Microsoft has revealed it will launch a beta for its educational Minecraft splinter in May, allowing teachers to use the phenomenally popular sandbox game in the classroom.
Announced on the Minecraft blog, the beta will encompass more than 100 schools in 30 countries around the world, allowing educators to provide feedback on the project and help develop a final version and “fine-tune the experience across a diverse set of learning environments.”
The next phase comes a month later, when the company will release Minecraft: Education Edition as an early access program. This will be available in 11 languages and in 41 countries, and available to download and try for free. Across the summer, Microsoft will “be focused on working with educators on building out lesson plans, sharing learning activity ideas, and creating re-usable projects.”
The freeform nature of Minecraft makes it highly adaptable to lessons in many subjects, from accurate (if blocky) recreations of historical sites, through to molecular science. Developer Mojang’s core version also allows the creation of circuits using certain materials, making it perfect for engineering simulations, and there are countless examples online of users using it for programming and coding tutorials.
Microsoft’s educational version of Minecraft was announced in January, after it aquired the original version of MinecraftEdu. Dating back to 2011, the first iteration was co-developed by TeacherGaming and Mojang.
Once Microsoft launches a final version of Minecraft: Education Edition, schools with an existing license will be able to add the new version to their agreement, and new licenses will be available on both direct and high volume bases. The game will run on Windows 10 and Mac OS X El Capitan, although teachers and students will also need to register a free Office 365 Education account using official school email addresses.
Anyone still using the current TeacherGaming version of MinecraftEdu will receive support through to the end of “this school year” (unspecified, but likely based on American school dates), though teachers will need to opt in to continue receiving information on the switchover to Minecraft: Education Edition.