Dr. Keith Sawyer is a professor of education at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

The Psychology of Creativity

"Thanks for an awesome semester! You are so inspiring. Your class was a breath of fresh air." "One of the best teachers I have had at UNC or at any of my other schools"." --Anonymous student evaluations, Spring 2022

"Professor Sawyer is a creative mastermind that drafted an incredible and unprecedented class dynamic! I would highly recommend this class to my peers." --Anonymous student evaluation, Spring 2021 (fully online)

"The course with Keith was fantastic. I had never really considered creativity from research or scientific perspectives so this class was illuminating in many ways. Learning the creative process and the research behind it really changed some of my ideas about creativity. It also reinforced many of the practices I engage in. I really appreciated the balance of research modules and class projects. The typeface/logotype design project is one of the most engaging classroom exercises I've been a part of. Thanks, Keith!" --Anonymous student evaluation, Spring 2020 (in-person through March)

How do people create? What happens in the mind when people are creating? What groups and teams are likely to foster creativity? Why do some societies, geographic regions, and historical periods have heightened creativity? How do people learn to be creative?

This class will provide you with an overview of scientific research on these questions. We’ll read the latest science of how creativity works—in psychology and in other disciplines. This will involve the sort of reflection and analysis, reading and writing, that you find in many classes in the humanities and the social sciences. Our textbook is Dr. Sawyer's book Explaining Creativity: The Science of Human Innovation .

To learn how to understand and apply the research, you will actively engage in the creative process, in four creative projects: graphic design, writing, music, and web development. These projects are similar to the type of studio class you find in departments of art, graphic design, and creative writing. These projects won’t require any previous training or experience.

In my online courses in Fall 2020 and Spring 2021, I used the tools Sakai (learning management system); Panopto (video lecture capture and editing); Zoom (synchronous class sessions, polls, breakout rooms, office hours); mural.co and Jamboard (collaborative concept mapping tools); Voicethread (video recordings of student work and video comments from peers)

Introduction to the Learning Sciences

"Amazing professor, a real treasure." --Anonymous student evaluations, Fall 2022

"Dr. Sawyer is a very passionate instructor. This is one of the most enjoyable classes I've had in my entire educational career."; "One of the best teachers I have had in my career. Really exceptional, especially with such broad and difficult material." --Anonymous student evaluations, Fall 2020 (fully online)

"Dr. Sawyer is a great professor! He's attentive and encourages engaging discussion. He's fair, and provides good feedback when evaluating work. This will forever be a favorite course of mine, led by a favorite professor. Thank you, Dr. Sawyer." --Anonymous student evaluation, Fall 2019 (traditional in-person)

EDUC 915 is an introduction to the field of the learning sciences. Learning sciences is an interdisciplinary field of researchers who study how people learn, both in school and out of school. They study a broad variety of learning environments, including school classrooms, but also out-of-school settings like science centers, summer camps, and even learning in neighborhoods and with families. Our textbook is Dr. Sawyer's book The Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Sciences .

Spring 2018: The Maker Movement and Education

"First time taking a course with Dr. Sawyer – he is truly excited about the material he teaches and it has shown me a side of education I had never really considered before. Highly recommend this class and Dr. Sawyer." --Anonymous student evaluation

"He was a great teacher. He is very enthusiastic about the material and was open to feedback to make sure we were best learning the material." --Anonymous student evaluation

Education research shows that people learn better when they move, they work with their hands, they manipulate objects, and they design and make things. We've known this for years, but it's been very hard to design activities for children where they can move and make, and at the same time learn the required course material. But today that's changed, thanks to exciting new technologies that bring learning and making together. Today's parents and teachers can choose from a big variety of research-based toys and software apps that engage children in playing, making, and creating. Libraries, schools, and museums are opening "maker spaces" where children can use tools to create and make their own ideas. Learning goals:

  1. A working familiarity with the latest learning technologies: apps, toys, and robots
  2. An understanding of the science of how people learn
  3. An ability to critically evaluate the potential of a technology for teaching and learning
  4. An ability to design a learning environment for a target learner, for a desired learning outcome, in a way that is aligned with learning sciences research and that integrates appropriate technologies

Fall 2017: Psychology of Creativity

"Every undergraduate student should take this class. After taking the Psychology of Creativity, I learned that creativity is not just a spark of insight. Professor Sawyer taught us an 8-step process that helps me be more creative." --Anonymous student evaluation

The class combines research and practice on creativity. We will read and discuss research in psychology, sociology, history, anthropology, and other disciplines. An important way to become more creative is to learn what science has discovered about creative individuals, creative personalities, creative groups and teams, creative organizations, and creative cultures, societies, and historical periods. You will engage in guided hands-on participation in activities that apply the research to enhance your own creativity. An important way to become more creative is to practice the habits and behaviors associated with successful creativity. Learning goals:

  1. Learn a broad range of empirical scientific findings.  This includes both the science of the mind (psychology, neuroscience) as well as the science of creative groups and organizations (social psychology, organizational behavior, sociology, anthropology).
  2. Learn a wide variety of techniques and exercises that have been found to be helpful in enhancing the creative process, and learn how to apply them in a variety of situations.
  3. Learn a process of deliberate creativity that consistently leads to successful problem solutions and outcomes.
  4. Increase your awareness of your own creative processes.

May 2016: Chancellor's Faculty Entrepreneurship Workshop

"The program really should be opened to all incoming faculty members. This has the potential to really change how junior faculty go about developing their research programs." "Every department chair at UNC should attend!" "A great application of entrepreneurship concepts to the Academy." --Anonymous participant evaluations

The Chancellor’s Faculty Entrepreneurship Workshop is a strategic initiative sponsored by UNC Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt, by Interim Vice Chancellor Judith Cone, by the School of Education, and by the UNC General Administration and President Tom Ross. The first annual Chancellor’s workshop took place in May 2009, and it has taken place every May since 2009. Dr. Sawyer organized and led the 4-day workshop in 2015, 2016, and 2017.

The workshop is designed to help faculty develop the entrepreneurial mindset: a way of thinking that will give them new ways to solve problems and to bring their ideas to reality. In four days, participants share ideas, form teams, and develop ideas for university-based ventures. 
  • 2017 Overall participant rating: 4.6 out of 5.0
  • 2016 Overall participant rating: 4.3 out of 5.0
  • 2015 Overall participant rating: 4.8 out of 5.0

Fall 2015: Development and Learning

"The course content and delivery was excellent. I would highly recommend this instructor and this class." "This was a great class! Would highly recommend." --Anonymous student evaluations

Students will receive an introduction to the most influential theoretical approaches to the study of development and learning. Through two empirical projects and a final paper, students will learn how to apply various methodological approaches, and theoretical frameworks, to the study of specific instances of development and learning. This is an interdisciplinary course, because development and learning have been studied from a variety of disciplinary perspectives. Readings will include developmental psychology, learning sciences, and cultural anthropology.

Spring 2014 and Spring 2015: Learning Theories: Introduction to Cognitive Science and Sociocultural Perspectives

Students will read, discuss, critique, and apply the full range of learning theories, including but not limited to behaviorism, constructivism, and socioculturalism. We will read original source texts and engage with the pre-eminent theorists who have had a major impact on the learning sciences and on pedagogical practice. Through participation in EDUC918, Learning Theories, students will:

  1. Understand philosophy of science perspectives on theory, explanation, and causation in the social sciences, and different forms of theory and explanation found in the history of the philosophy of science
  2. Understand the sociocultural context and the goals of various learning theories
  3. Comprehend how various learning theories are similar to and different from one another, what their relative strengths and weaknesses are, and what learning phenomena they are most appropriate for
  4. Understand the empirical and methodological approach most appropriate to each learning theory
  5. Identify the implications of various learning theories for pedagogical practice

Fall 2014: Learning How to Create

What teaching strategies, educational software designs, and project assignments are more likely to lead to creative learning? These questions have become important among education researchers, school leaders, and policy makers, because in today’s innovation age, creative graduates are needed both for economic growth and also to solve pressing social problems.

One potential solution is to develop new creativity training courses. However, there is substantial evidence that creativity in any given discipline requires a particular kind of disciplinary expertise. And if so, we may have to change the way people learn in each of the content areas. For example, schools of engineering must change the way that they teach core disciplinary knowledge; departments of physics, biology, and chemistry have to change the way they teach their core subject matter.

In this advanced discussion seminar, we will read a variety of scholarly articles—empirical studies, theoretical works, and policy documents—to explore how we might redesign teaching and learning in each content area, to help learners be prepared to be creative with, and go beyond, what they are learning. The interdisciplinary reading list will include seminal works in learning sciences, cognitive psychology, creativity research, and arts and design education.

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