Microsoft has been clear that it sees Minecraft as much more than the juggernaut entertainment game that it definitely is. The company has used the world building title to show off the potential of VR to break current boundaries, while Minecraft is also viewed by Redmond as an educational tool.
Enter Minecraft Education Edition, which has gone into open beta today, giving educators the opportunity to test its features ahead of the official public launch in September. Whether Minecraft truly is an educational aid remains to be seen, it is not an easy game to master after-all, but Microsoft clearly has big ambitions in this area.
The education-oriented version of the game was announced back in January and last month we revealed that Microsoft had opened a registration page for Minecraft Education Edition. The company believes that the game can be a potent visual aid to teachers, allowing them to construct subjects discussed in lessons.
For example, it could be more engaging for a child to be able to help build a historical building than to just be told about it, no matter how crudely the construction is. While the Education Edition will be almost equal to the normal Minecraft, it will come with some new enhancements oriented to teachers and the classroom.
Microsoft and Mojang (Minecraft developer) announced in January that there will be an in-game camera for screenshots. With the roll out of the beta version, Microsoft has introduced other new features that should appeal to educators and children.
An in-game chalk board gives teachers a virtual space within Minecraft to place blocks, allowing them to create lessons within the game if they choose. Blocks of text can be placed on the chalk board and children can interact with them when they approach with their in-game characters.
Classroom Mode was also revealed today, although it will not be available until the public release of Minecraft Education Edition in September. This mode gives teachers the tools to create an in-game online space to interact with children. They can set tasks, give resources, chat, and see where all members are on the map.
The beta run of the game is free, but when it reached public release, Minecraft Education Edition will cost between $1 and $5 per student for a year.