How the IB is changing its theory of knowledge course

The changes include a new module around technology and a new assessment task which will see students create an exhibition around a chosen question

Claudia Civinini

The curriculum will also examine how social media shapes students' perspectives

The curriculum of one of the key components of the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme, theory of knowledge, is due to change next year. 

Teachers will start teaching the new version of the course next year, with the first assessment to be carried out in 2022.

Aimed at developing a critical reflection into the nature of knowledge, the course is undertaken by all students enrolled in an IB Diploma Programme and schools are required to dedicate at least 100 teaching hours to it. 

While there are some changes in the components of the curriculum model, the biggest news comes in the assessment department, with an "exhibition" replacing the current presentation task. 

Presenting the changes at the IB Global Conference in Abu Dhabi last week, senior curriculum manager Jenny Gillett said: “For theory of knowledge, we have a quite exciting curriculum model coming through.”

News: IB ends exam registration fee in bid to widen access

Background: International Baccalaureate: what is it?

View: International Baccalaureate: why I love teaching it

The curriculum model is currently based on three components: a core theme called "knowing about knowing", which encourages students to critically reflect on knowledge claims; "ways of knowing", which encompasses eight areas including language and faith; and "areas of knowledge", which includes areas such as the arts and natural sciences. 

The new core theme, Ms Gillett explained, focuses on the students themselves.

Named "knowledge and the knower", it will encourage students to reflect on their perspectives, their values and their critical thinking skills – for example, their awareness of manipulation, or "spin".

“We have a new core theme focused on the students themselves as a knower and thinker, what shapes their perspectives, where their values come from, how they know who to trust, how they navigate the world,” she said.

Teachers will then be able to choose two optional themes from the following list:

  • Knowledge and language
  • Knowledge and politics
  • Knowledge and indigenous societies
  • Knowledge and religion
  • Knowledge and technology.

The last topic is a “brand new” addition to the former range of topics, Ms Gillett said. It will encompass themes such as the role of social media in changing students’ perspectives.

The third part of the curriculum model – traditional areas of knowledge – will include history, human sciences, natural sciences, mathematics and the arts.

While ethics was previously part of the list as a standalone optional area, in the new curriculum it will feature in every area.

“Ethics is embedded really strongly throughout the whole course,” Ms Gillett said. “For example, when you think about the natural sciences, you consider whether we should hold scientists morally responsible for their discoveries.”

The major change in terms of assessment is the replacement of the current presentation task with an "exhibition" based around a "big question" developed from the course. But the 1,600-word essay will remain similar to its current format, Ms Gillett said.

“What we really wanted was to focus on the real-world situation, so we have decided to create a completely new task around this real-world focus,” she said.

Students will submit images of the objects they have created and used for their exhibition together with a comment for each image, and this will be marked by their teacher and then passed on to the International Baccalaureate Organization for moderation.

“We are quite excited about this task,” Ms Gillett said.

IB subjects undergo a seven-year revision and update cycle. The other subjects due to feature curriculum changes in 2020 are economics and music.

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