A summary of the structure of knowledge

In the final term of this year, I completed an online course on “Theory of Knowledge” from the University of Oxford’s department for continuing education. As part of this course, I have to submit two assignments. The first, which is a summary of the structure of knowledge and limited to around 500 words, was due on the 5th June and I am posting a copy of it below.

A summary of the structure of knowledge

According to Pritchard (2014), we can distinguish between two types of knowledge: knowledge of something or knowledge of how to do something also referred to as propositional knowledge and ability knowledge respectively. It is the first of these that we are interested in in this summary.

Knowledge is valuable because knowledge has instrumental and non-instrumental value. Having knowledge is instrumentally valuable in the sense that it helps us achieve our goals, but it is also non-instrumentally valuable in the sense that having knowledge enriches our lives in and of itself.

To claim to know something is to make a claim or a proposition that a) you believe something and b) that your belief is true. If I claim that it is raining in London while I am living in Lausanne, and assuming that I have no ill intent to deceive those I am talking to, I am making a proposition which I must ultimately believe – how could I claim it was raining if I didn’t ultimately believe it to be so? Intuitively it seems that we cannot claim propositional knowledge if we don’t first believe it.

The claim that we know something “aims at” truth, to use Pritchard’s (2014) phrase. Claiming knowledge intuits at the truth of reality. We don’t normally count someone who holds a false belief as holding knowledge of something. For example, in a pub quiz, someone could be said to be knowledgeable of the topic in question if they hold what is commonly accepted as the “correct” or truthful response. Someone who incorrectly or falsely believes the answer is another proposition cannot be said to know the answer.

Thus, we can say that truth and belief are necessary conditions of knowledge. However, a guess (like a bet) that gets to the truth of the matter (that turns out to be true) is also a claim that contains truth and belief but is not considered knowledge. Under normal circumstances, someone who wins at roulette with the number 29 can’t be said to know that 29 was the correct number, but they did have a true belief that 29 was the number.

Therefore, to count as knowledge, a claim needs have more than truth and belief, it also needs to be justified. Knowledge has historically been counted as justified true belief. All three of these elements are necessary conditions for knowledge but on their own, they are not sufficient conditions for knowledge.

For example, Gettier cases show us that justified true belief isn’t always enough for knowledge. By luck, some agents can still hold true beliefs that are justified but that we would not normally count as knowledge. In the case of an agent who “knows” the time by looking at a stopped clock, if they look at the clock at the “correct” time even though the clock has stopped they will have gained a justified true belief, but they will have done so by luck. If they had looked at the clock five minutes later or five minutes earlier they would have acquired a false belief (Pritchard, 2014).

So, we also need more than justified true belief. We still need to consider the type of justification that is used when combined with true belief. More specifically we need to consider what supports our beliefs in order for them to be justified. There are normally three ways of considering this: a) beliefs do not need to be grounded on anything b) beliefs can be founded on an infinite chain of justifications c) beliefs can be grounded on a circular chain of beliefs. The different schools of thought of infinitism, foundationalism and coherentism offer different responses to this trilemma.

Justification and the support needed for belief is closely linked to rationality. Normally only rational beliefs would be considered knowledge. We can think of a judge who reaches their decision either by weighing up the evidence presented or on the basis of their emotional or prejudice. A judge who rationally weighs up the evidence to reach a verdict can be justified in their true beliefs but a judge who doesn’t, can’t be. However not all rationality is linked to finding the truth and to justify our beliefs we should be concerned with having epistemically rational beliefs. Pascal’s wager is a good example of the difference between epistemically and non-epistemically rationality. In the same vein, we need to consider whether agents can or should be held responsible for their beliefs.

Are people responsible for paying attention to how their beliefs are formed? Can we count a belief as knowledge if the agent in question has not considered how they have formed their belief?

References

Pritchard, D. (2014) What is this thing called knowledge? 3rd edition. Routledge.

 

MaiaLearning: review

Last month I published reviews of the guidance platforms Unifrog and BridgeU. I have had experience working with both these platforms as a guidance counsellor for a period of time. Subsequently, I have had the opportunity to get a look under the hood of MaiaLearning. I haven’t used the platform with students myself, but have spent some time playing around with the platform and being guided around it by the MaiaLearning team.

Update: 25th June 2018: MaiaLearning’s CEO informed me that a major European school system has already asked for the ability to collect various teacher comments to serve as the basis for a counselor’s recommendation (see my conclusion where I write about this). He has spec’d it out and the engineers are building it. MaiaLearning should have it as part of their production software within a month.

MaiaLearning intro

Maia is the Roman Goddess of growth and this explains MaiaLearning’s name. As they told me, the companies vision is to engage and empower students so that they become excited by their opportunities and drive the process of career and college discovery themselves.

The company is based in California has been founded and funded by private individuals with a lot of experience in the technology industry and startups. They have also been very involved in education as volunteers for a number of years. The idea for MaiaLearning grew out of dissatisfaction with other products on the market.

Founded originally in 2008, their first product, CollegeonTrack was launched in 2012. The product was subsequently completely rewritten and remarketed in 2015 as MaiaLearning, the program went under a major update in 2017 and recently won the state of California contract.

The student side

On the student landing page, users can access a variety of menus along the top and I will explain some of their functions here. Students can also access a list of tasks and activities by type – these tasks are set by the counsellor. In terms of menus, students can access an explore, search and plan menus. The explore menu gives assess to the following activity types:

  • Interest Profiler: based on John Holland’s Occupational Themes (RIASEC)
  • Personality Profiler: based on a Myers-Briggs type of assessment
  • Intelligence Profiler: based on Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences
  • Learning & Productivity Profiler: a learning style assessment.

The first three of these activities will give students a report that feeds into the careers advice that the platform provides. The Learning & Productivity profiler aims to help students understand the way that they work and develop strategies to help them succeed. When completed students various profiles will be matched against particular career types. In this way, students are exposed to career options they may not have heard of or considered before.

Careers data on the platform comes from US Department of Labor’s O*NET. From the career information, students can click through to information on majors that lead to those careers and universities that cater to those majors.

The interest profiler can be taken an unlimited time by students with access to the platform while the other profilers are limited to being taken three times. Some of these can also be used with middle schoolers – the platform offers a complete careers program solution for secondary schools.

In addition, to explore, students have access to a search function for careers, colleges and scholarships. MaiaLearning have just added information on around 18,000 institutions from around the world using data from World Higher Education Database. College data is also supplied by Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), produced by the U.S. National Center for Education Statistics; and Wintergreen Orchard House, which surveys U.S. college admissions offices annually. Scholarship data is supplied by SuperCollege.

Based on the all the information given to and selected by the student, the plan menu allows students to begin to put the reflection into place. In this section, students can work out their roadmap for applying to college and getting into the careers they are interested in. This section houses the application support area.

The student side also allows kids to sign up to visits from colleges set up through MaiaVisits. This service also allows the counsellor to see an attendance list. In addition, students can also save documents to Document Lockers, where they can also see documents shared with them by the counsellor, and they can request recommendations.

Finally, the student side contains a portfolio. In the logbook here they can record experiences; everything that they have done and a resume builder which allows kids to input information into a resume and export it pre-formatted. Students can also add journals, goals and galleries of finished work to their portfolios.

The counsellor side

The counsellor’s side allows the counsellor access to all of the students’ accounts. Here counsellors can keep notes of meetings and set the level of visibility of these as necessary. There is a document locker where information and guides that students need can be stored so that students can view them. The counsellor side also has administrative functions for setting up student accounts, managing passwords and messaging including via text. Counsellors are also able to build lesson plans on the dashboard, which function as custom built pages where students can be given tasks to complete.

In terms of managing students, counsellors are able to assign tasks for students to complete (e.g. complete your interest profile) as well as manage the application process. MaiaLearning has document sending functionality, organised via Parchment. The team also claim that soon the platform will be able to integrate seamlessly with the CommonApp.

Currently, the platform does not allow the collection of predicted grades and actual scores but I was told that this functionality will be arriving soon. There also isn’t a way for a counsellor to acquire confidential comments in the building of a reference.

Conclusion

I was really impressed with how far the platform has come in such a short time. When compared to other products on the market who have been around for a similar length of time this platform really does pack a punch; the sheer volume of profiling possibilities and career data is really quite staggering. This, I guess, is a testament to the founding teams experience in tech. The team behind it have Silicon Valley experience in computer science and product design. It is evident that the developers can really get things done and this makes me confident that when they say they are adding features, the will be adding those features.

In some ways it has features that mark it out from other products – the note keeper and document lockers would be some examples of this but also the MaiaVisits feature which could useful serve to take much administrative work out of the counsellor’s hands in terms of liaising and communicating with universities to arrange visits, as well as keeping data on attendance by students of those visits.

That said, it is clear that this product has been developed for the American market and for schools that service American universities. While the platform has added international universities to its database there are currently no features that allow a more UK (for example) model of application administration. For example, there is no space for the student to write their personal statements or even see scaffolded examples of what makes a good or a bad personal statement. There is also no way to build a UCAS reference – in my context, I rely on teachers to supply comments so that we can write a reference that covers all of the student’s academic strengths. This cannot be done through the platform.

That being said, I think MaiaLearning is going to be a platform to watch over the coming years, particularly if serving non-US focussed international schools becomes a priority for them. As it was put to me via email:

As technologists, we can make the software do just about anything. We need counselors to tell us what those things should be. We love our customers, listen to them, and heed their advice. Since we’re committed to Europe and Asia, we will add capabilities as needed to meet the special needs of those users.

Taking your Diploma Programme to the next level

In the fourth and final week of the Diploma Programme coordination category 2 online course we looked at some of the more intangible elements of a successful Diploma Programme. These included relationships with students and staff and strategies for managing these, particularly when stress levels might be quite high; making sure that students stayed with the full diploma program and got the recognition they deserved and how to use data to improve the program further.

In the first activity, we reflected on strategies to help bring enthusiasm for the program to students and faculty.

I think the key to providing the enthusiasm needed to champion students relies on the coordinator supporting teachers effectively so that they are able to support their own students effectively and maintain their own positive teacher-student relationships.

Of course, the DPC needs to think about their own relationships with the students on the programme, but to inspire kids, colleagues need to be empowered and supported in their own work.

This can come about through careful discussion and planning of the assessment calendar and support teachers in holding students accountable for making sure deadlines are adhered to. I have often witnessed the snowballing effect of when a teacher thinks they are being kind to a student by extending a deadline, only for that piece of work to then be happening at the same time as another piece and so the student ends up feeling doubly overwhelmed.

There, therefore, needs to be structures in place so that staff can get help with problems in their own areas but also so that students can get the support they need formally and informally.

Going forward I would like in a small school environment:

  • Mix the y12 and y13 homerooms so that DP1 and DP2 students can learn from, communicate with and support each other.
  • Facilitate meeting and communication between the school guidance department and the CAS advisors so that all students are receiving the same advice and all students feel that they have an individual teacher that they can go to if necessary.
  • Operate office hours so that teachers/students can book appointments to meet with me on an ad hoc basis.
  • Provide supervised study hall sessions so that students can get help with developing their ATLs.
  • Review the school’s assessment policy to ensure that teachers understand the differences between formative and summative assessment and know when each is appropriate.
  • Put systems in place to ensure that students are monitored and so that there are safety nets in place to stop snowballing of problems.
  • Think carefully about the assessment policies and procedures to maximise student wellbeing – making sure that staff understand formative and summative assessment, what it is used for and when it is appropriate.

In the second activity, we reviewed the role of the DPC in admitting students to the Diploma Programme and the need for communication and collaboration with the admissions department. We also looked at the IB research and were asked to comment on one article from this area.

In terms of the IB research, I am a little sceptical of some of it as I question its independence but  I have become increasingly interested in the status of second language learners who are studying the DP in languages, not their mother tongue. This interest has developed from working in two academic contexts where students had a Francophone academic background but our teaching was in English.

I had a look at the research summary for “Language proficiency for academic achievement in the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme”. https://www.ibo.org/globalassets/publications/ib-research/language-proficiency-summary-en.pdf

This study was composed of a literature review looking at the academic literature of what is meant by academic language and the practices recommended to support students academic language proficiency, as well as a review of examination results from IBIS to examine how well students studying a second language perform. The third part of the research looked at the practices that have been implemented within schools.

I took away from this just how little ongoing monitoring for second language learners there is. It seems that while many schools give an initial assessment of a students proficiency they do not follow this up to inform future teaching. In addition, many schools leave second language support up to a small group of teachers.

The report recommends that schools give an ongoing formative assessment of students second lang development to inform teaching across their subjects and ensure that all teachers are engaged and trained on the teaching of EAL.

This is interesting because I have worked with so many schools where EAL training is restricted to a single inset day and then that is it. What I believe subject teachers need is also ongoing support and training, as the literature is vast and to get this right there is a lot of time that teachers need to invest in it.

Could school departments all have an EAL or equivalent lead who would be responsible for developing the department’s resources to support this?

In the final task we considered using IB data to further reflect and goal set.

Delivering the core of the IBDP

The core of the IBDP contains three elements: Creativity, Activity and Service (CAS); Theory of Knowledge (TOK); and the Extended Essay (EE).

In week three of my course, we have been focussing on how these three elements can be effectively delivered within the school system.

This has been a challenging week for me to engage with because, whilst I know how these things are structured in my current school and although I have direct experience with all three of these elements, I am not sure how they are organised in the context I will be joining this coming August and I am not sure of the value of simply regurgitating what my current school does during the online discussion spaces.

I took to emailing new colleagues with questions and making notes to address certain points this coming August and then simply commenting on what my current school is doing.

CAS

We were asked to take a check of the CAS situation in our school by reading sections of the CAS guide and ensuring that the school has:

  • a school CAS guide for students and parents
  • a process for students to develop a CAS plan
  • a process to encourage ongoing student reflection
  • student portfolios to document reflection and completion of the seven learning outcomes
  • a method for teacher evaluation of the students’ CAS portfolios 
  • reviewed the CAS programme questionnaire

This activity highlighted the importance of reflection for the development of a solid CAS programme. Reflection is one of those activities that has so much potential to be done badly; becoming forced – “reflect now!” – which totally undermines the point of it. The real challenge for schools is to develop a culture of reflection where the community sees the value of it and understands how to do it well. Like many things it is simply assumed that teachers do it and can do it well. One ongoing focus would be to help build the habits that drive reflection. The CAS guide has some useful pointers about the elements of reflection which, as reflection is not just a CAS thing, but something that underpins all good intellectual development, should be noted by all lifelong learners.

Elements of reflection

Taken from the CAS guide:

Reflection is a dynamic means for self-knowing, learning and decision-making. Four elements assist in the CAS reflective process. The first two elements form the foundation of reflection.

  • Describing what happened: Students retell their memorable moments, identifying what was important or influential, what went well or was difficult, obstacles and successes.
  • Expressing feelings: Students articulate emotional responses to their experiences.

The following two elements add greater depth and expand perspectives.

  • Generating ideas: Rethinking or re-examining choices and actions increases awareness about self and situations.
  • Asking questions: Questions about people, processes or issues prompt further thinking and ongoing inquiry.

TOK

How is a map a master metaphor for knowledge? In the same way that the map is a representation of reality and NOT reality, What we know is simply a representation of reality and not the same thing as reality.

How can a lab experiment be impacted by the emotions of a scientist?

These were some of the questions used to introduce TOK to the coordination trainees. As I have taught TOK in the past and I am currently taking another course online from Oxford on Theory of Knowledge, I am beginning to feel like I have a bit more of a handle on this subject.

In my own diploma programme, this would ideally really be a focus as I feel that getting TOK right is the key to overall academic success in the IBDP. If students really understand TOK and see its value, not only will they become that much more engaged with their subject but learn to appraise, analyse and reflect on them more deeply.

To achieve this I would try and explore all avenues for engaging teachers with TOK. Like the adage that all teachers are language teachers, it can often be overlooked that teachers themselves don’t know what TOK is or have never reflected on the nature of knowledge in their own subjects. If they haven’t even addressed these basic steps how can we expect TOK to be integrated fully into the curriculum? We also need to recognise the one session on its own is not going to be enough. Instead we need to invest in professionals in our community and encourage continued engagement with the ideas by getting them interested in it in the first place.

Extended Essay

The extended essay is a crucial element of the core and provides an explicit opportunity to develop research and organisational skills in a tangible activity of writing 4000 words on an academic topic. It is supported by explicit teaching of research, planning and self-management skills with the school’s librarian alongside teachers. Students must meet with a supervisor three times throughout the process and students and supervisors must compelte the reflections on planning and progress form.

There are a variety of ways that schools can support the process:

  • Handbook
  • Online scaffolding of the process
  • Research skills course
  • Blocked time in the schedule
  • Hold a retreat away to complete it
  • Dedicated research and writing days
  • Have department heads play a role as experts
  • Have teachers build in time to explain the methodology of an extended essay in their subject

If students are struggling the following safety nets can be in place:

  • Internal deadlines with a cushion of time for emergencies
  • Dedicated space for students to be sequestered
  • Dedicated teacher/coordinator/counsellor to give further support
  • Backwards design with many check-ins along the way

Reflection points

  • the importance of the core in achieving the diploma
  • the importance of the role you play as coordinator in supporting the core
  • structures and activities that can build further support for students so they meet with success in the core.

The miscellaneous bookshelf

Through the threshold library

Miscellaneous bookshelf

Simply a list of all the other books I have read recently that has nothing to do with education or biology. Quite often, especially during term time, I just find I need an escape from thinking about learning and teaching. Horror and Sci-Fi/Fantasy is where I tend to go. Now that I am moving to China, I have parted company with many of my books and so want to keep a record of them here.

  1. What is this thing called knowledge? – by Duncan Pritchard. Read as part of Oxford Universities online CPD course – theory of knowledge
  2. Epistemology: Contemporary readings – edited by Michael Huemer
  3. Raising babies – by Steve Biddulph
  4. American Gods – by Neil Gaiman
  5. Neverwhere – by Neil Gaiman
  6. How the Marquis got his coat back – by Neil Gaiman
  7. Stardust – by Neil Gaiman
  8. The ocean at the end of the lane – by Neil Gaiman
  9. Anansi boys – by Neil Gaiman
  10. The rise and fall of D.O.D.O – by Neil Stephenson and Nicole Galland
  11. How to stop time – by Matt Haig
  12. Coraline – by Neil Gaiman
  13. The graveyard book – by Neil Gaiman
  14. Fragile things – by Neil Gaiman
  15. Smoke and mirrors – by Neil Gaiman
  16. His Dark Materials: The complete trilogy – by Philip Pullman
  17. Trigger Warning – by Neil Gaiman
  18. Norse Mythology – by Neil Gaiman
  19. Good Omens – by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
  20. The problems of philosophy – by Bertrand Russell
  21. Seven Storey Mountain – by Thomas Merton
  22. Seveneves – by Neal Stephenson
  23. Never let me go – by Kazuo Ishiguro
  24. Religion for Atheists – by Alain de Botton
  25. The Remains of the day – by Kazuo Ishiguro
  26. Fireflies – by Shiva Naipaul
  27. The Young Atheist’s Handbook: Lessons for living a good life without God – by Alom Shaha
  28. Raising girls – by Steve Biddulph
  29. Full catastrophe living – by Jon Kabat Zinn
  30. The moral landscape – by Sam Harris
  31. A Universe from nothing – by Laurence Krauss
  32. Nonviolent Communication – by Marshall Rosenberg
  33. The last child in the woods – by Richard Louv
  34. The Baroque cycle (3 books) – by Neal Stephenson
  35. The rational optimist – by Matt Ridley
  36. All the Evelyn Waugh novels and travel writing
  37. Game of thrones