Microsoft sees the potential of Minecraft. Hopefully, it sees its potential as a learning tool and not just as a way to make money. They acquired an existing version of the software, MinecraftEdu, from an independent developer, Teacher Gaming.
MinecraftEdu provides products and services to educators to use Minecraft in the classroom. This includes a special version of the software, a cloud-based hosting solution for Minecraft classroom servers so students and teachers can connect and play together, a library of lessons and activities and a teacher community with 5,500 teachers in 40+ countries using it for STEM to Language to History to Art.
Microsoft will also launch a new version of Minecraft for schools this summer. They will offer a free "trial" version - so profit will certainly play a role in their plans.
I never taught or used Minecraft in any depth but it is very popular. Though I would classify it as an online video game, it is one where you build rather than just use virtual worlds using blocks. It is virtual world reminiscent of places like Second Life and The Sims (though not as sophisticated and not as graphic-intensive) that kids use as a digital sandbox, They can construct anything they want using mostly block-shaped materials. Kids may enjoy building and destroying things there, but educators connected to the constructive nature as a supplemental learning tool.
It has a user base of at least 22 million people. Kids discovered it and then teachers who saw that interest then found ways to use it for lessons.
Microsoft does offer schools some productivity tools (Office 365 Education) free to teachers and students, and some teachers use Skype for videoconferencing platform, but Google has deeper hooks into schools. Google Apps for Education is used by more than 50 million students, teachers and administrators worldwide and certainly "Minecraft: Education Edition" is intended to help Microsoft get into more classrooms.
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