Photo of Keith Sawyer

Sawyer, Keith

Morgan Distinguished Professor in Educational Innovations

T: 919.962.0288
309D Peabody Hall

Website: www.keithsawyer.com

"If we are to give more than lip service to creativity in children, we must actively support the creativity of the teacher. That is to say, we must come to recognize fully the creativity of good teaching."

- Margaret Mead

"The native and unspoiled attitude of childhood, marked by ardent curiosity, fertile imagination, and love of experimental inquiry, is near, very near, to the attitude of the scientific mind."

- John Dewey


Keith Sawyer 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 us 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 of the Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Art at Washington University in St. Louis.

Educational Background

  • Ph.D. 1994 - University of Chicago, Psychology
  • M.A. 1992 - University of Chicago, Psychology
  • S.B. 1982 - Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Computer Science

Doctoral Program Affiliation(s)

Ph.D. in Education - Learning Sciences and Psychological Studies

Research and Teaching Interests

  • Creativity and innovation
  • Learning sciences
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Dynamics of collaborating groups and teams


  • Introduction to the learning sciences
  • Psychology of creativity
  • Leading innovative teams
  • Entrepreneurship in education
  • Creativity leading to breakthrough performance

Professional Affiliations

  • American Educational Research Association
  • Academy of Management
  • American Sociological Association
  • European Association for Research on Learning and Instruction
  • International Society of the Learning Sciences

Honors & Awards

  • Honorary Visiting Professor, University of Exeter, UK, 2010 - 2012; 2012 - 2015
  • Osher Fellow, San Francisco Exploratorium, 2009
  • Washington University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Special Recognition for Excellence in Mentoring, 2004-2005
  • Washington University Department of Education "Chair's Choice Award for Department Service," 2004
  • National Academy of Education/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship, 2000
  • AERA Division E Outstanding Dissertation Award (Human Development), 1996

Selected Funded Research

  • 2007 - 2012: National Science Foundation, Solicitation Number NSF-06-608: CPATH T: Active Learning for Transformation of the Undergraduate Experience. Co-PI with Dr. Kenneth Goldman, Department of Computer Science, Washington University. $562,987
  • 2007 - 2010: National Science Foundation, Solicitation Number NSF-06-536: An Analysis of Discourse in Peer-Led Team Learning. Co-PI with Dr. Regina Frey, Department of Chemistry, Washington University. $150,000.
  • 2003 - 2006: National Science Foundation, Solicitation Number NSF-02-082: An Interactive Learning Environment for Introductory Computer Science. Co-PI with Kenneth Goldman, Computer Science Department, Washington University. $595,338.

Selected Publications

Sawyer, R. K. (2012). Explaining creativity: The science of human innovation (second edition). New York: Oxford University Press.

Sawyer, R. K. (2011a). The cognitive neuroscience of creativity: A critical review. The Creativity Research Journal, 23(2), 137-154.

Sawyer, R. K. (Editor). (2011). Structure and improvisation in creative teaching. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Sawyer, R. K. (2009). The collaborative nature of innovation. Journal of Law and Policy, 30, 293-324.

Sawyer, R. K. and DeZutter, S. (2009). Distributed creativity: How collective creations emerge from collaboration. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, 3(2), 81-92.

Sawyer, R. K. (2007). Group genius: The creative power of collaboration. New York: BasicBooks. Translations: Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese, Japanese, Korean.

Scribner, J. P., Sawyer, R. K., Watson, S. T., & Myers, V. (2007). Teacher teams and distributed leadership: A study of group creativity and collaboration. Educational Administration Quarterly, 43(1), 67-100.

Sawyer, R. K. (2006a). Educating for innovation. Thinking Skills and Creativity, 1(1), 41-48.

Sawyer, R. K. (Editor). (2006). Cambridge handbook of the learning sciences. New York: Cambridge University Press.

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