As an elementary STEM teacher turned technology director, I’m extremely enthusiastic about the positive potential for students and teachers to use MinecraftEDU software to create powerful learning experiences. I’m extremely disappointed and sad, however, to learn about the changes and price structure which Microsoft is making to the “MinecraftEDU School Edition” set for official release on November 1, 2016. In this post, I’ll explain how these decisions by Microsoft have poised it as a company to destroy MinecraftEDU and cripple its constructive potential to be used in classrooms around the United States and the world. I’ll also suggest some ways Microsoft could change this perilous course.

If the number of MinecraftEDU screenshots a teacher has posted to Flickr is a measuring stick for MinecraftEDU enthusiasm, I’m probably an outlier. I have 1675 MinecraftEDU screenshots on Flickr now, and that number will continue to grow in 2016-17. This year I’ve helped one of our 8th grade Spanish teachers develop a basic but engaging “MinecraftEDU House Spanish Labeling Challenge.” This summer I co-facilitated a one day Minecraft Challenge Camp for 3rd through 8th grade students who participated in the “MinecraftEDU Treehouse Challenge,” the “MinecraftEDU Redstone Engineering Challenge,” and the “MinecraftEDU Breakout Challenge.” It’s nothing short of remarkable to see the enthusiasm and energy which students bring to a well formulated Minecraft lesson in the classroom. In my 22+ years in K-12 education, I haven’t seen another software program which can even come close to the positive, powerful and constructive potential of Minecraft and MinecraftEDU to support engaged, integrated learning at school. Minecraft is amazing.

Consumer Minecraft software licenses are not inexpensive at $27 each. Fortunately, before Microsoft purchased Minecraft from Mojang for $2.5 billion, the MinecraftEDU edition cost about half as much for student licenses. Rather than pay an annual subscription fee based on the total number of students in a school who would play MinecraftEDU, schools could purchase the number of computer lab “seats” they had so they owned a license for each student who would simultaneously be playing and using MinecraftEDU software at school at the same time. Perpetual, free software upgrades were included with the license, with no expectation of schools having to pay additional fees to keep students using the latest version of MinecraftEDU as long as the number of computer “seats” at school didn’t increase.

This has changed completely with Microsoft’s new pricing structure for “Minecraft: Education Edition.” Rather than purchase a one-time license with perpetual upgrades, just for computer lab computers, now K-12 schools are being asked by Microsoft to pay $5 per student, per year, for the privilege of playing Minecraft. This is ridiculous! Here in Oklahoma our public schools can’t even pay reasonable wages to classroom teachers. There’s no way our schools can afford thousands of dollars in licensing fees for MinecraftEDU software, even when it IS amazing and incredibly powerful. There just aren’t funds available for this.

I’m not optimistic any of this will change, but in case someone in a leadership role at Microsoft is reading this who cares, here are three things the company could do with MinecraftEDU to change course:

  1. Economics: Commit to improving MinecraftEDU with a financial plan that makes it affordable and easy to sell into every K-12 classroom in the United States. Stop viewing MinecraftEDU user licenses as gateway drugs for Office 365 Education. Drop the entire concept and economic model of per user licensing and annual licensing. Return to the original MinecraftEDU pricing and licensing model, except make it even more affordable for schools. Abandon your greed.
  2. Empower Grassroots Creativity: Study, understand and then empower the same kind of grassroots user collaboration and creativity evident in the Minecraft Teacher’s Google Group. Recognize the best ideas for using MinecraftEDU in the classroom are coming from students and teachers, and your goal should be to empower these innovators, not try and impose a top-down model of corporate authored creativity.
  3. Support Local Servers in Offline Mode: One of the best features of the original MinecraftEDU software is its ability to run entirely on a school local area network (LAN) without any public Internet connectivity required. This gave (and still gives, for those of us still running that software) a high level of local control over the MinecraftEDU environment and good assurances from an Internet safety standpoint that students will only be interacting with other students LOCALLY. Certainly multi-player gaming is huge and there’s a big audience for it in homes, but in classrooms and school labs there’s tremendous value in supporting local servers which even work offline without Internet connectivity.

We’ve been witnessing some significant pivots in Microsoft’s corporate strategies in the past few years, and it would be wonderful if we see Bill Gates’ behemoth pivot yet again when it comes to a MinecraftEDU development and monetization strategy. By owning and controlling Minecraft and MinecraftEDU, Microsoft wields staggering potential to help constructively transform learning inside and outside the classroom. That power and potential can be squandered and misdirected, however, and it appears Microsoft is on the cusp of just such a foundering action.

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One Response to How Microsoft is Poised to Destroy MinecraftEDU

  1. This is very unfortunate. Making tools financially accessible should be a main focus for educational technologies. I appreciate your suggestions and request for Microsoft to “abandon greed.”

    Now I’m interested if there’s room for a DIY classroom setup using the non-edu version of Minecraft and mods? May be something we consider researching, looking forward. Since there’s now a larger financial barrier to overcome, it’d be advantageous to have an option for those that are interested in experimenting and are not quite sold on Minecraft as a learning tool.

    Thank you for the post Wesley. I’ve been meaning to look into the how the pricing for Minecraft Education Edition was going to compare to MinecraftEDU.

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