Case Study

Google Cloud

Using ML-driven insights to improve student success

Invoke Learning uses Google Cloud’s ML tools to help higher education institutions increase student enrollment, engagement, and graduation rates through predictive analytics into student challenges.

Google Cloud results

  • Reduces administrative analysis timelines from six months to 15 minutes
  • Maintains low IT costs through serverless infrastructure
  • Handles sensitive student data with powerful information and access-management tools
  • Enables storage and analysis of school, environmental, and other data in a central location
  • Improves student outcomes through predictive analytics

Predicts likelihood of student success with 80 percent accuracy.

Having access to reliable data and responding fast can make the difference between success and failure in higher education today. With a lot more information available on student performance, higher-education institutions are working harder than ever to manage and analyze data to drive student success.

Although schools collect large quantities of data on direct success factors such as grades and attendance, external elements can be equally as powerful in identifying student challenges, needs, and outcomes. The key is gaining access to all this information and having the right tools to manage and analyze it.

Invoke Learning was founded by two higher education veterans who recognized the incredible value the right data could offer to improve student success in higher education.

“Leadership in universities sometimes has to work with limited data that can be several years old,” says Lige Hensley, co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Invoke Learning. “I previously worked with Brendan Aldrich, and we knew we could start a company that could deliver timely, powerful insights to universities to directly improve student outcomes.”

As part of their strategy, Lige and Brendan were clear that they needed an agile, advanced IT infrastructure that offered scalability and power, along with access to advanced AI and analytic capabilities. They chose to work with Google Cloud and become a Google for Education partner.

“Google Cloud enables us to analyze a vast amount of data to provide unbiased, complete information so that schools have a solid foundation for making critical decisions.”

Lige Hensley, co-founder and Chief Executive Officer, Invoke Learning

Predicting student success and failure

While working for Ivy Tech Community College in Indiana, Lige built an AI model that could predict with 80 percent accuracy just two weeks into a semester which students would fail a given class.

“While speaking at Google for Education events, I was getting a lot of requests from universities to apply that technology in their classrooms. The demand was obviously there,” says Lige.

Invoke Learning used decades of experience to create a wide-reaching insight engine capable of answering many of the most pressing questions facing universities today.

“We’re not a BI [business intelligence] platform. We’re not just offering self-service dashboards and letting schools succeed or fail by reading that data,” says Lige. “Rather, Invoke Learning provides data-driven insights that tell schools how to increase enrollment, why students fail classes or don’t graduate, and how to make the most of their marketing spend.”

Invoke Learning quickly became a powerful force for California universities that wanted to focus on improvements to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) by offering real-time insights that identify which students are not getting an equitable experience. For example, one college uses Invoke Learning to analyze student engagement. They look at the students' self-identified ethnicity to see if there are groups that are over represented when it comes to a lack of engagement.

“For Invoke Learning, we want to empower schools to ensure that all students are being treated equally,” says Lige. “It’s important for schools to be able to proactively assess how they are doing and correct rather than reacting to a situation that’s already negatively impacting students.”

To do this, Invoke Learning uses data from a range of sources including learning management and student information systems, as well as external data points from social media.

“A lot of interactions between faculty and students happen on social media, which is an untraditional data source for schools, but an incredibly important one,” says Lige.

Invoke Learning takes internal data points and uses ML/AI technology to connect them with external sources such as weather and traffic patterns, crime statistics, unemployment rates, SNAP food stamp programs, and many more. All of this data informs an anonymized view of each student’s potential failure or success rate.

“We are giving school administrators and educators a much deeper understanding of the external factors involved in student success,” says Lige. “Looking at the data holistically, we can highlight qualitative and quantitative factors that correlate with specific student pain points—all while protecting student information.”

“I’ve had a great working relationship with the Google for Education folks since long before Invoke Learning. Most importantly, though, the schools we service today benefit from our continued partnership with Google.”

Lige Hensley, co-founder and Chief Executive Officer, Invoke Learning

Saving money while unleashing innovation

Invoke Learning needed to maintain a low total cost of ownership for its information technology (IT) to be able to offer its solutions and insights affordably to schools. It chose Google Cloud to be entirely cloud-based, while tapping into powerful ML and analytics tools.

Compute Engine VMs, Cloud StorageCloud FunctionsCloud SQL, and App Engine founded Invoke Learning’s infrastructure and allowed their engineers to rapidly build and deploy their ML workflows and neural networks. Pub/Sub and TensorFlow are used to power the ML/AI tools, while Cloud Identity and Access Management helps ensure the sensitive data related to students is kept secure and meets compliance requirements.

“We do not collect any identifiable information, so we don’t know a student’s name or address, but we still go to lengths to ensure everything is protected and anonymous,” says Lige. “Google Cloud enables us to analyze a vast amount of data to provide unbiased, complete information so that universities have a solid foundation for making critical decisions.”

This includes running one particularly large analysis that included more than 1 billion rows of data and 2,100 features and variables.

Rather than prescribing a specific action to a given educator, Invoke Learning gives schools insights related to problems that arise given various factors impacting each student and which interventions have proven the most effective.

“Using Google Cloud services and leveraging our partnership with Google for Education, we are confident that we can help many more schools increase enrollment and boost success for even more students.”
Lige Hensley, co-founder and Chief Executive Officer, Invoke Learning

Partnering to empower universities across the U.S.

Invoke Learning uses Google Cloud to be able to scale to any size school without worrying about capacity, performance, and infrastructure. It also leverages Google Cloud to test out ideas and new techniques with ease and speed. Invoke Learning can deploy new environments, test, and then dissolve those resources once they are no longer needed in a matter of minutes.

Additionally, Invoke Learning enjoys Google Cloud management tools, given their more intuitive nature than other providers. Invoke Learning also aligns with Google on education-specific ideologies and initiatives.

Invoke Learning chose to partner with Google for Education thanks to its shared philosophies on elevating student success through open, data-driven, equitable technologies along with Google’s powerful AI and Data cloud solutions.

“I’ve had a great working relationship with the Google for Education folks since long before Invoke Learning,” says Lige. “Most importantly, though, the schools we serve today benefit from our partnership with Google.”

Building on the success of the past few years, Invoke Learning is now working to expand its ML/AI capabilities and deliver insights to a wider range of schools, including those related to advancement.

With demand rising for data-driven decisions in higher education, the company intends to give schools the knowledge needed to maximize student success.

“In education, failure is rarely a simple matter of a student’s aptitude in a given course. Instead, it’s based on many environmental and personal factors that impact performance,” says Lige. “Using Google Cloud services and leveraging our partnership with Google for Education, we are confident that we can increase enrollment and boost success for even more students.”