When kids open Minecraft, Microsoft doesn't just want them exploring dark caverns, endless plains, and procedurally generated mountains; it wants them exploring places carved out of the real world, like ancient Pompeii, the pyramids of Giza, and Greek temples — places they can learn from. To start making that happen, Microsoft is today announcing Minecraft: Education Edition, a new version of Minecraft that's customized for schools.
The biggest changes are for teachers, not the students playing
For now, the changes aren't dramatic. Minecraft: Education Edition is essentially the exact same Minecraft you've been playing for years, but with a few extra features geared toward ease of use. That includes improving Minecraft's mapping feature so that a class can actually find its way around, letting teachers lock in certain resources for students to use, and adding an in-game camera and scrapbook to handle screenshots for cataloging where you've been. Microsoft is quick to emphasize that its keeping the changes minor because it doesn't want to make Minecraft into a straight educational product; it's still a game first and foremost — and therefore something kids want to use — just one that happens to have applications in the classroom.
A Minecraft world recreates the human eye.
The success of Education Edition may rest on another big piece of Microsoft's announcement: it's also launching a website where educators can submit Minecraft worlds and lesson plans to go along with them. There are already a few up as an example. One includes a map in the style of feudal Japan for the discussion of Japanese poetry, another uses Minecraft bricks to great effect in displaying Brutalist architecture, while a third includes enormous molecules that can be explored. Kids won't be solving puzzles or taking quizzes in these worlds; Minecraft will essentially just be a way to let them step into historical and scientific settings to get a better understanding of what's being taught in class.
Microsoft wants (and needs) teachers to share the worlds they build
Microsoft doesn't intend to build out worlds and lesson plans using its own resources. Instead, it's hoping to foster a vibrant community that'll do that on its own. That way, a teacher could go to the website, find a setting they're interested in, and immediately be able to send their students off into the game. Minecraft already has a strong community sharing user-made content, so Microsoft thinks it should be able to extend that to educational content. But if it can't, Education Edition isn't going to be nearly as useful in the classroom. Building a Minecraft world is long and often tedious work — not something you can expect all teachers to do — so it's critical that Microsoft ensures that teachers don't have to do all on their own.
Inside the eye.
A big part of Education Edition is the infrastructure to distribute it
When Microsoft bought Minecraft back in 2014, the game's potential in schools was one of the first standout reasons to explain the purchase. Windows is losing ground in schools to cheaper platforms, like Chromebooks, but Minecraft: Education Edition is one way it'll be able to start fighting back. The game, which will cost $5 per student, will be tied to students' broader Microsoft accounts. They'll also be able to download and use Education Edition at home, so long as they log in with the same username. Basically, Microsoft gets kids playing more Minecraft and schools putting a stronger emphasis on the Microsoft ecosystem it ties into, both of which would be a big win.
Minecraft: Education Edition will launch sometime this summer, and it's just the start of Microsoft's plan to build out Minecraft for schools. This initial version is based on MinecraftEdu, a Minecraft mod that Microsoft is now announcing it's acquired. But Microsoft isn't saying where Education Edition will go from here. This first release seems to put all of the infrastructure into place — Education Edition is supposed to be easy to distribute throughout a school and to set up on students' home computers — so perhaps new in-game tools are next. There's already a lot of power inside Minecraft (you can essentially program within the game using torches and dust). Now Microsoft needs to keep making it easier for teachers to take advantage of.
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