Microsoft has released an early access version of their new Minecraft Education Edition as a free trial to teachers. The game will be sold as a subscription to schools beginning in September.
The early access version of Minecraft Education is not completely finished, but it is available for teachers as a free trial for testing purposes. The game will work on Windows 10 or OS X El Capitan and will require an account with Office 365 Education, which can be obtained for free.
Minecraft Education Edition is based on the MinecraftEdu learning tool that was acquired by Microsoft from Teacher Gaming LLC earlier in the year for an unknown amount. Microsoft previously acquired Mojang, the Swedish company that created Minecraft, for $2.5 billion in September 2014.
Classrooms of up to 30 students will be able to collaborate with Minecraft Education Edition without the need for a separate server. Students can use the Camera and Portfolio feature to take screenshots of their work and keep track of project development. Students have the ability to sign on as a single user, and a built-in "tutorial world" is included that guides participants through the details involved in Minecraft play.
The company is also working on a classroom interface that allows teachers the ability to see where each student's character is on a map of the virtual world. Teachers can teleport to whichever character they like and chat inside the game.
The game features a character inside a block-like virtual world that must avoid creatures called mobs which come out at night while at the same time building a variety of things from protective shelters to machinery. A stress-free version of the game exists that does not include mobs and removes the limits placed on available resources, writes Stephen Shankland for CNet.
The game also includes the ability for teachers to create a non-playing character that act as a guide for students playing the game to provide them with instructions and additional information, as well as with active web links that connect to extra resources.
Teachers can use specialized chalkboards to offer learning goals, information and instructions, or challenges that students must solve while they are playing the game. Chalkboards are available in three different sizes and can be placed on the ground or mounted on a vertical surface.
The version currently available to teachers is based on a feedback survey that had been completed by over 100 schools and 1,700 students who had participated in the Minecraft Education Edition Beta, reports Mary Jo Foley for ZDNet.
The RTM version of the program will be available to schools in September, costing between $1 and $5 per user on an annual basis. The cost assessed will depend on the size of the school as well as if the school qualifies for volume-licensing.
The company has also released a number of educational projects on its Minecraft Education Edition website including lessons on population growth, deforestation, and math concepts such as factors and multiples.
Microsoft recently announced that over 100 million copies of Minecraft has been sold to date, making it the second most popular game behind Tetris.