The Curse of Knowledge or Groundhog Day? – Take Your Pick

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I blame the title on sitting in front of a computer day in and day out, setting up breakout rooms, and talking too many times into a dark screen divided into little squares, each one imprinted with names and hardly any faces; despite it all, there I was, on that particular day, hair fully brushed, looking good from the waist up, and full of burnt-out enthusiasm, ready for my lesson on “paraphrasing.”

Groundhog Day

On that morning, as I have been doing for a while (two years minus a few days), I turned on my computer before class time to make sure everything was in order and that my Google Jamboard was shareable and editable for my students to work in groups.

The class started. As usual, we started by typing our opening salutations in the chat box, “Hello!” “Good morning!” “How is everyone?” (This I have found helps to set the stage for a welcoming space). Everything was moving as expected, so I began the lesson, introduced the topic, provided examples (e.g., the good, the bad, avoiding plagiarism, and acknowledging the source), shared a list of strategies, and, finally, before sending students to their breakout rooms, checked for understanding. It was time for group practice.

I had made a note to remember to share the link to Google Jamboard before opening the breakout rooms, so I did that. I asked students if they had questions before I opened the rooms – no answer, no messages in the chat box. Fine. I proceeded to assigned group roles: “The Notetaker”, “The Timekeeper”, “The Grammar Guru”, “The Presenter”, and gave everyone 15 minutes to complete the activity. I opened the rooms.

My routine is to watch the action as it happens first before hopping from room to room. I want to give everyone a chance to start. This also helps me to perceive the level of interaction. I am always thrilled when I land on a room full of chatter, but not so when I enter a dark room with everyone muted.  Thankfully, my presence usually ignites the conversation. It also gives me a chance to explain the activity, again.

As usual, back on the main room, groups share their work; others add feedback by unmuting or typing on the chat box. They can always choose. That habitually leaves five minutes to recap, refresh, and log out.

The Curse of Knowledge

Later on that same day, I received an email from a student who explained that Google Jamboard was a new tool and the student would have liked to have known more about it before working in groups. The student asked if I could share a “how to” video. That confused me. I had asked if anyone had questions. No one did. Then it hit me! I had assumed my quick overview of the tool had sufficed and that by asking if everyone understood, everyone had since no one had answered. Could I blame it on the curse of knowledge? I am not an expert at Google Jamboard, but I had done the activity several times that week with my other classes and it had worked. Was it “Groundhog Day” then?

Lesson Learned

I thanked my student for letting me know. I searched YouTube for a video, but most of them were for teachers, so I did a screencast, which I have posted on my courses and, best of all, I can use it and reuse it. The student thanked me.

The Title

“The Curse of Knowledge” refers to the erroneous presupposition that others will understand what we intrinsically know too well. The term has been used to explain why experts have a hard time explaining concepts and fall into this type of cognitive bias (Effectiviology, n.d.). But since I am not an expert on Google Jamboard, I am not sure if this applies to me.

I might as well blame this incident to my day in and day out routine of getting up, getting ready, walking a few steps, doing my morning thing, and proceeding to sit in front of a computer. This could explain my lived sequel of “Groundhog Day”, the 1993 movie starring Bill Murray.

Yet, I am still not ready to go back into the classroom. Not with a mask for three consecutive hours of teaching plus time in the office. . .

And there you have it. My teaching reflection on this day, and I am not seeing any shadows!

Have you encountered a similar misconstrued presupposition (aka cognitive bias)? How did you go about it?


Effectiviology. (n.d.) The curse of knowledge: A difficulty in understanding less-informed perspectives.

Hi, my name is Cecilia. I love taking part in good brain awakening discussions. Blogging, I find, lends itself for that. I also believe in sharing my skills through scholarly practice, which is why I write regularly and have presented at several conferences, including TESL Ontario, TESL Toronto, CALL, and at Seneca College. My M.A. in applied linguistics along with my skills and experience have led me to my current position at Centennial College, where I teach English and ESL in the School of Advancement. I'm truly passionate about what I do: teaching, writing, creative expression, and helping my students (both L1 and L2) gain agency and take control of their own learning. Thank you for your readership and I look forward to reading and answering your comments. You can find me on Twitter @capontedehanna


2 thoughts on “The Curse of Knowledge or Groundhog Day? – Take Your Pick”

  1. “The student asked if I could share a “how to” video. That confused me. I had asked if anyone had questions. No one did. Then it hit me! I had assumed my quick overview of the tool had sufficed and that by asking if everyone understood, everyone had since no one had answered.”

    Like any teacher, I always ask my students if they have any questions about what we’ve been discussing, before we move to the next topic. Invariably, no hands go up. However, I have also stressed, innumerable times, that it’s very important to let the teacher know if you don’t understand something — if you don’t ask any questions, the teacher will assume that you understand the topic and will move on, and you will be left further and further behind. Meanwhile, one or more students will be too embarrassed or uncomfortable to draw attention to themselves by appearing “stupid”. How many times have we ourselves been faced with that scenario ourselves, as young students?

    I’ve also learned that in some cultures, students are discouraged from putting up their hands or speaking up in class — in China, for example, one does NOT talk in class, ask questions or interrupt the teacher in any way. I was shocked to learn this, but I’ve heard this from many of my Chinese students.

    As for myself, unabashedly unembarrassed-to-say-so tech-nerd, when I’ve been struggling to get on board with new techniques and technology for Zoom teaching, I am never too embarrassed to raise my hand and announce that “I don’t get all this stuff. Please help!!”

  2. Overall, I find that students are often willing to try new tools. When it comes to online learning though, it’s not always easy to gauge students’ understanding, especially when they have their cameras off. We can only try our best, given the limitations.

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