Pet Peeve of the Week II – Dictaphones

DictaphonesI’ve long found Dictaphones in lectures inexplicably annoying. As devices go, they’re actually quite unobtrusive and once switched on, there isn’t any sound or other annoying attribute to contend with - unlike laptops. However, it’s the users of Dictaphones who are the problem in my experience.

To be fair, though, there are quite a few foreign students on my LLM course who make use of Dictaphones and I can absolutely see the merit in them recording lectures and seminars. I’d even go as far as saying it’s a good idea for those students whose first language isn’t English and who might be assisted by hearing the content back a second time.

However, there are a couple of UK students in two of my units who hold law degrees from the UK and who still record lectures and seminars. While I might be vaguely convinced to see the point behind recording lectures at this level, to do the same with seminars is a step too far. Are they so unsure of their note-taking ability that they need to record every single word verbatim? In a seminar where you have students piping up from all different parts of the room, it surely just becomes a jumble of discordant mumblings – particularly when people talk over each other?

The thing which really gets me is the ‘toing and froing’ of it all. Firstly, they traipse up to the front to ‘deploy’ their Dictaphones at the start of the session and then, if there is a break, they make another two trips up there at half time – once to turn it off and again to put the annoyance back on. Finally, once they’ve buffeted their way up there three times already, they then have the audacity to try it a fourth time to collect the damn thing at the end. The two students in question also strangely insist on sitting at the back of the room, meaning they need to squeeze past innumerable people each time they switch it on or off. On one occasion in a seminar (and to my immense satisfaction) when one of the two students to whom I keep referring went to place her Dictaphone at the front, the lecturer (who is known to be a little testy at times) snapped at her: “WHAT ARE YOU DOING??!!??” When she muttered something about ‘recording’, the lecturer retorted with “WHAT – IN A SEMINAR??!!” She quickly retreated like a scalded rat.

Here’s the thing I’ve always wondered, though: who really gets the time to play back (and presumably take handwritten notes from) a recording of a two-hour seminar? It’s ridiculous. If you’ve been studying law for 3 years or so and are presumably conversant in note-taking, why create the extra hassle and work of recording seminars; technology is meant to aid you and save you work – not create more.


  1. Never done it, never would and for most people can't see the point. There are those who do benefit from it (such as international students).

    One person in my year records her lectures, she is studying undergraduate Law, but does already hold two other undergraduate degrees (a BSc. and an MBChB) - why she would want to do an LLB when she already has those two other degrees is beyond me.

    My Law school has just banned this as well (except in certain circumstances)

  2. Dictophones are just over-the-top. If have a 3-second memory, maybe university is just not for you.

    Oliver, Scotland seems very strict!

    1. well i have a module that clashes with another module so being able to record the lecture is the next best thing to being there, students asking questions is a good thing, if they need to ask i may have needed to as well. I also find that being able to sit and listen to the lecture whilst watching the powerpoint reinforces the learning process, and my partner can touch type at 120 words per minute so i end up with a set of slides, synched to the spoken word and an excellent set of notes. Frankly i fail to see your problem unless you are a luddite.

    2. Anon - maybe you should have chosen your modules more wisely. :p

  3. Yeah, that's 'crazy education'. How many degrees does she want?!?

    I wish my Uni would ban dictaphones too.

    Good point Andro - as I was saying re. the two UK students who annoy me with their dictaphones, if they haven't got the hang of note-taking by now, when will they?

    Hope everyone has appreciated my Pancake Day header! :-)

  4. My trainee brought a dictaphone into his induction day.

    I told him - on tape - that anyone who feels the need to tape that sort of meeting is sending the message that they have the brain of an ant or they don't trust the other person in the room.

    He is since proven himself to fall into the former category

  5. Yes, Michael - I was going to ask you: what is that thing, jumping out of the frying pans??

  6. You're a cheeky one, Andro. :-p That 'thing' is quite clearly somebody 'tossing' a pancake - or somebody's arm to be exact. I thought the bag of sugar and jif lemon completed the standard 'pancake day kit'.

  7. UK E.L. I think all trainees end up disappointing you in the end... some just take longer to do it than others. Turning up with a dictaphone has got to be a sure-fire way to set the warning bells a-ringing, huh? No one can be naturally that conscientious.

    I'm relieved I'm not the only one with a grudge against dictaphones.

  8. I knew a few people who had a dictaphone throughout my undergrad and I always wondered how they found the time to listen to the lecture in person and then listen to it all over again at home. It was bad enough with all the work we had on the law degree. I personally couldn't find the time for that otherwise I definitely wouldn't have had a life!! But each to their own, I definitely wouldn't expect those on anything postgrad to have one unless it was like a course requirement!

    I do however understand how those whose first language isn't English may need this!

  9. Perhaps the people who use dictaphones want the double whammy of bieng able to sleep through an entire lecture whilst, at the same time apparently acquiring the lecturers notes, to be transcribed at a later date ( an undergrad acquaintance of mine successfully got away with this for the last two years and managed a good 2:1, though I can quite honestly say I never EVER saw him awake during lectures)

    The most ANNOYING use of dictaphones as far as I'm concerned rests with those tragic individuals who use it to record their shopping lists, or even 'notes to self' as in ( * clears throat*): Monday 23rd February, 18:55pm - go to Spa, purchase Clingfilm, a tube of Primula Cheese Spread, a Hammer and Two Tins of Cat Food. IMPERATIVE - do NOT over record this afternoon's Competition Seminar'........

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  11. Plus solicitors use dictaphones to 'draft' letters and documents. I don't think I could do that!

  12. Andoid,

    I think it's just my institution


    She introduces herself to everyone as Doctor (how sad). She is talking about going on and doing more education after she graduates from Law (but this time a postgrad rather than yet another undergrad degree)

  13. Oliver: That's awful - but it helps me imagine her 'type'. Bad luck that she's in your year.

    The whole 'recording your ideas as you get them' is a bit 90s now... though some professions have obstinately hung on to it. Sometimes it can be useful and it's a good way to get ideas down quickly.
    Of course, Alan Partridge famously used a dictaphone to record his TV show ideas including, from what I remember "Jet from Gladiators to host a millennium barn dance at Yeovil aerodrome".
    Great stuff

  14. It takes a certain kind of person to call themselves doctor in an undergrad law course. Yes, she's earned it and I'm sure it was hard but save it for hospital, m'kay?

    The best use of a dictaphone in my opinion is quoting a source after the fact - it's the file itself (or the little tape if you're oldschool) that really has merit. Quoting someone to write down what they said and then bin the recording is a strange move for me. If you want to behave like a journalist, do it the whole way. If you don't need to prove that your lecturer said something, why bother?

    The second best use is to let someone else, who wasn't there, hear what was said - say if you're the only guy from the office at a meeting (although presenting what was said yourself is almost certainly more impressive and shorter and more useful). I last used one to record a meeting that myself and my father were interested in but one of us had to stay home, I brought a recorder and let him hear it afterwards.

    It's not a note taking tool in my mind, it's a voice recording tool.

  15. vickie woodhead27 March 2010 at 16:18

    im going to university in september and i can see what youre saying about them being annoying but i do think they are necessary and for some people they are needed. i have HMS which is a problem with my joints (among other things) it can cause really bad cramping and pain in my hands, wrists and fingers when i do things like writing, using the computer, etc and can make writing notes rather difficult (especially quickly or for more than about 20 minutes). i will probably get a dictaphone, but rather than be inconsiderate to others i would probably sit near the front (to avoid to-ing and fro-ing as i cant be bothered with all that and i would be embarassed to keep doing it). i would also talk to the lecturer at start of term to make sure its ok and try taking notes as much as possible but the dictaphone would just be a backup if i needed it. for some people i think it is lazyness, but there are some genuine people.


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