The essence of the problem
So the Year 12s are just coming up to the deadline for their first essay, while the Year 13s are thinking about finalising ONE of their three previous essays. All of you have, however, one thing in common: you're struggling to come to terms with 'knowledge issues' (KIs).
KIs are the essence of a TOK essay or presentation - without them, your work might end up as a very nice history or science essay, or remain simply a very informative psychology or arts presentation.
So what is a KI?
Andrew calls them 'issues of knowledge' (IoKs) and very kindly suggests that IoKs (or KIs - same thing!) are 'things that help -- or hinder -- your ability to get Knowledge'. We would like to add that KIs are things that also help or hinder your ability to USE knowledge. Furthermore, KIs are things that help or hinder your ability to establish the TRUTH of your knowledge claims.
In other words, the four ways of knowing (WoKs) are relevant when thinking about getting knowledge. For example PERCEPTION can help to acquire scientific data to support a hypothesis about the natural world, but it can also hinder our ability to get this data since our senses can be deceived, or our observations can be flawed.
Then again, the six areas of knowledge (AoKs) are relevant when thinking about using knowledge. For example, the ARTS can help us to express fundamental truths about human experience, but can also hinder our understanding of them since each artistic genre is arguably subjective in nature - so whose truth are we to believe, the poet's version of the truth or the musician's?
Finally, the idea of looking at methods of establishing the truth of our knowledge claims is also important. For example, if you believe that our assumptions about the world drive our conclusions, then we have to confront the problem of BIAS.
How do you actually construct a KI?
They are usually constructed in the form of QUESTIONS that you explore in an essay or presentation. The type of question depends very much on the nature of the original essay question or the topic of your presentation. The easiest way to formulate a KI is to use the sentence stem: 'How do we know...?' or 'How does knowledge of...?'.
More complex KIs can be composed by building the following vocabulary into your questions (use a thesaurus to vary your word use):
KIs relating to how we ACQUIRE knowledge (WoKs):
'perception'/'perceive'/'sense'/'sensation'; 'reason'/'rational'/irrational'/'logic'; 'emotion'/'feeling' (or any specific emotion by name); 'language'/'communication'/'sign'/'meaning'...
KIs relating to how we USE knowledge (AoKs):
'natural sciences' (or any of these by name - use the noun or adjective form); 'human sciences' (as with the natural sciences); 'history'/'historical'/'primary/secondary
sources'; 'mathematics'/'mathematical'/'statistical'; 'ethics'/'ethical'/'should'; 'arts' (or any of the genres by name)...
KIs relating to how we establish the TRUTH of our knowledge claims:
'bias' (personal or cultural); 'stereotype'; 'prove'/'proof'/'disprove'; 'argument'/'counter argument'; 'evidence'; 'reliable'/'reliability'; 'limitations'/'problems'; 'subjective'/'objective'; 'verification'/'falsification'; 'certainty'/'doubt'; 'belief'; 'assumption'/'presupposition'; 'common-sense'...
Please note: the above lists are not exhaustive!
Examples of KIs
Look at the ToK essay question breakdowns on the TOK blog and go to the TOK website (link is on the left) to find the powerpoint slideshow entitled 'What is a knowledge issue?' (you should find it via the 'TOK Presentation' link in the main 'Table of Contents').