New Chromebook alternatives and easier ways to manage classroom sets of them, along with an update to Minecraft, will kick off Microsoft’s 2017 offerings for the education market.
Redmond showed off its new educational toys at the BETT education conference in London this week. They include updates to the education edition of Minecraft, a mind-bogglingly open-ended online game that has gained favor among primary school teachers who use it as a learning tool.
The new features rolling out today include gimmicks to keep kids interested, like the addition of igloos and Polar Bears to the game’s snowier biomes. There are also a few new tools to help teachers, such as “Global Pause,” which will give teachers who might use Minecraft to teach multiple subject areas the ability to have all of their students take a break and transition to a new activity.
Microsoft recognized Minecraft’s popularity at schools soon after it acquired the studio behind the game, and began encouraging teachers to share lesson plans and resources with each other. To help facilitate this, the company is now adding native support for Minecraft’s .mcworld file format to the the Microsoft docs.com platform.
Of course, what good is Minecraft if your students don’t have a computer to play it on? Microsoft also announced three new entry-level Windows laptops and 2-in-1s geared toward the education market. Lenovo’s new N24 convertible notebook starts at just $189, and includes an 11.6-inch IPS display that rotates through 360 degrees and a pen for writing on the screen. It’s expected to be available in mid-2017.
Acer, too, has a new convertible notebook, the $299 TravelMate Spin B118. With a pressure-resistant screen, shock-absorbent rubber bumper, and spill-resistant keyboard, it should take most of the abuse that kids can throw at it.
Finally, the new Turn T201 convertible notebook from education device supplier JP.IK has a microscope for science tasks and a thermal probe that can detect temperature fluctuations. Pricing wasn’t immediately available.
All three devices run Windows 10, and Microsoft is positioning them as inexpensive Chromebook alternatives for the classroom.
Because their pricing will likely appeal to public schools with cash-strapped IT budgets, Microsoft is also introducing a new cloud-based device management platform, recognizing that it might be up to teachers themselves to deploy a classroom set of notebooks. Called Intune for Education, it’s designed to allow non-IT professionals to easily customize settings for each student, regardless of which laptop they check out.