BACKGROUND: Students’ experience of the world in the laboratory is not a direct experience, human – world, but a mediated experience, human – tool – world, shaped by the use of physical and symbolic tools. Technology is used as agencies of observations, i.e. as tools for collection and processing of physical data. However, the role of experimental technologies for student learning in the laboratory is largely neglected in educational research. If technologies are studied at all, it is often seen as being synonymous with studying the role of computers.
METHODS: Students’ interaction in different physics and electric circuit labs, with different experimental technologies, was recorded using digital camcorders. The videotaped data were used to detect typical interactional patterns. Particularly interesting parts of these sessions were transcribed to allow for detailed examination of interactional patterns.
RESULTS: In some cases the technologies were used as tools to see the world with and some aspects of the world were put in the foreground. In other cases the technology in itself become the focus of attention and no, or inadequate, connection to the world was made. The role of the technology for students’ learning depended in some cases on the affordances of the technology used, but in other cases it depended on the pedagogical design.
CONCLUSION: Some experimental technologies are more effective for facilitating learning by being effective tools to see with. However, for the effective use of technologies the educational design is important and no technology is effective independently of the pedagogy used.