Rafranz Davis has long been a fan of using Minecraft to engage students in the classroom. That should get easier with the release of Minecraft: Education Edition, which became available today in more than 50 countries.
Davis is executive director of professional and digital learning for Lufkin Independent School District in East Texas, where Minecraft has become a popular platform for teaching lessons in science, engineering, math, makerspaces and creative writing classes as well in multiple Minecraft clubs.
“Prior to now, we’ve had to use Minecraft’s pocket edition with a cart of iPads,” she said. “The new Minecraft: Education Edition runs on our networked computers where vanilla Minecraft does not,” she said in an interview with EdScoop via Twitter.
“Accessibility for our students actually increases since they can now access Minecraft via their classroom computers and labs,” she said.
That’s one of a number of improvements built into the new education edition, which includes a widely-anticipated Classroom Mode companion app that has been in development since last January.
The app lets educators roll out accounts to students, manage world settings, communicate with students, give students resources to work with and teleport students in the Minecraft world. It also displays a map view of the Minecraft world as it’s developed, a list of the students building objects in it, and the ability to interact with students and manage settings from a central user console.
The new education edition incorporates suggestions from more than 50,000 students and educators over the past year, according to Microsoft, which bought Minecraft maker Mojang two years ago. Their feedback helped fine-tune a variety of learning environments. Minecraft also makes available tutorials, lesson plans and starter worlds.
Minecraft has also created online forums for educators to share experiences on using Minecraft in education and has a Minecraft Mentors program, which connects educators with others experienced in teaching with Minecraft.
While the new edition will make access for kids much more convenient, “integrating it into most teacher lessons will take time as majority of classroom teaches aren’t Minecraft savvy yet,” said Davis.
“The Education Edition offers some unique features for those running Minecraft as a class or who feel that there needs to be a significant amount of teacher control,” said Davis. “In my experience, the enhancement is when students are learning and sharing that in their own unique way and for me, the accessibility of the game is paramount to that happening.”
“What we are aiming for this year is that teachers realize that they don’t have to have expertise to allow this medium as a way for kids to have Minecraft as a choice in projects,” she added.
The one downside Davis could see is that Minecraft “only runs on Windows 10 – and MacOS if Macs are accessible – which means that schools which are not running Windows 10 cannot run this edition,” she said.
“All of our teachers and students have Office 365 accounts and the release of Minecraft Education Edition being connected to those accounts makes it a pretty big deal,” she said, “especially since students can play at home and school.”
And the price is hard to beat, especially for those who use Minecraft to teach science, technology, engineering, arts and math lessons. The complete version of Minecraft: Education Edition is available for $5 per user, per year, or through a district-wide licensing model.
“The cost, which I honestly compare to being minimal when considering this as STEAM curriculum support, is worth it,” said Davis