Microsoft Buys Edu Edition of Minecraft, Releases OneNote Classroom Tool

There's been a twist in the fate of the education edition of Minecraft. Microsoft has acquired MinecraftEdu from TeacherGaming and announced that it would be offering a more expanded set of features.

The company has also released a toolbar add-on for OneNote specifically for classrooms.

MinecraftEdu is a special version of the open world game Minecraft, from Mojang Synergies, developed specifically for classroom use. The education edition includes components, such as login and personalization, a student portfolio feature, a second screen view for teachers and the ability to save student progress. It's in use, according to Microsoft, by 7,000 classes at the elementary, middle and high school levels in 40-plus countries.

Microsoft said it would be releasing Minecraft Education Edition this summer as well as a new mentoring program that will match experienced Minecraft teachers with new ones who want to learn more about integrating the use of the game in their classes.

The announcement came during bett, a London-based education technology event that's hosting several events to teach educators about MinecraftEdu.

Although Microsoft hasn't announced pricing, a frequently-asked questions page on the Minecraft Education Edition site informed readers that the "aim" is to "keep the price at $5 per user per year." Microsoft will provide a free trial version to students and teachers in "qualified academic institutions."

Those schools running Office 365ProPlus, the free version of Office online for schools, will be able to access the software for purchase for "a few users or for everyone."

"One of the reasons Minecraft fits so well in the classroom is because it's a common, creative playground," said Vu Bui, chief operating officer of Mojang, in a prepared statement. "We've seen that Minecraft transcends the differences in teaching and learning styles and education systems around the world. It's an open space where people can come together and build a lesson around nearly anything."

TeacherGaming is a United States- and Finland-based company formed by teachers and developers with the mission of expanding game-based learning into classrooms around the world. Besides Minecraft, the company also has developed Kerbal Space Program.

The OneNote for Learning extension was initially developed (and took first place) in a hackathon put on internally by the company in July. OneNote is a free digital note-taking application that runs on multiple devices and is included with Microsoft Office.

The learning extension includes text formatting tools to make reading, writing and note-taking easier, including dictation, audio-text playback with highlighting and other "cues" and natural language processing. The teacher can, for example, click a button to highlight specific parts of speech to help a student review writing on a particular assignment.

At the time of the hackathon, OneNote team member Sebastian Greaves explained that "One of the key things we wanted to achieve is to make sure no student ever got behind in their education because of difficulties with reading... We wanted to make sure that was as little a barrier as possible, so they can focus on what they're learning."

Joel Reese, a teacher at Sammamish High School in Washington who has tried the OneNote utility, noted that "students spend so much energy decoding that they can't focus on content. This tool will help making learning more efficient."

A "preview" edition of the Learning Tool is available for download on the OneNote Web site.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.