For the fast-growing education form called online or distance learning, FarSightNet provides the critical essence of a "face-to-face" interaction which is absent in most current on-line teaching methods which employ email and chat-room discussions. The system includes direct Voice-Over-Internet-Protocol (VOIP) for voice communication, which is free of usage charges. Document manipulation and annotation is in real-time with all conferees seeing annotation changes immediately. The interaction can be between a teacher and student(s) and also among class members. The system is a powerful teaching tool that solves the economic and convenience issues of higher education today while maintaining the immediacy of traditional learning. FarSightNet is not an educational management system but is for use directly in the virtual classroom to capture the fundamental nature of teaching.

FarSightNet provides the best of both worlds: the immediacy of direct interaction with the greatly improved economics and convenience that result from its remote capability.

Among its many capabilities, the system allows for teacher or students to load virtually any content (i.e., documents) for discussion. Via auditorium control, both teacher and students can write on the document, with any writing or drawing seen immediately by all class members; but at the same time, the teacher can control the auditory participation by the students. "Written" annotations include typed text as well as free-hand drawing and writing. All annotations can be saved for later access.

Supplementing the use of prepared content, FarSightNet provides a blank multi-page document (a "multi-board") for use in the same manner as the blackboards in a traditional classroom. As with prepared content, under auditorium control the teacher and students can annotate the multi-board and save the annotations for later review.

In education, the FarSightNet system can be used to provide extensive teacher-student interaction, a facet of on-line learning that is often missing. Using the multiple page capabilities of the system, a blank multi-page document (called a "MultiBoard ) can be used as a substitute for the multiple blackboard systems often found in classrooms. A lecture can then be given in the traditional mode with the teacher drawing on a blank page of the document. The drawings appear in real time at the remote location(s). If the teacher wants to "go back" to a prior blackboard, it is only necessary to move the page slider to the desired "blackboard" page.

In addition, "private" windows (visible only to one conferee) are available for note-taking by individual students. Such notes can be printed or saved as files for later review.

If a cluster of Tablet PC's is employed, these private windows also permit the instructor to send documents (or pages from a lecture) to the students during a class, and allows the students to return annotated documents to the isntructor for analysis and/or display to the class. For example, in the middle of a physics lecture, the instructor can send all the students a problem illustrating the concept just discussed. Each student can work the problem on their individual tablet screen and return their results to the instructor. The instructor can immediately describe common mistakes while all are concentrating on the problem, and can display selected solutions to the class to show both correct and incorrect methods.

Further, the ability of FarSightNet to import all printable documents allows the students and teachers to choose the software they prefer for creating documents, while still allowing interactive on-line (or "virtual") office hours to discuss the documents. Thus, while individual students in an English class may use different word processors for homework and papers, the results are always available to FarSightNet. A class in architecture will choose from several CAD programs, while a commercial art class will choose from several illustrator programs.

In all cases, the student can submit a paper to the instructor in its native format, or can convert it to FarSightNet format. With the latter format, the instructor can then discuss the paper with the student in an interactive conference ("Virtual Office Hours"), or simply grade it in the traditional "red pencil" mode for return to the student. The marked paper can then be viewed out on the student's computer and used as a model for a rewrite using the original creation software.

The Virtual Office Hours scenario provides the interactive elements of conventional office hours, at times which are likely to be more convenient for the student and/or the teacher, and without the necessity of having the student travel to the school at odd hours. This is particular important for working students since ad hoc scheduling of meetings with teachers is often difficult to reconcile with job schedules. And for inner city schools, Virtual Office Hours can be freely scheduled in the evening when actual travel to and from the school might be dangerous.

If high-resolution images are required as part of a lecture (e.g. in astronomy), these can be downloaded as needed from the teacher's workstation. More importantly, if a large number of high-resolution images are required, these can be downloaded to the remote location(s) ahead of time, or even loaded on writeable CD's and physically transported ahead of time. The "lecture" can then be given over simple dial-up telephone connections since no large blocks of data will be sent over the network. This is an ideal scenario for on-line learning in "extremely rural" locations where high-speed connections are unlikely to be available at low cost, if at all.