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Microsoft Releases Free, Early-Access Version of Minecraft: Education Edition

Teachers get a chance to explore Minecraft’s digital worlds in advance of the game’s September release.

Teachers can get their first peak at the latest education-focused version of Minecraft — for free.

Yesterday, Microsoft kicked off the Minecraft: Education Edition early access program, which allows teachers to test the game at no cost up until its official release in September. After that, schools and districts will have the opportunity to purchase annual licenses for between $1 and $5 per student.

Set Up for Success

Microsoft’s Minecraft: Education Edition will likely capitalize on the popularity of its predecessor, MinecraftEdu. That modified version of the game was designed in 2011 by Finland-based TeacherGaming LLC, with the goal of promoting problem-solving skills and collaboration.

In fact, MinecraftEdu game play supported K–12 learning objectives so thoroughly that schools and districts such as Bennington (Neb.) Public Schools began integrating the game into course curricula, expecting real results.

“We’re a high-achieving district and our parents have high expectations,” said instructional technologist Jason Schmidt in a 2015 interview with EdTech. “We’re not just using tools like Minecraft because it’s a fun thing to do and the students enjoy it; we’re doing it because we’ve found they learn some things more effectively by using them.”

Hoping to replicate that success, Microsoft acquired MicrosoftEdu back in January and immediately reached out to creators Joel Levin and Santeri Koivisto for help in developing the next iteration of the game.

Features Fit for the Classroom

In the end, Microsoft developers included all the original features found in MinecraftEdu, as well as additional functions designed to improve collaboration and enrich learning. According to the Minecraft: Education Edition website, those features include:

  • Easy Classroom Collaboration: Educators have told us that one of the greatest benefits of Minecraft: Education Edition is the ability for students to collaborate together to build projects and solve problems. An entire classroom of up to 30 students can play in a world together with no separate server setup required. Or students can work together in pairs or groups simply by joining their classmates’ world.
  • Non-Player Characters: An educator may create an NPC (Non-Player Character) to act as a guide for students in the game, giving instruction, providing more information, and also allowing educators to insert an active web link to additional references.
  • Camera + Portfolio: An important aspect of teaching with Minecraft is being able to collect evidence of learning in the game, and being able to track student progression. The camera and portfolio features allow students to take screenshots of their work and document the development of their projects.
  • Chalkboards: Creators can use chalkboards to communicate learning goals, provide additional information and give explicit instructions within the game. Chalkboards come in three different sizes – Slate (1×1), Poster (2×1), and Board (2×3).
  • Simple, Secure Sign-in: Individual student and teacher logins with Office 365 Education accounts ensure data privacy & security while playing Minecraft: Education Edition.
  • Tutorial World: For educators or students new to Minecraft, a tutorial world is available that will guide players on in-game navigation, crafting, and placing or breaking blocks.

Educators also have access to lesson plans and other resources and can participate in events and workshops, such as the Minecraft: Education Edition Teacher Academy, offered at this year's ISTE conference.

Students play Minecraft at an education technology even in the UK. Source: Microsoft

Getting Started with the Early Access Version

Teachers who want to bring Minecraft: Education Edition to their classrooms will first need to upgrade their computers to either Windows 10 or OS X El Capitan. Using their school or district email account, they can then sign up for a free Office 365 Education account and download the newest Minecraft release.

Steve Isaacs, a game design and development teacher from William Annin Middle School in Basking Ridge, N.J., told Microsoft he was able to get his students logged in and playing the beta version of the program within 45 minutes of receiving the download.

“I was impressed with how easy Minecraft: Education Edition was to set up,” he said.

Microsoft
Jun 10 2016

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