HOUSTON — While today's college students may not know what racquetball is, nearly all of them know about Wii games. A Wii Performance pilot course offered this fall at the University of Houston is proving to be a popular way to get students who otherwise might not have taken a fitness class interested in exercising.

“Students love it, and sort of different students sign up for a Wii course as opposed to a face-to-face course,” says Charles Layne, chair of the department of health and human performance.

The department converted a racquetball court into a studio that supports 10 Wii stations for the one-credit-hour course. It's the first for-credit course of its kind in the country, according to the school.

“We've been interested in the idea for a while, but you have to plug in 10 Wii systems at once, and with the way our power is in the building, we didn't want to cause a brown out,” Layne says. “We converted one of our racquetball courts because we only teach a couple of sections of racquetball a week now, and many students don't know what it is.”

The team installed sound barriers in the studio and upgraded the electricity and lighting to accommodate the Wii class. Twenty students enrolled this fall and use the 10 Wii stations to improve their posture and center of balance. They also learn about healthy body weight and nutrition.

Instructor Ben Hoffman is an exercise trainer and soccer instructor. In Wii class, he acts as a circuit trainer to help keep people on track. The class is proving so popular that the department plans to offer an additional two sessions of it in the spring.

“Some blogs have been making fun of us, but if this gets people to take a class that wouldn't have taken other physical activity classes, then we've been successful,” Layne says. “We see it as a gateway class where students can build their confidence.”