–4 points)

Total 10–14 points

Hints for future presentations
There must be more treatment of knowledge issues, which should be reflected in the planning for the
presentation (and the Presentation Planning Document). This might require stepping outside the ―talk show‖
format to allow for ―meta-dialogue‖. The presenters should take the time to fully develop the claims and
arguments (in this case, the presentation lasted 15 minutes and could have used another five minutes). Some
thought could also be given to focusing on a more limited number of knowledge issues, treated in more depth.

There should be a clear evaluation of the arguments presented. The st udents need not come to a definitive
conclusion but there should be a sense that the presentation has helped the investigation to progress. The
points made should be summed up and there should be links to related topics in which the same type of
argument might have some bearing (for example, the availability of pornography). It could be useful to
encourage more audience participation, perhaps through some sort of questionnaire, to be followed up in the
discussion afterwards.