Today, Microsoft is releasing the early access version of Minecraft: Education Edition to educators, meeting the schedule it had previously announced. This release gives educators a chance to install and try an early version of the experience for free throughout the summer, Microsoft notes.
“The early access version of Minecraft: Education Edition that we are releasing today includes several key features that the community told us are important for enhancing the learning environment,” a Microsoft representative told me.
As you may recall, Microsoft announced the schedule for Minecraft: Education Edition back in April. At that time, it said it would ship a Minecraft: Education Edition beta program to over 100 schools in May, which it subsequently did. And that it would release Minecraft: Education Edition in an early access program in June, providing educators with an opportunity to download and try it for free. That’s what’s happening now.
Here’s what’s new in the Minecraft: Education Edition early access release.
Easier collaboration in the classroom. Now, a classroom of up to 30 students can play in a world together without needing a separate server. Students can also work together in pairs or groups, and join each others’ worlds.
New camera and portfolio features. The camera and portfolio features let students take screenshots of their work and document the development of their projects.
Non-Player Characters. Now, educators can create an NPC (Non-Player Character) to act as a guide for students in the game, Microsoft says, giving instruction, providing more information, and also allowing educators to insert an active web link to additional references.
Chalkboards. Educators can use chalkboards, which work similarly to NPCs, to communicate learning goals, provide information, give explicit instructions, or challenge students with problems to solve within the game. Chalkboards are available in three different sizes, Microsoft says: Slate (1×1), Poster (2×1), and Board (2×3), and they can be placed on the ground or mounted on a vertical surface.
Simpler, more secure sign-ins. Minecraft: Education Edition now supports single sign-on (SSO) capabilities so no additional passwords or accounts are required.
Updated lesson starters and starter worlds. These additions will help educators get started quickly wth Minecraft: Education Edition.
More is on the way. Microsoft notes that it is working on additional Minecraft: Education Edition features like a Classroom Mode interface, teleport capabilities, and a chat window for communication.