Date of Award


Degree Name

PhD Leadership Studies

Dissertation Committee

Lea A. Hubbard, PhD, Chair Joi Spencer, PhD, Member Antonio-Jimenez-Luque, PhD, Member


literacy, personalized learning, personalized learning technology, computerized learning, criticality, middle schools, Portraiture methodology


Personalized learning technology (PL Tech) is a growing educational reform movement supported by federal grant dollars. As a bourgeoning educational movement, no research has been conducted to explore the potential effects of such structures in supporting student literacy learning. Additionally, current education reform research often lacks the perspective of the students experiencing the reform. Therefore, this study sought to examine the lived experiences of middle school students using PL Tech to understand what structural and cultural arrangements influenced students’ literacy learning.

Portraiture, a qualitative methodology, was employed to conduct the study at a charter school in Fresno, California implementing PL Tech for all students grades 5-8. Over 4 months, various documents and artifacts were analyzed, observations logged, individual unstructured and semi-structured interviews with 4 middle school students and school personnel conducted, and 2 student focus group interviews conducted. All data were coded and analyzed using the Zoom Model through the lens of Race Critical Code studies and Culturally Historic Responsive Literacy Framework.

Findings from this study suggest that PL Tech impacts the relationship students create with learning and literacy. Challenges were found in relying upon a platform to deliver learning experiences rather than relying upon highly trained educators. Students reported becoming efficient readers but experiencing stress associated with literacy and learning due to constant assessments and pacing. Learning was viewed as a set of disparate skills and situated within coded inequities. Marketed for student learning, PL Tech was found to be personalized for the site rather than the students. The implications from the study suggest that state-level education policy for bilingual education, teacher evaluation processes, and the desire for equitable learning contexts for all students is at odds with the PL Tech platform implemented in this study. More research is needed on PL technology to better understand the learning science informing the development of the PL tech systems and on how PL technology impacts literacy learning beyond high school.

Document Type

Dissertation: Open Access


Leadership Studies