4.3 Adapting Open Textbooks

Adapt. Remix. Modify. Whatever term you use, the end result is the same: a customized version of a textbook suitable for your context. The ability to change the content of a textbook is one of the primary affordances of open textbooks released with Creative Commons licenses; educators can legally change, alter, delete, add to, improve and enhance the resource to fit their specific context. The one exception, of course, are textbooks released with a No Derivative (ND) Creative Commons license.

However, just because educators have the legal means to modify a open textbook, not many do. In their 2012 paper Examining the Reuse of Open Textbooks, Hilton, Wiley & Lutz note that only about 7.5% of instructors who adopt an open textbook also modify the textbook.

Of the modifications that do occur, Hilton, Wiley & Lutz outline four common ones faculty undertake when they do adapt an open textbook.

  1. Additions occur when a user adds material to a book by inserting one or more new chapters, sections, paragraphs or characters to an existing paragraph.
  2. Deletions occur are when a user removes one or more chapters, sections, paragraphs or characters from an existing paragraph.
  3. Reorders occur when a user changes the sequence in which chapters appeared in the book or the sequence in which sections appeared in a chapter.
  4. Remixing occurs when a user imports content from one book into another book.

Reasons to Adapt an Open Textbook

The following is a modified list that appeared in the article Why remix an Open Educational Resource? by Liam Green-Hughes and used under a CC-BY license. This lists some of the reasons why you might want to adapt an open textbook.

  • Adapt the material to make it more accessible for people with different disabilities
  • Insert cultural specific references to make a concept easier to understand
  • Translate it into another language
  • Correct any errors or inaccuracies
  • Update the book to add the latest discoveries or theories
  • Insert more media or links to other resources
  • Chop the book into smaller chunks that might be easier to learn from, or could be reused elsewhere
  • Adapt it for a different audience
  • Change the target educational level
  • Add input and participation from students who might be using the textbook
  • Expand the textbook by adding in other information
  • Insert a different point of view to that originally given in the material
  • Adapt it for different teaching situations

For example, maybe you find a textbook that is pretty good, but could be stronger with the addition of case studies. Or maybe the book is specific to a certain country and needs to be changed to make it more relevant for students in your region. BCcampus did this recently when it adapted the U.S. based OpenStax College Introduction to Sociology textbook to make it more relevant to a Canadian audience.

An Open Textbooks Case Study: Houston Community College

In this case study we'll look at how the psychology department at Houston Community College used open textbooks to solve some pressing problems in their program. As you read the case study One college's use of an open psychology textbook (PDF 6 pages), think about the role that adaptation played in the improved outcomes reported by the department. Are there barriers that your students face that could be addressed if you had the ability to customize your learning resources?

Permission to Change

When it comes to working with open textbooks (and open educational resources in general), one of the conceptual hurdles faced by most people is around the notion of adapting or changing someone else's work. Faculty might wonder: What exactly can be adapted within the scope of an open textbook, and won’t the original author get upset if their work is changed?

Changing someone’s work can feel uncomfortable. But rest assured that if the author has released their textbook under a Creative Commons license that allows for adaptation - which is any Creative Commons license that does not include a No Derivative (ND) - then they expect that you will change the content, providing that you give them the proper attribution.

What Can I Change?

Anything and everything in an open textbook can be changed as long as the conditions of the open license are met. The modifications or changes you make can be fairly minor or major depending on what you need to do to make the book work for you. That is the beauty and power of open textbooks. You are in charge of the resource. You have been given permission to change it ahead of time by the original author. Take advantage of it. They want you to.

Discussion Prompts

What do you think are some of the challenges of adapting or modifying an open textbook? In addition to the list of reasons, are there other reasons that you can think of to adapt an open textbook?

More Resources

The following resources are taken from the B.C. Open Textbook Authoring Guide. While some of the information is specific to the B.C. Open Textbook Project, much of it is useful for anyone who needs assistance with adapting an open textbook.


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