The fake Underwater Basketweaving course showed up on Coursera's website today for April Fools' Day.

Coursera Offers Underwater Basketweaving as April Fools' Joke


When a five-week long Underwater Basketweaving course showed up on Coursera’s home page, it looked legit—on the surface.

After reading the description and watching the video it becomes clear that the course is poking fun at a number of other legitimate indigenous courses.

“Underwater basket weaving is a technique of uncertain origin, but is believed to have been developed by the peoples of the Aquacamamata Peninsula around the year 325 BC. The many tribes of the Aquacamamata shared a complex religious belief system, the foundation of which was a deep spiritual relationship with the Peninsula’s vast network of rivers and streams,” states the fake course description. “The Aquacamamata believed that all things born from the water were touched by the gods, and practiced many underwater handicrafts, including not only underwater basket weaving but also underwater wood carving, metalwork, pottery, and taxidermy.”

The description goes on to say that participants will need a tub or pool to complete the course and will receive a hairdryer and certificate when it’s over.

There’s even a video going over some of the knots students will learn featuring the course’s instructor, Phineas Dunne, purported associate professor of maritime anthropology at Ersuraco University, which is an anagram of Coursera.

Jean-Paul Restoule, associate professor of aboriginal education at the University of Toronto, did call the joke a “learning opportunity” in an email to one of his students, but to be funny the joke “relies on deep cultural assumptions about the inferiority of indigenous knowledge.”

Restoule, a member of the Dokis First Nation, noted that whoever put the course and video together at Coursera likely didn’t mean to offend anyone.

“I'm sure there are keepers of indigenous knowledge who would be offended. I get that it’s meant to be lighthearted and a joke but anyone who has actually spent time learning about basket making processes would realize it’s about more than the finished product,” he says in his e-mail. “Even the preparations and gathering of materials involve a great amount of knowledge.”

A number of people took to Facebook to express their disgust at Coursera's actions. “How can you call yourself a learning environment when you perpetuate racist attitudes? Would you post a course on ‘Blood libel basics’? Or on ‘How to boogy like a black man’?” asked Gayl Veinotte.

In response to the video's treatment of the made up language, another commenter, Nick Gilla, says “Trivialization of indigenous language is harmful, and in bad taste, given that most indigenous North American languages are nearly extinct, due to forced Euro-American assimilation programs, and with the languages, entire ways of viewing the world that are entirely different from European world-views, and which have innumerable intrinsic merits.”

One of the ways indigenous language was mocked by Coursera's April Fools' video.Restoule teaches a Coursera class called Aboriginal Worldviews and Education, which is meant for both aboriginal and non-aboriginal learners. Tara Harper suggested Coursera take its own course when commenting on the Facebook post for the Underwater Basketweaving class, his course is the one she suggested. Restoule notes a “Get over it!” mentality from many when it comes to cultural insensitivity.

“I would suggest that people who say ‘Can’t you take a joke?” could benefit from a course to see how the colonial rule over diverse indigenous populations is buttressed by ‘jokes’ like this one that undermine the value of our knowledges and peoples,” he says.

“You might be surprised to find that jokes like this one help lead to the misinformation and stereotyping that underlies attitudes and opinions like those expressed in a recent letter to the editor of the Nanaimo Daily News,” he says. “Taken together over time and in quantity, embedded in schools and media and harmless jokes, these attitudes and opinions in turn can lead to discrimination and the support of racist laws and policies.”

Coursera did not respond to a request for comment.

Read more:

Newspaper Recants 'Racist' Letter, Expresses Regret, as Outrage Erupts in British Columbia



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Annie B's picture
Annie B
Submitted by Annie B on
Wow. Some people have too few problems and too much time. Also very provincial worldviews. This is making fun of *university professors* - not of any non-campus cultures. "Underwater Basket Weaving' has been a code for 'fake or easy class' (usually in reference to student athletes in need of grade boosts) since at least the 50's,

Anonymous's picture
Submitted by Anonymous on
Yes, we've all heard of basket weaving as the wishful bird course. Not that the actual practice of basket weaving is anywhere near easy. It's actually a master craft taking years to hone. The problem here is the efforts taken in this 'joke' to make parallels to Indigenous knowledge systems, making mockery of North American Indigenous cultures which have experienced cultural genocide and all round oppression of mind, body and spirit. This joke is made in that bloody tradition. Big time hypocrisy on the part of Coursera - offering a course in Aboriginal Worldviews yet promoting cultural violence.

People Arentstupid's picture
People Arentstupid
Submitted by People Arentstupid on
Whoever write this paper/online need to get a grip on the REAL world. Coursera makes highly marketable knowledge and skills like engineering and computer science available to anyone anywhere for free. Try putting Basket Weaving or anything resembling indigenous studies on your resume try your luck getting a job from anyone in the private sector for anything resembling a living wage. You won't even get a call, your resume will be thrown away.

Elle Perkins's picture
Elle Perkins
Submitted by Elle Perkins on
Coursera made a mistake but the timing had the mistake viewed around the world. I am one of the thousands of students worldwide fortunate to have participated in Coursera's Aboriginal Worldview and Education taught by Professor Jean Paul Restoule of the University of Toronto. This four week course just ended on April 3 and we are still free to post comments, still commenting on the Underwater Basket Weaving "joke". With fresh memories after listening to videos and feeling wrenching heartache for the survivors of Canada’s Residential schools, we were alarmed at the “joke”. We have listened to videos of Oren Lyons, Wab Kinew, Wynonna LaDuke, Dr. Suzanne Stewart, Jan Longboat, Dr. Greg Cajete, Jeanette Armstrong, Elder Dave Courchene, Professor Restoule and more. Quite a lot was packed into four weeks, all enthusiastically accepted, in fact we want more. Many of us have become members of Idle No More. Coursera picked the wrong crowd in us if they hoped for a laugh. I want readers here to know how many outcries came in as posted by students around the world. Many of us also signed up for this proposed basket weaving course, some like me, immediately excited at the opportunity to learn about native basket weaving. Then I watched the video. As a result of Professor Restoule’s course we have detailed knowledge that has opened our eyes and hearts even further to the problems facing native people today in Canada and the US. It is not so much given the enormity of the reality. I am grateful to Coursera for offering the course, and like many students I am asking for Aboriginal Worldview and Education Part II.

nuldooyga's picture
Submitted by nuldooyga on
I took the Coursera Aboriginal course. I watched the April Fool's skit. An uproar ensued on the course forum and grew beyond reasoned discourse in no time. One lady should not speak for all the people who took the course. I thought the complaints were akin to swatting flies with a sledge hammer. How do you go from a silly wet professor satirizing other professors to genocide in one sentence? Takes some way too serious imagination. Annie B summed it up well.