Theory of Knowledge and the IB
Envoys is a platform for schools to achieve their global education goals, and with every TOK program we run, we craft even more intentional itineraries that engage with deeper questions. TOK teachers then harness each experience to dismantle foundational assumptions, shaking and rattling students’ worldviews leaving only the strongest pillars of knowledge. Teachers who use the ways of knowing (WoK) or the areas of knowledge (AoK) as a focus in class can design a program that brings each of them alive in a real way.
With the rise of nationalism, fake news, and divisive political propaganda, the theory of knowledge (TOK) plays a more vital role in the International Baccalaureate® Diploma Programme than ever before TOK is a course which challenges students to think in the abstract, while keeping themselves grounded in our human experiences. We ask students to apply knowledge questions to “real life situations”; yet, the nature of teaching in a classroom results in the students’ most meaningful shared experience being limited to what happens between those four walls.
What type of group experience outside of the classroom would be most conducive to the construction of a theory of knowledge? What would it look like? What is the right balance of structure and agency for an experience of this sort? (For further reading about structure vs. agency, see here) How can we design a travel experience that will bring our TOK class together as we embark on a journey through the murky waters of epistemology?
These questions were brought to us by TOK teachers in schools across the world — and through a collaborative design process, we started to build frameworks for customizable international travel experiences.
We being our interactions with host-country youth by breaking the ice and establishing a design challenge that is generative, authentic, and relevant to youth around the globe. Students then work together for several days, mapping the issue, ideating, building prototypes and developing solutions to the problem they identified together.
All program itineraries have built-in time for TOK lessons and daily reflections (structured and unstructured) that bring depth and substance to students’ understanding of TOK. Students become the stewards of their own learning, designing and leading reflections with the help of a manual of thinking routines and thought questions.
From the Xhosa in South Africa, to the Muisca in Colombia, to the Amazigh in Morocco, students come into direct contact with ancient and fascinating knowledge systems that challenge what they know about their world. Programs are designed to juxtapose ancient and current religious systems to find cross-cutting themes and distinctions.
It can take several weeks of classroom TOK sessions for most students to build up a sense of courage to share their thoughts about epistemology. However, when all students are on the same level, humbled by the novelty and wonder of culture shock, they quickly develop a space dedicated to sharing.
In small groups, students explore novel urban and rural landscapes, interacting with local people through a series of communicative challenges designed to practice verbal and non-verbal communication skills. These moments are vital for asking questions about how others see the world and express it.
Envoys provides teachers with the ability to deliver readings, videos, podcasts and other content in our online platform. Students learn the basics about ethical, respectful travel, safety and security, and develop invaluable context before they set foot on the ground.
Today, global citizenship is less about our actions and more about how we apply the things we learn, that is, how we consume, digest, and profess our understanding on issues of global significance. In the IB, we are often asked to foster international-mindedness and to build an awareness of core societal and ideological assumptions while fostering an appreciation for the complexity of cultural identities in our world. The potential for a shared travel experience to catalyze a TOK group’s learning at the start of a course or crystallize it upon its conclusion is immense!
Who We Are
Envoys is the result of a collaboration between colleagues from the Harvard Graduate School of Education who together have decades of experience with the IB community. We are not tour guides; we are a cohort of career educators dedicated to using travel as a vehicle for transformative educational experiences. On every program, alongside students and dedicated global educators from around the world, we ask ourselves, how do I know what I know?
Customized Travel Programs
As part of our mission, Envoys is always ready to speak with interested faculty and administrators to learn how we might assist their school to achieve global education goals. Envoys works hand-in-hand with our partner schools to design, implement, and assess travel programs around the world.
Qualified Envoys staff conduct participatory workshops for administrators, teachers, parents and/or students to discover goals and objectives for global competency and educational travel.
After accurately understanding the end outcomes and specific needs of a particular teacher, we meet with the school to discuss the possibilities. Envoys staff outline the intersections between the school’s needs and research-based, proven approaches to global education.
Based on this work, Envoys crafts a program proposal tailored to the partner school in terms of the following:
- Educational goals and objectives
- Destination country or region
- Thematic content and curricular integration
- Specific targeted skill-sets
- Assessments and student outputs
We then work hand-in-hand with our partner schools to integrate the program into the life of the school.
OperationsEnvoys operations are built on the extensive infrastructure and experience of Off-Bound Adventures, our parent organization.
We take an adaptive approach to developing each program, including the following elements:
Envoys Communication Principles
Research has proven that there is a positive and convincing relationship between family involvement and student academic success. Similarly, the achievement of our learning outcomes requires the establishment of a collaborative and trusting relationship that includes all relevant stakeholders.
We respect the intelligence of parents considering international travel for their children, and we refuse to make ‘guarantees’ that are untenable in a complex world. Instead, we provide information about the potential risks involved with each destination and the external sources that should be consulted prior to making a decision.
Advances in communications technology are rapidly removing barriers for the flow of information from the field. This ‘new normal’ means that we have a responsibility to provide regular updates, no matter where in the world an Envoys program is located.
Envoys Communication Methods
Envoys staff make presentations to parents and students about the educational objectives, potential risks, necessary preparations, and expected communications. We answer questions, take notes for any adaptations, and provide a concrete timeline to follow. Most importantly, we establish relationships with our program participants, allowing us to create a better-tailored program.
Envoys creates a dedicated and customized website for every program, containing all necessary information for participants. From this site, parents access online portals for uploading medical forms and processing payments, while students are able to log into online courses and check their packing lists.
Envoys HQ and program staff take pride in our responsiveness with parents. We understand that many important questions arise outside of normal business hours, and so we dedicate ourselves to providing multiple means of communication at all times, including 1-800 numbers, online trip-tracking sites, customized program portals, and rapid email responses.
Along with our ‘window-into-the-adventure’ provided by our online trip-tracking system, Envoys can work with teachers to create detailed reports on each student at the conclusion of the program. These reports detail areas of strength evidenced during the program, as well as areas where improvement is needed.