Today, Microsoft announced “Minecraft: Education Edition,” a special version of the smash-hit game that’s designed for the classroom.
To make this happen, Microsoft bought New York-based startup Teacher Gaming, which made a custom, popular “school-ready remix of the original smash hit game Minecraft” called “MinecraftEdu.”
Microsoft already pai Mojang, publisher of the main Minecraft game, after paying $2.5 billion for it in 2014.
At first, it might seem like a little bit of a weird mismatch to have a video game in the classroom. But educators all over the globe have been using Minecraft in their lesson plans for years.
The beauty of “Minecraft” is that it’s only limited by your imagination. For a lot of kids — my nephews included — that means adventuring, building elaborate houses out of glass and dynamite, spelunking, zombie-fighting, and the occassional volcano-triggered forest fire.
But for forward-looking teachers, it’s also a way to get kids thinking a little differently.
“Ultimately, we brought MinecraftEdu to over 10,000 schools in more than 45 countries. It is currently used at every level from kindergarten through graduate school, and it has been applied to nearly all subject areas,” Teacher Gaming says in a blog post announcing the Microsoft acquisition.
Just scroll down Teacher Gaming’s Twitter feed for examples of how “MinecraftEdu” is getting used in the classroom:
— Steve (@MGLWorld_Steve) January 13, 2016
— WSD STEAM Lab (@WSDSteam) January 12, 2016
Beyond that, “Minecraft” is infinitely extensible: Since “Minecraft’s” original release in November 2011, dedicated fans have started coding their own additions, tweaks, and expansions to the core game, from improved inventory management systems to whole entire new dimensions to explore.
Savvy educational technology vendors, including Teacher Gaming with “MinecraftEdu,” have used this extensibility to encourage kids to learn how to program.
Teacher Gaming also claims to make it easier to set up a Minecraft server — something that isn’t exactly hard, but requires a dedicated computer, which may be beyond the resources of many classrooms.
“MinecraftEdu” boasts a subscription service to host a Minecraft server in the cloud, meaning that they handle the hard part of running and maintaining it.
For Microsoft, “Minecraft: Education Edition” is a double whammy: First, it boosts Microsoft’s high-profile messaging that it wants to get more kids on a technical career track. Second, it gives Microsoft a bigger footprint in the education market — a space in which Google has historically done very well with Google Docs and Chromebook laptops.
Microsoft promises that it will include teachers and educators in the process of building out “Minecraft: Education Edition,” even after that free trial comes out this summer. And it could be the foundation of something big.