Marketing TOK to Students

TOK is an unfamiliar course that DP students have to take, and which they must pass in order to be awarded the IB Diploma. They are assessed in a demanding way - no exam, but a challenging essay and presentation - and have to deal with content that is conceptually tricky and not based on a ‘set’ curriculum. It’s easy to see how their natural inclinations may push them away from the course, rather than encourage them to get onboard.
Having said that, if you have designed a great course, they will quickly realise what a fantastic learning experience TOK can be. We offer a few tips in our Engaging your students and Enriching the TOK course sections how this can be done, but below we consider how you can raise the profile of TOK to the whole student body, so that not only DP students feel connected to the course, but everyone knows exactly what this marvellous subject is all about. One of the many advantages of this is that when students begin the course, they’ll know a lot more about what it is, and hit the ground running.

Create a central TOK ‘space’

We discussed in ‘Keeping teachers in the loop’ the idea of a TOK noticeboard within the staff room. You can also set up something similar for students, by creating a ‘TOK space’ in a prominent spot in the school, where you can showcase various things, such as:
  • News and events going on in the department
  • Topics (areas of knowledge, themes, big questions, etc.) that you are covering at the time
  • Key thinkers you cover in TOK - perhaps with an outline of their major ideas, and why they are influential
  • Interesting real-life situations, the more up-to-date the better
  • The prescribed essay titles of the current session, perhaps challenging other students with a heading such as, ‘Could you write a TOK essay?’

Display TOK work

Apart from a main, central TOK space, it’s great to display the work that you’ve done in your classroom, particularly if other groups use it. This will enable you to promote some of the most engaging ideas and concepts of the course, as well as outline the structure and aims of the course. Encourage your TOK team to do the same, so that you have TOK terminology, thinkers, and ideas in as many classrooms around the school as possible.

Set up TOK ‘happenings’

We discuss big TOK events separately, and they are a great way of marketing the course and your department. Consider, also, smaller TOK ‘happenings’, which might involve just posting a thought-provoking question or quote around the school that is addressed in short lunchtime or after school sessions, or resolved in the TOK space. Alternatively, you could get students to submit responses, the best ones of which could get highlighted in the school bulletin. Anything to get students thinking would work; it doesn’t have to be strictly aligned to TOK. For example:
  • Is seeing believing?
  • Does art imitate life, or does life imitate art?
  • Does truth exist?
  • Does the Internet cut us off, or connect us to, different perspectives?
  • Is social media dictating the way we express ourselves?
  • “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Do you agree with Socrates?
  • “Learning happens in the minds and souls, not in the databases of multiple-choice tests.” (Ken Robinson) Discuss!

Promote TOK via social media and technology

Does your TOK department have its own Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Google Classroom page? This could be a great way of conveying to the student body what you are doing, and allow them to comment on, and interact with, what’s happening. Link it to ‘TOK happenings’ (see above) to allow students to view the responses of others, and try to provoke debates and discussions.
Your school probably has a social media manager - make friends with them, and get TOK events publicised. Not only will this promote your department, it will also help to brand your school as a hub of critical thinking, so everyone wins.

Announce TOK news in school assemblies

If your school holds regular assemblies, is there scope for you to publicise events going on in TOK? The more you provide regular news, and refer to TOK concepts and language, the more students will absorb it subconsciously, and accept it as an integral part of the school.

Diffuse critical thinking throughout the school

Whatever the programme you offer before students begin the DP, TOK shouldn’t be the first time students come into contact with (explicit) critical thinking. It may be that your school has a specific critical thinking coordinator, or it may be that heads of departments are responsible for ensuring that it is going on (this will certainly be the case if you run the MYP, which specifies ‘critical thinking’ as an Approaches to Learning skill that has to be developed); whichever of these is the case, try to contribute to the diffusing of critical thinking further down the school. Encouraging the use of TOK terms and language is a great way of doing this, with students getting to grips with concepts such as perspectives, claims and counterclaims, real-life (rather than hypothetical or anecdotal) evidence, and implications.
You could go further with students on the verge of starting the IB Diploma, getting them to understand rational and empirical approaches to knowledge, the difference between induction and deduction, different concepts of truth, and perhaps even how we can divide our understanding of the world into ways of knowing and areas of knowledge.

TOK-type clubs

It may be worth setting up a club or activity in your school that meets during lunchtime and/or after school to promote critical thinking and epistemology. This could have a focus on the news in general or a particular aspect of the news (science, politics, the arts); perhaps you could get together to watch thought-provoking films. Alternatively, you you could link up with a club that promotes skills related to TOK, such as ones centred on history, journalism, politics, or science - there’s not much that can’t be related to TOK!