After much consideration, I have found a combination of tools that allow electronic tutoring sessions to be as effective, if not more so, than in person sessions. The critical areas that are addressed are described below.
1) Being able to see the student
-A critical element of tutoring is being able to pick up on non-verbal cues provided by the student. It is often the case that the mouth says "I understand" but the facial expression, or body language says "ummm, what!??"
In addition to gauging understanding, non-verbal cues are critical to gauging how hard to push the student to synthesis the information on their own, and when to back off and just explain the answer.
I have started using "Go To Meeting" which costs me ~$50/month out of pocket, but provides superior (to Skype/ G Chat) video and audio quality. This software also allows efficient sharing of screens so that I can follow the students work in real time, which leads to the next important piece of technology.
2) Using handwritten input in a digital form
- For most of my subjects, the traditional mouse and keyboard are inefficient for creating digital work, especially for math and physics. I have begun using Wacom Bamboo tablets which allow for a very natural and efficient entry of handwritten equations or drawings into the digital realm. This allows me to watch a student as the solve a problem, which helps to prevent the tutoring session from evolving into a didactic lecture.
To this end the student is encouraged to purchase their own tablet for ~$75, however, they have proven to be so effective that I have purchased a few to keep on hand. They are available for the student to borrow for a few tutoring sessions until the student can be sure of making the investment in purchasing their own.
For the time being, I am still driving out to meet in person for the first tutoring session to help get the students computer set up properly for efficient e-tutoring. In a short time, I will be creating a section in my blog that has a photo tutorial for this purpose.