Embedding art in histology teaching: Visual thinking strategies (VTS) to enhance visual literacy



biomedical teaching, visual thinking strategies, histology, observational skills, visual literacy



Histology is a visually challenging subject for novice students. Visual thinking strategies (VTS) uses the viewing of art to improve visual literacy in classroom settings (Housen, 2002), including medical programmes (Reilly, Ring, & Duke, 2005), but has not been evaluated in histology. This project assessed the impact of VTS on students' observational skills, perceptions of histological images, and practical report marks.


Participants were third-year biomedical students (n=133) studying histology in 2021. Students were shown a novel histology image and wrote their observations (pre-VTS). An experienced VTS facilitator guided students through an approximately 20-minute session exploring a never-before-seen artwork. After the VTS-activity, students were shown a new histology image and wrote their observations (post-VTS). Pre- and post-VTS descriptions were scored for measures of observational richness and compared. Responses to open-ended reflective questions were analysed by inductive thematic analysis. Report marks were compared with those from a previous year.


While there was no significant effect of the VTS activity on the students’ pre-/post-VTS descriptions, nor on their practical report marks, 46% of students reported that VTS changed how they viewed histological images and improved their observational skills. This study suggests that a one-off VTS activity at the beginning of a histology class can benefit students’ experience of unfamiliar microscopic images and improve enjoyment of this challenging subject.


Housen, A.C. (2002) Aesthetic thought, critical thinking and transfer. Arts and Learning Research Journal, 18, 99-132.

Reilly, J. M., Ring, J., & Duke, L. (2005) Visual thinking strategies: a new role for art in medical education. Family Medicine, 37, 250-252.

Author Biographies

Lisa K. Akison, The University of Queensland

School of Biomedical Sciences, Lecturer

Jordon Patti, The University of Queensland

School of Biomedical Sciences, Student

Louise Ainscough, The University of Queensland

School of Biomedical Sciences, Senior Lecturer

Kay Colthorpe, The University of Queensland

School of Biomedical Sciences, Associate Professor