Among a handful of announcements Microsoft made today — designed to make Windows a core facet of the classroom — the company provided more details on the Minecraft: Education Edition, which it first teased back in January.
Beginning in June, any school will be able to access the new Minecraft, which is tailor-made for teaching kids things such as collaboration, navigation, social skills, and empathy. The software will feature enhanced maps with coordinates, while learners can capture snapshots of their work to save to a dedicated portfolio. There is also an enhanced multiplayer mode that permits as many as 40 pupils to create a Minecraft world, while additional resources, lesson plans, and a mentor program are being lined up to foster a teaching community.
This isn’t the first time Microsoft has introduced Minecraft into the learning environment. The Seattle-based company teamed up with Code.org last year to launch a Minecraft tutorial that teaches kids how to code. This was to mark the annual Hour of Code campaign.
Mojang, the Sweden-based game development studio best known for its work on Minecraft, was acquired by Microsoft for $2.5 billion back in 2014. As part of its effort to launch an education-focused edition, earlier this year Microsoft also acquired MinecraftEdu, a company that already made a modified version of Minecraft specifically for the classroom.
Though Minecraft has been popular in the classroom for some time, introducing a customized version will help Microsoft monetize the game, as it eventually plans to charge $5 per user per year. But for the initial launch, Microsoft will offer the edition for free to help garner feedback from teachers and students.
A closed beta program will kick off in May with more than 100 schools from around the world, and after this initial phase of feedback, the early access program will start some time in June. It will be available in 11 languages across 41 countries. Microsoft didn’t indicate when this program will conclude, but when it does, schools will be required to purchase licenses.
In short, from June, as long as you’re a teacher in a school, have upgraded to the latest version of Windows or OS X, and have a valid Office 365 Education account, you’ll be able to use Minecraft: Education Edition as part of your curriculum.