Minecraft: Education Edition Beta – First Impressions

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Minecraft: Education Edition Beta

First Impressions

A new age has dawned in the Minecraft in Education world.  On May 2nd over 100 eager schools from over 30 countries finally got their hands on a small packet of code that had been hotly anticipated for many months.  Minecraft: Education Edition Beta had finally been released for testing.  And boy what a launch.

The group is made up of educators and students from diverse backgrounds, using myriad devices (albeit those running Windows 10 or OS X El Capitan) and drawing from a broad spectrum of experience.  In short, everything that makes the Minecraft community the rich and vibrant group it is today.  There were those eager to break their very first blocks, those that had used Minecraft outside of education and were looking forward to bringing it into their classrooms and those that had previously used various versions of Minecraft in their own classroom (including MinecraftEdu users).  All waited with baited breath for the announcement that the download link had gone live.

Now I would love to say that the initial launch days ran seamlessly however that is not the way of beta testing software.  There were hiccups and hurdles, bugs and broken bits with the Minecraft Education team worked tirelessly to solve and remove.  My personal experience was one of seamless installation and booting on my laptop and a slightly less than seamless installation on my Windows 10 Tablet.  The niggles and bugs and frustrations are irrelevant to me at this point.  I have every faith in the Microsoft team to release a solid package later in the spring for open testing that will have none of these things.  After all, that’s why there is a closed Beta, to catch these things before launch.

There are some features I am not allowed to write about here and some that I don’t want to until later in the spring.  One thing I do want to mention however is the link to an Office 365 account for schools.  This has caused everything from panic to hysteria to scepticism and cynicism.  I have been party to more conversations about “tenants, switches, hubs and IP’s” than I care to think about over the last few days.  As a collaboration platform I see its worth 100%.  But then I am a little more “bought in” to the Microsoft education package than some in the beta test and so am looking more towards an awesome future of seamless integration than those.

So what about the experience?

The familiar menu screens of Minecraft: Windows 10 Edition give way seamlessly to a world that runs like silk over ice.  I remember first booting the java platform Minecraft and then spending a good 10 minutes adjusting video options to get something running over 6fps.  The first thing I did on booting M:EE was turn all the display options up to maximum and go for a wander.  I cannot overstate how smooth the experience in world is.  Those of you experienced with java Minecraft will get what I mean within seconds of launching.  This thing runs like greased lightning and renders to horizon and beyond seamlessly!

There are a number of education specific features that have been added to this version (some of which I can’t talk about at the minute but suffice to say the future looks very bright indeed).  What I will mention is the Camera and Portfolio.  One of the biggest barriers to using Minecraft in a classroom has always be “How do I demonstrate student learning?”  Well here it is… and it works amazingly well!  Point the camera at what you’ve built and snap a shot to export into whatever document you wish.  Or place the camera and frame yourself (and your classmates if you can round them up) in the shot.  It tracks the player brilliantly, can be pre-placed by teachers at set points to structure the progression and exports seamlessly in a far more user friendly way than screenshots ever have before!  All these snaps are collated automatically into a handy Portfolio.  This looks very much like a scrap book of memories and allows the shots to be captioned and exported to enable their integration into other apps.  It works smoothly and has clearly been designed with education in mind.  Give us the ability to “geotag” the image with map coordinates and video capture as well as static snap and this pairing would knock the socks off anything similar in previous iterations.

OK so the beta isn’t without bugs, can’t handle any of the mods or build tools that we have relied on in the past and isn’t as fully featured as other versions (pistons anyone?) but as a platform on which the future of Minecraft in Education can be built, it is a great start point.  The Microsoft team are listening and open to any and all feedback from the community (whether you are involved in the beta test or not).  Now is the time to let your voice be heard.  Feedback

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