Business Management through the lens of TOK

The new Business Management guide makes the links between the subject and TOK far more explicit and increases the expectation that TOK should be incorporated into the Business curriculum, in addition to discrete TOK lessons. Students of Business Management, like other group 3 subjects, study individuals and societies. This means that they explore the interactions between humans and their environment in time and place, and gather and process data by applying a number of business tools, theories and techniques.

There are a variety of ways of gaining information in Business Management, such as web searches, market research and observation. One of the core strengths of the IB programme is that students are then expected to evaluate any knowledge claims by exploring issues such as validity, reliability, credibility and certainty, as well as considering cultural and international perspectives. They should reflect critically on the various ways of knowing and research methods and in doing so, become “inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people” (IBO mission statement).

The reality in most schools is that a separate TOK team delivers the TOK programme and prepares students for assessment. It may also be fair to say that many Business Management teachers, unless they are involved in TOK delivery, have little knowledge of the TOK programme and may not have even looked at the TOK guide, or observed a TOK lesson. Indeed, students themselves may consider TOK to be a discrete entity from their subject lessons. Given the IB’s  increasing emphasis on developing Learner Profile characteristics and the more overt focus on approaches to teaching and learning (ATL), it is probably a good time to consider how Business Management lessons can more closely reflect the philosophy of the new programme, integrate TOK ideas and focus on concepts and student centred delivery.

TOK explores both the personal and shared aspects of knowledge and investigates the relationships between them. Students think about how knowledge is arrived at in the various disciplines, what the disciplines have in common and the differences between them. The fundamental question of TOK is “how do we know that?” One of the consequences of addressing this question is reflecting on their own beliefs and assumptions.

The TOK course identifies eight specific ways of knowing (WOKs). They are:

  • language
  • sense perception
  • emotion
  • reason
  • imagination
  • faith
  • intuition
  • memory

Ways of knowing should not be viewed in isolation. They interact in various ways in the construction of knowledge and the formation of knowledge claims. It would be fascinating to find a business case study related to strategy and to identify which WOKs may have played a role in the development and execution of strategic plans. It would also be a productive exercise to discuss with your students how these relate to the business environment, and the comparative value put on each of these ways of knowing by the business community, academics and business commentators. For example, do faith and intuition play a significant role in business decisions and strategic direction and can decisions based on these ways of knowing be reliable and/or effective?

TOK approaches can add flavour, variety and academic rigour to the Business scheme of work and it is worth downloading the TOK guide and identifying the key approaches to Areas of Knowledge (AOK) and the Ways of Knowing (WOK). It would also be valuable to approach your IB and TOK coordinators to examine ways of integrating TOK approaches within your Business Management lessons.

There are many opportunities in the Business Management programme to consider Ways of Knowing and Areas of Knowledge, such as ethics. There are also opportunities for cross curricular activities within group 3 and indeed across the diploma using TOK questions as the focus for debate. For example, research by Oxfam study shows that the share of the world’s wealth owned by the richest 1% increased from 44% in 2009 to 48% last year. On current trends, Oxfam expects the wealthiest 1% to own more than 50% of the world’s wealth by 2016.

Business Management students can be asked to discuss:

  • how we know that business information is reliable – what measure of wealth did Oxfam use and how was the data collected?
  • whether Oxfam has vested interests that might influence how they report information on poverty and inequality.
  • whether there is room for both logic and emotion in business.
  • what implications wealth inequality has on syllabus content such as entrepreneurship, business motivation and production, demand and supply, growth and globalisation of business functions.
  • what needs to be true for ethical objectives to contribute to good strategy? What needs to be true for business strategy to be ethically laudable?

They could then be asked to address the issues raised by the Oxfam research in the context of their other Diploma subjects. For example, trends in mathematics or literature related to poverty and inequality.

The new Business Management guide provides suggested links to TOK at the end of each unit and these could form the basis of class work and homework assignments. I would welcome contributions from Business Management colleagues on how they integrate and/or promote TOK in their classrooms.

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