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Mojang now offering early — and free — access to the Minecraft: Education Edition

Some of us have always thought Minecraft serves as a great educational tool. Not only does it play as a digital canvas for creative pixilated designs, it pushes users to really think about what they’re creating in the digital space. Creative minds have built not only renditions of real cities and locations, but working electronics like a calculator and a processor. Some of the stuff Minecraft users generate is simply mind-boggling given it’s all done in virtual space, so the existence of a “Minecraft: Education Edition” really comes as no surprise.

“One of the most common requests we get from educators is the ability for students to collaborate together to build projects and solve problems,” developer Mojang said on Thursday.

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The developer is currently providing early access to Minecraft: Education Edition for free to educators around the world. This version of the popular block-building virtual sandbox is based on feedback Mojang has received over the years from the “educated community,” and includes features and capabilities these people have requested. Overall, the Education Edition aims to enhance the learning experience.

To sign up, educators and institutions need an account registered on the Office 365 Education website. The accredited school or academic institution must have a valid email address to register, meaning parents who home-school their children may not be able to get their hands on Education Edition at this time. Perhaps that will change later on down the road.

Minecraft Education Edition

According to Mojang, Education Edition allows up to 30 students to play in the same world together without the need for a separate server. Students can also work together in pairs or in large groups simply by jumping into worlds hosted by their classmates. Students can even take screenshots and throw them into an in-game portfolio to document the development of their projects. This portfolio can be exported to the desktop.

In addition to the collaboration features, Education Edition enables educators to control nonplayer characters (NPCs) in order to guide students within the virtual realm. For instance, teachers can insert a “town guide” that provides students with instructions for a specific project, and an additional active URL that leads to more information when clicked.

Minecraft Education Edition

Another feature Mojang threw into Education Edition is the use of chalkboards. Just like the NPCs, teachers can use these virtual boards to provide instructions, learning goals, and even problems to solve within the game. These chalkboards can be mounted on any vertical surface or simply placed on the ground, and come in three sizes: slate, poster, and board.

Finally, Mojang injected Education Edition with single sign-on (SSO) capabilities so that additional passwords and accounts aren’t necessary when playing this particular version of Minecraft. Additional features are on the way, too, such as a Classroom Mode interface for teachers that consists of a map, a list of participating students, teleport capabilities, and a chat window for speaking directly to students building in the virtual world.

Minecraft Education edition

“In addition to the product features, we are also releasing updated lesson starters and starter worlds to help educators get started quickly using Minecraft: Education Edition,” Mojang said. “A range of sample lessons are available for educators to use across subjects and age levels.  Each lesson includes learning objectives, activities, suggested reflection questions, and evidence of learning criteria.  Some example lessons include City Planning for Population Growth, Exploring Factors and Multiples, and Effects of Deforestation.”

Prior to the early access launched on Wednesday, more than 100 schools and 1,700 students participated in the Education Edition beta program. The final version of Education Edition will be released in September, and will cost between $1 and $5 per user, depending on the size of the school and eligibility for special volume licensing.

If you plan on checking out Education Edition, note that you must be running Windows 10 or OS X El Capitan. And again, you must have a valid school or district email address to grab a free Office 365 Education account that Mojang uses to verify teachers and institutions. The game itself can be downloaded here.