Background: Concept Maps (CMs) have been used in a Problem-Based Learning (PBL) setting as  complementary tools to current educational techniques for enhancing medical student knowledge and critical thinking. We conducted a pilot study that used CMs in a PBL-setting to introduce a measure from the field of graph theory and investigate its usefulness as a means of CM quantitative quality assessment. Methods: Participants were first-year medical students with no or minor prior CM experience. All participants completed questionnaires (demographic information and assessment of learning style) to establish a baseline measure against which the change in clinical and critical thinking was assessed. They were asked to prepare CMs for three PBL cases, and following the submission of the CMs they completed semi-structured critical and clinical thinking questionnaires. A clinical expert also created corresponding “benchmark” CMs for comparison. Qualitative (Wordclouds) and quantitative (graph theory) analysis provided a summary of the key concepts and quantified the CM quality respectively, compared to the “benchmark” CMs. Results: It was  found that graph-theoretical measures (graph density, modularity) were suitable for distinguishing between CMs that captured more in-depth knowledge, compared to CMs that contained simpler associations. Questionnaires also revealed that CMs helped students recall information, organize material in a concise manner, prepare better for their PBL session and provided a good revision tool. Conclusions: We have shown that a graph-theoretical approach to quantitative CM assessment is feasible using measures such as graph density and modularity.

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