Brain in hands

Dr. Claudia Krebs:

Academic YouTube Star Sparks Worldwide Learning

A story celebrating teaching excellence at UBC — innovative, evidence-based and committed to transforming the student learning experience.

Initially, all that UBC neuroanatomy professor Dr. Claudia Krebs had hoped to do with her videos was to engage her own students in deeper learning so they would actually retain the information she wanted them to know. That was back in 2013. Today, she’s collaborating with colleagues around the world to transform medical anatomy education for thousands of students everywhere through open access learning.

In 2013, Professor Claudia Krebs set out to help her undergraduate neuroanatomy students learn the course content in a more meaningful way. From experience, she knew that students often struggled with the sheer volume of information about the human brain. She figured that a few well-executed videos would help them learn the content more deeply, so she applied for funding through flexible learning at UBC. Grant in hand, she then engaged the experts at UBC Faculty of Medicine info-tech services provider MedIT to help bring her vision to life.


My med students always felt overwhelmed at the amount of information they had to learn about brain anatomy. There’s a documented thing called neurophobia and it refers to how scared students and practitioners are of symptoms that relate to the brain, because they feel they don’t understand it very well. I wanted to get my students past that, by presenting the information to them in a more engaging way. So I worked with MedIT to make a series of videos that explain parts of the brain in detail. I tasked my students with watching the videos before the lecture, so that they’d come prepared to go deeper. When they got to class, they took a quiz on the concepts and then got down to work applying the material for greater understanding. The experience flipped traditional education upside-down; instead of me telling them what they needed to know, they learned it on their own time and then we worked together to apply and deepen that knowledge in class.

Claudia Krebs

What Krebs didn’t envision was that her videos would spark a global reaction. Within days of the first upload, she had hits from as far away as the Middle East, Africa and South America. Recalls Krebs: “I received an e-mail from a guy in Iraq with some follow-up questions and when I looked at where the videos were being viewed, I thought: My gosh, they’re watching my videos in Saudi Arabia!”


We were getting hits from all around the world. While most of them originated in the US, Canada, Australia and Europe — as would be expected — I also had people in Iraq and Bangladesh emailing me about the videos. I gave a talk about this project at the Faculty of Medicine in Lund, Sweden, and then a couple professors approached me and asked to collaborate. I was invited back as a visiting scholar. I’ve presented at SANORD, a conference for Nordic countries about how we can improve public health in sub-Saharan Africa through open access to education. And I’m collaborating with researchers in Glasgow, Lund and Amsterdam who want to produce anatomy media, too, so that we can offer a broader spectrum of content. It’s not just for students, either; this is useful for the life-long learning of health care practitioners everywhere. And it’s particularly valuable in places where there is a need for high-quality instruction but where they’re experiencing brain drain, like in parts of Africa. My goal is to engage educators in these areas of the world in order to prevent that from happening. If we can collaborate, we can engage and build capacity locally.

Professor Claudia Krebs helps her undergraduate neuroanatomy students learn the course content.

Warning: Some users might find this content disturbing.

Dr. Claudia Krebs video capture
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Professor Claudia Krebs helps her undergraduate neuroanatomy students learn the course content.

Warning: Some users might find this content disturbing.

Following the inaugural Introduction to the Central Nervous System (CNS) video first released in January 2014, it and the subsequent roster of professional-grade video tutorials have had hundreds of thousands of views and are being incorporated into post-secondary courses the world over. Boston University, University of Washington, University of Ottawa, and Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam have all utilized the videos as teaching tools. To these and all other requests to use her material in their classes, Krebs has one answer: yes. As the three-time recipient of the UBC Medical Undergraduate Society Award for Teaching Excellence, she notes: “Open education is where we have to go.”


It’s our social responsibility as a publicly funded institution to share our knowledge. At UBC, we’re lucky to have the budget to create these informative, engaging videos, and our team at MedIT is just incredible with scripting, shooting and editing to make the videos really come alive. I could never do it without them! By sharing these videos widely, we can really improve medical education not just for UBC students but for those in other places, too. We’re passionate about open education and are reaching out to universities in developing countries to create partnerships. One of the main foci of the United Nation’s post-2015 agenda is to have more digital information available as open education resources. Now we’ve got a network of collaborators interested in creating digital media in anatomy education and we’re working together to create a repository of resources that can be shared.


This kind of knowledge sharing has never been easier in the age of digital media. As a top-20 public university, UBC is in a position to produce professional-quality media that many institutions just can’t, says Krebs. Sharing such media facilitates access to post-secondary education for all, and life-long learning for those already practicing medicine.

Krebs’s videos are just one example of UBC’s commitment to flexible learning — evidence-based, tech-enabled teaching that improves the learning experience. With 14 videos and 26 interactive modules currently on the neuroanatomy website plus more to come, Krebs has developed a powerful international network of collaborators, one she believes will deepen: “In the mid-term future, I hope for technologies that will enable students to collaborate more directly in digital classrooms. I envision UBC students working with students in Namibia or Uganda or Argentina — and they’re all collaborating in a digital classroom on that content.”

A good news story that students and educators around the world are sharing.

Claudia Krebs

Director of Gross Anatomy and Neuroanatomy, Professor of Teaching, Cellular and Physiological Sciences, Faculty of Medicine.

Anatomist, educator, tech enthusiast: using media to bring education to UBC students and the global community. Mother of one garden, three children, and ten thousand bees.

More about Claudia

Story Credits

Special thanks to our story partners: Dr. Claudia Krebs, Director of Gross Anatomy and Neuroanatomy Professor, Faculty of Medicine; Alison Liversage, Communications Specialist, Faculty of Medicine; Patricia Gray, Digital Communications Specialist, Faculty of Medicine; Zachary Rothman, Senior Producer, Video and Digital Media, MedIT, Faculty of Medicine.

Team credits: Communications & Marketing — Cindy Connor, Online Producer; Margaret Doyle, Digital Storyteller; Michael Kam, Web Developer; Adrian Liem, Manager, Digital Communications; Mark Pilon, Communication Designer; Jamil Rhajiak, Communications Coordinator; Aida Viziru, Web Interaction Designer; Matt Warburton, Manager, Graphic Design; Alex Van Tol, Writer; David Leidl, Copy Editor.

Published: September 2016