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Language use in student laboratory groups makes apparent students' conceptions in science, their interpretation of the activity or task, and the negotiation of the roles of the members. This article reports on a methodological approach to analyze student discourse systematically. Four Grade 12 lab groups working on microcomputer-based laboratories (MBL) are the focus of the study. The MBL experiences were used to help students link oscillatory motion to graphical representations. Study of student discourse reveals the role the computer plays in the group context and the ways that this context is shaped by the computer. Developing a better understanding of the role of the computer in student conversations suggests ways to fruitfully construct contexts for learning physics.
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