Having already achieved commercial success among video gamers, Microsoft is now on a mission to bring Minecraft to classrooms.
The company is acquiring MinecraftEdu from Teacher Gaming LLC and "investing in a new and expanded version of Minecraft for the classroom called Minecraft Education Edition," said Anthony Salcito, vice president of Worldwide Education for Microsoft, in a Jan. 19 announcement. The new title "will offer an expanded set of features to empower educators to foster deeper student engagement and collaboration," he continued.
MinecraftEdu, as the name suggests, is an education-themed build of Minecraft, the popular building-block game Microsoft acquired for $2.5 billion in 2014. "Minecraft is more than a great game franchise—it is an open world platform, driven by a vibrant community we care deeply about, and rich with new opportunities for that community and for Microsoft," said Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella in a statement at the time.
Some of that community has already extended the video game brand into the market for educational technology solutions.
"Over the past few years, educators around the world have been using Minecraft to explore subjects that might not spring to mind when you think of our block-based game," blogged Owen Hill, director of creative communications at Mojang, the Microsoft-owned studio that created Minecraft, today. "Since 2011, MinecraftEdu—a version of Minecraft built for the classroom—has been used in over 40 countries. Lots of people have learned loads of things since then."
Microsoft expects to have a free trial version of Minecraft Education Edition available to schools this summer. "All existing MinecraftEdu customers will get the first year of Minecraft: Education Edition free of charge," Hill said.
Minecraft Education Edition's ongoing development will be influenced by teachers, Hill added. "It's going to be a collaborative thing," he wrote. "Development of Minecraft: Education Edition will be shaped by a community of educators thanks to education.minecraft.net. The site will host lesson plans and give Minecraft: Education Edition users somewhere to discuss ideas and provide feedback."
Meanwhile, Microsoft also announced the availability of new OneNote extension software to aid in the education of dyslexic kids.
Based on the winning entry from Microsoft's Oneweek Hackathon this past summer, Learning Tools for OneNote is a toolbar add-in for OneNote 2013 and 2016 with specialized reading and dictation modes intended to help students retain information better and improve their understanding of educational material. "It is designed specifically to improve reading and writing experiences for all students, including for those with learning disabilities like dyslexia," Salcito said.
The software adds attention-enhancing visuals and tools to OneNote's stock interface. "Learning Tools incorporates special text formatting and other features that can make classroom activities easier, including advanced dictation, focus mode, and immersive reading," Salcito added.
Learning Tools for OneNote is available now as free preview software and can be downloaded here.