Students at Christian college protest mandatory use of FitBits

oru fitbit fitness tracker
Required reading is nothing new for college students, but required Fitbit usage? That’s surely a sign of the times. Oral Roberts University (ORU), a Christian institution in Tulsa, Oklahoma, is taking a new (and somewhat controversial) tech-forward approach to combating the dreaded “Freshman 15” weight gain — requiring students to own and use a Fitbit to log at least 10,000 steps a day. In early January, the university demanded that all their first-year students don one of these wearables, whose data will be monitored by the school and will ultimately affect their grades. Unsurprisingly, three months later, students are none too pleased about the new requirement.

Updated on 04-17-2016 by Lulu Chang: Students produce petition to “stop grading students on their Fitbit activity” 

While the university’s approach of attaching a letter grade to your health is certainly one way to keep a New Year’s resolution, it’s proven quite unpopular with its student body. Despite the fact that ORU insists that this new practice remains in line with their comprehensive approach to education, one that includes the mind, body, and everlasting spirit, there now exists a petition calling for the end of the practice.

Shortly after the initial news broke, some sites brought up privacy concerns about the university tracking its students’ sexual activity with the Fitbit data. ORU stated that it will not be tracking students’ sexual activity with the bands. Mike Mathews, the chief information officer at the Oklahoma university, told Motherboard that the Fitbits will “only track heart rate information and the number of steps students take automatically through the device.”

Other concerns, however, revolved around struggles over exercising and eating disorders. And now, the new petition is bringing those to light.

“Tracking and grading students’ physical activity encourages an unhealthy environment that may lead to drawing unfair comparisons between students, creating a one-size-fits-all benchmark for health, encouraging compulsions to over-exercise, adding even more stress to a college student’s life, and to students perceiving exercise as a burden instead of as a fun everyday activity,” writes Kaitlin Irwin, the petition’s author. “As someone who is recovered from an eating disorder, I can only imagine how this Fitbit requirement would have exacerbated my destructive behaviors.”

The university previously noted that no student’s privacy will be invaded as part of this new wellness plan, and that it’s really just looking out for the health of its students. “This is just for their grades so they pass the class, like it always has been,” Mathews said. “We aren’t doing anything with the data at this time. We are happy to know wearable technology is here to stay and we are leveraging it in the best way we can in a simplistic manner.”

ORU offers one of the most unique educational approaches in the world by focusing on the Whole Person,” ORU President William M. Wilson said in a statement, a local CBS News affiliate reported. “The marriage of new technology with our physical fitness requirements is something that sets ORU apart,” he continued. “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.”

But unique clearly isn’t the word that some students are using to describe the new regimen.”There are so many other, healthier ways to educate students and encourage physical activity, giving students the freedom to move—on their own terms. Physical activity — like riding a bike, having a snowball fight or taking a dip in the pool — doesn’t have to be regimented,” the petition states. “ORU’s attempt to track and grade their students’ aerobic activity may inspire unhealthy competition, unhappiness and stress, and could even trigger disordered thoughts and behaviors. Please sign my petition asking ORU to drop the Fitbit requirement for good.”

 Previously updated on 02-04-2016 by Lulu Chang: Added a clarification from ORU that the Fitbits will not be used to track sexual activity.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Folding canoes and ultra-fast water filters

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!

Walmart drops prices on Apple Watches and other fitness trackers

Smartwatches, fitness trackers, and wearable heart rate monitors from Apple, Samsung, Fitbit, and Garmin are popular gifts. Wearables are smarter and more capable than in earlier years. We found the best wearables deals on Walmart.

Our favorite fitness trackers make it fun to keep moving

Looking for your first fitness tracker, or an upgrade to the one you're already wearing? There are plenty of the wrist-worn gadgets available. Here are our picks for the best fitness trackers available right now.
Movies & TV

Sit down and watch some of the best stand-up comedy on Netflix

Feeling a little funny? There are hundreds of hilarious comedy specials out there, and you can't be expected to comb through them all. Lucky for you, we've compiled a list of the best stand-up specials on Netflix.

Crush your next workout with the best Fitbit for every activity

Fitbits are amazingly helpful tools for setting fitness goals and tracking progress. However, different activities require different metrics. We've gathered a list of the best Fitbits for running, swimming, biking, and other activities.

Built to take a beating and still perform, these are the best hiking watches

A proper hiking watch should track exercise metrics and act as a navigational co-pilot during any kind of hike. Ideally, it'll even have a built-in GPS system and sensors. Here are five of the best hiking watches.
Emerging Tech

Transplanted pig hearts show promise in baboon trials. Are humans next?

Researchers in Germany have successfully transplanted modified pig hearts into baboons. The results take us one step closer to ending organ transplant waiting lists for good. Here's why.

These fitness deals come just in time to work off those holiday calories

Finding the motivation to work out is one thing. Finding space at home to get in a few sets and reps can be an entire challenge in itself. Luckily for you, Walmart and Amazon both have space saving fitness machines and tools on sale right…

Google Fit app finally gets a widget, among other new features

Google Fit hasn't received any new features since its redesign. This week, the company is rolling some new tools; users will be able to add a widget to their Android home screen, adjust the intensity of their workouts, and more.

Amazon is slashing its prices on an array of top blenders

Quality blenders from Vitamix to Ninja and more are on sale at Amazon — just in time to gift them for Christmas. They're great for preparing tasty treats, and as a kitchen staple, they make a great gift for the budding chef in your life.

Best Products of 2018

Our reception desk has so many brown boxes stacked up, it looks like a loading dock. We’re on a first-name basis with the UPS guy. We get new dishwashers more frequently than most people get new shoes. What we’re trying to say is: We…

REI clearance sale extends discounts on Garmin, Fitbit, and GoPro devices

Beyond the things you typically expect to find at REI — like tents, skis, and jackets — there are tons of great deals on quality tech foryour outdoor adventures. From smartwatches to action cameras, here are the best tech deals.
Smart Home

Alexa’s latest skill helps patients manage high blood pressure

People who need some help managing their high blood pressure are getting some help via a new Alexa skill developed in partnership with Omron Healthcare that will work directly with the manufacturer's monitors.

How to use the ECG app, set up irregular rhythm notifications on the Apple Watch

The Apple Watch Series 4 is the best smartwatch iPhone owners can own, and it just got even better with the addition of the ECG app and ability to identify irregular heart rhythms. Here's how to set it all up.