Cool, I'll be taking the pen testing class as well, see you then :-)
As far as being able to gauge what the other students are thinking/feeling, it depends. @home now uses a virtual classroom software program that will display the presentations and stream the audio. It also has a chat feature which the students use to ask questions. So if the students are willing to "speak up" in the chat, then you'll get a sense of what they're thinking/feeling, otherwise you obviously can't see the expressions on the students faces. The virtual classroom is a lot better than when I first took the incident handling course - back then questions to instructor were via AOL instant messenger - which Ed was good about reading the questions aloud, but you didn't see the question yoruself.
The hands on part - again, it depends - on how they set the pen testing course up. When I took the incident handling class a few years ago, the weekly course work you had to do off-line on your own (testing on your own test network, etc) - however, the last two weeks of class, you actually got to VPN into a SANS test network and play a capture the flag game by trying to penetrate some of their servers. So it depends on how this class is being set up - I'm not sure if we'll have VPN access into SANS test network every week, or if again, it will be saved for the last few weeks - or - if the DVD they are setting up will have everything completely virtualized to allow for localized pen testing.
So you might want to contact Ed via SANS as to how the hands on part will be handled if you have concerns.