ARLINGTON, Va. — The artificial intelligence tools that Joe La Belle and Rich La Belle demonstrated during a July 25 session at the Office of Special Education Programs' Leadership and Project Director's Conference did not exist at last year's conference.
And there are sure to be even more sophisticated tools by next year's conference, the father-son duo told attendees.
That's why it's important for special educators to explore how this technology could make administrative tasks and community outreach more efficient, said Rich La Belle, CEO of the Family Network on Disabilities, a family-driven grassroots organization for persons with disabilities and their families in Florida.
"We're not necessarily here this morning to welcome our new robot overlords," Rich La Belle said. "What we're going to be talking about is how we can use these tools to better serve people, make our staff more efficient, help them to become better stewards for those who we are getting to serve."
AI is technology that thinks deeply and understands natural human language to respond to a command, said Joe La Belle, director of programs impact at Family Network on Disabilities.
Rich La Belle added that users shouldn't be afraid of new technologies. "Seize them and bend them to your will, because we can do that," he said.
During the session, the La Belles demonstrated how ChatGPT and Synthesia, an AI video generator, could develop documents and videos to help special educators, students, parents and non-native English speakers better understand best practices for providing services for students with disabilities.
For example, Joe La Belle asked ChatGPT to generate a top 10 list of services that should be implemented in a general education classroom for an 8-year-old African American boy with autism to help that student be successful.
The top five items included having an individualized education program, culturally responsive teaching, a structured environment, visual supports and positive behavior instruction.
"It's a great place to start," he said.
Another impactful opportunity AI provides is the swiftness and ease for research, the La Belles said. Where it would previously take weeks or months of work to prepare a paper, presentation or webinar, that can now take days or maybe even hours, Rich La Belle said.
This efficiency can free up staff time to provide more direct services to students and families, he added.
But throughout the session, Joe and Rich La Belle warned that AI tools require human editing, proofreading and fact-checking. Every AI product produced should be considered a first draft, Rich La Belle said.
"Do not use this as a finished product," he said. "Do not just push the button, print it out and hand it to a family, because it's not going to work. It will come back and bite you.”