Keith Sawyer

Morgan Distinguished Professor in Educational Innovations, UNC School of Education

Keith Sawyer is the Morgan Distinguished Professor in Educational Innovations at the UNC School of Education. He studies creativity, innovation and learning, with a focus on collaborating groups and teams. He uses qualitative and quantitative methods to examine the conversational dynamics of groups in real-world contexts, whether business meetings, classrooms or informal learning environments. His research helps answer questions such as: Which teams are more creative? What team processes result in greater creativity? Which groups are more likely to contribute to more effective learning of the participants? Which organizations and classrooms are most likely to foster effective group interactions?

Sawyer’s current approach is inspired by his early empirical studies of the interactional processes in jazz ensembles, improvisational theater groups and children at play. He connects these phenomena to learning within a theoretical framework, in the tradition of sociocultural psychology and distributed cognition, that he calls “collaborative emergence.” He has studied collaborative learning groups in classrooms (including chemistry, computer science and psychology) and other settings, and collaborative creativity in teacher teams and in business organizations.

In his current research, he is studying how teaching and learning are organized in professional schools of art and design, with the goal of identifying a core set of features that can be used to design more effective learning environments. He conducted ethnographic studies of the Savannah College of Art & Design and the Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Art at Washington University in St. Louis.

Sawyer is also the executive director of the annual UNC Faculty Entrepreneurship Workshop, a seminar that gives faculty the skills used by successful entrepreneurs. He received his PhD and master’s degree in psychology from the University of Chicago. He earned his bachelor’s degree in computer science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.