Adapting an Open Textbook

The idea of creating an entire textbook can be overwhelming. Textbooks require time for writing, editing, and publishing, resulting in a lot of investment. However, open textbooks are often created with licenses that allow for adaption and modification which can be a starting place to developing your own unique text. 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. Rather than starting off on your own textbook from scratch, you can use an existing textbook as the basis for your project.

When it comes to working with open textbooks (and open educational resources (OER) in general), one of the conceptual hurdles faced by most people is around the notion of adapting or changing someone’s work. Changing someone’s work can feel uncomfortable. But rest assured that, if the author of the textbook has released their textbook under a Creative Commons license (except a Creative Commons No Derivative (ND) license) that allows for revision of their texts providing that you give them the proper attribution. 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.

There are many different ways of adapting a textbook. For example, maybe you find a textbook that is pretty good, but could be stronger with the addition of case studies, or maybe the case studies could use a Canadian perspective. Those would make great open textbook adaptations. Here are some commons forms of adaptation:


  • Material contributed by students or material suggested by students
  • Media or links to other resources
  • Textboxes with learning objectives, exercises, key takeaways, or supplemental information

For example, not only did Fundamentals of Business: Canadian Edition modify the content for the Canadian context, but they also went through and added H5P interactivity throughout by adding learning check quizzes at the end of every chapter, and updating the Learning Objectives.


  • Correcting errors or inaccuracies
  • Updating the book with current information

For example, Teaching in a Digital Age – Second Edition has not only been updated to add and expand more content, A.W. (Tony) Bates has also made additions which examines three emerging technologies (artificial intelligence, virtual/augmented reality, and serious/educational games).


  • Adjusting for a different grade or course level
  • Translating the material into another language
  • Meeting a cultural, regional, or national preference

For example, the first edition of Introduction to Sociology – 2nd Canadian edition focused on replacing the American data in the original textbook with Canadian data. The second edition has made even more changes by adding many new sections as well as correcting errors such as broken links and figure numbers.

Improving Learning, Accessibility & Inclusivity

  • Addressing a particular teaching style or learning style
  • Addressing diversity needs
  • Making the material more accessible for people with disabilities

For example, Dr. Benjamin Cheung has been working on adapting Principles of Social Psychology by Dr. Charles Stangor in order to replace the images with ones that show more diversity. This reflects the current diversity of the average classroom. His current revisions are focused on replacing gender pronouns to be neutral.

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. There are four steps you should take before beginning your adaptation project.

Step 1: Find a potential resource to adapt

If you don’t already have a project in mind, you will first need to find a resource that you want to adapt. The best way to find OERs is to search through OER-specific repositories. The Finding section of UBC’s Open Education subject guide will give you a list of suggestions for where you can start searching with both a list of the general repositories and a list of textbook-specific repositories.

When choosing which textbook you want to adapt, go through steps 2 and 3 to check whether or not the textbook will be easy or difficult to adapt.

Step 2: Check the licence

Check the licence to make sure you have the permission to modify the contents. As long as the Creative Commons licence does not have a No Derivative (ND) attribute, you are able to change the contents of the book. Some licenses may include exceptions for particular elements. For example, this textbook contains a statement about some comic images that are not covered under the CC license for the book, and TimeMaps allows non-commercial use as long as specific accreditation is given. If you are using content with specific licenses like these, note these exceptions in the Licensing page of your adaptation.

Step 3: 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. This usually means the original source files used to create the textbook, and the availability of these source files can vary widely, even from the same hosting service. For example, LibreTexts sometime offer a downloadable PDF, but no editable files. This means that you will need to manually copy and paste the contents of the textbook that you want to use, and spend time cleaning up the formatting. This will greatly impact the amount of time spent on your textbook. Editable file formats include:

  • Pressbooks or WordPress files (.xml or .wxr)
  • HTML files (webpages)
  • Word document (.docx) or OpenDocument Text (.odt)
  • Simple text files (.txt)
  • EPUB (see “Export Google Docs as ePub Files“)
  • LaTeX files (if the original book includes math or science formulas and equations)

Problems with PDF Files

It is common that open textbooks may only be available as a PDF document. PDF documents are great formats to distribute the final version of the textbook to students but isn’t a useful version to offer for editing or adapting because the content of PDF files isn’t editable. Some editing can be done if you own Acrobat DC (a paid program), but even then editing options are limited. 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 formats above. However, converting a PDF document to an editable format can be difficult, time consuming and an imprecise process.

If you are interested in using a document that is only available in PDF, try to contact the original author and ask for a copy of the textbook source files. This may save you time when dealing with formatting.

Step 4: Choose your tools

What tools you will use to create your version of the textbook will depend greatly on the format of the original textbook, tool you are most comfortable using, and the tool with the functionality options that suits your project.


Pressbooks is a commonly used publishing and editing tool which gives you the flexibility to import a number of different formats for editing. Pressbooks is an authoring platform built on top of WordPress Multisites (web and blogging), and makes significant changes to the admin interface, web presentation layer and export routines of the regular WordPress install. Pressbooks allows you to create content once and publish it in many formats including a website, PDF document, EPUB (usable in most eReaders), MOBI (for Kindle readers), and various editable files. During the creation process, Pressbooks is able to import or clone existing textbooks for adaptation. These don’t always come over perfectly and some cleanup has to be done, but it can save you a lot of time and effort to start your project based off something already created so you aren’t duplicating work. Pressbooks also has a feature that will do automatic Media Attribution; if you enter information about the picture when you first upload it, Pressbooks will automatically generate Media Attributions at the end of each chapter if you have enabled that setting in the theme options. Using H5P, you can embed interactive content into the textbook such as quizzes, clickable timelines, flash cards, and is a browser plugin that can be used for students to highlight, annotate, and comment on the text.

UBC uses a Pressbooks instance hosted by BCcampus, and directly supports Pressbooks through the UBC Library. If you would like help with your project, book a consult with us.

Editing Tools

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 (CONFUSED – CAN’t YOU JUST USE LaTEXT TO EDIT) ScribeTex TeXworks, Texmaker
HTML Google Docs, PressBooks, MediaWiki Dreamweaver, MS Expression Web
OpenStax College Connexions n/a

A number of these platforms are free and can be used to modify existing open textbooks, or convert documents from one format to another. Here are some other tools that you might find useful when working with open textbooks:

  • Calibre(Windows & Mac) an ePub reader & document conversion tool.
  • Sigil– Open Source tool for creating and/or editing ePub books
  • eCub– Another Open Source tool for creating and/or editing ePub books
  • pandoc– powerful universal document conversion tool (LaTeX, Word, ePub, HTML & more)
  • Adobe Acrobat Pro– Not free, but useful for converting PDF to other formats. PDF conversion is a tricky process and chances are you will have to do significant manual clean-up. But this is the best tool to get you started cponverting PDF documents.
  • PDFtoHTML– Open source utility to convert PDF to HTML
  • TeXworks(Win/Mac/Linux) – Open Source TeX editor

Releasing an adapted textbook is the same as releasing any other textbook. More detailed information can be found in our Open Textbook Publishing Guide.


Once you have finished creating your own version of the textbook, you should decide on which Creative Commons license you will use to license your book. This will depend a great deal on how the original textbook was licensed. For example, if the original textbook was licensed with SA (ShareAlike) license, then you must release your book with the same license as the original source material to ensure it is fully compliant with the original CC terms of use.

To learn more about licensing and to get support for licensing of your text, contact the UBC Scholarly Communications and Copyright Office.


All of the Creative Commons license require attributing the original source. This is a no-brainer for academics since we are used to the practice of citing our sources. However, citing open educational resources can be complicated, since they often do not contain typical information required for standard citation styles. Instead, follow best practices for attribution by using the TASL method:

Title – What is the name of the material?

If a title was provided for the material, include it. Sometimes a title is not provided; in that case, don’t worry about it.

Author – Who owns the material?

Name the author or authors of the material in question. Sometimes, the licensor may want you to give credit to some other entity, like a company or pseudonym. In rare cases, the licensor may not want to be attributed at all. In all of these cases, just do what they request. If possible, link to the author’s profile page.

Source – Where can I find it?

Since you somehow accessed the material, you know where to find it. Provide the source of the material and make sure there is a URL or hyperlink to where the material resides.

License – How can I use it?

You are obviously using the material for free thanks to the CC license, so make note of it. Don’t just say the material is Creative Commons, because that says nothing about how the material can actually be used. Remember that there are six different CC licenses; which one is the material under? Name and provide a link to it, eg. for CC BY. If the licensor included a license notice with more information, include that as well.


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.


Once you have adapted your version of the textbook, you will need a place to put your textbook where your students can access it. If you have used Pressbooks to create your textbook, simply direct your students to the URL for your book and let them choose which format is most convenient for them. Another option is to upload your textbook to an OER repository which allows hosting, or use an alternative to the traditional publishing book format such as the UBC Wiki.

UBC Institutional Repository cIRcle

UBC Library has an institutional repository, cIRcle,which is UBC’s open access digital repository for published and unpublished material created by the UBC community and its partners, including faculty, students, and staff. Its aim is to showcase and preserve UBC’s unique intellectual output by making the content freely available to anyone, anywhere via the web.

Sharing your work in cIRcle provides the following benefits:

  • Support for submitting and indexing to make your content easily find-able.
  • Indexing in high-profile search engines such as Google as well as academically focused search engines and collections such as Google Scholar and OAIster, making it quick and easy for scholars and others to find your work.
  • Archiving of your work for the long term. cIRcle provides permanent URLs so the links to your materials will remain the same over time.

Adaption Statements