Almost five months after acquiring MinecraftEdu, Microsoft today announced the release of a free early access version of Minecraft: Education Edition.
Microsoft bought the educational form of the popular open world game in January, and now is offering version of its product over the summer at no cost. A completed version will go on sale this fall.
The education version of Minecraft allows teachers to create non-player characters that can guide students within the game. Through problem-solving and collaboration, students can explore subjects ranging from science and engineering to history as they re-create places and events.
Teachers can also collect information on students’ progress, as they take screenshots of their work to document their projects. Up to 30 students can play at a time, and smaller groups can share work between their respective worlds.
More than 100 schools and 1,700 students are already part of the game’s Beta Program, a trial that Microsoft used to test the product. This spring, their input was used to tweak the game so that it would be better suited for the classroom.
At the International Society for Technology in Education conference later this month, the Minecraft Education Team will lead several professional learning workshops to train educators on the game, and provide information on what it has to offer students and instructors.
Microsoft’s history with Minecraft goes back to 2014, when it purchased the game’s Swedish developer, Mojang, for $2.5 billion. When the tech giant added MinecraftEdu to its acquisitions in January, the educational version of the game that allows players to build and create almost infinitely was already in more than 7,000 classrooms in more than 40 countries.
Anthony Salcito, Microsoft’s vice president for worldwide education, offered a preview of Minecraft: Education Edition’s imminent release this week at the Association of American Publishers Pre-K-12 Learning Group’s annual conference, Content in Context 2016.
In a keynote speech that emphasized how educational technology should be personalized for each individual student, Salcito emphasized that Minecraft is more than just about players’ immersion in the game itself. Users spend most of their time watching Youtube videos about the game, and planning strategies offline.
The free version of Minecraft: Education Edition can be downloaded from the site’s website. The full version will be available in September at an annual cost of between $1 and $5 per user, depending on school size and volume-licensing options.
Image of Minecraft: Education Edition courtesy of Mojang.