Visual Literacy and Perceptual Intelligence: Educational Strategies to Enhance Observational and Communication Skills in Nursing Students

Thursday, 25 July 2013: 3:35 PM

Debra Filer, PhD, RN, CNE
DEPARTMENT OF NURSING, St. Catherine University, St. Paul, MN

Learning Objective 1: Identify the importance of visual literacy in the development of critical thinking and ethical judgment.

Learning Objective 2: Design teaching activities to increase visual literacy in nursing students.


The purpose of this study was to determine whether participation in a seminar using works of art could improve observational and communication skills in nursing and art history students


The seminar was designed to hone students’ visual literacy and break familiar viewing habits through viewing works of art. Before and after the seminar each student received a randomly assigned coded packet containing 1 of 2 photographs. Students were asked to record their observations of the photographs pre- and post-intervention.  Responses were coded and compared with participants acting as their own controls.

Written response was scored by the researchers and a research assistant. The responses were scored on the number of observations made, the number of inferences made, and the number of inferences supported by observations. Statistical analysis was used to interpret the data. 

Post-intervention focus interview(s) of selected students were conducted by the researchers one week after the seminar. Interview questions were broad in nature and sought to gather further data in order to assess the long-term effects of the intervention, as well as assess the effects of the interdisciplinary socialization. Interviews were recorded and analyzed for themes.


Both nursing and art students showed significant improvement in the number of observations they recorded after the intervention (p<.005).  However, the magnitude of that change was significantly greater in the nursing students than in the art students (t = 2.682, p = .01). Nursing students also demonstrated a significant change in supported inferences (p=0.049), while the art students did not (p=0.377).


This study demonstrated that works of art can be used as teaching method to improve nursing students' skills of observation and communication. Results indicated that students could more fully support their inferences by recognizing and clustering observations.