Nov 30 2016

Getting Started with Minecraft: Education Edition

A K–12 technology leader shares tips for deploying Microsoft’s long-awaited educational game.

The wait is over: On Nov. 1, Microsoft released the full version of Minecraft: Education Edition, giving schools everywhere access to the incredibly popular block-building game.

Through an early-access program that began June 9, more than 35,000 teachers and students tested the edition, submitting comments that Microsoft then used to fine-tune features.

According to Deirdre Quarnstrom, director of Minecraft Education, what resulted from that feedback was an educational tool that promotes creativity, collaboration and advanced problem solving — all skills that are essential to 21st century learning.

Rafranz Davis, executive director of professional and digital learning at Lufkin Independent School District in Texas, agrees that the game provides new learning opportunities and an environment where students thrive.

Her district already incorporates Minecraft into a variety of lesson plans: Students in history class recreate famous historical sites, while students in science class dream up circuit-powered machines.

“It’s a space where children can build and learn based on where their imagination takes them,” she says of the game.

Lufkin ISD plans to implement Minecraft: Education Edition as soon as possible. Davis has already submitted a purchase order for 8,000 licenses. While her team readies for action, Davis shares valuable insights she has gained from earlier Minecraft deployments:

Lessons on Collaboration

As schools consider bringing Minecraft: Education Edition to their classrooms, it’s important for IT leaders to remember that rollouts don’t happen overnight.

Davis, who manages instructional technology for Lufkin ISD, found that her staff had to work closely with the IT department to make sure everything went smoothly.

Because Minecraft: Education Edition requires the latest operating system, Lufkin’s IT staff upgraded PCs from Windows 7 to Windows 10. The district also created Office 365 accounts for every student and faculty member to meet another requirement of the game.

While the district’s IT staff handled those aspects of the implementation, Davis managed the Minecraft software itself, from procurement and licensing to managing user accounts online.

Davis says Minecraft: Education Edition is much easier to manage than other versions of the game: With MinecraftEDU, she says, IT staff had to build a server to allow students to connect with each other in the application and collaborate; with the new version, Office 365 handles the login process, so a separate server is no longer necessary.

Despite the ease-of-use improvements, Davis recommends providing teachers with training. At Lufkin ISD, she holds collaborative learning events where students help teachers learn to play the game. Minecraft’s features win them over from there.

“These tools help teachers manage the learning process while giving students the room to learn in a safe space, while still maintaining agency of their own creativity,” she says.