3.4 Adapting/creating open textbooks

Image of open textbook
Image: Open Textbooks by Giulia Forsythe, licensed CC0 (Flickr)
Adapting an open textbook

Many educators choose not only to use open textbooks, but to adapt them for their specific teaching contexts. Your reasons for choosing to adapt an open textbook may include some of the following (list adapted from Why Remix an Open Educational Resource?, Green-Hughes, 2009):

  1. Correct errors or inaccuracies
  2. Update the book to add more recent material
  3. Adapt the material to make it more accessible/inclusive
  4. Adapt the book for a different audience or teaching situations
  5. Add culturally specific references
  6. Translate it into another language
  7. Insert more media or links to other resources
  8. Enable students to edit or add to the book
  9. Chop the book into smaller chunks that might be easier to learn from, or could be reused elsewhere

Following are a list of considerations before starting the adaptation process:

  1. Check the license of the book you wish to adapt to see what type of reuse is permissible. For example, an open textbook shared under a Creative Commons ND (No Derivatives) license can be reused, but you cannot translate or adapt it in any way.
  2. Check the technical format of the book you wish to adapt. You will need the source files if you plan to do a major modification of the book. Avoid PDF documents, if possible, as these are not editable and need to be converted (this can be extremely time consuming). Look for HTML files; Word, OpenOffice or Google docs; text, ePub or LaTex files. 
  3. Think about your final publication format. Most students will be happy with a PDF document, others may prefer a website version of the book, while others may prefer ePub or print. If you can, try to make your book available in a number of different formats.
  4. Save your source material to release with the book, to facilitate the ability to remix your work. For example, if you create a textbook in Word and then convert to PDF to distribute, you can also make the Word document available so that someone who may want to make a copy of your book and modify it for their needs can do so.
  5. 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 over time.
Tools for adapting or creating an open textbook

The tools you use to make or adapt an open textbook will depend greatly on the editable format you are working with (if you are adapting a textbook) as well as your comfort level in working with the particular format.

PressBooks is recommended by most open textbook platforms. Check with your institution, as they might have purchased a license. PressBooks is a web-based authoring tool based on the popular WordPress authoring platform. Working in PressBooks is similar to working within a VLE. You can import a number of different formats into PressBooks for editing, including Word, ePub and HTML. PressBooks will output the textbook as a mobile-friendly website, an ePub document (for use in e-readers), and PDF (for printing). You can try Pressbooks for free if your institution does not have a licence.

This helpful table from the BCCampus Adaptation Guide (BCCampus, CC BY) shows you some of the tool options for working with the various file formats. This is not an exhaustive list; you may have other tools that work for you that you wish to use to create your open textbook.

Original format Possible editing tools (web-based) Possible editing tools (desktop)
Word or OpenOffice Google Docs, PressBooks Microsoft Word, OpenOffice
ePub PressBooks Sigil, Calibre
Text Google Docs, PressBooks Word, OpenOffice
LaTex ShareLaTeX/OverLeaf TeXworks, Texmaker
HTML Google Docs, PressBooks, MediaWiki Dreamweaver, MS Expression Web

Using a mapping template is recommended; you can find an example from Jefferson Community College here.

Distributing your open textbook (to your students and others)

Once you have created/adapted an open textbook you will be able to download copies and upload to your VLE. It is also important to make the new/adapted version of your open textbook findable by others. If your institution has a subscription to Pressbooks, students will be able to access the open textbook through the institutional platform or library catalogue. You can also add your open textbook to open libraries and repositories, for example:

  • Your institutional repository
  • A disciplinary repository
  • Your library’s Libguides

You might also consider adding your open textbook to an open platform such as:

  • OER Commons allows you to create directly on the platform (using OpenAuthor) or host files from your own computer
  • Open Textbook Library  
  • MERLOT allows the creation of OER and can also host external files
  • Wikibooks allows you to modify open textbooks within the platform or create new wiki textbooks

Explore a free platform mentioned above, or another that may know of. Do you see tools to adapt an open textbook? Can you upload different types of documents? Where can you find support for open textbooks within your institution?

Finding out more

6 Steps to Modifying an Open Textbook (CC BY) by Clint Lalonde at BCCampus provides a clear overview of how to make changes to an open textbook with important questions to consider at the start of the process, along with guidance on choosing a licence to share the remixed work later.

Adaptation Guide: A reference to adapting or revising an open textbook (CC BY) was created by BCCampus to support modification of an open textbook. A further useful resource by the Open Education Network is Modifying an Open Textbook: What you need to know.

Making Open Textbooks: A video guide (CC BY) is a series of 10 short videos created by Rebus Community, describing everything from building a team, content creation, peer review, to release and adoption.

A Guide to Making Open Textbooks with Students (CC BY), with contributions from over a dozen educators, is a helpful handbook for those interested in engaging with students to create open textbooks (i.e. a powerful example of OEP).

Research on the use and reuse of open textbooks includes Open Textbooks: A balance between empowerment and disruption (Algers, 2019, CC BY) and Examining the Reuse of Open Textbooks (Hilton, Wiley & Lutz, 2012, CC BY).

Finally, Robin Ewing and Cindy Gruwell share valuable tips about adapting textbooks in this video (duration 11:13):

3.3 Share your OER
3.5 References & Resources for Creating OER