What are Visual Thinking Strategies?

This is a guest post by VoiceThread Certified Educator, Dr. Jaime Hannans.

About the same time that I was introduced to VoiceThread, I was finishing PhD courses with my colleague, Dr. Meg Moorman, Clinical Assistant Professor at Indiana University. During our talks, Dr. Moorman educated me about Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS), and I learned how she was applying VTS in her teaching. VTS is a teaching strategy used to engage students with a work of art. Dr. Moorman had been using VTS, with a trained facilitator at an art museum in her area, and found students were using these strategies when caring for patients. 

Dr. Moorman conducted a study focused on what meaning VTS had for students exploring how they used VTS in patient care.  Guided by a series of 3 questions, a facilitator chose a work of art and asked students the following questions: ‘What is going on in this painting?’ ‘What are you seeing that makes you say that?’ (requiring students to give visual evidence), and ‘What more can you find?’ (requiring them to look again and scaffold off of others’ comments).  Students found their observational skills improved and that they were more open to hearing other’s opinions.  They found that they were more likely to give detail to back up observations in their clinical situations and listen to others during report. They also found they used the same line of questioning that the facilitator used when they were seeking more information during clinical rotations during patient care.   

I was intrigued by the use of VTS and the impact on the students. What a great method of asking students to reflect upon their own knowledge, perspectives, and experiences while using observational skills. For nursing students in particular, became an assignment the collectively brought together ideal teaching-learning moments: addressing observation skills during assessment, memory recall during routine care, self-reflection, and awareness of differences in perspectives, beliefs, cultures, and practices. I wanted to share Dr. Moorman’s – VTS assignment with my students, however, there was not an art museum or trained facilitator in close proximity. This is how VoiceThread became a solution to my problem.


Using VoiceThread, I recreated the VTS assignment. I have engaged my students in an innovative and unique way, connecting the art and science of nursing, so to speak. Students were asked to view five to eight works of art (drawings, paintings, images, etc.) within the VoiceThread, selecting two to post audio/video responses to. The students were asked to reflect upon the artwork, critically evaluate what they observed, describe what they felt, and analyze why.

Overall, students felt the VTS assignment encouraged them to think ‘out of the box’, allowed for learning through perceptions and emotion, and one student stated it reemphasized in nursing to “remember the emotions behind caring for people”. By the end of the assignment, the average rating for the assignment using VoiceThread was 9 on a 0-10 scale with 10 being the most effective. Some students initially were hesitant to use VoiceThread, most related to discomfort with audio/video recording themselves. However, the students who admittedly did not like to record were all willing to participate in a VoiceThread assignment again.



What was most evident using VoiceThread was the students were able to portray their individual perspectives, preferences, and personalize the assignment. Students indicated the use of VoiceThread was more engaging, help them think on the “top of their head”, offered improved absorption of content, and was so much more personal than a text discussion. Students were not required to respond to one another’s postings, but did on their own. Using VoiceThread made the discussion lively, adding to student’s learning by engaging them on an individual level.

Students got creative with the video too! Most students appeared to record from home. Some students recorded their pets or child while they talked, and even one student tried on different wigs for subsequent recordings. They made it fun. Most importantly, the assignment impacted the students beyond the day they posted their responses. Upon returning to class, they discussed the art and the experience of paying attention to the skill of “noticing”, days to weeks after the assignment had ended.

(For more on VTS go to http://www.vtshome.org/ or contact Dr. Meg Moorman at mmmoorma@iu.edu. For additional information contact Dr. Jaime Hannans at Jaime.hannans@csuci.edu.)

About the author: Jaime Hannans, RN, PhD, is Assistant Professor In the Nursing Program. She has been teaching nursing clinical, classroom, and lab courses at CSU Channel Islands since January 2009, with prior experience teaching at Moorpark College Nursing Program since January 2006. She is interested in the future direction of technology in nursing and education. Her research interests are in technology in learning, online education, reflection, student engagement, clinical education, and simulation. You can connect with her on twitter at: @jaimehannans