TAMPA — Every so often, Joseph Evans appears slightly distracted. Mid sentence, his gaze wanders, eyes peering at something others can't see. His right hand moves upward, touching his temple for just a moment before his attention snaps back to the person in front of him.
No, Evans doesn't have a nervous tick. He is just checking his email. Or reading a text. Or checking the weather. He might even be taking a photo.
Evans, 28, is wearing Google Glass.
As a Ph.D. graduate research assistant studying archaeology and applied anthropology at the University of South Florida, Evans is using the high-tech device to transform both the classroom and the world around him.
Resembling space-age eyewear, Glass is essentially a tiny computer built into an eyeglasslike frame. It's still in test mode and Evans is one of about 10,000 people nationwide and four in the Tampa Bay area selected to act as Glass Explorers.
Investing time, money
Glass isn't cheap. In order to receive the device, Evans had to pay $1,500 and spend a few days in New York City for training. The USF Foundation and the Alliance for Integrated Spatial Technologies (AIST) at USF reimbursed his travel expenses, he said.
Google, which has yet to announce when Glass will be available to the masses, also did not respond to requests about how much the device will cost consumers once it hits the market.
There are no lenses attached to Glass, just a small screen positioned slightly above the right eye. Evans wears the device along with his own prescription eyeglasses.
Glass' standard capabilities mirror those of most smartphones, including turn-by-turn directions, video calls and calendar updates. It's operated through voice commands and finger swipes on the right temple of the device.
Google encourages Explorers to push the limits of the device by hacking the software and manipulating it to work for them, Evans said.
Working with Lori Collins, a research assistant professor and director of the AIST, Evans started in the classroom.
During Collins' classes on technology for heritage and museum applications, Evans records video of the day's lesson and posts it on an online forum for students.
This itself is not new. But using Glass, Evans is able to capture a more personal perspective of the class, recording what he sees. After watching a recent recording, Collins discovered she could pinpoint aspects of the lesson that were more successful than others by gauging student reactions.
"When I focused on the students' faces, I realized when there was a teaching moment they got really well," Collins said. "Glass has the potential to help me become a better teacher."
It also has the potential to bring the outside world into the classroom.
As part of his doctoral dissertation, Evans plans to head to a dig site in central Mexico to document the imperiled stone monuments from the Olmec culture. With Glass' video capabilities, his students will travel, too.
"I'm going to, in real time, show people what we are doing, how we are doing it and exactly what it means to discover something," Evans said.
But he is not limiting his experiments to just education.
Evans used Glass to record a video of an old NASA launch site in Port Canaveral last month. He also hacked Glass so that it could operate a laser scanner used to create 3-D images of cultural and heritage sites. Being able to operate the scanner remotely allows more flexibility and better access to dangerous or distant locations, he said.
Cooking with Mom
Glass also has many real world applications, Evans said. While attempting to make etouffee recently, Evans called his mom for help. Through Glass' video technology, she was able to see the cooking process from Evans' perspective and walk him through the steps he had forgotten.
And he's not keeping Glass to himself. Since obtaining the device in July, Evans has allowed more than 192 people (he keeps count) to test drive it. He also offered his services to departments across campus. During a recent USF football game, Evans served as a guest social media contributor, capturing the game in photos and videos from his device.
Though Evans has discovered plenty of the benefits of Glass, he also recognizes that there are some negatives.
Google has said it is currently working on a way to integrate prescription lenses into the device. This could create some problems in the classroom, Evans said, if a student's sole pair of prescription glasses are built into a device with Internet access, making cheating a possibility.
"This is going to change the way tests are taken," he said.
Others have expressed concerns over privacy as well as the safety of using Glass while driving.
Tackling those concerns now is part of the process, Evans said.
"This is a new technology that challenges what we normally do," Evans said. "Everything is an experiment."
Still, Evans sees Glass-like devices replacing smartphones within years.
"Most people are looking down at their phones," he said. "In the next two years, I predict we will change from a look down society to a look up one."
Shelley Rossetter can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3401.