30 Adoption Overview

This part of The Rebus Guide to Publishing Open Textbooks (So Far) will take you through the life of the book following its Big Release and into its use in classrooms. Whether you’ve created an open textbook just for your classroom or for a much wider group of instructors, it’s no doubt exciting, gratifying, and a little nerve-wracking to see the book adopted and put into action. In this section, we’ll cover things like creating and using adoption forms, collecting feedback, tracking usage, and more. This section is mainly about how to find people to use your resource in their class, and engage with them; if you’re looking for more instructions on how to design your course around an OER, keep an eye on expansions to the Guide!

As in the other sections of the Guide, these suggestions are based on our experience with open textbook projects. 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, based on what we have learned so far in managing open textbook projects and gathering community feedback. We welcome your thoughts and contributions, including ways to improve the Guide overall.

The significance of adoptions

From having your open textbook used in a single section of a single course to seeing an entire university department incorporate it into all their classes, “adoption” can mean a variety of things. In our framing, having a resource adopted generally means that it has been assigned, either in part or in full, as part of the materials for a given course.

In any case, adoption is often the moment that you’ve been working for. Even if you embarked on this project simply to create a book for your own class or course, the fact that you decided to apply an open license to the book means that you’ve already been thinking of other educators and students that might benefit from your work in the long run. So, once you reach the point of releasing your book, it’s worth it to put in a bit of effort to encourage and track adoptions.

Adoptions are an important measure of impact for a book for all sorts of reasons. Given the amount of time and effort you and your collaborators have put into it, it can be incredibly validating to see your book go out into the world and be used by others. Adoptions can also demonstrate the value of a text to your discipline, as it’s a vote of confidence from adopters, and they also help validate the quality of the book, which in turn encourages more adoptions!

What’s more, tracking adoptions is also important when it comes to showing the impact of OER at your institution, to your professional associations, in grant reports, and for future funding applications. These processes often require hard numbers to show value (for better or worse!), so if you do a little bit of work up front, you can have these numbers to hand when the time comes. The information you collect about adoptions is a powerful tool to make the case for OER, as it demonstrates the direct impact on students. This helps make the case for increased institutional investment in the creation of new OER and to the maintenance and further adoption of existing resources.

Lastly, adoptions are yet another extension of the theme of all open textbook publishing as we see it: collaboration! Everyone and anyone who is using the book, who benefits from this content being openly licensed, is an asset. By connecting with adopters, you can create more opportunities to gather feedback, new contributions, ideas, updates, spinoffs, ancillaries and more, and it all comes from people who are just as invested as you are in the book being maintained and improved in the long term. Each time the book is adopted, the community around it becomes larger. Making sure you can find those adopters (and they can find you!) can make all the difference in keeping a book alive over time.

The basics of getting and tracking adoptions

As discussed in other sections of the Guide, a major portion of setting up feedback and reporting channels for adoption takes place during the release preparation. Even so, you can also start thinking about adoptions as early as content creation, editing, and review. Along the way to release, you have hopefully collected a list of people (and their email addresses!) who are interested in the book and have shown signs of wanting to adopt it when it is ready.

The main place to start is to set up an adoption form to track usage, and find out if anyone has already started using the book in their courses. Check out our Adoption Form as an example of what this form can look like (it can be modified to include more or less detail as needed). The best way to track adoptions is to ask users to self-report via the adoption form, so make sure this form is visible clearly from the book’s home page, and that it is also in any major communications about the book, like the official announcement. Lastly, make sure to include clear pathways for communication, so adopters know how to contact you or other folks who are using the book. This can be as simple as a link to the Rebus Community project home, your email address, or other contact information.

Once the form has been set up, you can start promoting your book and encouraging educators to adopt it. An easy way to begin is to poll all your team members (contributors, volunteer, advisors etc.), asking if they might be interested in using the book now that it has been released and to fill out the form if so. You can also turn towards more traditional methods of soliciting adoptions, such as sharing the release announcement and some copies of the book with instructors or department heads. Following the big release, keep the noise and momentum around the book going by talking it up within your network, at conferences, and ask other members on your team and staff at your campus to do the same! Keep your resource’s unique selling points in mind during these conversations, and also point to any additional items that could be packaged along with the book (such as slide decks, question banks, instructor workbooks, or other ancillaries) to motivate and attract people to adopt your book. Remember, the larger the group of people who know about your book, the higher the possibility of reported adoptions.

After adoptions have been reported

Ideally, you should set up the Adoption Form and communications pathways prior to releasing your book. Once you start receiving adoption reports, we recommend reaching out to these people, both to let them know how appreciative you are, and to build on the momentum. Gauge how interested they are in giving feedback, and do your best to bring them into the fold! (Some people will just want to use the book and not get involved, which is perfectly fine. Just make sure they have a clear line back to you if ever they need or want to use it, and you never know when they might show up again.)

For those who are keen, here are some ways to engage them:

  • Put adopters in touch with one another, so that there are multiple lines of communication within the community of users.
  • Conduct conference calls with the group, so that they can share observations and feedback about the book as they are teaching with it.
  • Request permission to use their name and/or affiliation in your own reporting about adoptions.
  • Request quotes from them about using the book, which can be added to promotional materials in order to inspire others to adopt the book as well.
  • Ask each adopter to share their experience of using the book during conference presentations, in a blog post, on listserv messages, and within their networks.
  • Share any ancillary materials with the group, or if none exist, brainstorm types that should be created, and ways to make them collaboratively.

Throughout, make sure you keep an eye on how adopters can help expand and update the text. This group of people believe in and are invested in your book, so they are more likely to be willing to help maintain and update it over time.

What information should you collect, and how?

We’ve found that it’s best to start with a simple form, so that those responding aren’t too overwhelmed. As you get more comfortable with the group of adopters over time, you can also ask them to provide more information about how the book is being used, building on the initial questions in your Adoption Form. Find the right balance between the full information you would like to have down the line and those details that you absolutely need up front.

Some information is easier to ask for outside of the form, too, so keep track of those questions (and why you are asking them) for when the right occasion arises. In the spirit of transparent and consensual data collection, it’s important to be clear and explicit about the reasons you are collecting certain information. If possible, also tell them what you will be doing with it. For instance, if you’re using the book in your course, you might want to get in touch with the folks on your campus who monitor information like student retention or withdrawal rates, and ask other adopters to do the same. With that kind of information collected, you can build the case for the relevance of your course, for a departmental adoption of your book, and for the increased use of OER. Telling your adopters the impact of the information that they share can help incentivize them to submit data and feel more comfortable doing so.

Another suggestion is to keeping an eye out for broader OER tracking projects, like SPARC’s initiative to report USD $1 billion in student savings, and see what information might be required for these projects. Accordingly, update your own Adoption form or follow-up questions that you routinely send new adopters. You might also look at repositories that ask for adoption information, to either expand your form or find out if any adoptions of your book have been reported. For examples, see BCcampus’ Adoption Form and their Open Textbook Statistics page.

Use whatever information you have available, whether it is data reported by adopters in the form, statistics from your institutional repository, statistics from other repositories, analytics from Pressbooks (or wherever your book is hosted), etc. In so doing, however, don’t forget to also listen to adopter and student feedback about the book’s content and structure. We have an entire section about improving your textbook, which includes what you can do with the feedback you receive. Ultimately, because tracking OER adoptions can’t rely on the more conventional metric of unit sales, it will always be an issue of thinking creatively and paying attention to alternative forms and types of usage data.

Challenges with tracking open textbook and OER use

While we’ve set out what we’ve found to be best practices tracking adoptions here, things will always play out a little differently than expected in practice. For a start, when it comes to the data you collect, changing or adding metrics to your original Adoption Form over time, either based on your own needs, or what you’ve seen others collect, can result in a messy data set. You may need to contact those who filled out older versions of the form, asking them to provide additional information. It is an extra step for both of you, but generally worth it for the data!

As well, be ready to collect information in other ways. Although you may have set up clear pathways to your adoption form (or other data-collection mechanism), it may be that adopters will end up contacting you via email or your Rebus Community project home. Make sure you record this information in a master spreadsheet. Even if they didn’t use your preferred methods to communicate this information, it’s still a win that they are using the book!

Keep in mind, too, that you might come across some adopters who are not interested in engaging with the community or contributing a lot of information. Don’t try to force them to share or do more than they are willing. Not everyone has the time or energy or interest to be an active member of the adopter group, and that’s okay. Thank them for being interested in the resource, and continue to update them as the book lives on. (You may win them over down the road.)

And finally, remember that one of the best things about your book is also what makes it hard to keep track of who’s using it. Sharing your work as a web-native resource (we hope!) with an open license means it can be hard to know exactly who is using it, where, and how. Anyone can have access to your book’s website, or download it in different formats, without barriers – which is a good thing! But while this kind of openness is a big part of the power of OER, and opens up all kinds of exciting possibilities, it also poses a challenge to assessing how the resource is being used. Think of it this way: the same barriers that traditionally limit access to books are also the most accurate ways to collect information about how a book is being used (think sales, account logins etc.).

With fewer barriers to access in place, open textbook creators have to rely on self-reporting by adopters. Many will happily do so, but some won’t, for all sorts of reasons. It might be due to lack of clarity about the adoption form, not know the form exists, lack of time or attention, or a lack of incentive or motivation. While it can be a bit annoying to not know the exact number of people using your book (or to not even know if you know or not), take pride in the limitless use you’ve enabled with the license and formats! There’s something very exciting about sharing your work without knowing exactly where and how it will be used. Moreover, you won’t be alone in feeling frustrated – everyone in the OER community is with you! Solutions to this issue are in the works, and if you have any suggestions to offer based on your experiences collecting adoption information, let us know in the Rebus Community project home!

Ultimately, even if you did everything possible to set yourself up for success to track adoptions and engage adopters, it may not happen the way you want. This is okay – your book is a gift, and what matters is that it is available and accessible to all those who want or need it.

Need further assistance?

We hope these suggestions will help you keep track of how your resource is being used around the world. We’ll continue to add to the Guide as we work with more projects, and 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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