Microsoft Will Soon Spawn a Classroom Edition of Minecraft

Much to the glee of young blockheads everywhere, Microsoft is positioning Minecraft as the next big building block in education.

The Redmond, Wash. tech giant today announced that it’s creating a new classroom version of the wildly popular block-building game. Simply called Minecraft Education Edition, the game will be tailored specifically to teachers and students, from grade schools to universities.

The coming edition is intended to “empower educators to foster deeper student engagement and collaboration,” said Anthony Salcito, Microsoft’s vice president of worldwide education.

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The news comes on the heels of Microsoft’s acquisition of TeacherGaming LLC, creator of MinecraftEdu, a Mojang-supported modification of the original Minecraft built to help teachers integrate the game into their lesson plans. Microsoft recently scooped up the Finland-based startup for an undisclosed sum.

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In a statement released today, Microsoft said it will build on the success of MinecraftEdu by decking it out with a fresh set of expanded features. Per Microsoft, MinecraftEdu, which launched in 2011, is already used in 7,000 classrooms in 40-plus countries across the globe.

While its updated take on the existing game will initially roll out in free trial mode this summer, Microsoft plans to eventually charge a fee of $5 per student per year. School licensing fees for larger education institutions are also in the works, according to the Wall Street Journal.

You might recall that, in the fall of 2014, Microsoft snapped up Mojang, the Swedish developer that created Minecraft, for a tidy total of $2.5 billion. Microsoft has since touted the educational benefits of the game, lauding the pixelated brainchild of Markus Persson (aka Notch) for inspiring students and teachers to be more intellectually creative, courageous and collaborative.

“By creating a virtual world and then advancing in it, students can learn digital citizenship, empathy, social skills and even improve their literacy,” Salcito said in today’s announcement, “while getting real time feedback on their problem-solving skills from the teacher.”

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Microsoft officially kicked off its push to further mainstream the Minecraft brand in the classroom last November, when it unveiled a free Minecraft-themed tutorial in partnership with Code.org. Also aimed at students and teachers, the basic computer code training sessions feature Minecraft characters Alex and Steve.

Former teacher Rafranz Davis, currently the executive director of professional and digital learning for the city of Lufkin, Texas, said she believes Minecraft offers a unique opportunity for young learners to acquire knowledge and confidence through trial and error. Better yet, it enables them to do so in an adventurous setting of their own creation.

“You talk about the same experiences that computer programming gives, where you’re allowed to fail -- Minecraft provides that same experience,” she said in a video Microsoft released alongside its announcement today. “To walk into the world that a child has created and to see their excitement, to watch their eyes light up, it is something that you honestly have to experience at least once in your life.”

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