The College With Mandatory Fitness Tracking Devices

Oral Roberts University is requiring its students to buy a Fitbit, which will log their day’s movement into a university database.

01.11.16 5:01 AM ET

And you thought your mandatory physical education class was bad. Oral Roberts University (ORU) in Tulsa, Oklahoma, is requiring all incoming students to wear Fitbit fitness tracking devices, according to a press release that the small Christian liberal arts school proudly broadcast last week.

In olden and less dystopian times, ORU students simply had to keep a fitness journal and “manually log [their] aerobics points,” the release notes. Now, ORU freshman will have to buy a Fitbit watch to track their fitness. The wearable device retails online for about $140, which is substantially higher than the average cost of a new textbook.

In addition to being cheaper, a textbook also can’t count your steps and upload the number to your school’s online student information database.

“The Fitbit trackers will feed into the D2L gradebook, automatically logging aerobics points,” the press release notes.

ORU uses an online learning management platform called Brightspace by D2L. On Brightspace’s website, the school currently serves as a “success story” for the way in which it has implemented “student-related data” to help instructors spot students who are experiencing problems.

“Focusing on education that benefits the whole person, ORU takes great care to nurture the mind, body, and spirit of its students,” the company notes. “Staying true to this goal, the institution has leveraged Brightspace to not only visualize a student’s academic performance, but their social interactions as well.”

Academic performance? Social interactions? Why not add the number of steps students take in a day to that list?

But the school isn’t going full-on Big Brother—at least, not yet. Students who are already attending ORU will, mercifully, be allowed to choose whether or not they want to participate in the program, although the school promises that, if they do, they will “reap the benefits of a more convenient fitness tracking system.”

According to local news station KOTV and the Tulsa World, ORU has set a goal of 10,000 steps per day for participants in the freshman program. For most new freshmen walkers, that will come out to around 5 miles a day.

None of those steps, mind you, should be used to walk hand-in-hand with someone of the same sex, as the school’s honor code requires complete abstinence from “any homosexual activity.” Nor should they be taken after 1:30 a.m., which is the curfew for all students living on ORU campus, or while wearing clothing that violates the school’s extensive dress code.

The school seems to see its new mandatory Fitbit program as a selling point, rather than a warning sign for prospective students who might want to maintain some small degree of bodily autonomy.

“ORU offers one of the most unique educational approaches in the world by focusing on the Whole Person—mind, body and spirit,” said ORU President William M. Wilson in the press release. “The marriage of new technology with our physical fitness requirements is something that sets ORU apart. In fact, when we began this innovative program in the fall of 2015, we were the first university in the world to offer this unique approach to a fitness program.”

“ORU is dedicated to creating innovative academic solutions for our global student population,” added ORU Provost Kathaleen Reid-Martinez. “We are excited to offer this cutting-edge technology that will enhance our on-campus student’s experience and increase the convenience of our fitness programs.”

And at least one school official is already dreaming big about new ways to use this data. Mike Matthews, who manages the school’s data systems, told the Tulsa World that he hopes to test for a correlation between academic achievement and the Fitbit data.

“No other school is doing what we’re doing,” he said. “No other school is capable of bringing the data into their system.”