Microsoft has made the early-access version of Minecraft: Education Edition free for teachers for a limited time, as the tech company prepares for the game’s September release.
The Education Edition of Minecraft bridges the building block game to the world of academia, leveraging a host of new features that facilitate or cater to the learning experience.
Unique to this edition are in-game chalkboards and non-playable characters, both of which can be customized by educators to act as guides and guideposts for students exploring the game world.
The Education Edition also has a “simple, secure sign-in” to ensure the security and privacy of the game’s users, an essential feature for software that works with personal data from minors.
And because teachers just love diaries and portfolios, Minecraft: Education Edition includes tools for creating both.
“Another important aspect of Minecraft in education is being able to collect evidence of learning in the game, and being able to demonstrate student progression,” says Microsoft. “The camera and portfolio features allow students to take screenshots of their work and document the development of their projects.”
Features in the pipeline for the Education Edition include a Classroom Mode user interface, which helps teachers map out their students in the game and provides a list-view alternative. Microsoft is also working on teleporting abilities and a chat window.
To get started with the early-access version of the game, educators will need to sign up for a free Office 365 account on the Minecraft: Education Edition website using a school email address. They will then have access to a digital download of the game, which requires hardware running either Windows 10 or OS X El Capitan.
And for those concerned about possible technical pitfalls, take it from Steve Isaacs, a game design and development teacher at William Annin Middle School, who reports that the game was easy to set up.
“Within 45 minutes of the download being provided to me, I was able to get it installed and my students logged in and [started] playing in a world together,” Isaacs says. “No server setup, or networking configuration required.”
The arrival of the early-access version follows the 14-puzzle Minecraft tutorial that Microsoft released last December as part of the annual Hour of Code event encouraging elementary school students to learn code.
The puzzles were meant to introduce educators to Minecraft’s potential in the classroom. Microsoft followed up the puzzles with daily challenges, which would task students with using code to reconstruct challenge images inside the game.