Microsoft and Mojang announced plans Tuesday to expand Minecraft in the classroom with Minecraft: Education Edition. Can a customized version of the overwhelmingly popular sandbox game go beyond exploring caves and building crazy contraptions and be used as a tool for teachers? It already has, now it adds the money and influence of Microsoft behind it.
The software maker and game developer announced the purchase of MinecraftEdu to develop a new version of Minecraft focused on learning. MinecraftEdu was originally created as by Teacher Gaming LLC and has been around since 2011. It has been used in more than 7,000 classrooms across more than 40 different countries.
MinecraftEdu was used by educators to teach various subjects, including history, language arts, science, and math. For example, one teacher built recreations of ancient Rome and China for students to explore. Information blocks spread around the world gave history lessons through on-screen prompts along with assignments.
Other examples of how MinecraftEdu is used to teach kids include using the game’s Redstone mechanics to teach basic programming logic, 3D tours of bodies, explaining contour maps for geography, and even art.
Minecraft: Education Edition will be released as a free trial this summer with an expanded set of features such as the ability to create learning portfolios for students, making it easier for teachers to get students online, simplified saving and loading of worlds, and granting students personalized logins.
This is obviously being built on the back of MinecraftEdu, but the first phase of the release will be to get the infrastructure of the new release in place.
The new educational version of Minecraft will be supported by a dedicated website where teachers and educators can collaborate. One of the strengths of MinecraftEdu was the ability to share modules and lessons. This is something that Microsoft will build on with the Education Edition. Some lessons are already available to download, including one dedicated to the principles of electrical engineering and logic gates, with others exploring the Great Pyramids of Giza and pixel art.
Microsoft purchased Minecraft and Mojang for $2.5 billion in 2014, and it has become ubiquitous in the company since. Demonstrations for the augmented reality HoloLens have used it, a new Windows 10 version was released, and it is still one of the bestselling games on the Xbox One and Xbox 360. More than 72 million copies of the game have been sold with more than 22 million on PC.
So why get into education? Minecraft can be considered a gateway product in Microsoft’s battle with Apple and Google over education sales with schools and universities. Getting school systems to buy into Microsoft systems and allowing kids to become familiar with the Microsoft operating system and products.
Taking MinecraftEdu from 7,000 classrooms to 10 times that amount or more would be a huge boon for the company and its products. It’s also something that would only be possible with the resources and ecosystem that Microsoft can bring to bear.
“One of the reasons Minecraft fits so well in the classroom is because it’s a common, creative playground,” said Vu Bui, the COO of Mojang. “We’ve seen that Minecraft transcends the differences in teaching and learning styles and education systems around the world. It’s an open space where people can come together and build a lesson around nearly anything.”
“In education, we are constantly seeking pathways to explore learning beyond the confines of a textbook. Minecraft allows us that opportunity,” said Rafranz Davis, Executive Director of Professional Development and Learning, Lufkin ISD. “When we see our kids enjoying the process of learning in this way, it’s a game changer.”
[Image via Microsoft/Mojang]