B.C. Open Textbook Adaptation Guide

B.C. Open Textbook Adaptation Guide

A Guide to Adapting or Revising an Open Textbook

Lauri Aesoph



Open Creation: In Progress

This guide is currently in the An open creation is an original work that is progress, but publicly viewable and openly licensed.open creation stage. Below is a list of the tasks left to complete.

Last updated: July 28, 2017. See Versioning History.

All file types last exported: July 28, 2017


Versioning History

Date Change Affected Web Page
June 19, 2017
  • Added Versioning History page
  • Disabled comments access; comments now provided through Your Feedback page.
  • Added Is this Open Textbook in Production? page
Versioning History

Your Feedback

Is this Open Textbook in Production?

July 28, 2017 Clarified that external resources should be openly licensed or in the public domain. Added link to Fair Dealing and BC Open Textbooks . Make a Plan



Your Feedback

If you would like to provide feedback or suggestions about the content provided in this guide or regarding the open creation process, please send an email to helpdesk@bccampus.ca.

Thank you.


About this Guide

This guide was created by the BC Open Textbook Project. It is an ever-evolving resource that will be updated as required. The last revision made to this guide was on July 19, 2016.

The BC Open Textbook Project began in 2012 with the goal of making post-secondary education in British Columbia more accessible by reducing student cost through the use of openly licensed textbooks. The BC Open Textbook Project is administered by BCcampus and funded by the British Columbia Ministry of Advanced Education and the Hewlett Foundation.

Open textbooks and the support guides created by this project are open educational resources (OER): instructional resources created and shared in ways so that more people have access to them. OER are defined as “teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use and re-purposing by others” (Hewlett Foundation).

The guides and open textbooks created and curated by this project are licensed using a Creative Commons license, and are offered in various formats free of charge or as printed books that are available at cost.

A copy of the Style Guide used for this resource can be found in the appendix.

For more information about this project, please contact opentext@bccampus.ca.



This Adaptation Guide provides much needed information on the why, what, and how of making changes to an openly licensed textbook and other open educational resources (OER). In other words, it addresses the “revise” and “remix” members of David Wiley’s “5 R’s of openness” club.

In addition to the cost to students, one of the biggest advantages of choosing an open textbook is it gives faculty the legal right to add to, adapt, or delete the content of the textbook to fit their specific course without obtaining permission from the copyright holder. This is possible because the copyright holder has already granted permission by releasing their work using an open — or Creative Commons — license. This type of license gives users permission to use and reuse, share, copy, retain and modify the textbook without consulting the author.

The term, adaptation, is commonly used to describe the process of making changes to an existing work. Though we can also replace “adapt” with revise, modify, alter, customize, or other synonym that describes the act of making a change.

This resource is the work of the BC Open Textbook Project, begun in 2012 with the goal of making post-secondary education in British Columbia more accessible by reducing student cost through the use of openly licensed textbooks. The BC Open Textbook Project is administered by BCcampus and funded by the British Columbia Ministry of Advanced Education.

Open textbooks are open educational resources (OER); they are instructional resources created and shared in ways so that more people have access to them. This is a different model than traditionally copyrighted materials. OER are defined as teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use and re-purposing by others (Hewlett Foundation).


What is an Adaptation


Definition of "Adapt"

The term, adaptation, is commonly used to describe the process of making changes to an existing work. Though we can also replace “adapt” with revise, modify, alter, customize, or other synonym that describes the act of making a change.

In addition to cost to students, one of the biggest advantages of choosing an open textbook is it gives faculty the legal right to add to, adapt, or delete the content of the textbook to fit their specific course without obtaining permission from the copyright holder. This is possible because the copyright holder has already granted permission by releasing their work using an open — or Creative Commons — license. This type of license gives users permission to use and reuse, share, copy, retain and modify the textbook without consulting the author.


Why Adapt an Open Textbook


Reasons to Adapt an Open Textbook

One of the benefits of using an openly licensed textbook or other educational resource is that you are free to adapt it to fit your needs. In other words, you can adjust the educational resources to fit your course curriculum, not the other way around. Other reasons for revising an existing open work might be to:

  1. Address a particular teaching style or learning style
  2. Adjust for a different grade or course level
  3. Adapt for a different discipline
  4. Accommodate a different learning environment
  5. Address diversity needs
  6. Meet a cultural preference
  7. Meet a regional or national preference
  8. Address a school, district, or institution’s standardized curriculum
  9. Make the material more accessible for people with disabilities
  10. Add material contributed by students or material suggested by students
  11. Translate the material into another language
  12. Correct errors or inaccuracies
  13. Update the book with current information
  14. Add more media or links to other resources
  15. Use only a portion of the book for a courseSome of this material is based on: WikiEducator. “Adapt” in OER Handbook for Educators (http://wikieducator.org/OER_Handbook/educator_version_one/Adapt) and Why Remix Open Educational Resources? created by Liam Green-Hughes, both used under a CC-BY license


Permission to Adapt

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’s work. What exactly can be adapted within the scope of an open textbook, and won’t the original author get upset if you change their work?

Changing someone’s work can feel uncomfortable. But rest assured, 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 have a No Derivative (ND) attribute added to it) then they expect that you will change the content, providing you give them the proper attribution (and we’ll get into this). Using information and media from an open textbook or other open educational resource are NOT considered plagarism.

But what can you 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.

Why you should use openly licensed materials

If you are looking for content to add to your textbook, you should look for and use Creative Commons licensed material.  While you can use material that has not been released under a Creative Commons license, it does limit how others can use or reuse that material. As well, you must first obtain written permission from the copyright holder to use copyrighted material in the textbook and clearly note in the textbook the specific material that is copyrighted. This is to ensure others using the book in the future know they cannot reuse that material.

Don’t forget the public domain

Once the copyright of a work has expired, has been forfeited, or is inapplicable, it is part of the public domain meaning that permission is not required to use it or make changes to it. Creative Commons provides public domain tools that enable authors and copyright owners who want to dedicate their works to the worldwide public domain to do so, and facilitates the labeling and discovery of works that are already free of known copyright restrictions.


Using copyright material released with a restrictive license is a barrier to future reuse and limits the usage of the resource in the future. Therefore, we recommend using Creative Commons licensed material that can legally be shared and reused.


See Choose a License.


Three Steps Before You Begin

A good rule of thumb when creating an adapted textbook is to keep it simple, especially if you are approaching a remix project for the first time. While it may be tempting to make a number of major changes to a textbook before releasing it to your students, think of the textbook as a living resource that you can improve incrementally over time.

Here are three steps to consider before adapting an existing textbook.

Step 1: Check the license

First, check the license to make sure you have the permission to modify the contents. As long as the Creative Commons license does not have a No Derivative (ND) attribute, you are able to change the contents of the book. See Creative Commons for more information on licenses.

Step 2: Check the file format

If you want to adapt an open textbook, you will need it in a workable technical format, i.e. an editable file type. These include:

Avoid PDF documents

Many open textbooks are only available as a PDF document, which are not editable. If you want to adapt an open textbook that is only available in PDF format, you will need to convert the PDF document to one of the editable formats listed above.

Converting a PDF document to an editable format is a difficult, time consuming, and imprecise process. Before taking the time to do this, consider contacting the author and asking for a copy of the textbook’s source files.

Step 3: Use editing tools

Once you have an editable file, you are ready to begin your adaptation. The tools you use to create your adaptation will depend on the source file of the original textbook and how comfortable you feel working with the format and tool.


A commonly used publishing and editing tool is the online publishing and editing software called Pressbooks. This web-based tool is based on the popular WordPress authoring platform. Working in Pressbooks is similar to working in a Learning Management System (LMS) such as Moodle or BrightSpace by D2L.

You can import a number of different formats into Pressbooks for editing including Word, EPUB, and HTML. In turn, from Pressbooks a number of source files can be exported such as EPUB (for use in most e-readers), MOBI (for Kindles), PDF (for printing), HTML, ODT, and XML to act as back-up files for Pressbooks and WordPress.

For more information, see Pressbooks: Online Software to Make Adaptation Easier in the appendix or the Pressbooks Guide (open creation).


Consider Starting Small

An adaptation can turn ugly, like a house renovation project gone mad taking twice the time and three times the energy than you thought.

To prevent from falling into this trap, consider starting small. For your first crack at an adaptation, decide to make a few minor changes such as:

Start small. But think big.

While you are taking these baby steps, think of the huge pedagogical potential hidden away in an open textbook. Plan and dream and scheme about what could be done with this book; a book in which the author has give you permission to use, share, and change content to your heart’s content and the only payment is to give her or him credit.

What a gift!

So, start small and don’t let this gift become a demanding, uncontrollable beast that consumes you. Start small, give it a few treats, and get to know each other. Then, when you’re bursting at the seams with ideas and enthusiasm, write down all of the wonderful things you want to change, when both you and the textbook are ready, on your “Adaptation Bucket List”.


How to Adapt an Open Textbook


Is this Open Textbook in Production?

There are many open textbooks, both new creations and adaptations, currently in production and once finished will be available to the open education community. Before you consider adapting an existing open textbooks, review the following lists for open textbook projects currently in progress.

Project List of Open Textbooks in Progress
BCcampus Projects – IN PROGRESS
eCampus Ontario  Open Content Funding
Open SUNY  Forthcoming open textbooks
Rebus Community  Active Open Textbook Projects



Find an Open Textbook

Typically, most instructors begin their quest for an open textbook by searching the many established open textbook and OER collections available which are listed below.

BC Open Textbooks
College Open Textbooks HippoCampus
Merlot II MIT Open Courseware Online Textbooks
National Science Digital Library (NSDL) NOBA Project Textbooks
North Carolina Learning Object Repository (NCLOR) OER Commons
OpenStax Open SUNY Textbooks
Open Textbook Library Project Gutenberg
PhET: Interactive Simulations For Science and Math Saylor Academy Open Textbooks
Skills Commons Open Textbooks SOL*R
UC Davis ChemWiki Wikibooks

Other ways to find open textbooks or other OER include:

  1. Connect with your library
  2. Ask your colleagues what OER they use
  3. Conduct an advanced Google search: https://www.google.ca/advanced_search
  4. Get your students to find open resources, have them do a content review, and post the results to your course website or Learning Management System (LMS)

Evaluating an open educational resource collection

To help you assess the collections or repositories you are searching, refer to Open Education Resource Repository (OERR) Rubric, developed by the the BCOER Librarians Working Group. This document is listed below.

Page one


Page two


Page three


Page four


Page five



Evaluate an Open Textbook

The BCOER Librarians have developed a useful guide to assist faculty with the open textbook and OER evaluation process. This Faculty Guide for Evaluating Open Education Resources has been released under a CC-BY 4.0 International license. Feel free to print as many copies as you need for evaluating open textbooks.



Make a Plan

Before adapting an existing book, it’s important to establish a road map that will guide the timeline of the work, layout and style of the work, and desired changes. Whether your adaptation is small or large, this step is important to ensure a cohesive and consistent final product. Below are tips to help you with style and consistency.


To help you set this up, see the Style Guide in the BC Open Textbook Authoring Guide. Consider creating a Style Sheet as well that identifies the idiosyncrasies of your adaptation in terms of style, such as citation, spellings, and layout.


One of the challenges of adapting an open textbook is to create a final product that is consistent throughout. It is highly recommended that you assess the original textbook before you begin. Once this has been done, attempt to match all revised and new text, resources, layout and citation styles to that of the original work.

Assess language and tone

Begin by assessing the style and tone of the original text. Here are some elements to be aware of:

What is the layout?

As you review the textbook, take note of the following:

How are resources used?

Resources refer to all items other than text, such as photos, graphs, diagrams and multimedia content (video or audio links). Pay attention to what types of resources the original author used, how often they are inserted and how they are labeled. Ensure all external resources are either released with an open copyright license or are in the public domain. See Fair Dealing and BC Open Textbooks in the BC Open Textbook Authoring Guide .

References and citation style

When you assess the textbook, identify both the citation style, and how and where references are listed in the book (e.g., at the end of each chapter, at the end of the book, or as footnotes). Note how in-text citations are used including punctuation. Consider using the same citation style.


What Are the Changes

What will you change?

Adapting or changing an existing open textbook doesn’t need to be onerous. The changes you make can be simple such as:

Sometimes, an adaptation might require more than a few simple changes. For example:

It might be necessary to add material from other open textbooks or open educational resources to the open textbook you are adapting. For more information on where to find openly licensed images and other content, see Finding Openly Licensed Content in the BC Open Textbook Authoring Guide. Also take a look at How to Ensure that all Content is “Open”.

Maybe you decide to write new material to fill in the gaps of an existing textbook such as new examples or exercises. (If you do this and plan to release the finished work as an open textbook, remember that your new work will be included under this license.)

Will it be difficult?

How easy or difficult this will be depends on a number of factors, including;

Keep a record of all changes and additions

As the author, you retain copyright of all new material you create. This means that even if the new material you create is released under an open license, as the author, you will receive attribution for your contribution.

As you edit and make changes (text and images) and/or add new material, such as a chapter or section within a chapter, keep a list so these additions/changes:

Minor changes, such as fixing grammatical or spelling mistakes, don’t need to be documented.

If you add material from another openly licensed work to your adaptation, especially text, record the source and where it is used in your adapted version. This information is needed for the wording and placement of each attribution statement required for each open CC-BY (Creative Commons Attribution) licensed work you use. For more information, see Attribution Statements.

Changing images: add new ones or remove old ones

With an openly licensed resource, you are welcome to remove images that don’t fit your needs or you can add new ones. You are also permitted to edit existing images. (Check the license of the image you plan to change to ensure that its permissions fit your intended change.)

For more information on:

Consider using a copy editor and subject matter expert

Even the best author benefits from the keen eyes of a copy editor. This individual looks at your work with fresh eyes and can provide feedback on grammar, spelling, readability, clarity, and consistency.

A subject matter expert (SME) — presumably a colleague or other individual who is an expert on the topic you’re writing about — can provide suggestions about the content. It is best that the SME reviews your work before the copy editor.

One final step is to have a copy editor (preferably different than the one who copy edits your work) proof read the final draft.


Attribution Statements

All Creative Commons licenses contain an attribution (BY) clause. This means that you must include a statement that gives credit to, or attributes, the creator of the work from which you have borrowed, whether it’s text, an image, a video, or other item. If you have made a change, indicate that in your attribution statement.

As far as how and where to place attribution statements for text or media taken from another source or sources, best practices state that you should place them at the bottom of each affected web page. Clearly mark all of these with a heading called: “Attributions”. Several attribution statements can be listed under this heading. Here are examples.

Example of an attribution statement for adapted text

This chapter is an adaptation of Natural Disasters and Human Impacts (on Open Geography Education) by R. Adam Dastrup and Maura Hahnenberger, and is used under a CC-BY-SA 4.0 International license.


Example of an attribution statement for an adapted image

Figure 1.2
Dog by David Locke is used under a CC-BY 2.0 license. Modifications to this photo include cropping.



Final Steps


Choose a License

If you are adapting an existing open textbook, the adaptations you make will be released with whatever open license you choose, while the rest of the book will be released under the license of the original book. In other words, you need to respect the license of the original work. You cannot license what you do not create. You can only attach a CC-BY (Creative Commons Attribution), or other open license to the parts of the book that you have created and are new.

However, there is a caveat. If the textbook you are adapting has a Share-Alike condition (e.g., CC-BY-SA 4.0) stipulated, then you must release the entire book using the same license as the original book.


Attribution: CC BY

This license lets others distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon your work, even commercially, as long as they credit you for the original creation. This is the most accommodating of licenses offered. Recommended for maximum dissemination and use of licensed materials.

Attribution-Share Alike: CC BY-SA

This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work even for commercial purposes, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms. This license is often compared to “copyleft” free and open source software licenses. All new works based on yours will carry the same license, so any derivatives will also allow commercial use. This is the license used by Wikipedia, and is recommended for materials that would benefit from incorporating content from Wikipedia and similarly licensed projects.

Attribution-No Derivatives: CC BY-ND

This license allows for redistribution, commercial and non-commercial, as long as it is passed along unchanged and in whole, with credit to you.

Attribution-Non Commercial: CC BY-NC

This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, and although their new works must also acknowledge you and be non-commercial, they don’t have to license their derivative works on the same terms.

Attribution-Non Commercial-Share Alike: CC BY-NC-SA

This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms.

Attribution-Non Commercial-No Derivatives: CC BY-NC-ND

This license is the most restrictive of our six main licenses, only allowing others to download your works and share them with others as long as they credit you, but they can’t change them in any way or use them commercially.

For more information on Creative Commons licenses, see Choose a License.


The Creative Commons license definitions listed at the bottom of this page have been copied from Creative Commons and are used under a CC BY 4.0 license.


Publish and Distribute

Once you’ve completed your adaptation, you will need to decide who to share your work with — your students, your colleagues, the bookstore and library at your institution, the open community — and how to do this.  Also, what file types will you provide, what ancillary resources will you/could you include, and how will you ensure longevity for your work.

File types

Students like flexibility when it comes to their textbooks. Some may prefer printed versions of the textbook, others will prefer using a website. Still others will like to use an e-reader or e-reading software. To make your book as accessible as possible, consider making your textbook available in multiple formats so students have the ability to choose the format that works for them. Also remember to include editable files so that others can use your work to create their own adaptations. Pressbooks allows a variety of files to be export from your book, both editable (.xml, .odt, .html, .epub) and less editable (.pdf) files.


For students, you can distribute your adapted textbook by:

For colleagues:

For your institution’s bookstore:

For your institution’s library:

For your teaching and learning centre:

Consider sharing your work with the larger open community. One way to do this is by adding your adapted textbook to an established repository or open textbook collection. Some of these require undergoing a formal review before being accepted.

Ancillary resources

Consider providing ancillary resources for your adapted open textbook or asking colleagues with whom you share your adaptation, to share back any supplemental materials they develop for the book. These might include:

The future of your adaptation

Now that you’ve completed your adapted open textbook — whether the changes were minor or major — here are some question you might ask yourself:



Adapting authors often ask our project about issues not covered in this Adaptation Guide. In an effort to share these challenges and their solutions, please read on.


Adapting a Restricted Textbook with Permission

Some times, authors receive permission from a publisher to create a new edition/revision of a textbook or other work for which copyright is owned by the publisher and was previously released or published without the benefit of an open copyright (Creative Commons) license.

This is wonderful news. But how should one proceed? Here are some suggestions on steps to take to ensure that all is legal and correct.

Step 1: Double check copyright

Confirm that copyright is held by the publisher. If a book is available online, it might be possible to find it there and take a look at the copyright notice which typically follows or (in a printed copy) is on the back of the Title page. Publishers in this situation are typically the copyright holder for the entire book including all chapters, illustrations, images, etc.

Some publishers might prefer that the book be released using a CC BY-NC license so that they can retain the rights to sell physical copies of the book.

Step 2: Contributing authors and courtesy

When a publisher is the copyright holder for an entire book, there is no requirement to contact the contributing authors. However, you might consider doing so as a professional courtesy. It’s possible that some of these authors would like to see the new edition, and may even be interested in contributing to it.

Step 3: Confirm the agreement in writing

There are two distinct items that will be openly licensed in this situation. One is the original book. The other are the adaptations and additions made by Jane Plain and John Smith, the adapting authors.

Because the publisher is the copyright holder, they are the only ones who can release the original book under a CC BY or open copyright license. To be clear and certain that you have permission to use and release this previously restrictively licensed work with an open copyright license, ask the publisher to confirm this agreement in writing.

Step 4: Write the adaptation statement

The new edition or revision is basically an adaptation. As such, be sure to include language used for an adaptation to the copyright notice. (See Adaptation Statement for more information.) However, the difference in this situation is that the original book was not published with an open copyright license. Below is an example of how the adaptation statement might read.

Big Publishing, the copyright holder of The Basics of Biology, has agreed to release it under a CC BY license. This makes it possible for a revised second edition to be made and CC BY licensed too. Jane Plain and John Smith are the copyright holders for all revisions (2017) and agree to release their changes and additions under a CC BY license. As a result this entire second edition of The Basics of Biology is released under a CC BY license. Changes and additions made to this second revised edition, are listed below:.

A list of changes and additions follows this statement.

Step 5: Share the adaptation statement

In advance of beginning your adaptation project, it is recommended that you  spell out what the attribution statement for both the original content and the revision additions will say, and then share the attribution statement with the publisher (and maybe the contributing authors) to ensure that everyone is receiving appropriate credit.


Appendix 1: Glossary

Coming soon….


Appendix 2: Pressbooks Accounts and Help

Pressbooks is an online publishing platform that is built on the popular WordPress website publishing and blogging platform. If you have used WordPress in the past, Pressbooks should feel familiar to you.

Pressbooks allows you to create content once and publish it in many different formats, including as a website, PDF document, EPUB document (usable in most e-reading applications and devices), and MOBI (for Kindle specific applications). It is also a useful tool for making changes to an existing open textbook during the adaptation process. This section will describe how to use two different versions of this publishing and editing platform.

BCcampus has created a self-serve instance of Pressbooks for faculty and instructors who teach at a public post-secondary institution in British Columbia and Yukon College. When accessing this instance of Pressbooks, faculty must use their institutional email address. A list of accepted email domains are below.

bcit.ca camosun.bc.ca camosun.ca capilanou.ca
cnc.bc.ca cotr.bc.ca douglascollege.ca ecuad.ca
jibc.ca kpu.ca langara.bc.ca nic.bc.ca
nlc.bc.ca nvit.bc.ca nwcc.bc.ca okanagan.bc.ca
royalroads.ca selkirk.ca sfu.ca tru.ca
ubc.ca ufv.ca unbc.ca uvic.ca
vcc.ca viu.ca yukoncollege.yk.ca

For everyone else, please go to the general Pressbooks website at pressbooks.com to create an account.

Help with Pressbooks

Please refer to the BC Open Textbook Pressbooks Guide (an open creationAn open creation is an original work that is in progress but publicly viewable and openly licensed.) for help with some basic Pressbooks tasks.

Also refer to:

Developers and technicians

For developers and technicians working in Pressbooks, here are some support communities:


Appendix 3: Style Guide for this Guide

General Guidelines




  1. The first and the last word of the title
  2. Principal words such as nouns, pronouns (such as “you”), adjectives, verbs and adverbs
  3. Prepositions and conjunctions of four letters or more
  4. Lowercase the “to” in an infinitive (e.g., I want to play guitar)

Lists / Bullets

*Note: Complete sentences require a subject, verb and complete thought. If one of these components is missing then it is a sentence fragment.



Procedural documentation

Example: From the “File” menu, select “Open”. In the “Open” text box, enter the URL below, substituting either ‘disk.dallas.utexas.edu’ for server-address, and your UT EID for eid.