Background: We conducted a pilot study to investigate the use of Concept Maps (CMs) in a Problem-Based Learning (PBL) setting as a complementary tool to current educational techniques for enhancing medical student knowledge and critical thinking. We also introduced a measure from the field of graph theory as an objective means of CM 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: Questionnaires 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. It was also found that graph-theoretical measures (graph density, modularity) were suitable for objectively distinguishing between CMs that captured more in-depth knowledge, compared to CMs that contained simpler associations. Conclusions: We have shown that it is possible to quantify CM quality using graph-theoretical measures, such as graph density and modularity.

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