Professor Sarah Dyer
Professor of Higher Education
Amory Building, University of Exeter, Rennes Drive, Exeter, EX4 4RJ , UK
I am a human geographer with research intersts in education, work, and gender. I am the inaugural director of the Exeter Education Incubator. My work investigates how Higher Education can better create transformative learning, both for its students and within it own structures and relationships.
If you are interested in the things I am currently working on I discuss some ideas in the following blogs:
Dyer, S (28th October 2021) How can we support innovation in teaching practice within universities Times Higher
Dyer, S. (October 2021) Education Innovation Lab #5 - How do we know we create value? Incubator blog
Dyer, S (17th May 2021) Education Innovation Lab #3 - Where to start? Incubator blog
Dyer S. (April 2021) Education Innovation Lab #2 - Invitations and applications Incubator blog
Dyer and Harris (16/Oct/2020) Let’s take the remote out of online learning Wonkhe blog
Dyer, Walkington and Hill (5/Sept/2020) Six months on: What does compassionate and courageous pedagogy look like now? THE GEES network 'What works' blog
Broad research specialisms
Social studies of knowledge and learning, higher education, research ethics, ethics and care, work and employment, gender
I am a member of the Graduate School of Education's Centre for Research in Professional Learning (CRPL).
Philosophy BA (KCL London)
Geography MA (KCL London)
PhD (KCL London)
Postgraduate diploma in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education (Oxford)
Research group links
My current research investigates contemporary higher education as a site of individual and collective becoming. I am interested in how social processes, values, and identities shape and are shaped by education and how this is differentially experienced by those involved. Focusing on four interrelated topics, the research I undertake extends understanding of the impact of contemporary restructuring of higher education institutions on those who learn and work in these institutions.
I am interested in the relationship between higher education and work in various ways. First, my work investigates the re-configuration of academic labour. I have written and spoken about increasing casualisation and segmentation in academic labour markets, identifying mechanisms which re-inscribe disadvantage for women and black and minority ethnic academics. A key focus of this work has been with the construction of professional identity and culture and the values enshrined in them. This interest picks up threads of earlier research projects. My research on migration to work used ‘intersectionality’ to explore disadvantage in post-industrial labour markets and normative framing in policy. The research I did on the regulation of ethics in medical research explored socio-political questions about expertise and professions. The second interplay between work and HE I am interested in is that of student employment, both as imagined futures and a lived experience. Future employment and earnings serves to justify particular framings of HE. I have published on how we can go beyond these to create ethical education, using the work of Nussbaum and Sen to argue for a capabilities approach. I am currently supervising a PhD student who is researching Chinese-born students’ experiences and constructions of their ‘employability’ as students in the UK. I am also interested in students’ paid work during their studies, some of which is understood as problematic and some of which is seen as valuable. I argue that we should see such distinctions as part of the ‘hidden curriculum’ in universities.
The second area of scholarship I have contributed to is that of geography pedagogy. My award of national teaching fellowship (NTF) in 2016 evidenced the substantial and successful leadership roles I had taken nationally and internationally within the discipline of geography. I have continued to be recognised as a major presence nationally and internationally in my discipline. I led the Royal Geographical Society’s (RGS) Higher Education Research Group until 2018. I lead a teaching-focused network of academics in Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences and contributed to an International Network for Learning and Teaching in HE Geography project, with an output published in 2018. I serve on the editorial board of The Journal of Geography in Higher Education and of Geoverse, an undergraduate journal. I am a co-editor on a major new international Handbook for Teaching and Learning in Geography, which will be launched at the Association of American Geographers and the RGS in 2020.
Thirdly, I work beyond the discipline of geography, in higher education pedagogy. In 2016 I was awarded an HEA strategic development grant to research students as partners. The resources that I created, Appreciate, are used across the UK and North America. Most recently they featured in an academic development online advent calendar; supporting student interns at Trinity University, Texas; supporting students as partners Fulbright scholarship at Elon, North Carolina; supporting a workshop at the 2019 International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning conference in Atlanta, Georgia; and by the Taylor Institute for Learning and Teaching, Calgary, to support education enhancement. We use and champion a ‘students as partners’ model in the Incubator. I identified evidence to address a gap in the literature on students as partners during the evaluation of student involvement in Incubator projects and so, as well as informing our own practice, this work has been written up and submitted to a ‘students as partners’ journal.
Also within this area of interest in higher education pedagogy, a second strand of my scholarly activity concerns the pedagogy of high impact research-led education practices, with a particular focus on inclusivity. I am undertaking research as part of a competitively awarded research seminar programme supported by Elon’s ‘Center for Engaged Learning’. I am a member of an international research team (Calgary, Canada; Deakin, Australia; Portland State and Atlanta, USA) investigating exclusion and inclusion in student capstone or culminating experiences. (In a UK context this is likely to be a dissertation.) This project has reported to The International Association for Research on Service-Learning and Community Engagement and I will lead a workshop at Elon’s Conference on Engaged Learning in summer 2020. I have been in discussions with the BA programme director to use the universal design principals we are developing to inform revisions to the BA dissertation. I am also PI on an Erasmus+ Strategic Partnerships for HE grant focusing on best practice in community engaged learning. This project team includes universities of Malaga, Spain; Palma, Italy; Turku, Finland; Ghent, Belgium; and Otto von Guericke Magdeburg, Germany. This project will build understanding of the factors which promote inclusivity, success, and sustainability in learning in which students work alongside community partners. It supports the development of the University’s ‘research-education ecosystem’ through connecting education, research, and impact. It will make an important contribution to inclusive learning agendas.
The final area of scholarly engagement is that of academic/education development. This work builds on my geographic research investigating professions and expertise, learning, and work. Through this strand of work I am presenting and refining the model that informs the Education Incubator. I have written (Winks, Green and Dyer 2019; Winks and Dyer resubmitted) about the model used to support staff, and have presented work at the SRHE (2018, 2019) and in an invited presentation at Newcastle University. I will be running a workshop in 2020 at the 12th International Networked Learning conference. In addition, I have written about the role education teams play in student learning in team taught courses. This is a novel focus and discusses both pedagogy and the framing of academic labour. I have also been invited to present at prestigious SRHE research group workshops.
Communities and Students Together (CaST)
Co-funded by the Erasmus+ Programme of the European Union
University of Exeter (lead partner), University of Ghent, University of Magdeburg, University of Parma, University of Malaga, University of Turku
Globally, there are growing calls for Higher Education Institutions to become more civically engaged and socially relevant and there is increased public interest in the impact of universities on their localities and regions. Engaged learning facilitates students to apply theory to real-world contexts outside of the University and to co-produce knowledge with and for the community. Engaged learning provides students with the skills which increase their employability, and improve their personal and professional development, while communities gain access to skills to help develop, evaluate or communicate their work.
The central aim of Communities and Students Together (CaST) will be to advance our knowledge and understanding of what constitutes a successful and sustainable engaged learning programme. We will explore existing initiatives and aim to incorporate successful elements in a series of new sustainable programmes in each partner university which enable community-based engaged learning for students to co-produce knowledge with and for the community.
Diversity and Inclusion in Capstone experiences
Supported by Elon University Center for Engaged Learning
Sarah Dyer, University of Exeter, Trina Jorre de St Jorre, Deakin University, Moriah McSharry McGrath, Portland State University, Andrew Pearl, University of Alabama, Joanna Rankin, University of Calgary
Over the last 30 years, many undergraduate institutions have placed a greater emphasis on the development of the capstone experience as a high-impact practice. Although these experiences existed much earlier (Atchinson, 1993; Levine, 1975; Gardner, J., & Van der Veer, G. 1998; Wagenaar, 1993), a call by the Boyer Commission (1998) to reinforce the capstone experience as an integral component of a “new model of educating at the undergraduate research universities” was instrumental in clarifying the value and purpose of the capstone (p.16). Since then, universities have committed to this culminating concept and developed unique opportunities for their students to demonstrate learning. The capstone experience has taken on many forms, including internships, senior-level courses, service learning projects, undergraduate research, and portfolios. The capstone has also grown beyond discipline-specific majors (usually in the form of a senior-level course or experience within the major), to university supported, multi-discipline experiences used as the final piece of the general education requirement (NSSE, 2014). The successful implementation of these experiencesled the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) to label the capstone as one of several “high impactpractices” that encourage transformative learning (Kuh, 2008). With the increase in the integration of various types of capstone experiences, a broad range of research has developed. The emphasis of much of this research has concentrated on the role of the capstone in curriculum (Brooks, Benton-Kupper, Slayton, 2004; Brown & Benson, 2005); the unique characteristics of the capstoneexperience (Dunlap, 2005; Henscheid, 2000; Kerrigan & Jhaj, 2007; Rhodes & Agre-Kippenhan, 2004); and the impact of the capstone experience on student learning (Bronwell, J. & Swaner, L., 2010; NSSE, 2007; Kuh, 2008). Although there is an ever-growing body of literature on the many successful strategies and outcomes of the capstone experience, valid concerns still remain (Kinzie, 2013). Concerns about the capstone experience have focused on the ability to execute a high-impact design and to provide this experience to all students(NSSE, 2014). Capstone experiences tend to be criticized when they are poorly planned or reflect low academic standards. In addition, concerns have been raised regarding the support faculty are receiving from the institution to provide the necessary mentoring for high quality experiences (Kuh, 2008). Finally, challenges exist on assessing the experiences, in particular an in-depth evaluation of the capstone across institutions (Padgett & Kilgo, 2012; Tinsley McGill, 2012).Appreciating that there are numerous facets to achieving a successful capstone experience, the CEL Research Seminar promotes multi-institutional collaborations to facilitate research approaches across institutions to address these ongoing concerns. The Center will support rigorous multi-institutional, multi-method investigations with the goals of enhancing the body of literature on, and providing best practices for the development of capstone experience.
A multi-site international study which investigates how power, positionality, and pedagogy play out for faculty and students in research, service, and professional practice capstones.
Publications by category
Publications by year
External Engagement and Impact
Awards and distinctions
I was awarded a National Teaching Fellowship in 2016. I won a Students' Guild Teaching Award in 2013 for my work supporting student engagment and was awarded a University of Exeter Teaching Fellowship Award in 2014.
I am a Principal Fellow of Adavance HE (Higher Education Academy).
I am on the editorial board member of the Journal of Geography in Higher Education and editor of the 'What works for teaching in HE GEES' blog.
I coordinate an education-focused network for Geography, Environmental and Earth Sciences academics. I am a member of the International Network for Learning and Teaching in Geography HE.
I was a member of the review panel for the QAA's most recent review of the Geography Subject Benchmark Statement (QAA 2014) and was chair of the Royal Geographical Society's Higher Education Research Group between 2015 and 2018.