November 21, 2017

The Advocate's Toolbox

Microsoft Purchase of MinecraftEdu Leaves Educators Leery of Change

Shannon McNeice suspected Minecraft would be a hit with her middle school students at Sedgwick Middle School in West Hartford, CT. Using some of her book money, McNeice bought MinecraftEdu for her students, set up an after school club and saw her bet pay off, and then some.

“No matter what the goal is [for them to do], Minecraft draws them in,” says McNeice in an email. “It captivates them.”

Minecraftedu600But with Microsoft‘s January 19, 2016 purchase of MinecraftEdu from developers group TeacherGaming, educators are newly concerned. Microsoft bought Minecraft, as part of its purchase of game studio Mojang for more than $2 billion in 2014. Yet MinecraftEdu was a separate entity. Until now. With the news of its acquisition of MinecraftEdu, Microsoft released details of its own educational version: Minecraft Education Edition. And the questions started flying.

Office 365 Required?

“There’s a possibility with Microsoft, that it will be easier to install, which is great,” says Elissa Malespina, teacher librarian at Somerville Middle School in Somerville, NJ. “But the real concern is: do you have to be a user of Office 365 Suite to have access to that?”

The answer is yes…and no, according to the FAQ section of Minecraft: Education Edition’s website. Users will absolutely be able to access Minecraft: Education through Office 365. And those without Office 365? Educators already can sign up for free versions of Office 365. From there, again, they’ll be able to sign up to buy Minecraft: Education Edition, at a cost of $5 per user, a year. But hosting services, as offered by MinecraftEdu, won’t be offered.

As for current users of MinecraftEdu, they may not see any immediate changes; they’ll be able to use that version just as they do now, according to MinecraftEdu’s website. Current pricing is $41 to run and host your own server, plus $18 per user, or $14 for 25 licenses or more. TeacherGaming, which has hosted and supported MinecraftEdu, is even working on updates. But all MinecraftEdu users will get a one-year free subscription to the new Microsoft version when it launches.

Why would users want to switch? Microsoft’s version will let teachers track students when they’re in the game, plus there will be lesson plans integrated into Minecraft, along with a “Mentors” page where teachers and librarians can connect with each other.

Of course educators who work in MinecraftEdu today are collaborating already. McNeice says that she and an art teacher collaborated and had students build structures in Minecraft, then photograph their creations, and draw them in art class. She says that experience was, to her, a “favorite.”

Malespina, who started at Somerville Middle School this past fall in 2015, hasn’t been able to use Minecraft at her school yet. But she’s hopeful she can bring it on board in some iteration as she did at her former middle school where she, like McNeice, ran an after-school club.

For example, a recent 7th grade history project on the Medieval era, sparked her thinking that having students build structures in Minecraft may have been more fun than the dioramas they built.

“I know they would have much more engaged,” she says. “And it would have been amazing.”

Lauren Barack About Lauren Barack

School Library Journal contributing editor Lauren Barack writes about the connection between media and education, business, and technology. A recipient of the Loeb Award for online journalism, she can be found at www.laurenbarack.com.

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