It seems you can’t go anywhere anymore without running into a group of kids (or adults for that matter) talking about Minecraft. It is a phenomenon that has revolutionized video games. The same sandbox gameplay that makes it an ideal place for digital play also makes it a great place to experiment and learn. Educators have been trying to make use of it in the classroom since the game started to rise in popularity.
The problem of bringing Minecraft to schools was eventually solved by a company called Teacher Gaming. They developed a sophisticated mod for Minecraft that they called MinecraftEdu. They negotiated an official license from Mojang back in 2011 and marketed their program to schools worldwide. At this point there are more than seven thousand schools in around forty countries using the service. It has been wildly popular.
The idea behind the service is straightforward. Teacher Gaming sells classroom licenses to teachers and lets them use private servers to teach things like STEM, Languages, and Art. The game is not changed all that much at all.
The key component to the success of MinecraftEdu has been the official license from Mojang. This support allowed them to leverage the power of the Minecraft brand without fear of being sued into the ground by the game’s owner. Sure. Teacher Gaming could have made their own home grown product, but it would have been very difficult to replicate the excitement that kids have for the Minecraft brand.
Microsoft put all of that in jeopardy when they purchased Mojang and, along with it, the rights to Minecraft. They would have been completely within their rights to shut everything down, but have elected not to do so. They obviously saw some earning potential though, because they, instead, have purchased MinecraftEdu from Teacher Gaming and are using it to help build and release a new version called Minecraft: Education Edition.
The game itself will remain largely the same, but it will have more robust tools for teachers to control the learning environment and track players within it. The biggest differences will all be outside of the game itself. Microsoft is hoping to build a robust community of educators who will create and share lessons plans with each other. This is a risky strategy considering how time consuming creating some lesson plans in Minecraft can be. But, they are hoping that enough teachers will get involved in the program that even a small percentage of them will be able to keep the content flowing.
Minecraft: Education Edition will launch sometime this summer, just in time to give teachers who are off from school a chance to play around with the new tools and learn them before School starts again in the fall.