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Imagine a world in which college students can play Wii Fit and get course credit for it.

If you’re enrolled at the University of Houston, you don’t have to imagine it. You can do it. For real.

Chuck Layne is the forward-thinking chairman of the university’s health and human performance department who was partly responsible for brainstorming the idea of introducing Wii Fit as part of the elective P.E. curriculum. It made sense, he says, considering the campus’ wide diversity and the department’s affinity for using cutting-edge technology.


‘About five years ago,’ Layne says, ‘we began to add a number of non-traditional physical activity courses, such as tai chi and judo, in addition to our traditional ones because we have a lot of people here who didn’t grow up playing basketball or tennis or volleyball. Since they’re electives, we made the decision to make it more customer-friendly.’

Those innovative classes have been popular, but when Layne heard about the Wii Fit, he thought it would be, well, a good fit for the department.

‘It made sense, especially for people who aren’t normally into exercise,’ he says.

Layne says the for-credit pilot course, which he believes is the first of its kind, could be a gateway exercise program for those who feel uncomfortable in a traditional class setting or uneasy about trying something new, like yoga. Depending on the program, the Wii can be a good workout, elevating the heart rate and producing a sweat.

A racquetball court was converted into a Wii studio with 10 systems that can be played simultaneously. The class filled up in two days despite it not being on the course schedule (it was conceived too late) and having no advertising. After three weeks Layne says student feedback is positive, and estimates that about half probably have had some Wii Fit experience before taking this class. The class also includes course work on nutrition and exercise.

One thing Layne particularly likes about the Wii Fit is its ability to track things like physical activity and body mass index, making users more aware of their progress.

Layne and his colleagues are already eyeing the program as a source for research studies, and he’s thinking of other applications as well, such as having families exercise together. ‘There’s no reason why we can’t use the studio almost all day,’ he says. ‘We’re hoping the students have a positive experience with it.’


-- Jeannine Stein