Microsoft has announced beta testing of Minecraft: Education Edition, which is the company's education-focused suite for Minecraft that integrates tools for teachers and students to help them use the game more effectively in the classroom.
The education-centered offshoot of was first revealed in January of this year. This May, a closed beta of the game will involve more than 100 schools in 30 countries, reports Pradeep of MS Power User. By June, any school will be able to access the Education Edition for free as long as teachers have a fully updated operating system and an Office 365 Education account. Eventually, Microsoft plans to charge $5 per user each year.
Minecraft: Education Edition is specifically tailored to teach the skills that Minecraft cultivates — namely collaboration, navigation, social skills, and empathy.
The video game blockbuster hit Minecraft is an open-world, sandbox-style game that allows players to build castles and fortresses to protect themselves from the many dangers the world has to offer. The players mine underground for supplies and then craft them into more complex items (hence the game's name). The simple block-based system makes it easy for players to make basic and effective huts or complex architectural wonders. Players can also make rudimentary machines, grow plants, and breed livestock to help themselves survive.
With over 100 million fans, Minecraft has become one of the most beloved video games in the world. Because of the versatility of the game, it has also become a popular choice with educators who want to stimulate both the creativity and the problem-solving skills of their students.
According to Paul Sawers of Venture Beat, the game's features include enhanced maps with coordinates, the ability to capture screenshots and save them to a portfolio, and an enhanced multiplayer mode allowing as many as 40 students to play in a single Minecraft world.
Resources, lesson plans, and a mentor program to enhance the educational Minecraft community are currently in the works.
According to John Callaham of Windows Central, a blog post from Microsoft said:
If you are new to Minecraft, or if you aren't sure where to start in bringing Minecraft into your classroom and incorporating into your curriculum, the early access program is going to be a great way to familiarize yourself with Minecraft: Education Edition. We also suggest educators check out our many resources on education.minecraft.net, including lesson plans like the Great Pyramids of Giza, or electrical circuits using Redstone. In addition, the Minecraft Mentors program connects you with educators experienced in teaching with Minecraft and demystifies the process.
Microsoft has given Minecraft significant attention in its quest to use encourage the game's use for educational purposes. Last year, the company partnered up with Code.org to create a Minecraft-based coding tutorial for the yearly Hour of Code campaign. To date, 2.4 million people have completed the hour-long tutorial.
Earlier this year, Microsoft acquired MinecraftEdu, a company that created an educational version of Minecraft, reports Paul Thurrott. That acquisition has helped build Minecraft: Education Edition.
Sweden-based Mojang, which originally created the hit game Minecraft, was acquired by Microsoft in 2014 for $2.5 billion.
Microsoft will also be releasing additional software designed to make Windows a core element of the classroom.