The success of an online class about Canada’s Indigenous peoples has stunned even the course’s instructor, who says interest in the program is testament to how much Canadians and others want to learn about Indigenous history and current issues.

Last year, the University of Alberta faculty of Native Studies began offering the introductory course through a MOOC, or Massive Open Online Course.”

MOOCs (pronounced “mooks”) offer university-level courses to the general public, typically for free, allowing students to do the readings and watch the presentations at their own pace.

More than 21,000 have signed up for the U of A course, called “Indigenous Canada,” which has also been available as a credit course to a limited number of U of A students. Six hundred new people sign up every week, and more than 300 are actively engaging with the course each week, says the course leader, Paul Gareau, an assistant Native Studies professor and a research fellow for the U of A’s Rupertsland Centre for Métis Research.

He admits the numbers amazed even him.

“We were very surprised, because in 12 months, 21,000 learners is really incredible. And we didn’t even do that much advertising about it. It’s been all word of mouth,” he told CTV’s Your Morning Friday.

He added that having faculty members talk the MOOC during a tour of Sweden also helped, since Sweden too has a history of residential schools and assimilation attempts with the Sami indigenous people (formerly called Laplanders).

Gareau explained the Indigenous Canada course is dedicated to teaching the history of Canada’s First Nations people from an indigenous perspective. The course, delivered over 12 modules, covers several themes, including Indigenous worldviews, the fur trade, residential schools, treaties and legal conflicts, as well as women’s studies and Indigenous art and culture.

Gareau says he believes the course has been such a success in part because it’s presented from the Indigenous perspective.

“The course itself offers a viable engagement with reconciliation in terms of giving Indigenous perspective and a voice to indigenous people…”

The response to the course has been overwhelmingly positive, Gareau added, with students giving the class a 98 per cent approval rating on Coursera, the online platform through which the course is offered.

“People are saying – especially non-Indigenous people – that they never heard this story before, which is very indicative of Canada’s history of indigenous people being voiceless and being left out of the discussion about what makes Canada. So this is really a nice intro offering into that story and allowing people to tell that story.”