As most students prepare to head off to college each fall, they pack all the usual items – computer, phone, favorite pillow, photos from home, text books and a care package of snacks from mom. But freshmen at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, OK, will find one more item on their “required” list – a Fitbit fitness tracker.
That’s right – all 900 freshmen are required to wear a Fitbit Charge HR to monitor their fitness levels. And yes, they’re expected to average the 10,000 steps per day suggested by the manufacturer.
You may remember the old-school college physical fitness requirements such as “Posture and Relaxation.” That was a popular one with administration – but students? Not so much. Fortunately, times changed, students rebelled, and that gave way to fun and relevant PE classes like tennis, bowling, dance and even disc golf.
And now Oral Roberts is taking physical fitness one step further into the electronic age. The catch? Their professors are tracking it too, as part of the students’ grade.
Oral Roberts, a Christian college of 3,500 students, is known for their “whole person” philosophy regarding student overall health and wellbeing –including mind, body and spirit. In fact, their Phys Ed program is aptly named the Health, Leisure and Sports Sciences Department. In the past, students have had to chart their progress by calculating the benefits gleaned from various activities – such as walking to class, swimming laps or playing a pick-up game of basketball. It was inaccurate at best.
So it’s no surprise really that ORU turned to the Fitbit for help. The $150 wristband tracks not only steps, but heart rate and sleep patterns. Phys Ed is a required class every semester here, and the new standard of fitness will include an average of 10,000 steps per day along with 150 weekly minutes of intense activity and a heart rate in the 60-80% range. But don’t worry – weight and diets are not tracked. The good news? The students will get graded on their actual activity throughout the semester rather than on one single end-of-semester field test – usually a 1.5 mile run.
After collecting exercise and activity data, the Fitbit will wirelessly report the students’ steps and average heart rate to the school’s computer for grading purposes. And if it sounds intrusive, don’t worry. University officials stress that they’re very sensitive to the issue of student privacy. The device collects no other data, and no one but the student’s professor has access to the information.
While the program was rolled out with incoming freshmen, each new freshman class will have the same requirement – until the entire school is on board. In the meantime, not to be left out, any current or transfer upperclassman is welcome – and encouraged – to join the program, as well. And many have -- since fall, more than 550 Fitbits have been sold at the campus bookstore alone.
Oh – and in case you wondered, the Fitbit will stop reporting data at the end of each semester, allowing students to take the summer off. Of course, by then the activity will probably have become a habit. Just what they were hoping for.