34 Adaptations Overview

This final part of The Rebus Guide to Publishing Open Textbooks (So Far) takes you through the considerations around adapting an open textbook, including the benefits of adaptation, enabling adaptations, and other best practices. Like adoptions, adaptations also mark the beginning of a new set of steps (and new lives) for your open textbook.

As in other sections, these suggestions are based on our experience with open textbook projects to date. If you have questions about this overview, or suggestions for what else we should include, please share them in the Rebus Community project home. This document is an evolving draft, and continually incorporates community feedback. We welcome your thoughts and contributions, including ways to improve the Guide overall.

What is adaptation?

Broadly speaking, adaptation means making changes to an existing resource. Unlike creating a new open textbook, adaptation involves working with an existing text, and also relates to making more conceptual or substantial alterations to a book, so that it can better suit your needs as an teacher.

Adaptations can serve to localize the book to your specific region, to customize it for your class, to translate it for increased use, or to make the book accessible in a different format (e.g., an audiobook). All these instances involve creating a “project fork,” that is, another version of the text that can stand alone and separate from the original book or work. Accordingly, adaptations need to be maintained and updated on their own, in parallel to the way that the creators of the original work have to ensure their book’s upkeep and continued use.

Benefits of adaptation

Adaptations are a great demonstration of the advantages of open licenses that permit reuse, remixing, and redistribution. Because it is sometimes easier to create a new resource by building on content that already exists, openly licensed texts are invaluable.

Adaptation also allows content to be shaped to better suit a variety of needs, from those of instructors and students, to the requirements of universities and individual courses. This level of freedom is distinctive of open texts, and is rarely available with conventionally All Rights Reserved books, which carry more restrictions on reusing and remixing content.

Adaptation also presents an opportunity to improve on the text by correcting errors or changing insensitive content. For instance, if your textbook contained inappropriate content, you can immediately make corrections to the web version. Not only is it this simple, but you could do so without affecting other sections, chapters, images, etc. At the end of the academic semester, you can conveniently apply this change to all the other formats, including print.

One of the other major benefits of adaptation is that it represents an opportunity to generate additional value around the book. Because it is not a static or isolated process, it can be abuzz with communication, conversation, and collaboration, growing the community around the original book and allowing new people to discover its potential expansions!

Setting up for easier adaptation

If you’re creating an open textbook, there are a number of ways that you can structure it to enable others to easily adapt your work. (We’ve mentioned the following suggestions previously in this Guide, so don’t worry if you’re already near the end of your book’s creation.)

The first and possibly most important way to enable adaptation of your book is by choosing an open license. We encourage selecting a license that is as permissive as possible, understanding that there’s no single open license that works for all creators. Try to be as open as possible and as closed as necessary with the license on your work. Ultimately, the open publishing ecosystem is one in which everybody benefits from the work that we all put in: keep this in mind when it comes to your own project.

In a similar vein, make sure that your book is available in at least one editable format when released, so adapters can reuse and repurpose the content without too much difficulty. A variety of editable formats is even better, giving adapters more options when it comes to pulling content from the book and remixing it.

As you’re creating your content, try to do so in ways that make it modular. Part of this is to ensure that you have a clear and consistent structure across your book, so each chapter or unit follows a similar formula. Think about how units can be combined in different orders (that is, different from the one you have outlined yourself), or even stand alone and be used separate from the text. A simple way to assist future adapters of the text is to title and refer to chapters and units by name (not number). That way, if the adapter decides to reorder units, or only use some units, they are not bound by a numerical naming system. We also suggest that context-specific information, such as local examples, laws from your region of governance, statistics from your country or state organizations, etc., be modular, so that it too can be extracted from other content in the unit, to then be easily modified in the adaptation.

The back matter of your book is a good location to list places in the book that contain context-specific information, giving adapters quick reference. You can also clearly state permissions and licensing information here, including elements in the book that contain a license that is different from the book’s global license. This section can also contain a few lines of sample messaging for attribution, so adapters know how you and other creators would like to be attributed in the adapted work. This information can be helpful for adopters and adapters alike. Take a look at the Licensing & Remixing Information in Media Innovation and Entrepreneurship for an example.

Tracking adaptations

It can also prove helpful to keep track of the different adaptations that are made—those that you are aware of. While this can be hard to do, creating even a small list of projects that are using your book is a way for the book’s community to be aware of the work that is being done and possibly participate in it themselves! To help make this happen, give adapters clear pathways to contact you or the book’s community. If possible, also share pathways for adapters to submit changes back to the original book, in case they catch any errors as they making their adaptations.

Keeping track of adaptations is a good way to measure your book’s impact on the field, and in turn boost your professional profile. Just as you can track and communicate news about adoptions, adaptations are another measure of success.

Keeping an eye on adaptations is also useful if and when you come across a version that doesn’t sit well with you or the team. As the original creators, you have the right to be attributed on adaptations, but you can also request that adapters remove your attribution if you prefer not to be associated with their work. While we hope this is not a request you would have to make often, it can be applied if need be.

How to adapt an open textbook

If you find yourself on the other side of the equation, and are adapting an existing open textbook, we have some basic tips for you too. First, it’s always wise to check around to see if the type of adaptation you had in mind is already underway or completed. If you find that someone has started to create what you wanted, you can join forces and collaborate with them to avoid duplicating efforts. Even if no one is making a similar adaptation, putting out feelers for other adapters helps build community around the book.

Another practical step as you start out is to check the license of the book and make sure you have permission to adapt it in the way that you would like to. It’s also good to check the license of individual elements in the book, like multimedia elements, since these can sometimes be licensed differently that the book as a whole. If the creator has a back matter section listing the book’s permissions, licensing, and remixing information, be sure to consult it.

If you’re not able to determine the license on the book or an individual element, we recommend you assume an “All Rights Reserved” license. In this case, consult the fair use or fair dealing laws in your region. These govern reasonable reuse of portions of the book within an adaptation. If you need assistance, consult the copyright librarians at your institution, if present, or ask for help from the community of practitioners in the Rebus Community platform.

As an adapter, make sure you select a license that complies with the license on the original book. For instance, if the original work is licensed with the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike license (CC-BY-SA), you are obligated to also license your adaptation CC-BY-SA. Be sure to credit the original authors in your adaptation, using the suggested wording if it is available. It’s a nice gesture to also include a note in the front matter of your book, stating that your adaptation draws on one or more openly licensed books. See an example of this in the front matter of Blueprint for Success.

When it comes to doing the work of adapting, remember that it doesn’t just have to be you—you can form a team around the project and make this a collaborative effort! Reach back to the original creators, not only to let them know that you are working on this project, but to see if they or others on the team can help. Once this line of communication is established, you can use it to feed back any corrections to the original text, in the case that you come across errors.

You should also chat with the original creator to clearly define the differences between your adaptation and the original work. Of course, this is something you and your team may have already defined, early on. Make sure that these differences are stated clearly, either in the front matter of your book, or perhaps in the book’s description or metadata. That way, anyone coming across your book will also know whether the original work (or another adaptation) might work better for their course. From there, they can then make the appropriate comparisons of the book in a repository or referatory. You can also provide links back to the original work, so it is more easily discoverable. This might encourage the creators to also include links to your adaptation in the original book. You get what you give!

We also recommend taking a look at BCcampus Open Education’s Adaptation Guide for a more comprehensive guide to adapting an open textbook. And of course, take another look at the other sections of this Guide with adaptation in mind! The principles, examples, recommendations, and templates we provide have been written with a variety of projects in mind, so you can always refer to them as you move forward with adaptation.

Need further assistance?

We hope these suggestions will help, either as you make your book more easily adaptable or as you work to adapt an existing textbook. We’ll continue to add to the Guide as we work with more projects. In the meantime, we welcome your ideas on what else we might add, as well as your feedback on how these approaches have worked (or not!) for you.

If you have questions, or anything to add, please let us know in the Rebus Community project home.


This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.


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The Rebus Guide to Publishing Open Textbooks (So Far) Copyright © 2019 by Apurva Ashok and Zoe Wake Hyde is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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