Athena came to thoughtbot with a radical insight: the field of education has no professional memory.

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Re-platform and expand solution

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Continued adoption, customer growth

Screenshots of the Athena homepage

Two screenshots of the Athena homepage, one in the light theme and one in the dark theme.

Building a Shared Home for Educators

Athena and thoughtbot first partnered in 2015, engaging in a product design sprint and subsequent product design and development.

Each year, thousands of teachers across the United States focus on a broad range of topics, and each year, while they may impact countless students’ lives for the better, they may not experience anywhere near the same growth professionally. Peter Nilsson, Athena’s founder, has set out to change this.

The teams focused on the following problem statement:

“Educators lack a shared home to easily find, organize, create, edit, and give and receive feedback on teaching content”

Over eight weeks in the summer of 2015, thoughtbot worked to breathe life into this new home for teachers to organize and browse content, all the while engaging with Athena’s teacher base to equip them with the tools necessary to grow professionally.

For the next two and a half years, teachers continued to leverage the platform to iterate on teaching plans. Behind the scenes, Peter continued raising funds through grants to support summer fellowships and paid engagements to digitize educators' teaching content so it could be shared with others.

Photos from the Athena design sprints

Four photos from the Athena design sprints; A problem statement on a whiteboard, a storyboard of a series of screens on a whiteboard, two photos of crazy eights being hung up.

A Need for Community

Athena and thoughtbot came together again in 2018 for another week-long product design sprint with a brand new problem statement.

“Students are learning from teachers whose isolation results in teacher stress, insecurity, limited competence, stagnation, and/or ultimately inefficiency.”

In 2015, we’d captured the notion of stagnant growth indirectly, through one clause in the identified problem statement: “give and receive feedback on teaching content.” In 2018, we brought this to the forefront and validated a number of assumptions around community-building features, like topic- and group-based discussions among teachers.

Given available funds, we didn’t shift to executing on these ideas right away, instead tailoring subsequent interviews with teachers to continue honing in on the ideas we had identified during this sprint.

Screenshots from the Athena project

Two screenshots of the Athena application; the first is a user profile screen, the second a topic screen about William Shakespeare.

Quote from the partnership on the Athena project

thoughtbot is a reliable partner that delivers high-quality work around design, development and business guidance.

Peter Nilsson
Founder of Athena

Reimagination and Expansion

With two years of further validation that teachers need stronger opportunities for developing community, a global pandemic pushing educators and students further towards digital solutions, and a matching grant, Peter re-engaged thoughtbot for a third time in 2020.

During this engagement the team focused on both a re-platforming and redesign of the front-end and back-end architectures (which served teachers well for five years!), as well as expansion of the feature set to support improved engagement mechanisms.

From discussions on topics and within groups to improved searching and surfacing of relevant content based on user engagement, thoughtbot and Athena focused on these areas of largest opportunity to improve the teacher experience.

Screenshot from the Athena project

Two screenshots of the Athena application; the first is a notes screen on a larger viewport where the user is requesting feedback, the second is a discussion page.

Continued Relationship

Neither Athena nor thoughtbot fully understood the impacts the platform would have on teachers’ fulfillment and growth when we set out to reimagine the platform in 2015.

Over more than five years of working together across three discrete engagements, tens of teacher interviews, hundreds of small features and improvements, and thousands of lines of code written, we are proud to be responsible for the digital product design and development of a platform empowering teachers that’s grown year over year.

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