How to Keep Students at the Center of Your Digital Transformation

While there’s no exact formula for a seamless digital transformation, certain school districts are providing examples of how to take this on while keeping learners at the center of everything. Student agency is a top priority at Frederick County Public Schools in Virginia, and it definitely shows in their approach to technology implementation.

Intention and Purpose

“If you don’t have a strong intention or purpose to use the technology, then don’t,” says Rod Carnill, the district’s technology director. School district leaders are inundated with proposals and pitches for the hottest new trends in edtech on a regular basis—all promising to revolutionize learning and make it more student-friendly. Even with the best of intentions, you cannot force tech into a lesson.

“If you don’t have a strong intention or purpose to use the technology, then don’t,” says Rod Carnill, the district’s technology director.


Rod Carnill speaking (Source: Hapara)


“I always start with the pedagogy,” says Amy Miller, a middle school tech coach in Frederick County. An 18-year classroom veteran, Miller works with teachers one-on-one to develop lessons and learning experiences. If a tech tool proves useful, it is incorporated—not the other way around.

When Frederick County Public Schools started the shift toward one-to-one learning, they first needed to know what kids were doing online. So, they looked for a way to monitor that activity. They selected Hapara Highlights for its focus on visible personalized learning, which aligned with their goals.

While Hapara Highlights does monitor online activity, the company stresses the importance of a model of gradual release to all of its customers: close monitoring at the beginning of an adoption—while teaching good digital citizenship skills—and over time, allowing the student to exercise more autonomy online in a safe and responsible way. Hapara has found that this promotes an environment of trust and respect between teachers and students.

If a tech tool proves useful, it is incorporated—not the other way around.


Amy Miller’s class working on their CoLab projects (Source: Hapara)


Observing the Process

Process—and how it differs with each learner—is at the center of Frederick County’s educational philosophy. Learners have the opportunity to improve executive functioning skills such as time management and organization during every project or assignment. As a result, teachers and district leaders have seen students take more ownership of their learning, and common problems like lost assignments and chronically late work have dissipated. Students are encouraged to collaborate with peers, follow their own interests and demonstrate their learning in ways that they find engaging. Changing the way students perceive the work adds value to what they are doing and deepens their investment.

This emphasis on process translates to a more flexible learning environment. Tech leaders in Frederick County recognize that every learner is unique; this includes the way that each one uses technology, if at all. It’s never enforced as a requirement for projects. The district is also very flexible in terms of the types of technology a teacher may use in the classroom; they see teachers as learners, too, and understand that their needs are unique as well.


Hapara gathers learner assignments, notifications, resources and workspaces in one convenient location. Learn more about how Student Dashboard drives student agency.


Choice and Voice

When Rod Carnill considers which elements have contributed to the success of Frederick County’s technology transformation, he puts a lot of weight on freedom of choice, as well as student and teacher voice. He says it is just as important to listen to teachers—allowing them to lead the way in their own learning—as it is with students. This line of thinking has yielded positive results across the district.

When school technology leaders provide opportunities to enrich learning with technology that is learner-centered, student agency is a natural byproduct.

Tech leaders must stay connected and listen to teachers and students. Carnill says his team relies heavily on focus group data from all stakeholders and survey results. This has taught them a lot about which technology works in the classroom—or doesn’t—and why. It has also encouraged teachers to diversify the tech that they employ in the classroom.

Leading the Way

Frederick County Public Schools is a national leader in student-centered digital transformation. Every staff and faculty member—whether a district leader, a building administrator or a teacher—truly understands how to implement technology in a way that adds to the learning experience without diminishing what teachers are already doing and never forgetting about learner needs.

When school technology leaders provide opportunities to enrich learning with technology that is learner-centered, student agency is a natural byproduct. There are many moving parts and competing interests during a digital transformation. It’s essential to always keep the focus on doing what’s right for the student.

Digital transformation is no easy task, and there is no magic wand that you can wave to make it go smoothly. Clearly defined purpose, respect for the learning process and two-way communication provide opportunities for all involved to reflect on what’s best for each individual learning path. This is what drives the success of the tech transformation in Frederick County Public Schools.


Student Dashboard integrates:
  • Google Classroom
  • Hapara
  • G Suite

Frederick County has embraced tools like Hapara Dashboard, Highlights and Workspace, becoming a trusted advisor when the company makes product updates, adds new features or releases new tools. At ISTE 2019, Hapara debuted its newest tool, Student Dashboard, developed with a mission to empower learners and drive student agency by helping learners improve their executive functioning skills. Frederick County Public Schools will be among the first schools in North America to have access to this platform. Hapara and Frederick County will collaborate to ensure that Student Dashboard meets the unique needs of each learner, provides context and purpose for learning and facilitates the independent learner’s journey.

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