Lectures vs Discussions

Hack College recently attempted to start a discussion over whether lectures or discussions are a better model for effective education. Ironically, the discussion never really took off (similar to many discussions that take place in a classroom setting). However, I thought it would be an interesting conversation to have, so I am looking to your input.

Although I agree with the fact that lectures are not an effective way of educating students (lecturing is passive and often disengages students), I am not yet convinced (at least for university classrooms) that discussions are a better alternative. With class sizes often well above 100 students, often limited with only 1 instructor, I feel that a discussion doesn’t do much more than a lecture at engaging students (in fact, it would strike me as being very similar to the current lecture style where most students are hesitant to engage the professor in conversation, ask questions, or answer questions). The limitations of authoritative figures in the class seems, to me, to be a limiting factor in splitting the class into smaller discussions; I feel that discussions would rarely really take off without a figure to guide the discussion. In the case that discussions do take off, as they sometimes do, I fear that those discussions would likely quickly stray from the purpose of the conversation at hand. If there is a goal to spending that time together as a group, I feel that a lecture offers much more control over that as opposed to a discussion.

In pointing out these points, however, I’m simply playing the devil’s advocate. I do not feel there is a clear winner in the university ring between lectures and discussions. I personally find discussions to be more educational, but the lack of structure often makes the educational density sparse.

What do you guys think? Do you think that lectures or discussions are a better educational tool? Can you think of a better alternative?